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Issues raised during turbulent planning phase
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Convener attacked over Kingask plans

Craig Nisbet, The Citizen, 19 February 1999

In the wake of plans for the £50 million Kingask hotel and conference centre being rejected, East Area Planning Convener, Councillor Peter Douglas, has this week been the target of resignation calls and demands for apologies to council officials.

Defending his position, Councillor Douglas - the local member for Gleneden and Crail in which the Kingask site falls - said this week that he went to the crucial planning meeting with the hope that there was some way the plans could be accepted or progressed.

Calls for Councillor Douglas’ resignation came not for his position as planning chairman but his post on the Kingdom of Fife Tourist Board which met in Glenrothes earlier this week.

Dysart Councillor John Cameron said that Councillor Douglas should be leaving his position on the board in light of his involvement in the Kingask decision.

The longest-serving member of the Tourist Board, Councillor Douglas dismissed the call saying he had no intention of going.

Further attacks came on Wednesday when Councillor Douglas was accused of stooping to the lowest level of political life.

The attack came from Councillor Helen Eadie, Charlestown, the Roads and Transportation spokesperson for Fife Council, who described Councillor Douglas’ public criticism of senior council officials as “deplorable.”

In a pointed letter him, she said that she could not comment on the decision of the East Area Planning Committee over the Kingask project. However, she referred to press reports of the four-hour discussion on the project and said that, if they were true, she was “dismayed.”

“If it is the case that you levelled such severe public criticism against both Alan Bryan and Jim Birrell, Fife Council officials, then I find it deplorable that you should choose to do so,” she said. In the letter, Councillor Eadie pointed out that she had always taken the view that it was fair to criticise politicians but not civil servants, no matter what level of government they serve.

“There is an understanding and acknowledgement that officials are not in a position to defend themselves and, therefore, to criticise them is to stoop to the lowest level in political life,” she added.

Defending the professionalism of the two officials - Alan Bryan is head of transportation for Fife Council and Jim Birrell is the council’s East Area planning manager - Councillor Eadie said that Mr Bryan’s competence was recognised by his fellow professionals, much further afield that just Fife.

She said that Mr Birrell was equally highly respected by his colleagues.

She asked Councillor Douglas to make a public apology to both, stating: “They deserve no less”. On a political point, Councillor Eadie said that it had been alleged to her that the Lib Dem political group in North East Fife had already taken a decision on the Kingask project prior to the planning meeting.

Making no apology for his comments at the meeting, Councillor Douglas said: “We found Alan Bryan’s presentation to the committee very confusing.

“I had gone there with a hope that there was some way that we could accept or progress the application. He did not come up with answers that the committee found satisfactory. He was questioned again and again and couldn't or wouldn't give answers.”

On the question of a political decision being taken, he added: “Anybody can look at the track record and will find that we vote across party lines on planning matters and that is the correct thing to do.”

He pointed out that four other councillors voted differently, one of them being Roly Jack who is the vice-Chairman of the East Area Planning Committee.

“I have a high regard for Jim Birrell”, said Mr Douglas.

“He has got to come down on one side or another. Once he has made that decision he is bound to come down making as strong a case as he can for his recommendation. The committee doesn't always accept his recommendation”.

Councillor Douglas added that, as the local councillor, he did not enter into the debate on Kingask straight after the planning manager’s presentation to the committee - normal committee practice for local councillors.

He had had around 16 points which he wanted answers to and, during the debate, most of these were covered. It was after a motion was put forward that Councillor Douglas, as the local member, gave his input.

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