There are calls for the law to be changed to halt a run of high-profile planning decisions being overturned by the Scottish Government.
Plans for 80 homes south of North Deeside Road in Milltimber were refused by councillors last November, having been subject to more than 800 public objections.
Developer Bancon Homes appealed the decision and now a government-appointed reporter has indicated he will back the proposals.
The site was earmarked for 60 homes and mixed use development in the Aberdeen local development plan (LDP) and the local authority’s own planning officials recommended members approve the scheme.
Councillors rejected the outline plans for up to 99 residential units – in reality, as many as 80 – at Milltimber South as it would mean the development would increase in size by around a third.
More than 21,500 sq ft of retail space was put forward too as part of the plans, drawn up alongside north-east children’s charity Dr William Guilds Managers.
Government reporter: Development plan should only be viewed indicatively
Ministerially-appointed reporter, Michael Shiel, said he was “minded to allow the appeal” and is still to make a decision on whether the council will have to stump up Bancon’s legal costs.
He said preparation work put in to the LDP could only be viewed as indicative of how many homes should be allowed, as the assessment was “not sufficient to establish an accurate capacity for each site”.
The decision was described as “disappointing” by the city council’s deputy planning convener, Jennifer Stewart, who added: “Everyone has the right to appeal and I accept that democratic process.
“But if the majority of the committee thought this was the wrong choice I feel this is undermining their position.
“I believe in the importance of local knowledge, but in the back of my mind I am not surprised the appeal has come to this.
“I still stand by the decision the committee made – but this does not surprise me.”
Her comments allude to a growing anger among north-east politicians at government intervention on local planning matters.
Detailed Milltimber South plans to be drawn up in ‘coming weeks’
The reporter’s backing would not immediately clear the way for construction to begin but ties the council to accepting, in principle, the number of homes and shop space on site.
Bancon Homes has confirmed it will seek to build 80 homes and shops covering nearly 13,200 sq ft at the site, currently used in the main for horse grazing from nearby stables.
Craig Fotheringham, the firm’s land and development director, said: “We welcome the result of the appeal against the decision regarding our site at Milltimber South.
“Our aim remains to create a highly desirable community and amenities which are sympathetic to the existing landscape, and we look forward to continuing to engage with stakeholders as we commence work on a detailed planning application over the coming weeks.”
Claims: ‘An absolute disgrace’ and the ‘erosion’ of local decision-making
But the decision, yet to officially be confirmed, would add another time the independent reporters of the Scottish Government’s Planning And Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA) have corrected Aberdeen councillors’ work.
Since the beginning of the year, plans for nearly 250 flats on the northern edge of the Granite City’s famous Rubislaw Quarry and proposals for another 260 by the River Dee in Torry have been backed by officials in Edinburgh, having been refused locally.
However, on both occasions, council staff had recommended the Aberdeen planning committee back the plans as they met the requirements of the LDP.
Despite this, the latest intervention from Holyrood drew ire from north-east Conservative MSP, Douglas Lumsden.
The former council co-leader told Aberdeen Journals planning laws need to be changed to “stop the erosion of local decision-making”.
“It is an absolute disgrace that a local planning decision once again is being overturned by the Scottish Government,” he added.
Aberdeen Labour’s Lower Deeside councillor Tauqeer Malik added his voice to those calling for reform, claiming his ward had been “badly let down” by the decision.
He said: “This is where the planning system in Scotland is let down.
“Locally-elected councillors refuse planning but one unelected Scottish Government official overturns our decision.
“It is not right and it is shameful.”
A government spokesman said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the merits of the proposal before a final decision had been issued.
He told us: “An independent reporter has made a decision intimating that he is minded to grant planning permission in principle for this proposal subject to appropriate legal agreements.
“The reporter fully considered all the evidence before him, including representations from the local community.