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A controversial fish farm proposal for the north-east coast of Arran has been thrown out by councillors.
Opponents to the development are delighted by the decision to halt the proposal which has been hanging over the island for 18 months and sparked fierce debate.
At a virtual planning committee on Wednesday afternoon North Ayrshire councillors unanimously rejected the proposals by The Scottish Salmon Company to create an open-cage Atlantic salmon fish farm at Millstone Point.
The company had planned the installation and operation of 12 x 120m fish pens and accompanying feed barge in an area of some 12.8 hectares around 80m off the coast of the island.
When the application was first made in August 2019 the original application sought to have 20 pens, this was later reduced in a bid to secure planning permission. The creation of 10 direct jobs was also reduced to six.
The application has attracted widespread opposition with 436 objections being received by the planning department, with just 19 support comments and 200 people turned up at a demonstration in opposition at the site organised by the Friends of Millstone Point. A petition also attracted more than 7,700 signatures from near and far.
Along with the widespread concern over the general fish farming practices and the welfare of the fish, one of the main objections on the Arran project was the negative impact on tourism the fish farm would have.
A report to the planning committee stated: ‘This impact will discourage visitors through visual impacts, loss of wild animals and loss of sense of place. The site is near popular walking, kayaking and sailing routes. The site is on the North Arran geological walk and would harm the Arran Geopark. The site is adjacent to part of the Arran Coastal Way. The coastal way is an important amenity for residents and visitors. Guesthouses in the area rely on holiday makers using the path. Tourism is the main industry on Arran.
‘Arran has a global reputation for marine conservation, including the Marine Protection Area and no-take zone, and this would make a mockery of the reputation. The sense of remoteness of the place and the image of the island is the main tourist draw. Arran and North Ayrshire should not market itself as a destination for green tourism.’
The summary of the objections went on: ‘The economic benefits for Scotland would be slight as the applicant is foreign owned. Any economic benefit would be negligible compared to the potential harm to the environment and tourist economy which has a greater contribution to the local and national economies. There is no guarantee that locals would benefit from any jobs created. The farm could be serviced from elsewhere and this appears likely given its location.’
There was also criticism of the consultation process, particularly prior to the submission of the application, which was said to be insufficient.
‘The public events were tightly controlled and there was little scope for the public to make meaningful contributions. It is considered the level of public objection to the proposal has been downplayed by the applicant. The pre-application events were akin to lobbying with public concerns dismissed. The information the applicant has provided in the PAC Report is disputed. Claims of community engagement with the Holy Isle and other community groups are misleading.’ the report said.
There was also concern that the development would be highly visible from the adjacent Arran Coastal Path. This could discourage use of this part of the path, although it is noted it would only be visible from a small part of the path.
As a result the planners report recommended refusal of the application stating: ‘The visual impact of the development would adversely affect the visual amenity of the area, the landscape quality of the water environment and the special qualities of the National Scenic Area. The proposal does not align with Scotland’s National Marine Plan or the emerging Clyde Marine Plan. Any economic value is not considered significant to overcome the adverse effect.’
A spokesperson for The Scottish Salmon Company said: ‘We are reviewing the council’s feedback and will decide on the next steps over the coming weeks. We remain committed to open and transparent engagement around our site development plans including with members of the local community, local government and regulators.’