MSP candidates for Renfrewshire South battled to win the hearts of Lochwinnoch residents at an online hustings event as they voiced their thoughts about the inclusion of a much-loved greenbelt site in the new Local Development Plan (LDP).
Ahead of polling day in just under a week’s time, a virtual debate was held as villagers posed questions to the SNP’s Tom Arthur, Conservative Derek Stillie, Labour’s Paul O’Kane, Andy Doig of Scotia Future and West of Scotland list candidates Eileen McCartin from the Lib Dems and the Greens’ Carolynn Scrimgeour.
And despite their differences, the rivals agreed the pressing issue in the area was a treasured field in Burnfoot Road being included in the housing envelope of the recently agreed Renfrewshire LDP.
Despite around half the village objecting to new homes being built on the site, Renfrewshire Council and the Scottish Government reporter who examined the blueprint agreed on the move.
Each of the candidates was asked by chair Niall Christie to explain how they reflected on the controversial issue.
East Renfrewshire councillor Mr O’Kane, Renfrewshire elected member Andy Doig, and Ms Scrimgeour all said they were concerned communities were being ignored when it came to major planning decisions.
Mr O’Kane said: “People are beginning to feel Lochwinnoch is being sidelined. When councillors voted against this decision as well, serious questions need to be asked.
“Scottish Labour with the Greens tried to amend the planning bill that went through parliament, and that was about making sure community groups had a right to appeal. The most frustrating thing when I sat on the planning committee in East Renfrewshire was when communities felt the reporter was wrong and they didn’t have the right of appeal, whereas the developer has that right if the decision goes against them. Communities are the last rung of the ladder and that’s a problem.”
Mr Doig added: “There are about 12 villages in Renfrewshire. It is a semi-rural authority but it does not think like that. Administration councillors have allowed themselves to be too officer-led.
“I think one of the priorities in Lochwinnoch is to get flatted housing on brownfield sites.
“We need to have a housing policy that meets the needs of people and that’s not happening at the moment.”
Ms Scrimgeour said: “We are committed to empowering communities. We understand housing is necessary but we are committed to developing derelict and brownfield sites.
“We need to make changes that are going to help improve our natural climate. I hope Green votes would empower us to tackle these things. “
Meanwhile, Mr Arthur and Mr Stillie were at loggerheads over who was to blame for Burnfoot Road – which regularly experiences flooding issues – being earmarked for housing.
The Tory candidate pointed the finger at the SNP government and vowed to make sure councils had more power in planning decisions.
Mr Stillie said: “We have 1,600 people who objected to this. I think that is abhorrent. Local people’s views have to be respected.
“All these homes will change the village entirely and it’s symptomatic of the SNP where everything is centralised. We will bring these things back to a local level and the voices of the people of Lochwinnoch will be listened to.”
Mr Arthur argued the problem lay in the council voting to include the site in the LDP in 2019 before it went to the report for assessment.
The SNP politician said: “It was the decision of Renfrewshire Council to include it in the first place. So all the remarks about the reporter are extraneous.
“A key job as an MSP is supporting local groups because we still have an attitude from local government, from officers, whereby it is a real battle to try and get engagement with local groups. If there had been early engagement with the community, Burnfoot Road would not have been there in the first place.”
Councillor McCartin, who represents Paisley Southwest on Renfrewshire Council, said she had fought hard to ensure areas of carbon capture like Burnfoot Road were protected from development.
She added: “There’s no point in developing new areas of carbon capture when areas like Burnfoot Road, which is already an area of carbon capture, are being destroyed. I have tried to push that these sorts of areas should be taken out of the LDP but brick wall syndrome came into being from the council.”