Discussions with Argyll & Bute Council

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Correspondence between Friends of the Sound of Jura and Argyll & Bute Council (ABC) is listed below.  

Email 

From: Friends of the Sound of Jura

To: Executive Director of Development Policy Planning, Housing and Regulatory Services Policy Lead, Argyll and Bute Council

Date: 24 April 2018

Dear Mr Kinniburgh

We were interested to read the Argyll and Bute Council’s Planning Protective Services and Licensing Committee Development Policy document (18th April 2018), framing the council’s likely response to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee - Salmon Farming in Scotland - Call for evidence.

https://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/s125557/Final%20PPSL%20Committee%20-%20Rural%20Economy%20and%20Connectivity%20Committee%20-%20Salmon%20Inquiry%20-%2027.04.18%203ML0.1.pdf

We were particularly struck by the passage that explains that the council has to assess fish farm proposals in the light of:

‘…the conflicting advice from consultees, unreliable science, haphazard coverage by EMP’s and significant public concern about the consequences of fin fish farming on the declining numbers of wild fish, planning authorities are required to arrive at decisions that involve weighing up the balance of wild salmonids interests as material planning considerations. In terms of technical knowledge and scientific expertise neither officers, nor councillors are best placed to address wild fish issues ‘

 

Please could you explain, given this unreliable and conflicting evidence and lacking the necessary technical knowledge and scientific expertise, how the council’s officers’ advice to proceed and the councillors’ decisions to grant planning permission for any new fish farm, or for any increase in the biomass at existing farms, can be consistent with your duty to protect biodiversity in the form of wild salmonids by applying the precautionary principle? 

 

Yours sincerely

 

Friends of the Sound of Jura

Email

From: Angus Gilmour, Argyll & Bute Council

To: Friends of the Sound of Jura

Date: 2 May 2018

Dear Friends of the Sound of Jura

 

I refer to your email of 24/04/18 regarding the above which has been passed to me for attention and response.

 

The Council’s position on the responsibility for wild fish interactions arising from marine fish farms is that this is not best placed with planning authorities given that consideration is only prompted at the time of planning applications being submitted, and in response to the details of the application at hand, without any opportunity to address issues associated with other operational sites in the same water body.  The Council’s view is that wild fish issues would be best addressed on a water body wide basis, having regard to cumulative effects of the fish farm development. To that end the Council will be pressing for wild fish responsibility to be transferred to Marine Scotland as part of any review of the consenting process which may be prompted by the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s deliberations in the matter.  

 

Notwithstanding this position, in the current consenting regime, the Council is responsible for the determination of planning applications having regard to likely impacts on wild fish, and these interests will be one of a range of material considerations being weighed in the planning balance during decision-making. There is a presumption in favour of approving planning applications unless there are sound and clear cut reasons for refusal, which would be defensible in the event of appeal.  There can be no certainty as to the extent of likely effects of fish farming on wild fish, and the attribution of cause and effects is particularly challenging in an environment populated by multiple farms (not always in the control of the applicant) and with salmonids subject to a range of environmental factors, including river conditions and other influences in the marine environment, and not just those arising from escapes and lice at fish farms.

 

It is generally accepted that lice produced on farms pose a threat to the health of wild fish and that this threat will increase with numbers of fish being farmed. The Council will therefore consider the extent to which credible mitigation is available in considering any applications for new or extended farms, and the extent to which this could be capable of offsetting additional adverse effects. Views expressed by consultees will contribute to conclusions in this regard, although in the absence of reliable science, they will not necessarily be determinative. The precautionary principle is invoked sparingly in planning, as in many cases decisions have to be founded upon anticipated rather than definitive outcomes. It would be exercised in cases where the receiving environment is particularly sensitive, such as within European Natura nature conservation designations where  significant adverse impacts are anticipated, or in cases of ‘reasonable scientific doubt’. In other cases it is incumbent upon planning authorities to arrive at decisions having had regard to the full range of information available.  It would not be appropriate to routinely refuse applications on a precautionary basis simply because definitive information was not available. To do so would impose an unjustifiable moratorium upon the fish farming industry and thus risk based judgments necessarily have to be made. The officers’ report will summarise the issues and will recommended a course of action. It is for individual decision-makers to apportion what weight they see fit to the various material considerations in arriving at their decision. It should be borne in mind that government policy has on the one hand has imposed a presumption against fish farming on the north and east coasts of Scotland, whilst on the other encourages planning authorities to  facilitate expansion of the sector where environmental conditions allow. In effect a precautionary stance has already been invoked in respect of the north and east coasts, which suggests that the government’s view is  that wild salmon interests on the west coast should be afforded a  lesser degree of protection than elsewhere.

