COMMUNITY representatives in Luss have spoken of their relief after seven complaints against them were dismissed by Argyll and Bute Council. 

Luss and Arden Community Council was called to a ‘community council conduct review panel’ held by the authority on Friday, November 5.

Seven complaints were lodged against the community council by Rowena Ferguson, owner of the Coach House Coffee Shop in the village, including an alleged failure to consult with business and residents on proposals for a traffic regulation order in the village.

She also claimed the community council had not confirmed to its constitution, or to its statutory purpose, by not communicating properly with the local authority.

However, a panel of three Argyll and Bute councillors rejected all seven complaints.

The councillors on the panel were Rory Colville (Liberal Democrat, South Kintyre), Audrey Forrest (SNP, Dunoon) and Roddy McCuish (Independence for Scotland Party, Oban South and the Isles).

Ms Ferguson claimed in September that the traffic regulation order – which was agreed by the council’s Helensburgh and Lomond area committee – would lead to her staff having to pay to park at work.

A spokesperson for the community council said: “It is of very profound concern to us that these complaints were ever allowed to be served upon our community council.

“We believe that it represented a deliberate and considered abuse of an available process by the complainant, in pursuit of the commercial interests of her business alone.

“Each and every one of these complaints was completely unfounded, capricious and self-serving and when stripped bare, represented less a complaint regarding the proceedings of the community council, than a concerted and back-door attempt by the complainant to subvert or disrupt Argyll and Bute Council's efforts to introduce new traffic regulation orders.

“[These orders are] intended to protect the people who actually live here from the continuing danger and disruption of uncontrolled visitor traffic within our village.

“That this should have been attempted solely and selfishly in the commercial interests of her business, in known and deliberate conflict with the settled wishes and interests of the overwhelming majority of her neighbours within the community, speaks volumes and doesn't deserve any further elaboration here.

“Notwithstanding that we believe that the above constituted a gross abuse of process, it does appear that Argyll and Bute Council had in fact no option under the terms of its current processes than to refer these complaints, no matter of how little merit, to a conduct review panel for its consideration.

“We are obviously pleased (if not surprised) with the panel’s decision, but hugely regret the workload visited by these selfish and facile complaints on both community council and Argyll and Bute Council officers alike.”

When given the opportunity to respond, Ms Ferguson said: “A personal attack on me seems an inappropriate response from Luss Community Council to my legitimate concerns for my business, staff and customers.

“The community council prepared the legal work for the new Luss Traffic Order based on Sir Malcolm Colquhoun’s ‘Alternative Proposal’ to the last 2016 discussions in Luss – proposals which I supported and could have been implemented several years ago.

“My complaint to the conduct review panel concerned the influence of [other parties]. All this was happening while Luss Estates constructed a new commercial car park.

“My detailed evidence was met with a lengthy personal attack by the community council in the confidential papers, and the panel based their findings on this information.

“The small number of independent businesses in the village, including my own, are being seriously disadvantaged by the new Argyll and Bute Traffic Order, which has changed significantly since the last 2016 consultation.

“Staff face bills of £489 each per year to park, and it should be noted that the new proposals include a ‘prohibition of driving order’ which means they will incur three penalty points for simply driving into the centre of Luss, where my business is based.

“It is time for the evidence I submitted, and the entire Traffic Order, to be reviewed by a higher authority than Argyll and Bute Council.”

The community council spokesperson added: “We believe that the council's current complaints process sets the bar for acceptance of these complaints far too low, conspicuously lacks adequate front-end checks and balances, and thus remains open to further manipulation and abuse at this time.

“This is an issue that obviously has interest and implications for all  community councils in Argyll and Bute, not just ours.

“To its credit, senior council officers appear to realise this, and we have agreed to meet in the near future to discuss suggestions for improving this process, prior to a wider review of the governing scheme for community councils being carried out in 2022.”

An Argyll and Bute Council spokesperson said: “The current scheme for community councils sets out a robust and comprehensive complaints process that is fair, open and transparent.

“Complaints in the first instance are, where possible, dealt with by the community council. Where this is not possible, or where the complainant is not satisfied, it is then referred to an impartial panel that consists of three councillors and two members from a different community council.

“We are satisfied the process follows best practice in ensuring accountability for all community councils.”