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BACKGROUND HISTORY: October 2012. I received an e-mail from an anxious Sleat (Skye) resident asking for advice about a planning application to site a fish farm in Loch Slapin. Sleat had only just heard about it, by sheer chance. They had just two weeks to learn from scratch and comment before the consultation deadline, but they didn’t know what the application implied. Neither did I! If I’d ever thought about fish farming at all, it was a vague assumption that if people were farming fish, pressure on wild fish would be reduced; so naïve.

I joined a small group of motivated locals and we began to ascend the steep learning curve that was a prerequisite of making an informed decision for or against, and say so, before the opportunity to comment expired. We were shocked by what we found out, but we learnt. Through Sleat Community Council, we presented an information sharing workshop to help others understand industrial salmon farming, the planning process and – a subject which I fortunately did know about – the fabulous biology of the south Skye sea lochs, highly vulnerable to the inevitable pollution emitted by net-cage fish farms.

Sleat is a small community, yet the Highland Council’s planning department received 76 comment letters of which just one supported the development (75:1). The application was neither approved nor refused. Mysteriously, the applicant withdrew at the eleventh hour.

That was not the end of it. Shortly, three more applications arrived, all requiring community engagement and written responses. The planning department got just that: 69:2, 131:1 and 104:0, so all four applications failed. The planners wouldn’t tell us how much impact community involvement had had on their decisions, but we have reason to believe that it was significant.

South Skye proved that a small community does have a voice, but that was dependent on people knowing what they were talking about and proactively exercising their rights.

Now North Skye is facing a similar situation. Two ‘organic’ salmon farms – I’m not convinced that is even possible – have been proposed for Scorrybreck (17/04735/FUL) and Culnacnock (17/04749/FUL). The advertisements in last week’s WHFP (24/11/17) invite us to buy the environment statements for a bargain £80 each. Don’t. They are downloadable on the planning department’s website along with the other application documents. Certain documents we should expect are lacking and at the time of writing the statutory consultees’ responses have not yet been uploaded, so there is no way of telling what SNH, SEPA, MSS and other authorities say about the applications.

North Skye, you have until 22 December to have your say for or against. There is no way these new fish farms will not affect you, so please do so. To know what’s happening Google WAM HIGHLAND, go to simple search and enter the appropriate application code. Also visit www.scottishsalmonthinktank.net to read about South Skye’s experiences and get hold of information, learnt through hard graft by your neighbours in Sleat.

James Merryweather




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