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Issues raised during turbulent planning phase
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Councillor defends Kingask debate remarks

The Courier, 22 February 1999

A North East Fife councillor has responded to calls made for him to publicly apologise to two officials whose reports played a central role in debate over the recently-rejected £50 million golf hotel facility at Kingask, near St Andrews.

Area development committee chairman Peter Douglas has strongly defended remarks he made at the meeting as issues such as traffic, size and scale were debated. He had claimed the transportation case, put forward by head of department Alan Bryan, had been “weak, woolly and badly presented.”

His comments had been preceded in similar terms around the table, by councillors on both sides of the eventual vote, as the debate progressed. He had also said that reports prepared by East Fife area planning manager Jim Birrell had given the “spin of the ball” to the developers on every occasion and this had been commented on by several committee members.

A furious row has started over a letter sent to Mr Douglas by the Labour administration transport spokesperson, Helen Eadie, who criticised his remarks and repeated a suggestion made to her that the Liberal Democrat group had predecided the application.

That allegation has been roundly condemned by everyone who took part in the debate - supporters and dissenters alike - and local MP Menzies Campbell has described it as “almost certainly defamatory.”

At the weekend Mr Douglas said the letter from Councillor Eadie had been given to the Press before he had received it and he hoped any further correspondence would be in his hands first. In his reply he has, however, staunchly defended his remarks about the way transportation case was presented.

While he had no reason to hold Mr Bryan in anything other than high regard he said, “On the day the goods were not delivered and that is quite irrefutable. If that is unfair or unhelpful in any way, I would withdraw my original comment. But it is factual and true and I think all members personally believe it to be the case. I cannot tell a lie and pretend it to be otherwise.”

It might help Councillor Eadie to understand the difficulty, he said, if he pointed out that it had been claimed to him afterwards that the answers being sought were there, but “We were just not getting them.”

As to Mr Birrell, Mr Douglas said an apology was neither sought nor required. Having gone for approval or disapproval, he would naturally make the strongest case possible for his recommendation. That, he said, was the “spin of the ball” and the official’s approach was entirely legitimate.

Mr Douglas said he had spoken to Mr Birrell about the observation and the official had stated that he was not upset.

He added that the points made by Councillor Eadie had raised interesting questions. “Are officials never to be commented on as to the quality and strength of a report? I think that as councilors and as representatives of the public - who foot the bill - we have a public duty to closely scrutinise what our officials do.”

On the pre-decision allegation, Mr Douglas said the “observer” quoted by Councillor Eadie must have been both blind and deaf. It was farcical to suggest this, he said, when there was a seven-five split in the vote after three hours of debate.

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