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By Colin Smeeton
There is a growing anger from opponents of the proposed fish farm development on Arran after a public consultation held on Wednesday left them with more questions than answers.
The Q&A sessions held by the applicants, The Scottish Salmon Company, (SSC) was highly anticipated following a public information session, held last month in Lochranza, which sparked an angry reaction from those attending who felt that their questions were not being answered and walked out in protest.
Taking the sessions in Brodick were: Marc Browne, SSC head of site development, Dave Cockerill, biology director, David Taylor ,SSC head of production north, and consultants Jamie Young (Gaelforce) and Jamie Gilliland (Arcus).
The meeting was mediated by independent mediator, Douglas Campbell who introduced himself as a Lamlash resident of 20 years with experience of conflict resolution and having previously mediated between banks and businesses. He also stated that he was not in the employ of SSC and wished to hear the concerns of the community.
Restricting the numbers to 10 people per session, over the course of the day, the sessions had to be pre-booked in advance. So much so that when a representative of the Banner attended the first session of the morning, a public relations officer at the door expressed doubts as to whether there would be space in that particular session for a representative of the media to attend.
Following a ‘quick chat’ with the hosts, the Banner was allowed in to the Ormidale Pavilion, which can accommodate up to 50 people, to join the eight members of the Arran public and the five SSC staff, consultants and the mediator.
Following a brief introduction by Mr Browne, who outlined the plans for a 5,000 tonne, 20 pen farm off the north coast of Arran, he handed over to Mr Campbell who fielded questions from the participants and directed them at the relevant representative.
During the course of the one hour session which had to be brought to a close owing to time constraints – despite the next session not taking place for another hour – a total of six questions were asked.
Four of them revolved around fish welfare, fish mortality, lice, animal deterrent devices and one was a constructive criticism of the manner in which the entire application process has been undertaken.
The attendee, noting that the entire industry has a huge problem with public perception, suggested that SSC should look at conducting their affairs differently, especially considering the environmentally aware Arran population. He suggested that hearts and minds could be won by making the proposed Arran site one that was the envy of the industry with technological advancements and an openness that could deal with quality issues and environmental concerns.
The final question came from the Banner: ‘There has been concern expressed to us about the format of this Q&A being stage managed and controlled by limiting numbers to small groups. Can you provide me with some insight as to why you chose this format?’
The question was immediately fielded by mediator Mr Campbell who described the small groupings as engaging on a personal level and that the smaller groups were more productive and useful. When pressing the issue and requesting a response from Mr Browne no further explanation was forthcoming, save to say that he concurred with the reasons provided by Mr Campbell.
After the session one of those attending, who asked not to be named, said: ‘I would have liked to ask a question but there was no time. The format of the meeting did not allow for free two-way discussion. It all felt completely controlled and managed to the point of farce.
‘This was not a Q&A, it was a tick box exercise that was completely aimed at limiting discussion, limiting time, limiting opinion and of course preventing any points, other than their own, being expressed.’
Throughout the day, Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) chairman Russ Cheshire sat outside the venue and met with attendees and answered any questions that they had, that they felt remained unanswered.
Craig Anderson, CEO of the Scottish Salmon Company, who was not in attendance, said: ‘The Isle of Arran has played a long-term role in our business and as part of our programme of responsible development, we are looking to further develop our operations.
‘We welcome feedback on these proposals and have already enjoyed discussing our plans with our local community. We are committed to working with the people of Arran in order to develop our plan, which is why we have held a number of public consultation and Q&A sessions across the island. For anybody who has yet to speak to us about the proposal, we would invite them to attend our next consultation in Brodick on Monday May 27.’
The public exhibition will take place at Brodick Hall from 3pm to 7pm.
Opponents to the fish farm development held a dignified protest outside the venue and were happy to answer any questions that attendees had. 01_B21SSC01
Mediator Douglas Campbell joined Dave Cockerill, SSC biology director, and Marc Browne, SSC head of site development, to facilitate the Q&A session. 01_B21SSC02
A small group of pre-booked attendees take part in consultation event which was limited to a number of appointments and groups of ten people. 01_B21SSC03