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by Kirsteen Paterson
10 April 2024
SNP councillor suspended over housing scheme row

Councillor Innes Nelson

SNP councillor suspended over housing scheme row

An SNP councillor who joined planning talks for a £250m housing scheme next to his own home has been suspended for one month.

Inverclyde Council's Innes Nelson discussed plans by billionaire brothers Sandy and James Easdale to build 450 houses on the derelict site of the former IBM plant in Greenock.

The Spango Valley site is close to his Chrisswell Farm.

But he failed to declare an interest in the matter and backed a restriction on the number of houses that could be built by the Easdales in partnership with Advance Construction.

Ethics bosses said there was "no evidence" that Nelson had not acted in good faith.

But, issuing the suspension, they said he should have declared an interest and left the meeting.

A hearing took place in Greenock earlier today.

Ashleigh Dunn, Standards Commission member and chair of the hearing panel, said: "The panel found that Councillor Nelson failed to declare an interest in the planning application and, instead, took part in the discussion and decision-making, despite the site that was the subject of the planning application being located near his property."

The discussion took place at a meeting of the local planning board in March 2022.

Permission for the housing development has since been granted and the Easdale brothers have called on Nelson to resign.

The panel said Nelson's record in local government was "previously unblemished".

And it said it was "not in dispute" that Nelson had proposed that planning permission be granted, subject to conditions recommended by officers.

The conditions include a restriction on the number of homes that could be built to 270, something the Easdales said made the scheme "unviable". This has now been removed and hundreds more residences will be allowed.

James and Sandy Easdale at the former IBM site

But Nelson's farmhouse is the closest property to the site and the panel said that, under the Councillors’ Code of Conduct, he should have realised that this would been seen as being "so significant" that it would likely affect his decision-making.

Dunn said: "The panel emphasised that the requirement for councillors to declare interests is a fundamental requirement of the code as it gives the public confidence that decisions are being made in the public interest, and not the personal interest of any councillor or their friends or family. 

"A failure to comply with the code’s requirements in this regard can erode confidence in the council and leave its decisions open to legal challenge."

Nelson has been contacted for comment.

James Easdale said: "The delay that Councillor Nelson created caused untold damage to the project. Not only have we personally encountered huge fees to appeal the original decision, the delay also coincided with a period where building costs and interest rates went through the roof."

He went on: "We are considering our options on whether to pursue Councillor Nelson on a personal basis for the costs incurred by his dreadful actions."

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