SNP Councillor breached ethics code over IBM site housing plans

15/12/2023
James and Sandy Easdale at the former IBM site

AN SNP councillor who actively assisted delaying a major £350million housing project for up to five years in the West of Scotland has had three complaints against him upheld over serious breaches of the Code of Conduct for Councillors. 

Councillor Innes Nelson of Inverclyde Council had objected to the regeneration of the IBM site in Greenock by the brothers Sandy and James Easdale who have invested many millions in the Inverclyde area over the past 25 years.  

Sandy Easdale said: “Councillor Nelson is a disgrace to his party, his town and the people of Greenock. He needs to quit or be kicked off the council. Has he even thought about the skilled employment and apprenticeships he has cost the area over the past few years?”

Originally the application was for 450 houses as part of a mixed-used development which would include retail, leisure and commercial units. The Easdales were then shocked in March 2022 to be told that the council would only allow 270 houses which made the entire project unviable.

It was becoming clear at an early stage that Councillor Nelson, who owned a property on the opposite side of the dual carriageway to the IBM site, was attempting to unduly influence locals to oppose the development. Witnesses gave statements to the Easdales’ legal and media teams about Councillor Nelson’s erratic behaviour.

The Easdales had commented at the time that they found it bizarre that the then First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was demanding that 50,000 homes had to be built in Scotland but an SNP councillor was blocking new homes in an area that badly needed them.

The Easdales then lodged a hugely time-consuming and costly appeal against the council decision and in March 2022, permission was finally given to build 450 houses.

Over a year ago, the Easdales’ legal advisers lodged several complaints against Councillor Nelson with the Ethical Standards Commissioner in Edinburgh and in a letter to solicitor Michael McKittrick at PBW Law dated December 13 it was stated that:-

  • Councillor Nelson failed to declare an interest at a March 2, 2022 meeting when the application was being discussed as his own property was adjacent to the IBM site and that he had previously expressed concern about the development.
  • The Commissioner noted that Cllr Nelson was directly involved in the consideration of the application by the planning committee and his property is located on the other side of a dual carriageway from the Application’s site. The Commissioner was of the view that members of the public with knowledge of the relevant facts, being that the Cllr Nelson lived on the opposite side of the dual carriageway, had failed to declare this, motioned for a site visit and subsequently proposed the number of houses to be restricted would be concerned by the Respondent’s lack of candour in this regard.
  • Councillor Nelson has breached the Code which seeks to ensure that every councillor considers their connection to each matter that they become involved with. The Commissioner considered that a member of the public with knowledge of the relevant facts would reasonably regard the Respondent’s connection to the Application as being so significant that it would be regarded as being likely to influence the discussion and the decision-making at the Meeting. The owner or resident on the land that is adjacent to the Site would normally be affected by the Application, whether by building works, number of dwelling houses erected, number of new families moving into the area, and the attendant impact on amenities and facilities common to the immediate area.

Councillor Nelson and Inverclyde Council have been informed of the decision. The Ethical Standards Commissioner will now forward their findings to The Standards Commission for Scotland.

Sandy Easdale added: “These appalling delays have cost millions. Please remember when we bought the site, we were in a pre-pandemic world. Now we are facing increasing interest rates and labour and material costs have rocketed. On top of that our legal and architectural costs to get this plan through Inverclyde Council have been substantial.

“Now we await the Standards Commission to give their views of Councillor Nelson’s dereliction of duty and we trust that will not take a year like the Ethical Standards Commissioner did.

“In the meantime, we will be consulting with our advisers on the costly aftermath of this whole sorry affair.”

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