 

Until such time as any change is made to the consenting regime or to national policy, the Council will continue to exercise it duty to determine planning applications for fish farming having regard to the promotions of the development plan and other material considerations, and will arrive at risk based conclusions having regard to wild fish interests and the full range of information available from applicants, consultees, third parties and other sources.   

 

Yours sincerely

 

Angus Gilmour                 

Head of Planning, Housing and Regulatory Services  

Kilmory     

Lochgilphead

Argyll  

PA31 8RT

 

Planadh, Taigheadas is Seirbheisean Riaghlaidh

Argyll and Bute - Realising our potential together

http://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk

Email

From: Friends of the Sound of Jura

To: Angus Gilmour, Argyll & Bute Council

Date: 11 May 2018

 

Dear Mr Gilmour

 

Thank you for your detailed reply to our email of 24th April, about the council’s application of the precautionary principle while discharging its biodiversity duties with respect to wild salmonids and sea lice from salmon farms.

 

You have explained that you feel it is only correct to apply the precautionary principle in very limited circumstances,even though you have inadequate information to make safe decisions (‘There can be no certainty as to the extent of likely effects of fish farming on wild fish, and the attribution of cause and effects is particularly challenging in an environment populated by multiple farms…’), and when: ‘It is generally accepted that lice produced on farms pose a threat to the health of wild fish and that this threat will increase with numbers of fish being farmed.’ 

 

Please find attached our response. 

 

 

As you will see, we would be grateful for further clarification; in particular as to why ‘It would not be appropriate to routinely refuse applications on a precautionary basis simply because definitive information was not available.’ 

 

This is precisely the situation in which the precautionary principle is supposed to apply. It is immaterial whether doing so ‘would impose an unjustifiable moratorium upon the fish farming industry’.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Friends of the Sound of Jura

Email

From: Friends of the Sound of Jura

To: Angus Gilmour & Richard Kerr, Argyll & Bute Council

Date: 23 June 2018

Subject: Proposal: wild salmonid information workshop

Dear Mr Gilmour and Mr Kerr

We have received your letter of 15th June about the precautionary principle, Mr Gilmour, and are in the process of replying to you. In the meantime we have a question for you and a suggestion.

The question is this: which officer within Argyll and Bute Council is responsible for advising the planning department on the risk of aquaculture developments causing significant harm to wild salmonids?

Our suggestion springs from the planning committee’s decision this week to grant planning permission for the biomass increases at BDNC Loch Shuna and Pol na Gille, and the opinions voiced by councillors (paraphrasing) that a lot of money has been spent on experts so we should trust them, that when a community group complains that flags up problems but we should trust parliament and scientists. “Don’t trust lay persons” and “We do have experts for a reason” were also said.

No matter how much better informed we lay people are than the councillors, or that we have been carefully following the parliamentary inquiry into the environmental impact of salmon farming, and were indeed invited to give evidence to the ECCLR parliamentary committee, it is clear that our views will be disregarded.

The crux of the problem is that you receive non-commital and ambiguous advice from Marine Scotland about the severity of this problem, that you always seem willing to disregard the usually more robust opinions of the District Salmon Fishery Board, and that SNH are not permitted to express any opinion on the impact on wild salmonids. The council’s officers and councillors seem unable or unwilling to keep up with the latest science, or to have seriously considered the report commissioned from SAMS by the Scottish Parliament, or to give due weight to the ECCLRC’s report to the RECC (except to say that because a moratorium has not been applied then all must be well) even though that report said in the clearest possible terms that ‘the status quo is not an option’.

To make some constructive progress and to encourage you to believe that the Argyll communities, represented by our group and others, do know what they are talking about, we suggest that the council and Friends of the Sound of Jura jointly organise a workshop to consider the latest knowledge on the threat to wild salmonids.

The councillors of the planning committee would of course be invited to attend (indeed we would suggest that their attendance is essential), as would the council’s coastal policy officer and the responsible people in the planning department, and those community groups in Argyll and Bute with concerns about this.

Marine Scotland Science and Dr Alan Wells of Fisheries Management Scotland, who gave evidence to the REC committee’s inquiry, would be best placed to give us all the latest information.

The meeting would be convened by a mutually agreeable, non-partisan chair - the head of the Forestry Commission locally for instance.

Fish farming representatives could also be involved, but the emphasis should be on fact-finding from the experts, about the science and the severity of risk to wild salmonids.

Are you willing to help make this happen, so we can all be better informed in future?

