Angus Council wrong to consider demolition of building on common good land without consultation, judge rules
Angus Council has admitted defeat in the legal battle regarding its decision to approve the demolition of the former Lochside Leisure Centre in Forfar.
Councillors took the decision not to appeal a judgment of the Inner House of the Court of Session that the authority had been wrong to consider knocking down the facility without public consultation, having determined that an appeal would not be in the best interests of the people of Angus.
A legal challenge over the demolition plan was initially mounted by local property developer Mark Guild and Donald Stewart who expressed concern that the council had not appreciated the potential for continued use of the leisure centre. Mr Guild’s claim that the local authority’s decision to demolish the centre was “unlawful” had been dismissed earlier this year, but the decision of Lady Carmichael was then appealed to the Inner House of the Court of Session by the petitioner.
Angus Council said the case in the Inner House had succeeded only on a legal procedural point, which was not part of the original complaint, and that none of the original grounds of challenge succeeded.
“There was nothing in the judgment which indicated that the council’s broader strategy to retain the land as part of the park for public use was other than reasonable and desirable,” the council said.
The appeal won on a majority finding of 2:1, namely that the building had become part of the common good by virtue of it being built on common good land and therefore the council did not have the right to demolish it without public consultation. This judgment will now apply to all assets and buildings that are built on Common Good land across Scotland.
The local authority could have taken the matter to the Supreme Court, but council leader David Fairweather said the financial risk of losing was “too great”.
Mr Fairweather said: “If we were to appeal this, given the council’s adherence to the principle of obtaining Best Value for the public purse, the financial risk of losing would be too great. To be clear, the council did not bring any legal proceedings in this matter, but, rather, has only sought to defend itself from court actions brought against it by others.
“At this same meeting, we heard of the huge effort, dedication and time that officers have put into dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the costs we now face to pay for it. This case is an unwelcome distraction from keeping people safe, supporting children to stay in full-time school and helping to support those who are struggling with the financial and health impacts of the pandemic. Now we have taken this decision, we can focus on these core purposes.”
Chief executive officer, Margo Williamson, added: “We fully support the decision of council today which took into account the implications for all Angus common good properties including Lochside Leisure Centre.
“We have started to investigate acceptable alternative means to manage the impact of the judgement in accounting and financial terms for the Council. A future report will outline this process and the best way to engage the public on the future of the former Lochside Leisure Centre.”
The centre’s future will be considered in due course.