PLANS for a housing development on the east shore of Loch Long will go to a public hearing – even if it proceeds via a video link.

Members of Argyll and Bute Council’s planning, protective services and licensing (PPSL) committee agreed with an officer’s recommendations on the plans for a site in Portincaple – after lengthy discussions on how public hearings should be held during the Covid-19 pandemic.

With large public gatherings currently not able to take place, and most venues able to hold such hearings also still closed, it was agreed to hold hearings virtually.

But the Portincaple hearing could yet take place in person, depending on whether Government guidance changes before then.

Applicant Pelham Olive and his local agents, Puregreenspace Architects of Helensburgh, are seeking permission for 12 residential units on a hillside site overlooking the loch.

READ MORE: Controversial Portincaple homes plan should be approved, say council officials

The council’s planning officials recommended approval of the application – but said a hearing should take place before a decision is made.

More than 1,100 objections have been received.

In a submission to the council, Jackie Baillie MSP, whose Dumbarton constituency includes Portincaple, asked that a decision was postponed until a hearing could take place in public, with appropriate social distancing measures.

During initial discussion of the plans, Councillor George Freeman, whose ward includes Portincaple, said: “Members will have seen from the representations that one of the other ward councillors, Iain S. Paterson, has submitted an objection.

“I think given the controversy this application has clearly created, we have to do it justice and hold a site visit and hearing.

READ MORE: Helensburgh MSP in 'no video' plea over Portincaple homes application

“Portincaple is a fairly unique community and we could not do it justice on an electronic basis.”

But PPSL committee chair, Councillor David Kinniburgh, said: “I could not second that, because this (the holding of hearings during the pandemic) will be dealt with at a later item in the agenda.

“I have no difficulty with it going to a hearing.”

A definite decision on the fate of the application was then postponed until the report on the staging of hearings was dealt with later on in the meeting.

That report offered two options – either continue to postpone hearings, or to hold them on a virtual basis. As well as Portincaple, two other hearings remain outstanding, on the islands of Islay and Seil.

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During discussion on that, Councillor Freeman said: “There is nothing like face to face. When you look at the number of Covid-19 cases across Argyll and Bute over the last few weeks, it has to be considered that any risk is absolutely minimal.

“We have two options and I don’t really agree with either of them.

"Video meetings are out of the question if we are going to be seen as open and transparent.

“I don’t see a reason why, with a limited number of cases, face to face hearings cannot be held.

“Look at the Scottish Parliament – there are 40 or 50 people sitting in there in a large hall.

READ MORE: Portincaple plan 'wrong development in wrong place', say objectors

“If it comes between A and B, I would be delaying hearings until such time as we can get together. We are putting health and safety too much to the fore.”

But other councillors did not share that view, with Councillor Richard Trail saying: “I am not one of those hard men that like to go against the rules.

“I don’t think it would look very good for the council to be holding a hearing at the Victoria Hall [in Helensburgh] when there is the risk it will bring about a spike, as there is in Aberdeen.”

The motion to go with the recommendation on holding virtual hearings was overwhelmingly backed.

Councillor Freeman moved an amendment to allow public hearings to be held with restrictions in place, but he was only supported by Councillor Alastair Redman.

READ MORE: Portincaple plans' architect slams objectors for 'campaign of misinformation'

Returning to the Portincaple application, Councillor Freeman then asked: “I would move a site visit, with officers considering a local hearing, if that is possible within the restrictions that apply at the time – which may be totally different from what applies at the moment.”

Councillor Kinniburgh responded: “If an instance like that happened, officers would come back with a report on what that could mean.”

However, he also said that a site visit would not be necessary ahead of the hearing as members had visited Portincaple on several occasions.