A Freedom of Information request by a campaigning group has revealed that civil servants advised Scottish Ministers not to give INEOS planning permission that will lead to the closure of a public road.
Now members of BRAG (Bo’ness Road Action Group) and Labour MSP Elaine Smith are demanding that planning minister Kevin Stewart explains why he chose to act against all the advice presented to him.
They also want to know why members of Falkirk Council’s planning committee voted not to appeal the decision, when they believe there was a good case.
Speaking on behalf of BRAG, Ian Peattie said: “We are very disappointed. We’d like to have made an appeal to the court of session ourselves and we spoke to a QC but it would have cost tens of thousands of pounds.”
The civil servants’ advice to the minister, revealed in an FOI request, followed an inquiry by two Scottish Government reporters carried out last year which criticised INEOS for its lack of a long-term plan.
The advice to the minister agrees with the reporters that INEOS has not looked at the long-term traffic implications of the closure and subsequent development.
So, while the council has been promised mitigation, which it hopes will be in the region of £20 million, the report states: “This mitigation would be insufficient in a relatively short period of time.”
Mr Peattie said: “Not only did he go against two reporters, he also went against the advice from his own civil servants.
“It makes you wonder why he came to the decision he did!”
The next step in the process is a stopping off order, which will close the road to traffic.
“Because of the minister’s decision and the council’s planning committee, that is just a formality,” said Mr Peattie.
When the minister was asked to explain his decision in the face of the civil servants advice, a Scottish government spokesperson said: “As the decision letter for this application makes clear, the reasoning for Scottish Ministers granting the appeal was there was a clear economic and security case for doing so.”
BRAG are unconvinced, however.
Mr Peattie said: “There has been millions of pounds of investment put into that site and the road has been open the whole time.
“They have not really made the case as to why they need to close the road.
“By that logic, you’d also need to close Earls Road, which goes through industry, and further along the Bo’ness Road you’re passing the Kinneil Plant.
“What it’s all about is for INEOS to maximise profits to line the pockets of its billionnaire owner while the people of Grangemouth and Bo’ness pay the price.”
MSP Elaine Smith said: “The decision by the Scottish Government to overrule Falkirk Council’s rejection of the Ineos application to close Bo’ness Road is an affront to local democracy in Scotland.
“The SNP have again put pounds before people in their decision.
“Planning Minister Kevin Stewart must fully explain why he chose to dismiss the clear concerns against closing this road.”
Falkirk Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said: “The Labour move for a direct legal challenge, against the advice of the independent legal advisors committed the council directly to expenditure of around £200,000 with little chance of success.
“More seriously, a delayed determination of the existing application would potentially open the door to the possibility of a second application being submitted directly to Holyrood.
“This means the company could bypass the council with the new Stopping Up Order application referred to Holyrood for determination.