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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 February 2008, 18:37 GMT
Planning intervention 'was right'
Macdonald resort, Aviemore. Picture by Macdonald Hotels
Macdonald Hotels raised concerns about the delay
The Scottish Government has insisted it was right to intervene in a planning wrangle involving an SNP donor.

Ministers contacted environment bosses last year after Macdonald Hotels threatened to scrap the plans for Aviemore, because of a delay.

The resort's chief executive, Donald Macdonald, gave 30,000 to the Nationalists last May and Labour said ministers overstepped the mark.

Environment Minister Mike Russell said the proper action had been taken.

His comments came after publishing extensive correspondence, under freedom of information laws, surrounding 80m expansion plans approved in December.

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They included plans for two supermarkets and about 160 houses in Aviemore's Highland Resort.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) objected to the application, because of the absence of a flood risk assessment, but later withdrew the concerns once it was received.

The government was lobbied urgently by a cross-party group of politicians suggesting Sepa was holding up the planning process unnecessarily and threatening hundreds of jobs.

Labour Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant e-mailed Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead, asking him to put "pressure" on Sepa.

Mr Russell called Sepa on 7 December to ask if there were any "misunderstandings" about the process that were unnecessarily holding up the agency's proper consideration, before the agency withdrew its objection on 10 December.

"I will act without fear or favour if there is a genuine complaint about a difficulty of process for organisations responsible to me," said Mr Russell.

'Live application'

The minister added: "We do not put pressure, we ask questions - as a result of which we got the thing moving again."

Sepa chief executive Campbell Gemmell pointed out the flood assessment was not delivered on time by the developer but, when it was, his staff worked hard to have it dealt with a few days before planners at the Cairngorm National Park Authority discussed the application, on 14 December.

He added: "At no time did our minister, or any other minister, put pressure on Sepa to make a particular decision about the case.

"We were asked only to ensure we were in a position to give a clear decision by the time of the planning committee meeting."

Labour's Jackie Baillie said the correspondence appeared to show that First Minister Alex Salmond had become "further embroiled in the continuing allegations that SNP ministers acted inappropriately and contrary to the ministerial code".

She added: "And, critically, it shows that those ministers brought inappropriate pressure to bear on the planning authorities and the government's independent environmental protection agency."

SEE ALSO
Planning concern move 'in order'
27 Jan 08 |  Scotland
Park resort master plan approved
14 Dec 07 |  Highlands and Islands
Aviemore's future vision outlined
27 Sep 05 |  Scotland
Aviemore revamp plans unveiled
18 Dec 02 |  Scotland

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