Uist cam­paign blasts de­lay over storm deaths in­quiry

The Oban Times - - News - SANDY NEIL sneil@oban­times.co.uk

THE Crown Of­fice has apol­o­gised for tak­ing more than 10 years to de­cide whether to hold a fa­tal ac­ci­dent in­quiry into a fa­tal storm.

Archie and Mur­dina MacPherson, their chil­dren An­drew and Han­nah and grand­fa­ther Calum Camp­bell died dur­ing the storm of Jan­uary 2005 when their ve­hi­cles were swept off a coastal road in Iochdar, South Uist.

The South Ford Hy­dro­dy­namic Study, pub­lished in 2012, sug­gested open­ing up the South Ford cause­way be­tween South Uist and Ben­bec­ula and build­ing a bridge across the gap would have eased flood­ing dur­ing the storm.

Co­in­cid­ing with the tragedy’s 12th an­niver­sary, Iochdar Com­mu­nity Coun­cil, Storas Uib­hist and South Uist coun­cil­lor Don­nie Steele stated: ‘Prior to [the cause­way’s] con­struc­tion, lo­cal peo­ple con­sis­tently warned block­ing the South Ford chan­nel would be a dan­ger­ous and reck­less act. Re­gret­tably, this warn­ing proved to be cor­rect.

‘The orig­i­nal cause­way plans in­cor­po­rated two 15m open­ings, but this was re­duced to only one 15m open­ing on the Ben­bec­ula side in or­der to save costs.

‘In Oc­to­ber 2016, the de­ci­sion not to have a fa­tal ac­ci­dent in­quiry into the five tragic deaths was fi­nally taken, more than 11 years since the loss of lives. This is a scan­dalous length of time to leave the com­mu­nity in limbo, es­pe­cially those who had lost mem­bers of their fam­i­lies.’

A Crown Of­fice spokesman said: ‘We have of­fered our sin­cer­est apolo­gies to the Camp­bell and MacPherson fam­i­lies for the length of time it has taken to deal with this case.

‘Crown coun­sel de­cided there is no re­quire­ment to hold a fa­tal ac­ci­dent in­quiry (FAI). Crown coun­sel are sat­is­fied the study has put all the avail­able in­for­ma­tion in the pub­lic do­main, in­clud­ing iden­ti­fy­ing fac­tors for the flood­ing and rec­om­men­da­tions to re­duce the risk in the fu­ture, and on that ba­sis there is no re­quire­ment to hold a FAI.’

The cam­paign­ers’ said Comhairle nan Eilean Siar now has ‘bet­ter warn­ing sys­tems, emer­gency plan­ning meet­ings’, and ‘shift[ed] sand and shin­gle all over the South Ford’, but is ‘prac­ti­cally ig­nor­ing the one rec­om­men­da­tion which puts the blame for the build-up of flood­ing squarely on the South Ford cause­way.

‘A larger gap in the cause­way leads to less in­un­da­tion around Iochdar and the south shore of Ben­bec­ula. The sci­en­tific com­mu­nity have come to the same con­clu­sions as the lo­cal com­mu­nity,’ it said, in favour of a ‘high cost/ high im­pact’ open­ing 250m-long bridged sec­tions of the cause­way. Why there­fore do the comhairle con­tinue to push other op­tions within the study that are tem­po­rary fix at best and at worst a waste of fund­ing? They should in­stead help the com­mu­nity by gain­ing the fund­ing for the es­sen­tial op­tion 10 works.’

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said since 2005 it and the Scottish Gov­ern­ment had spent £16.6 mil­lion on ‘re­pairs and bet­ter­ment works’. It added: ‘Work has been car­ried out on es­cape routes and town­ship road im­prove­ments, coastal pro­tec­tion schemes and as­sorted road­works.

‘Con­sis­tent with one of the key rec­om­men­da­tions, we are pro­ceed­ing with work on the three main el­e­ments of the South Ford Flood Risk Man­age­ment Scheme, which in­cludes the re­in­state­ment and strength­en­ing of Gualan Is­land and the dune man­age­ment and flood em­bank­ment schemes to the ar­eas of coast­line ad­ja­cent to Sgoil Liona­cleit.

‘This week the comhairle is go­ing out to ten­der for sur­vey work to be car­ried out at the South Ford cause­way as part of a fea­si­bil­ity study look­ing at the pos­si­bil­ity of cre­at­ing an ad­di­tional larger open­ing in the cause­way. The de­tailed cost of cre­at­ing the larger open­ing in the cause­way is un­known but es­ti­mates range from £10 mil­lion to £20 mil­lion.

‘The comhairle has lob­bied the Scottish Gov­ern­ment for ad­di­tional fund­ing for this pro­ject.’

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