Councillors “had no choice” over hotel

The chair of the Kincardine and Mearns area committee has claimed that there was no way to save the Heugh Hotel and that the committee was “forced” to grant the change of use application.

Councillor Paul Melling discussed the decision with members of Stonehaven and District Community Council at their meeting this week and explained his use of the casting vote which resulted in change of use being granted for the hotel.

He said: “I don’t think anybody particularly wanted to shut it as a hotel but we were forced as a committee.”

He explained that they had very little choice as to what to do, as if they did not agree with the officers recommendation they were legally left with no other options.

He continued: “We can quite clearly see the uncomfortable position we were in. We had a split committee and it was up to me to use my casting vote.

“I did feel that we didn’t have any other option as the report before us from the owner said it isn’t a viable place as a hotel and there wasn’t suitable income for them to run it as a hotel.

“We had to give them the opportunity for their future. As sad as it was we were not in a position to tell others to do this or to do that with their lives.”

Commmunity Councillor Allan Sutherland questioned the point of a vote if the committee had no options. He said: “Supposing the Councillors had voted against a change of use, are you saying that decision would have been overturned?”

Cllr Melling explained that he sought legal advice and that if the committee had refused change of use then there was nothing to guarantee that the owners of the Heugh couldn’t just abandon the hotel, leaving the building derelict.

He also explained that there was no policy to support refusing the application and so the decision would have been appealed and permission would have been granted anyway.

When lodging their objection to the plans for the Heugh Hotel the Community Council had used the policy from the emerging local plan of advertising businesses as going concerns for twelve months prior to change of use being granted as a reason for refusal. However it was explained to the council that this policy was not yet in force.

This caused Community Councillor Andrew Morton to accuse the Council of “cherry picking policies.” Cllr Melling assured them this is not the case and explained that until the new local plan is agreed that the policies in place are that of the current plan.

Councillor Mike Sullivan said: “We all deplore the fact that Stonehaven has lost another hotel, but in this case we have only lost six rooms. Is is sad but it is not catastrophic.”

Councillor Graham Clark explained that the vote had not been pointless. He said: “Yes we can change things. If we can’t change things there is no sense in having Councillors. Unfortunately in this situation it was a split vote and we lost it.”

A member of the public at the meeting then asked about how Cllr Melling cast his deciding vote, he asked how the decision was made if it was completely up to the chair or if he had to go with the “Status-quo.”

Cllr Melling explained that the final decision was purely his choice.

Finally what the Community Council did feel has come from the Heugh hotel situation is a clear indication that the policies have to be in place to allow them to reach a decision on planning applications. It was discussed that because of the nature of the Community Council they will always be too close to decisions as they will know the parties involved.

They said this was particularly relevant to the Heugh as they all know the owner and know the amount of hard work he has put into the hotel, and how much it has benefited Stonehaven over the years.