THE leader of North Ayrshire Council's Conservative opposition group has spoken of his relief at being cleared by a standards watchdog - and has accused his opponents of a "political witch-hunt" against him.

Councillor Tom Marshall was referred to the Standards Commission for Scotland over a visit he had made to the site of a planning application in Irvine around two years ago.

Cllr Marshall, who represents the North Coast ward, was chairman of NAC's planning committee at the time.

At a meeting he had stated that a proposed extension to a property was “out of place” with the rest of the area.

But the Standards Commission said that councillors were entitled to carry out site visits about applications, and that he had not breached the councillors’ code.

Cllr Marshall resigned as chair of the authority’s planning committee and local review body in March 2022 after a motion of no confidence was submitted by colleagues.

Largs and Millport Weekly News: Gray Crescent, IrvineGray Crescent, Irvine (Image: Newsquest)
The motion came following a meeting the previous December when Cllr Marshall was accused of speaking to a member of the public regarding an application to build a two-storey extension to a home in Gray Crescent, Irvine, which had previously been refused by the planning committee.

After being cleared by the commission on January 26, Cllr Marshall said: “It was a very fair hearing and they considered the whole situation and came to the conclusion that I had not breached any of the points of the Standards Commission.

“[A complaint was made] but one could argue it was inspired by some of my fellow councillors.

“I got a highly qualified solicitor from Edinburgh to represent me and he has done a lot of these hearings. You don’t know which way it will go, but he made a really good presentation and the panel agreed with him.

“In some ways it’s a relief it’s all over. When the commission makes that kind of charge against you can either just accept it or decide to fight it. I believe that I had done nothing wrong.

“I have been in planning for 20 years and I knew the rules inside out.

"What I did was not wrong, but it ended up as a political witch hunt from some members of the Labour party and SNP.

Largs and Millport Weekly News: Cllr Tom MarshallCllr Tom Marshall (Image: North Ayrshire Council)
“The problem is I am a Tory. The socialists hate the Tories and they will take the first chance they can to bring me down.

“The original complaint had 10 items. It must have come from someone with inside knowledge of how these things work.  

“At the end of the day there were only two issues and we were cleared on both which was good. I knew I hadn’t contravened any of the commission’s code 

“The accusation was I was biased when I went to the planning committee and that I had an interest to declare because I made a site visit.

"But my planning committee always knew they were entitled to look at an application at any time, so that was fine.

“People are innocent until proven guilty and I was found not guilty. They could have censured me, suspended or disqualified me. 

"Now we move on and that’s life.”