Councillor hit with planning penalty

Councillor Ron Smith
Councillor Ron Smith

HAWICK and Hermitage councillor Ron Smith has been suspended from all local authority-related planning committees for three months.

The former provost was sanctioned by the Standards Commission for Scotland following a hearing at council headquarters on Wednesday.

And he has since resigned as executive member for planning and the environment and from the planning committee.

The case surrounds a planning application by Aitken Turnbull to convert part of the Buccleuch Street company’s premises into a sandwich bar last year.

Councillor Smith was one of six who voted to reject the proposal, with five in support.

However, it was felt by former Roxburgh District Councillor Jamie Batten that, as Councillor Smith has connections to two parties who voiced their objections to the proposal – the high school, where he previously served as a teacher, and the Kirk Session, where at neighbouring Teviot Church he is an elder – he should have declared a non-pecuniary (not involving money) interest.

A spokesperson for the Standards Committee confirmed that he had breached the councillors’ code of conduct. “Councillor Smith is suspended for a period of three months from July 11 from participating in all council planning related committees.”

In his defence, Councillor Smith said he had listed on the Register of members’ interests that he is an elder at Teviot Church and that the objection from the Kirk Session had nothing to do with the church.

However, it was felt by the panel that, since he is a member of the Kirk Session, he must have had an interest in the outcome.

Councillor Smith, who was represented by his son at the hearing, insisted his objections were made purely on road safety concerns expressed by constituents.

He said: “In Hawick terms, Mr Batten’s campaign has lost Hawick a representative on the executive committee and a representative on the planning committee.”

Mr Batten said: “I’m not gloating. Councillor Smith must have known when he went into the planning committee that he should have declared a non pecuniary interest and walked out of the room and taken no part in the decision.”