Aberdeen finance chief denies owning land involved in £200k repair row

Councillor Willie Young.

Aberdeen finance boss Willie Young has denied owning a piece of land at the centre of a £200,000 repair bill row.

The cash was set aside to fix a boundary wall on Wellington Brae, near Mr Young’s home in Ferryhill – despite the project never being authorised by councillors.

A major political row has erupted and an internal investigation been launched after it emerged the scheme was not scrutinised or approved by committee – Mr Young insisted he had never said he owned the land, while accusing the council of “serious failings”.

A council spokesman said the matter was still being investigated, and admitted the authority did not know who owned the land.

Mr Young spoke out after coming under fierce criticism when title deeds emerged suggesting he was the owner of the site, which runs along a major national cycle path.

E-mail correspondence seen between Mr Young and senior council officers indicate he was approached to give his permission to progress the repair works on the site between August and October last year – which he did verbally in September.

A freedom of information request also indicates the council approached the landowner about the works, while the opposition SNP group had legally scrutinised title deeds through a solicitor which appeared to indicate that Mr Young was the owner of the land. But Mr Young has produced legal documents which appear to show he disposed of the site more than 20 years ago.

He said that officers had approached him in error as the landowner and that he had contacted his solicitors to ascertain whether he did in fact own the land.

He said: “I never said I was the landowner. I said I needed to contact my solicitors. It’s clear that there has been serious failings at the council but that is not for me to answer.

“Works of this kind should require written agreement before proceeding and I never wrote that I was the landowner and said I needed to take legal advice. I told officers that I needed to contact my solicitor, but if it was mine then to proceed. The officers should be checking the title deeds.

“I do not own that land. I understand the situation came about because they had contacted the previous owner who then pointed to me.”

The works were being carried out on Wellington Brae.
The works were being carried out on Wellington Brae.

Mr Young described the row as an “SNP stitch up” and an attempt to “smear” him in the run-up to next week’s council elections. He added he was now considering taking action against the SNP group.

“Councillor Stephen Flynn and the SNP were so blinded in their desperate attempts to smear me that they missed the fact that I disposed of the land in question 25 years ago,” he said. “They have maligned me by spreading mistruths in the media and even went as far as hiring a lawyer in a bid to give credibility to this falsehood.”

But Torry and Ferryhill SNP member Graham Dickson said: “Whilst Councillor Young is disputing land ownership it is strange that he continued to communicate with council officers, who claimed it was his land, for a number of months and it appears he might have authorised work to proceed assuming he was the landowner.”

Last year cycle pathway body Sustrans, which is 79%-funded by the taxpayer, agreed to provide the £200,000 budget for the works – which also includes cutting back trees and landscaping – as it sits along the national Dover to Shetland cycle route.

Meanwhile, it has emerged Lib Dem group leader Ian Yuill contacted the council’s chief executive Angela Scott with concerns about the project earlier this month.

A council spokesman said that the matter was still being investigated and they were still not certain of who owned the land.

He added: “At this stage it would not be appropriate to comment on individual aspects under consideration as part of that review. The findings will be reported through appropriate channels in due course.”