Update on Loch Eishort Fish Farm Applications: Hjaltland Seafarms Ltd. September 2015

As many of you know in 2014 the Shetland based company Hjaltland Seafarms Ltd (now known as Grieg Seafood Ltd) submitted two Planning Applications for industrial sized fish farm sites in Loch Eishort following an earlier refused application for a similar facility in nearby Loch Slapin. It was expected that the decision on these applications would have been determined by the Highland Council by Christmas of last year. This allowed for the required time for assessment of the applications by the statutory consultees which include Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Marine Scotland Science, the District Fisheries Board and the Northern Lighthouse Board. The process also allowed the public, organisations and community groups the opportunity to express their views on the proposals both for, against and neutrally.

Following the applications to Highland Council in the summer of 2014, the Sleat Community Council convened a meeting in Tarskavaig on October 21st to provide an opportunity for the local community to learn in detail of the two applications for Loch Slapin and how this may affect the area. Detailed presentations were given with the simple remit to inform the community of the developments helping those present to form their own opinions. The presentations and discussions were made available on the Community Council’s website and following a show of hands a mandate was given for the SCC to make its own objection comments to the HC. Public and consultee comments were required to have been submitted to the Highland Council by the 7th and 21st November 2014 (‘Loch Eishort 2 14/02577/FUL and Loch Eishort 1 14/02574/FUL respectively).

The two applications submitted to Highland Council attracted in total almost 250 objections to the proposals with just one in favour. We believe that this is an overwhelming response from the community and its visitors, and that the introduction of two industrial sized fish farms in Loch Eishort is simply inappropriate. The Community Council has expressed its deep concern at the quality of the submissions made by Hjaltland Seafarms Ltd in a number of areas including poor science, inaccurate information, a ‘copy and paste’ culture of data inclusion and much more. As a local Community Council we would have expected the Company to ensure that the information provided in their applications was of a standard acceptable to those bodies who are responsible for assessing and deciding on such proposals.

It is very clear that the statutory consultees, particularly Marine Scotland Science (the Government agency tasked with providing ‘robust research and advice underpinning the management of Scotland’s marine and freshwater resources’) that they too required a much improved provision of data before a decision on the applications could be made.  The documentation from the agencies and the responses from the Applicant is fully available to see on the HC website using the links above.

The Aquaculture Planning team at Highland Council had original ‘target determination deadlines’ for both applications by end November 2014.  Because there were so many aspects of the applications that were incomplete there followed an extensive period of dialogue between the Council and the Applicant which resulted in Hjaltland Seafarms Ltd ‘offering’ to undertake new underwater surveys of both sites using a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) and these were subsequently carried out in February 2015 (Eishort 2) and April 2015 (Eishort 1). The Sleat Community Council is at a loss to understand why these surveys took so long to be carried out and why it was not until August 2015 before both sets of information, survey data and footage were presented to the Highland Council, some 14 months after both applications had been originally submitted. It is of further concern that the Applicant was indeed given the opportunity to submit further surveys particularly as the first surveys were regarded by the consultees as totally unsuitable to base a judgement on.

Following the submission of the revised data the Highland Council kindly agreed a further public 28 day consultation period which expires on 2 October 2015. It was advised that only comments relating to the revised ROV survey data submitted would be permitted and that any ‘general’ comments or objections would not be considered.

The Sleat Community Council is not qualified to comment on the data and information supplied by the Company in this latest round of submissions. However, Dr James Merryweather has kindly summarised the key points of his assessment of the revised data including the underwater footage which provides a guidance for those who wish to make comments on the revisions submitted by the Company. This document entitled ‘HJALTLAND PLANNING APPLICATIONS EISHORT 2 & EISHORT 1

SECOND CONSULTATION – SUMMARY OF OBJECTIONS’ is shown as an attachment to this email and we ask that you take time to read it.

As importantly the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has itself now commented on the revised data supplied from the Applicant for both sites and maintains ‘its objections on the grounds of lack of information on the benthic impact’.  They further state ‘that the quality of the submission is, unfortunately, inadequate’, and they had offered the Applicant advice in May of this year on the required format for such underwater surveys but this was not taken up.

It is quite extraordinary that having been given the opportunity to be allowed to provide new underwater surveys that yet again the quality of what has been supplied is deemed unacceptable to the consultees for a second time.

Whilst this revised information is very much of a technical nature members of the public, organisations and businesses are invited to make comment to the Highland Council through the Planning Applications part of the website.  This is required to be done by 2nd October following which the Council will make its determination on both applications.

The Sleat Community Council hopes that this update has enabled all of those who made comments on the website last year to understand where the position of these two applications is currently and we hope that the Highland Council will now have, after 2nd October, all of the relevant information and comments to make a full and final determination of these highly protracted applications for planning permission.

A lot has been learned since the campaign against the development of open cage fish farms in the south Skye lochs and as a result of this a new organisation ‘Scottish Salmon Think Tank (SST-T) www.scottishsalmonthinktank.net has been formed to continue the process. Please take time to visit the group’s informative website here and learn more of what is being done to encourage the Scottish finfish aquaculture industry to move to full closed containment tank systems in the future.

Should you require any further information at this time please email at info@sleatcommunitycouncil.org.uk . Thank you for your time taken in reading this update which we believe to be in the best interests of the community.

Rob Ware

Secretary, Sleat Community Council

September 26th 2015

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