Yours

Friends of the Sound of Jura

Email

From: Angus Gilmour, Argyll & Bute Council

To: Friends of the Sound of Jura

Date: 13 July 2018

Dear Friends of the Sound of Jura

PROPOSED WILD SALMONID INFORMATION WORKSHOP

I am responding to your request of 23rd June 2018 that the Council should be party to a workshop convened to consider the issue of the interaction between marine fish farming and wild salmonids. I appreciate your concerns about this issue and the extent to which officers and elected Members are properly acquainted with available knowledge in the matter of wild fish interactions. Planning Authorities have to address a range of material considerations in adjudicating all planning applications, including in some cases, matters of a scientific or technical nature. The system acknowledges that this might pose the need for expertise outwith the Council and regulations provide that prior to reaching decisions Planning Authorities must consult with prescribed consultees in reaching decisions. In the context of fin fish farming, statutory consultees with nature conservation interests comprise Marine Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and the District Salmon Fishery Board. The Council is required to have regard to views expressed by these bodies in decision-making, and will consider comments received in the round with other material considerations influencing the outcome of applications. In circumstances where there is conflict between views expressed, it will be for individual decision-makers to apportion what weight he/she feels appropriate to those views in reaching a conclusion in the matter. 

The government has identified that wild fish interactions are a material consideration in determining fish farm applications and have, as a matter of policy, established a presumption against fish farms being located on the north and east coasts of Scotland, ostensibly to address risk to the most valuable fisheries on a precautionary basis. In terms of development elsewhere, Marine Scotland is the government's nominated  consultee with a responsibility for wild fish interests and for the control of escapes and the management of sea lice on marine farms. I am well aware that the Scottish Parliament's Environment Committee have been critical that wild fish impacts have not thus far been given sufficient weight in fish farm decision-making, and that in their opinion, the status quo is unacceptable. That may well be the case, but in the absence of a change in policy by the government, or a shift in consultation advice provided by Marine Scotland, it would not be appropriate for the Council to adopt its own position in the matter which departs from national policy, or which adopts a position contrary to the body identified by the government as being best placed to advise on this issue.

I acknowledge the role which your organisation has in campaigning for tighter control over fish farms in the face of declining wild fish numbers, but I do not think that this would be best advanced by seeking to influence the opinion of officers and Members via the type of workshop you have suggested. In my opinion, your interests would be best served by seeking to influence Ministers and Marine Scotland, as it is a matter to be addressed on a sectoral basis, rather than a battle to be fought via successive planning applications. It is for the government to establish policy and to provide advice, which influences the Council's development plan policy, and in turn, the outcome of planning applications. I would not wish to see your energies misdirected towards effort to influence planning decisions at local level, whilst the position at national level remains unchanged.  The Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee Inquiry into Salmon Farming in Scotland would, to my mind, be the most appropriate vehicle for you to pursue your interests, as that has the greatest potential to be an agent for change in the manner in which fish farming is carried out in Scotland in the future. 

As to the matter of which officer in the Council has the responsibility for advising on matters relating to the interest of wild salmonids, the position is this. An application is handled by a case officer who has access to the Council's Marine and Coastal Officer and to the Local Biodiversity Officer. As I have indicated above, primary advice concerning wild fish interactions would be expected to come from Marine Scotland who are the lead agency in this regard, although it is open to SNH to make comment in respect of wild fish should they choose to do so. Beyond that, wild fish interests are also expressed as you know by the District Salmon Fishery Board, who also have the status of a statutory consultee. By virtue of their contentious nature, most fish farm applications involving biomass increases are reported to Committee for a determination, in which case a report and recommendation is issued in my name, in my capacity as Head of Service.

I hope that you do not construe my unwillingness to be party to a local workshop as being unhelpful. My intention is to redirect you to the avenue which I feel offers the best prospects of advancing your cause and where any strategic change in policy is likely to emanate from. 

 

Your sincerely

 

Angus Gilmour                 

Head of Planning, Housing and Regulatory Services  

Kilmory     

Lochgilphead

Argyll  

PA31 8RT

 

Planadh, Taigheadas is Seirbheisean Riaghlaidh

Argyll and Bute - Realising our potential together

http://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk

Response

From: Friends of the Sound of Jura

To: Angus Gilmour, Argyll & Bute Council

Date: 16 July 2018

Please click PDF to read our detailed response.

Email

From: Angus Gilmour, Argyll & Bute Council

To: Friends of the Sound of Jura

Date: 31 July 2018

Please click PDF to read Mr Gilmour's detailed response.

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The Sound of Jura is home to some of the most fascinating and diverse marine life in Scotland.  We seek to protect the Sound, the River Add and their local users from threats to the area’s wildlife and local sustainable economy.