Maddiston animal sanctuary owner wins fight

Paul Borg Grech won his fight to expand his animal sanctuary
Paul Borg Grech won his fight to expand his animal sanctuary

An animal lover has criticised the council for being “unreasonable” after the Scottish Government upheld his appeal over a planning application refusal on a former dumping ground.

Paul Borg Grech is furious with Falkirk Council for forcing him to challenge their decision - through a costly public inquiry.

The 46-year-old says his decision to pursue the council following its refusal of an application to extend his animal sanctuary - home to pigs, chickens and rare Golden Guernsey goats - near An Cala, in California Road, Maddiston, has been vindicated.

The council’s planning committee knocked back his plans earlier this year saying they were “detrimental to the environment” and were contrary to the Local Plan amid other reasons.

However, the Scottish Reporter appointed by Scottish Ministers, MJ Culshaw, concluded that, “...no evidence of any substance has been submitted by the council to support their claim that the integrity of existing wildlife biodiversity would be affected by the use of the land.”

Mr Borg Grech believes the “daunting and intimidating” system has to change to save other applicants going through the same misery.

He said: “This refusal and subsequent appeal has set us back 18 months, all because of this bureaucracy.

“From the council’s point of view it seemed like it was a ‘them and us’ scenario and there was no common sense approach, or any motivation to compromise in any way.

“They simply dug their heels in with a decision I felt was wholly unreasonable. It’s an extremely daunting and intimidating experience when you receive a site visit with 12 people from the council there, including lawyers.

“Councillors were making derogatory remarks instead of being helpful to a small business. Why is this? I will be creating jobs.

“Is this not something the council want? The sanctuary will be run as a charity to help people, disabled people.

“And what are the costs to the taxpayer for something like this? Those 12 people who came out for the site visit have to get paid and the legal costs for the appeal won’t be cheap.

“It could have run into tens of thousands for all I know, because the council won’t say either. The system needs to change, it’s atrocious. It needs a common sense approach.”

Falkirk Council said it does not comment on individual cases and could not provide costs for the appeal. A Freedom of Information request for these costs has been submitted by the Falkirk Herald.

Mr Borg Grech, a well known local photographer, is worried that the council is shooting itself in the foot through such appeals.

He added: “Firstly, they have to pay for them which was not in the taxpayers’ interest in this case and, secondly, my research has shown these things can put other people off even submitting planning applications, so the council loses out on money from that too.”

Falkirk Council did not respond with figures of how many plaaning applications it received over the past five years, or how much money they generated over the same period.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland’s planning system has been through its most fundamental reform in 60 years.

“We are now concentrating on sharpening our focus on performance and delivery to make sure the planning system does all it can to support sustainable economic growth for Scotland.

“We have consistently emphasised the clear link in the planning service between resources and performance, and the recent Audit Scotland report highlights that there has been a reduction in the number of applications without a notable improvement in performance.

“It is important that we have an efficient planning service and we intend to discuss matters around performance and fees with COSLA shortly.”