Monday, December 22, 2008

Nat Council Leader Embroiled in Planning Scandal

The leader of West Lothian Council, Peter Johnston is facing calls for his resignation following a police investigation being called to look at a conflict in an £8m planning application involving Action to Save St John's Hospital (ATSSJH) Councillor Gordon Beurskens. The case had been referred to Lothian and Borders police by the chief executive Alex Linkston.

The application faced objections from the local authority's planning officers, but Cllr Beurskens who serves on the council's development control committee also acted as a consultant for the Aftondale application at Whiterigg, Whitburn close to the Robert Wiseman dairy to the east of the town. Similar to the controversial Trump development in Aberdeenshire the application came down to the chairman's casting vote. But unlike Martin Ford who voted for the status quo, my one time opponent in the old Croftmalloch Ward Cllr Jim Dickson used his casting vote to support the application.

It is alleged the Beurskens, who along with his two fellow ATSSJH shore up the SNP's slim majority in the council chamber, threatened to bring down the Nationalist administration if the application was rejected. Apparently there are emails sent from Cllr Beurkens consultancy address threatening the planning officials with just such an outcome. Council leader Peter Johnson was copied in on these emails yet failed to act to prevent this major conflict of interests, or the seemingly threatening and aggressive behaviour of Beurskens.

Johnston who stood for the Livingston Westminster seat for Livingston in Westminster and Holyrood elections in the past has been accused by the Labour group leader Graeme Morrice as being 'complicit' in the 'alleged wrongdoings' and is calling for the resignation of the council leader. The area's MSP Mary Mulligan has said she hopes that:

"alongside the Police inquiry there will be a full investigation into exactly
what happened in this case and that all papers are released."

Also stated that concern regarding the development's impact on employment at Wisemans was a major issue for her objections to the application.

Johnson has denied any indication of support for the application but also has stated that he thinks Cllr Beurskens will be exonerated through this investigation. One does have to wonder whether that is a thought based on hope over evidence but only time will reveal that answer.

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