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Council / Moraig resigns from planning committee claiming councillors are ‘relegated to a postscript’

But chair Emma Macdonald says planning is like no other committee and suggested Lyall did not fully understand its role

A COUNCILLOR has stood down from her position on the local authority’s planning committee amid concern over the role elected members play in decision making.

Shetland Central councillor Moraig Lyall. Photo: Shetland News

Moraig Lyall’s decision follows the committee’s approval on Monday of a new Co-op convenience store in her ward in Scalloway.

Chair of Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) planning committee Emma Macdonald said she regrets Lyall’s decision, saying it was “not easy” to be a member of the committee and suggested that, perhaps, the Shetland Central councillor hadn’t fully understood the role of planning.

On Monday, Lyall told the committee she could not support the controversial application for a new supermarket at Scalloway, having expressed fears over the impact it could have on the Shetland economy.

The application was however approved by the six-strong committee on the recommendation of planning officers.

Lyall said on Tuesday that her resignation was not a reaction to the meeting, but the “conclusion of a process of coming to understand that the committee is tightly curtailed in its deliberations”.

“It has met only three or four times annually for the last few years which some might argue is evidence of a system which is working well, as so little is brought to the committee,” she added.

“But I see it as having relegated the councillors to a postscript in the decision-making process.”

Responding to her reasons for resignation Macdonald said: “I think Moraig maybe didn’t understand the role of the planning committee, it is not like other [council] committees.

Planning committee chair, councillor Emma Macdonald. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

“Planning is a regulatory committee, it is not based on opinion, it is based on planning law and legislation.

“So, when you are making decisions, you have to make them with that planning lens, and you have to make them with the information in front of you, and not on your personal views (…) and I am not sure she understands that.”

The committee considers applications which have unresolved statutory objections, or local appeals. It met three times in 2021 and four times in 2020.

Macdonald added: “Planning policy is set nationally, it is not set locally, and you have to abide by that. You have your local development plan which things have to sit alongside, and when you make decisions, they have to fit into that.

“I know that is difficult for some people, and I think for some people it is probably easier not to be on the planning committee.”

Lyall said she does not think there “would be a queue at the door” to replace her, adding that Catherine Hughson who resigned from the planning committee almost exactly a year ago has also not been replaced.

The Shetland West councillor stepped down from the committee in December 2020, claiming the erosion of decision-making powers was one of the reasons for her decision.

And back in June 2019, councillor Theo Smith stepped down as the chairman of the committee because of repeated conflict of interests on Viking Energy related applications.

With the council election scheduled for May next year, Macdonald confirmed that it was unlikely that councillor Lyall would be replaced on the committee.

“I think people who will come on to the council after the next election, and if they want to sit on planning, they really need to understand what they can and cannot do” she added.

“It is difficult. I know people think you have the ability of making decisions on what you think the community wants you to do but unfortunately that doesn’t fit into your planning guidelines and local development plan.

“You can’t do that, and people need to have an understanding of that.”

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