Caroline’s Well legalities still lost in the woods

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THe situation over granting road access to Caroline’s Well Wood was little clearer this week, after tempers frayed at the Formartine Area Committee when Councillors were refused the opportunity to question officials in the course of the meeting.

The legal dispute concerns granting rights of access through the wood to the new Castle Park development after Councillors, who are also deemed to be trustees of the wood following a bequest in the 1970’s, were advised by the officers that granting permission for an access road would be incompatible with their obligations as trustees.

Formartine Area Manager Keith Newton, who had submitted a paper to the meeting, reported to the committee that his paper should be regarded as a progress report, on the grounds that he was not yet in a position to reveal the substance of his ongoing discussions regarding the matter, and that the developers themselves needed to discuss their own position.

The paper reveals that the Council has received legal advice that granting road access would not confer any benefit to the parkland and as such, would be open to legal challenge under the terms of the Blench Charter. The paper also claims that any road which avoided the land covered by the Charter could have an impact on the eventual development of the current Academy site.

Responding to the report, Councillor Rob Merson remarked that Mr Newton’s paper raised more questions than answers regarding the matter. However, he was prevented from directing questions to the officials present by Committee Chair Councillor John Loveday, who ruled that the purpose of placing the report on the agenda was simply for Councillors to ‘note’ its contents formally. Any questions, he said, would have to be submitted in writing, so that they could be answered in a further report.

Councillor Loveday’s ruling from the chair provoked a strong reaction from some of the other councillors present. Cllr Debra Storr observed that the Committee was effectively in the position of having granted a planning application which couldn’t be granted, while Councillor Isobel Davidson called for all options which would allow the application to be progressed to be looked at.

Given the chance to respond, Cllr Merson said that he was ‘uncomfortable’ with being asked to ‘note’ a report in which he was not convinced all items were factually correct, and queried why the committee as a whole was regarded as trustees, when previous obligations from the burgh of Ellon had fallen on the ward councillors alone.

Councillor Paul Johnston moved a motion to not note the report, as he did not wish to accept all of its contents, and requested that the Head of Legal and Governance services be present at the next meeting. After a debate on whether such a move would be competent from a procedural point of view, councillors backed a counter-proposal from Cllr Anne Robertson to defer consideration of Mr Newton’s report until the following meeting, at which the Head of Legal and Governance services would be instructed to attend.