Twenty councillors in Aberdeen are under investigation over their handling of the controversial Marischal Square scheme.
The Scottish standards watchdog is understood to be probing a series of complaints made by opponents of the Muse Developments’ plans for Broad Street.
All but three members of the local authority’s ruling Labour-led administration are believed to be the subject of the inquiry, and some leading figures have been named by several separate complainers.
The Press and Journal can also reveal today that one councillor will quit his seat when the investigation has been completed.
Fraser Forsyth, a former leader of the city’s Conservative group, said he was moving to England and was poised to hand in his notice as soon as the probe has concluded.
His decision will trigger a fourth council by-election in the city this summer.
The office of the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life is understood to have written to the councillors involved to inform them a preliminary investigation would be extended.
The main complaint relates to claims that the members refused to respond to communications about the approval of the Marischal Square development in a narrow 22-21 vote in March.
It is believed to name Mr Forsyth, plus all members of the ruling coalition – except Labour’s Neil Cooney and Nathan Morrison, and Conservative group leader Ross Thomson.
Mr Thomson voted with the SNP and Liberal Democrats against the plans.
Deputy council leader Marie Boulton and finance convener Willie Young have been named in separate complaints relating to Marischal Square.
Mr Young previously said he would refer himself to the Standards Commission after it emerged he inadvertently e-mailed the council’s legal advice to a campaigner against the project.
New of the probe emerged just weeks after seven senior councillors were cleared by the Standards Commission over complaints relating to pro-UK statements which were issued with council tax bills in the run-up to last year’s independence referendum.
Mr Forsyth, Conservative councillor Alan Donnelly and some Labour members confirmed last night that they were subjects of the latest inquiry.
Asked if he was confident he would be cleared, Mr Donnelly said: “Without a shadow of a doubt. We did everything by the book.”
The Press and Journal revealed earlier this month that Audit Scotland would consider complains made about the handling of the plans for the new office, hotel and restaurant scheme as part of its annual audit of the council, which is due to report in the autumn.
The complaint to the standards commissioner relating to the majority of the administration is believed to have been lodged by Linda Trotter, who declined to comment last night.
Campaigners Bill Skidmore and Fraser Garrow are among those who have separately contacted the watchdog.
Mr Skidmore said: “I was extremely annoyed and disappointed by Councillor Young’s contempt and dismissal of the public’s concerns about the development and felt it warranted a complaint to the Standards Commission.”
Mr Garrow said: “I had become completely disillusioned by anything members of the administration were feeding to us in the press and registering a complaint seemed to be the logical thing to do as the administration were no longer listening.”
Callum McCaig, SNP MP for Aberdeen South and a former leader of the city council, said of the investigation: “It’s not a huge surprise given the huge public outcry there was over the pretty disastrous decision to press ahead with Marischal Square.
“The administration clearly didn’t listen to the public before the vote was taken and this would seem to suggest they were not prepared to answer the public after the decision was taken.
“You have to wonder, if they are unable to justify their decision to the public, if they can justify it to themselves.
“One thing is clear, the public in Aberdeen will have long memories when it comes to this decision.”