Bitter exchanges broke out among councillors on the listing of eight high rises in Aberdeen, despite all members agreeing the decision was “bonkers”.
There was widespread backing for the council to launch an appeal against Historic Environment Scotland’s (HES) awarding of Category A status to the “brutalist” flat blocks around the city centre.
But any unanimity soon dissipated as politics came to the fore.
When the council’s city growth committee met this week, all members were in support of fighting the decision.
And officers revealed they had already sounded out experts on having it overturned.
The only way the local authority can have it reversed is by proving the eight buildings are not of special architectural or historic importance.
If that is unsuccessful, it was agreed lawyers should be consulted on a judicial review, taking the battle of “reasonableness”, as put by Councillor John Cooke, to the courts.
Letter to Aberdeen MSP on high rise A-listing ‘disgusting’
The meeting descended into a political stramash when council co-leader, and committee convener, Douglas Lumsden called for a letter to be sent to housing minister Kevin Stewart asking for him to influence the decision.
The SNP MSP, who currently holds the Aberdeen Central Holyrood seat Mr Lumsden is seeking for the Conservatives in May, has excused himself of any ministerial role in decisions regarding the Granite City for fear of opening up grounds for appeal.
Accused, not for the first time, of addressing the letter to the wrong person, Mr Lumsden said: “He is, at the end of the day, local government and housing minister but seems to have no portfolio, according to everyone, as we can’t write to him about anything.
“What exactly does he do? That’s what I would like to know.”
Liberal Democrat group leader Ian Yuill said he would not sign the letter “picking on” Mr Stewart, urging the council to ask all city and north-east list MSPs to help.
“It is of course up to you who you wish to lobby,” he said.
“But those of a suspicious frame of mind might think you were being political in just singling out the one individual, when if you were genuine about wishing to lobby and change this decision it would make sense to contact as many folk as possible.
“We all agree this is listing decision is wrong and should be appealed but rather than building consensus you seem to have set out to cause discord and try to score frankly stupid, silly political points.
“Singling out Kevin Stewart is pointless and bluntly is not a surprise – I’m disgusted.”
SNP leader Alex Nicoll warned the city was becoming a laughing stock with its letter-writing, adding: “It strikes me that once again we are making ourselves look stupid here.”
Dividing councillors through the predictable five to four vote, the motion was passed.
Council co-leader Jenny Laing said it would be for the public, watching the meeting on Youtube, to “make up their own minds about who is trying to politicise this question and who isn’t”.
“This decision will mean considerable detrimental impact on residents moving forward and we should all being doing to do as much as we possibly can to to avoid that.”
Kevin Stewart MSP: listing is ‘ludicrous’
Mr Stewart told The P&J he supported “all efforts” by the council, tenants and owner/occupiers in the blocks to appeal the decision.
He said: “I met with Historic Environment Scotland and made it abundantly clear that this ludicrous decision has to be changed and I’ve also raised my concerns directly with the Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop.”
The government’s heritage quango announced last month that Gilcomstoun Land, Porthill Court, Seamount Court, Virginia Court, Marischal Court, Thistle Court, Hutcheon Court and Greig Court would be afforded the same protections as the likes of Marischal College and the Music Hall.
Residents, and the council given its majority share of ownership of the properties within the 1960s blocks, have fought the plans out of worry it will vastly increase the cost of maintenance.
Concerns have been raised it will make it harder to improve energy efficiency and therefore make it more expensive to heat homes, while council chiefs even say it could cause difficulty in improving fire safety, informed by the Grenfell Tower tragedy.