TWO Motherwell councillors at the centre of a planning row have been cleared of misconduct after an investigation by the Standards Commission.
Michael Ross and Paul Kelly could have been barred from office had they been found guilty of breaching the code of conduct for councillors.
However, the commission has found ‘no evidence’ that they acted together to influence a North Lanarkshire Council planning committee decision.
This week the Motherwell West pair said they were delighted to be vindicated and thanked voters for standing by them at the council elections in May.
The election came just days after they were reported to the commission by Rev Alan Wylie, of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.
His complaint followed a planning committee decision to reject the church’s plan to demolish its dilapidated hall in Crawford Street and replace it with flats.
Councillor Kelly moved that the plan be refused and the committee backed him by seven votes to four.
He admitted speaking to Councillor Ross, the ruling Labour group’s powerful business manager at the time, before the meeting about the issue.
Councillor Ross’s father was an objector to the church’s plans and Councillor Ross admitted drafting a protest letter for him.
However, both councillors denied that any lobbying had taken place.
In his report Stuart Allan, Standards Commissioner for Scotland, said: “There is no evidence of any inappropriate lobbying and no evidence that Councillor Kelly failed to deal fairly and impartially with the planning application.
“I find no evidence to support Mr Wylie’s contention that Councillor Kelly - in moving that the application be refused - was seeking ‘to appease his master’, Councillor Ross.”
The councillors had given different versions of the conversation they had before the meeting, with each insisting the other had raised the issue of the church application.
Mr Allan said no one else was present during their chat so it was impossible to establish which version was accurate.
The commissioner added: “Both are adamant that Councillor Ross did not seek privately to lobby Councillor Kelly.
“It may be, however, that they will wish to reflect on the wisdom or otherwise of having any conversation about a planning application on the eve of a meeting at which Councillor Kelly was to be one of those deciding upon that application.”
Councillor Kelly told the Motherwell Times: “I’m glad that after a full investigation the commission has concluded there is no case to answer.
“I always consider what both the applicant and objectors have to say before coming to what I believe is the correct conclusion on a planning application and I don’t feel there were ever questions about my integrity.
“These were serious allegations, but given the response I got on the doorsteps during the election campaign I didn’t feel I was in danger of losing my council seat. I got excellent support from the electorate.”
Councillor Ross, who stepped down
from his business manager role after the allegations were made, said: “I’m delighted with the findings because it’s been a difficult couple of months.
“I made it clear from the start I did nothing inappropriate and the commission has confirmed that.
“What strengthened me throughout the process was the number of constituents and political opponents who offered best wishes. At no point did I consider quitting my council seat.”
The commission also cleared Councillor Kelly of breaching the code in respect of comments made about Mr Wylie in a letter to the Times.