An outspoken Labour councillor has accused his SNP coalition partners of attempting to “close down debate” after being the subject of a complaint over his comments on the use of green belt for housing.
Cllr Scott Arthur spoke out against greenbelt potentially being used for housebuilding in the forthcoming City Plan 2030 proposals by Edinburgh City Council – but this led to SNP group whip Cllr George Gordon lodging a complaint with his Labour counterpart, Cllr Ricky Henderson.
The row comes following a reported split in the SNP ranks over Lord Provost Frank Ross quitting three board positions in protest to the administration’s economy policy. Posting on Twitter, Cllr Arthur said the SNP split was “all about control”, adding that “the SNP’s divisive brand of politics is contaminating their Edinburgh council group”.
A Labour source added: “After the row with Frank, the SNP are very edgy and jumpy about anything they don’t like at the moment.”
Cllr Arthur’s comments that have angered the SNP include stating that “any city that is seriously concerned about climate change should not be building on the greenbelt when brownfield sites are clearly available.”
The consultation for the new local development plan, which could include allocating more greenfield sites for development, has now been delayed until after the general election.
Cllr Arthur has blasted the SNP’s complaint and claimed the greenbelt has been a hot topic on the doorstep while out campaigning with Edinburgh South Labour candidate Ian Murray.
He said: “Myself and Ian Murray knocked on every door in Frogston and Winton on Sunday, and protecting the greenbelt was a bigger issue than either Brexit or a second independence referendum. I therefore make no apologies for standing up for local residents on this issue, and demanding the council targets brownfield development.
“If Edinburgh’s SNP councillors want to build on the greenbelt they need to be open about it rather than trying to close down debate. ”
But Catriona MacDonald, SNP candidate for Edinburgh South, said that greenfield sites were not the preferred option for new housing.
She said: “People in Edinburgh South understand the need for affordable housing but they also want to make sure the greenbelt is protected from development.
“When the new local plan does go out for consultation, I think it’s important to make sure that residents are supported in making those views heard.
“There’s plenty of other options on the table for development like existing brownfield sites. Building on greenfield sites is certainly not the plan and I’m sure residents will make that view heard.”
Labour group leader and depute council leader, Cllr Cammy Day, has backed Cllr Arthur.
He said: “I think it’s reasonable for members to express their views so long as it does not impact on any upcoming planning matters. I don’t think Scott has broken any rules.
“When the Labour group and the administration has a position on the local plan, I would expect Scott to support that.”
Opposition councillors have hit out at the squabble.
Conservative group chairman, Cllr Jason Rust said: “We have a council minority coalition in absolute chaos. The infighting seems to be spreading and the internal spats becoming increasingly public.
“If there are administration plans for an attack on the greenbelt then residents deserve to know. It feels as though the council is rudderless and possibly helps explain why there is such a lack of strategic direction and oversight on a range of issues.”
Planning convener Cllr Neil Gardiner confirmed a consultation on the new local development plan will begin in January, if approved by councillors.
He added: "This will bring forward a range of choices of how the city can grow in a sustainable way in the decade ahead.
“In the plan we will need to allocate sites to meet housing and other needs for the period of the plan. These allocations will need to go towards meeting the city’s carbon neutrality target.
“Under the current local development plan we have enough land allocated for housing. Planning officers and the development management sub-committee have therefore rejected speculative greenbelt planning applications. These decisions have then been upheld by the government’s reporter on appeal”.