Argyll and Bute Council held a discretionary public hearing at Craignish Village Hall on 17th June 2013, on the planning application by the General Trustees of the Church of Scotland to build six affordable housing units on its land at The Glebe in Ardfern; and to sell five plots on the same ground for private houses, to be built to an approved external design.
The Planning Committee were informed that the General Trustees had already prepared a revised plan which addressed the concerns of residents who had tactically objected to it on a welter of grounds – and had blocked previous proposals for the desperately needed affordable housing in Ardfern.
At one point the then Chair of Craignish Community Council, Colin Davidson had sent a formal objection to the submitted plan for The Glebe, saying that all the development would do was bring ‘people of low income’ into the area. [We published, here, the full text of the Davidson objection the first time we referred to the 'people of low income' remark].
One way and another, it has been a 12 years struggle to date to try to get affordable housing built in Ardfern – and now the Community Council has embarked on yet another decoy move.
At the end of the discretionary hearing on 17th June, Councillor Mary Jean Devon asked, in turn, every representative of the objectors, whether, if their specific objections were met by modifications to the plan – and she specified the objection they had each put forward, they would support the plan.
Every single one said yes, including, monsyllabically, Colin Davidson, representing the Community Council. We were present at the meeting and heard this exchange – although Colin Davidson disputes it. If the minute shows that we misheard him, we will happily apologise .
The Planning Committee then voted in favour of continuing the application to allow the General Trustees to submit their revised plans.
At the end of the hearing everyone present was asked if they were satisfied that the proceedings had been conducted correctly. No-one disagreed with this.
Following that meeting, Mr Davidson resigned his position on the Community Council, on the grounds of his unhappiness with the way ‘the council’ had behaved over the matter. We are unsure whether by this he meant the Community Council or Argyll and Bute Council.
It did occur to us, having witnessed much of the 12 years of avoiding, blocking and delaying tactics the mainly very well heeled residents of Ardfern have deployed to keep those ‘people of low income’ out of ‘their’ village, whether Mr Davidson was resigning in order to try to free the Community Council of the obligation he had accepted on their behalf – to support the plan if modifications met their concerns.
That suspicion is now seen not necessarily to have been fanciful.
With the General Trustees’ resubmitted plan – which becomes a new proposal and is now in consultation – the Craignish Community Council is supporting what is no more than a notional proposition by Craignish Community Company (C3) to buy the land from the General Trustees themselves and to put only affordable homes on the site – five, not the proposed six, and for a mix of shared equity and social rent.
They have been in discussion with the Scottish Land Fund to seek financial support for the move.
It has to be asked here just what the Scottish Land Fund is doing in giving apparent comfort to a group who have shown no interest in the production of a fully funded, workable and ready to start plan, grant-aided and supported to the tune of many thousands of pounds.
It has also to be asked what the Fund is doing in getting involved in a situation where there is a validated plan before Argyll & Bute Council for the second time, designed to provide six affordable houses for which a considerable grant has been allocated. This plan has had modifications made which were specifically accepted as potentially satisfactory by all representative objectors at the discretionary hearing.
There are several issues here.
The first is the timescale. Invited representatives of both the Community Council and Community Company were present at the meeting in January 2012 in Argyll and Bute Council offices, at which all interested parties came together to discuss a workable plan to provide some affordable housing on the Glebe.
Following this meeting both community organisations made no contribution to the development of a planning application, wasting a full ten months where collaborative progress might have been made and had been invited.
Only when the planning application was about to be submitted did both groups rush forward with vexatious opposition, including the notion of transferring the building of affordable housing to another site in the village.
As a body which claims to fairly represent all sections of the community and to support the provision of social housing for those unable to afford home ownership, their expressed sense of responsibility appears continully to ebb away when there is any real likelyhood of such housing being built.
It is naive to see as coincidence the latest delaying device they are now proposing.
The second issue is that five affordable homes is fewer than six.
The third is that the vague ‘bit of shared equity, maybe a bit of social rent’ in the new notion being toyed with does not remotely meet the ability to pay of those who are in serious need of proper housing there.
People have for years had to live there in caravans and other unsuitable housing, with excessive cold, condensation and heating costs over the winter period each year, to say nothing of lack of security and concern about planning enforcement action.
These people now face yet another winter in these conditions.
They are not in a position to be able to muster their portion of the equity in a shared equity scheme. They need housing for social rent.
The Community Council say that theirs is ‘a better plan’.
Sorry. Theirs is no plan at all.
It is only a flag of convenience under which to run a stalling tactic.
They have no plan to submit.
They have no grounds to imagine that the General Trustees will sell them the land – or are even in a position to do so, given their financial responsibilities for the assets of the church.
Moreover, the Trustees are committed, in honour, to supporting the plan that does exist, that will provide affordable housing for social rent for those who badly need it, because the current plan is modified in ways that were specifically agreed as satisfactory at the discretionary hearing.
The wording of the latest objection
The wording of the objection Craignish Community has now submitted to the Councl planning department is as follows:
‘Craignish Community Council wishes to object to this Planning Application on the grounds that it is against the Local Plan and the Craignish Community Plan. At a Special Meeting of the Community Council on 11th September Craignish Community Council voted by a majority of 6-1 to object to this Planning Application.
‘Craignish Community Company put forward an alternative plan for The Glebe which is in accordance with the Local Plan and Community Plans and which will better address the need for affordable housing in Craignish.
‘The Community Council voted unanimously to offer its support to this plan.’
First of all, the issue of the Local and Community Plans was sorted out at the discretionary hearing where the Planning Committee agreed that the priority had to be the provision of affordable housing.
These things simply cannot, procedurally or fairly, be open to continual revisitation.
As we have pointed out above, the notion of five instead of six affordable housing units cannot be said to ‘better address the need for affordable housing in Craignish’.
Moreover, with some – number unspecified [such is the 'plan'] – destined for shared equity, beyond the reach of those most in need, this notion does not ‘better address’ any such need.
They also appear – unsurprisingly - to have no agreement from the General Trustees to sell them the land in question ,against the interests of their own plan.
This is moonshine.
Who has reason or evidence to support trust in the Community Council and/or the Community Company, C3, to be involved in the provision and allocation of social housing in Craignish?
This ploy puts the council’s planning department squarely on the line.
If it sets the precedent of allowing the current application to go by default in delay while the Craignish Community Company pulls together something resembling an actual plan for formal submission, everyone objecting to anything will know that all they have to do to block it – at any stage – is to say ‘we have a better plan that you may see later on’ – or not.
This would be a recipe for anarchy.
Delay will mean that the entire issue is back in the melting pot and people in need of affordable housing for social rent will again be the discards in this interminable gavotte of pass the application.
Note: This article has been updated today, 19th September, to clarify certain issues raised with us by Colin Davidson, former Chair of Craignish Community Council.