A Labour councillor with an axe to grind against his neighbour abused his power to get updates on the householder’s plans for a garden pergola.
Next week’s meeting of Falkirk Council’s planning committee will not include Councillor Alan Nimmo, who resigned from his post on the committee at a meeting of the full council on December 7 last year after his actions were judged to have breached the Councillors’ Code of Conduct.
At that meeting, members were informed of the Standards Commission for Scotland’s decision to officially sanction Councillor Nimmo for breaching the code back in 2015.
The sanction could have seen Councillor Nimmo suspended from the planning committee, but he chose to resign.
This week he told The Falkirk Herald he had been planning to step down from the committee for some time and long before the commission reached its decision – a decision he believes to be wrong.
He said: “I certainly wasn’t forced to take that action, but I was thinking about resigning from the committee long before the Standards Commission had made their decision.
“I don’t believe the Standards Commission’s decision was correct in the circumstances but I took it at face value and decided we really needed to move on. I did take the opportunity to apologise to the council.”
The Standards Commission is an independent body set up by the Ethical Standards in Public (Scotland) Act 2000 to encourage high ethical standards in public life through the promotion and enforcement of the Councillor’s Code of Conduct.
The commission’s findings against Councillor Nimmo, who is Falkirk Council’s education spokesman, were published on October 27 last year following a hearing on October 24.
During the hearing it was stated the complainant was a neighbour of Councillor Nimmo and their relationship had “soured” since the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014.
Councillor Nimmo then took issue with his neighbour’s erection of a pergola and section of lattice fencing in Grangeburn Road, Grangemouth because it overshadowed his own garden and e-mailed the council’s head of planning and transportation on May 28, 2015 to find out whether planning permission was required for the structure.
When it became apparent permission was required and had not been sought or granted, Councillor Nimmo again e-mailed the head of planning and transportation on June 9, 2015 asking how long his neighbour had to comply with the requirement to apply for retrospective planning permission.
During the hearing it was argued Councillor Nimmo had a “personal interest” in the application which was not connected to his role as a councillor.
While members of the public are entitled to seek information on planning matters and applications, as a councillor he had existing working relationships with officers and, as such, enjoyed an advantageous position.
Councillor Nimmo claimed, in asking officers to deal with the matter urgently, he was acting in his neighbour’s best interests.
Councillor Nimmo even tried to have the application called in before the planning committee for decision rather than let it be dealt with by officers.
The planning committee unanimously approved the application at a meeting on October 28, 2015. Councillor Nimmo was not present at that meeting, having sent his apologies.
By requesting information that would not normally be available to members of the public and by asking officers to deal with the matter urgently Councillor Nimmo was judged to be seeking preferential treatment in breach of paragraph 3.19 of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct.
In reaching its decision, the commission found there was no evidence Councillor Nimmo actually attempted to put pressure on officers to reach a particular outcome in respect of the planning application, nor that his actions had any bearing on the decision that was ultimately made.
Councillor Nimmo’s vacant post will be filled by Councillor Jim Blackwood at Wednesday’s planning committee.
Council leader Craig Martin thanked Councillor Nimmo for his service on the planning committee.
He said: “Councillor Nimmo came to me when he heard the decision and said the right thing to do would be to resign from the committee. He still maintains he never did anything that impacted the planning application.
“Unfortunately the Standards Commission issued their decision based on what I thought was a neighbour dispute.”