Scope for farm growth on other coasts, sug­gests High­land Coun­cil planner

Fish Farmer - - News -

THE lead plan­ning o cer at High­land Coun­cil has called for the long stand­ing mora­to­rium on fish farms on Scotland’s east and north coasts to be re­viewed by the Sco sh gov­ern­ment. Mark Har­vey, giv­ing ev­i­dence to the Ru­ral Econ­omy and Con­nec­tiv­ity (REC) com­mit­tee at Holy­rood on April 18, said it was a strange sit­u­a­tion’ that Scotland had three coasts and yet all the fo­cus in aqua­cul­ture was in the west.

There were very few mora­to­ri­ums for plan­ners and a ba­sic re­view should be car­ried out to re­visit the ban, which was in­tro­duced in the late nineties.

The REC com­mit­tee turned the spot­light on reg­u­la­tory bod­ies in the third of its ev­i­dence ses­sions.

Also ap­pear­ing were Anne An­der­son of Sepa (Sco sh En­vi­ron­ment Protection Agency), Alex Adrian of Crown Es­tate Scotland, and Cathy Til­brook of SNH (Sco sh Nat­u­ral Her­itage).

Til­brook, re­ply­ing to a ques­tion from John Ma­son, the MSP for Glas­gow Shet­tle­ston (SNP), about plans to dou­ble pro­duc­tion, agreed with Har­vey that there was no rea­son’ not to look at the mora­to­rium on Scotland’s north and east coasts again, so long as there were safe­guards in place.

But she said SNH was con­cerned about the sec­tor’s ex­pan­sion plans. With in­no­va­tion to over­come some is­sues such as sea lice and con­tain­ment -there might be much more scope for growth, she said, ac­knowl­edg­ing that the in­dus­try was do­ing a lot on in­no­va­tion.

But at the mo­ment it’s di cult to look at growth tar­gets with­out know­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts.’

Alex Adrian won­dered if growth would be dou­bling with more of the same or by dif­fer­ent means’, and sug­gested that man­ag­ing the sec­tor re­quired an agility to move with chang­ing cir­cum­stances’.

A fun­da­men­tal part of a man­age­ment plan is re­view, he said, giv­ing farm­ers ex­i­bil­ity to adapt and un­der­take changes to re­main sus­tain­able.

Har­vey, who re­vealed that his coun­cil had just ap­proved pro­pos­als for two salmon farms off Skye, said farms brought unique em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties to ar­eas not other­wise sup­port­ing em­ploy­ment growth. How­ever, he was con­cerned about a lack of strate­gic plan­ning.

The in­dus­try has set a chal­lenge to them­selves but no­body knows the ca­pac­ity of Sco sh wa­ters to ab­sorb that level of ac­tiv­ity.’

He was struck by Nor­way’s tra c light’ sys­tem where red is not just stop but draw back that’s very rel­e­vant to Sco sh experience’. There were parts of the west coast where there is too great a load­ing these should per­haps be red ar­eas and we need to move them to ar­eas we might cat­e­gorise as green’.

Asked to iden­tify where such over con­cen­tra­tions were, he said there were a large num­ber of farms south of Skye, which was per­haps worth look­ing at fur­ther to see what ca­pac­ity it has in en­vi­ron­men­tal terms’. But there were also ar­eas that haven’t had lots of ap­pli­ca­tions and it was more im­por­tant to iden­tify the green ar­eas where de­vel­op­ment could take place.

Har­vey said the sec­tor is about 30 years too late’ in such strate­gic plan­ning and should have these an­swers by now we have an aw­ful lot of catch­ing up’.

How­ever, he didn’t agree with Lib Dem MSP for North East Scotland Mike Rum­bles’ idea of an over­ar­ch­ing reg­u­la­tory body to im­prove the plan­ning process.

I’d say we do have the over­ar­ch­ing frame­work the plan­ning sys­tem but we don’t use it very well. If you cre­ate one huge reg­u­la­tor it might not work.’

He said fish farm ap­pli­ca­tions are ac­com­pa­nied by en­vi­ron­men­tal state­ments and went through much higher lev­els of con­trol than most plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tions it’s not that it’s not reg­u­lated’. Where the plan­ning sys­tem is weak, though, is in the lack of in­for­ma­tion about en­vi­ron­men­tal in­ter­ac­tions.

He did agree with Rum­bles that there should be an over­ar­ch­ing ap­proach to fish farm de­vel­op­ments across the High­lands rather than look­ing at ap­pli­ca­tions on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis. But he in­sisted the ex­ist­ing plan­ning sys­tem was ap­pro­pri­ate, although lo­cal au­thor­i­ties maybe needed to pro­vide greater reg­u­la­tory clar­ity. He said it was late in the day’ and the in­dus­try shouldn’t get into a five-year dis­cus­sion pe­riod where noth­ing is done.

Alex Adrian said the reg­u­la­tory frame­work didn’t recog­nise the cir­cum­stances fish farms op­er­ate in, and while reg­u­la­tors recog­nised the is­sues, they didn’t have the right tools to ad­dress them We have the right pieces but they haven’t been put to­gether in the right way.’

The marine en­vi­ron­ment is dy­namic and man­age­ment should be more adap­tive, with bet­ter col­lab­o­ra­tion between the in­dus­try, reg­u­la­tors and gov­ern­ment.

The SNH, how­ever, be­lieved there had been progress in re­cent years, with the move to fo­cus on pre-ap­pli­ca­tion dis­cus­sion lead­ing to a de­crease in ap­pli­ca­tions meet­ing prob­lems. Iden­ti­fy­ing at a very early stage what the con­straints might be so we can steer de­vel­op­ers away from sites where there may be the most prob­lems’ was some­thing the SNH em­braced, said Til­brook.

Asked by Ed­ward Moun­tain, the REC con­venor, whether the cur­rent reg­u­la­tory frame­work pro­tected or en­hanced the en­vi­ron­ment, Til­brook said I couldn’t say it has en­hanced. I think to most ex­tents it hasn’t de­graded it be­cause we have safe­guards in place.’

Anne An­der­son said there were ele­ments of the reg­u­la­tory frame­work that worked well, but there was al­ways room for im­prove­ment, and Sepa was con­duct­ing a re­view, due to be pub­lished shortly.

Left: High­land Coun­cil planner Mark Har­vey

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