On 21st January 2016, SNP List MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Mike Mackenzie, a former builder and often controversial resident on Easdale Island, delivered himself of the following self-congratulatory remarks in a Scottish Parliament debate on the Private Housing Tenancies Bill:
‘Before I go on, I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests which notes that my wife owns two houses that she rents to tenants. They have lived there for many years and we think of them not as tenants but as neighbours and friends. I am sure that the feeling is reciprocated.’
This contribution to the debate prompted research showing that the two ‘houses’ to which Mr Mackenzie was referring were granted planning permission in 1993/4 – not as houses for rent but as an extension to his dwelling; and as an outbuilding for his dwelling.
Application no. 93/01134/DET – Erection of Outbuilding and Extension to No. 1 Easdale Island.
This was approved subject to the specific condition that: ‘the proposed extension to the dwellinghouse, and the garden store, shall be used for ancillary domestic accommodation/storage uses only, and shall not be used for any other purpose without the prior written consent of the District Council as Planning Authority’.
Both structures were built by 1997/8 – and were immediately converted to dwellings. The ‘extension’ to his house became No. 1a. The ‘garden store’ became No. 1b. Both were rented out for occupation.
- No. 1a was registered for Council Tax on 1st April 1999.
- No. 1b was registered for non-domestic rates (holiday let) on 2nd April 1999 and for Council Tax on 1st August 2000.
Then in 2006, Mr Mackenzie applied for permission to erect a ‘garden shed’ extension onto the side of the ‘garden store’ that had transmogrified into the dwelling No. 1b.
The planners and Historic Scotland were not terribly happy with this proposal and Mr Mackenzie withdrew this application in March 2007.
However, presumably believing that, by then, the planners had taken their eyes off the ball, Mr Mackenzie began building the ‘garden shed’ extension in October/November 2008 – without the benefit of planning consent.
This activity did not go unnoticed and in 2009 he again had to apply for [part retrospective] permission to erect a ‘garden shed’ extension onto the side of the ‘garden store’ that was already in rental use as dwelling No. 1b.
The planners noticed that the ‘garden store’/No. 1b did not have a Certificate of Lawfulness for use as a dwelling and instructed Mr Mackenzie to submit an application for such a Certificate, subject to an Enforcement Order.
He submitted an invalid application for that Certificate – but this was not pursued by the planners.
He also ‘declined’ to send further details of the extension as required by the then Conservation Officer. This was not pursued either.
Then, for some reason, sometime before February 2010 – by which time [coincidentally?] he was the SNP candidate for the Argyll and Bute Constituency in the UK General Election in May of that year – the planners became helpfully compliant and stopped pushing Mr Mackenzie. This effectively accepted that everything was really all fine and dandy – and that it really didn’t matter if the ‘garden shed’ extension applied for might well be used as part of the ‘garden store’ that had been informally translated into the rented ‘dwelling’ to which the new ‘shed’ was to be attached.
So … long story short … neither of the houses that Mr Mackenzie’s wife rents out is legally a ‘dwelling’.
The lapse of time, however, now rules out any formal address to the situation.
In short, he got away with it – with the tacit consent of the council’s planners – a situation which hardly chimes with the respect for planning law we expect of those who are charged with administering it.
Perhaps this is an example of what the SNP really means in boasting of its ‘progressive’ policies: those seeing themselves as powerful or potentially powerful simply grab personal progress by whatever means – and the rest go to the wall.
The financial transactions for which SNP MPs Michelle Thompson and Natalie McGarry resigned from the party [but not from their seats] pending formal investigation, would demonstrate the same sense of ‘progressive’ behaviour.
Note: Mike Mackenzie has been placed third by the SNP in its list of the candidates it will allocate to Highlands and Islands seats it may win in the Regional List vote in the Scottish Election this coming Thursday, 5th May 2016.