A Fife general election candidate has been forced to defend his agent as the ongoing saga surrounding the new Madras College took a fresh twist.
Councillor Tim Brett, who is standing for the Liberal Democrats in north-east Fife, is standing by election agent Derek Barrie after it emerged Mr Barrie is a member of St Andrews Environmental Protection Association Ltd (STEPAL), the group trying to stop the new £42.7 million school being built in the Pipeland area of the town.
Concern had been expressed about a conflict of interest on the part of Mr Brett by members of Parent Voice, which wants to see the secondary created on the green belt site as soon as possible.
Parent Voice spokesperson Luke Rendell said he had spoken to the candidate about his concerns.
“It’s one thing to have a difference of views about something but quite another to question the motives of STEPAL when your campaign manager supports them,” he said.
Mr Brett backs Pipeland as the location for a new, single site Madras.
The site was approved by Fife Council and the Court of Session but the decision is now the subject of another appeal by STEPAL which wants to preserve the green belt.
Mr Brett acknowledged the concerns surrounding Mr Barrie’s association with STEPAL but said he did not share them.
“It has been made absolutely clear that the north-east Fife Liberal Democrats support the new school at Pipeland and Derek is acting in a personal capacity.
“In no way does his association with STEPAL reflect the views of the north-east Fife Liberal Democrats.
“I have made that clear to Derek and he knows I profoundly disagree with him.”
Mr Brett’s comments came as the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life rejected complaints made about him and two other councillors St Andrews member Brian Thomson and deputy council leader Lesley Laird.
The complaints surrounded comments apparently made by the three during the local authority’s planning process regarding Madras.
In the cases of Mr Brett and Mr Thomson, it had been alleged comments on their Facebook pages on the detailed planning application breached the councillors’ code of conduct by demonstrating bias in favour of the Pipeland site.
Planning committee members are prevented from expressing a view on an application before a meeting to determine it.
However, the commissioner ruled the comments in question had been posted by a third party and not by the councillors, so dismissed the complaint.
Mr Brett welcomed the decision, stating: “People can post on your site but it doesn’t necessarily mean you support them.
“It is clear the Pipeland site is not perfect but on balance I believe we should put the needs of children first in this instance.
“One can assume the individual who complained about me was of a different persuasion.”
The complaint about Councillor Laird was also dismissed.
It had alleged that during a meeting of Fife Council and in subsequent correspondence she had made inappropriate and misleading statements by using exaggerated figures to discredit the North Haugh site as a possible location for the new school.
The complainant was also concerned Mrs Laird had not visited the North Haugh site and had made little effort to assess the facts before ruling it out.
In his ruling, the commissioner said he had found no evidence to support the grounds of the complaint.