Aviemore project raises questions about SNP involvement

Alex Salmond is facing a second parliamentary inquiry into claims SNP ministers have interfered in Scotland's planning rules.

Labour is to call for Holyrood's Local Government Committee – already investigating the SNP over Donald Trump's plans for a golf complex in Aberdeenshire – to look into the government's role in a housing and retail project in Aviemore, planned by SNP donor Donald MacDonald. It has emerged that Salmond and at least four other ministers intervened in the affair, prompting claims they handed McDonald unfair advantage. This is denied by the politicians.

Fresh information released last week revealed that MacDonald, who gave £30,000 to the SNP in 2007, wrote three times to Salmond last year about the problems he was having in the planning process. The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) was objecting to the plans over fears it would cause flooding.

It has since emerged that ministers then intervened to ensure the process progressed quickly. Opponents claim that this amounted to pressure on SEPA to drop their objections. Last night, the SNP was facing questions as new documents came to light. In a report written last November, and obtained under freedom of information legislation, Martin Boshoff, the senior hydrologist at SEPA's Dingwall office, discussed a letter from the Government.

"This letter instructed SEPA 'to deal with' the flood risk issue before close of play on Friday. Apparently, the financial benefactor of the projects threatened to pull out unless the flood risk issue is resolved asap," it declared.

In reply to Boshoff's report, SEPA manager Robert Brown urged him to remove all reference of MacDonald's threat. "My only suggestion would be to delete the… sentence… as this sort of information should not form any written part of our reckoning and anything such as this may be subject to an FoI inquiry (yes, I'm getting paranoid!)"

SNP faces probe over Aviemore planning row (Scotland on Sunday, 2 March 2008)