Communities given long-awaited answers about South Lochaber sewage works

The works sit on the shores of Loch Leven, next to the Ballachulish Bridge. Photograph: Abrightside Photography

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Scottish Water has moved to ally residents fears in South Lochaber over the wastewater works in North Ballachulish.

Residents’ had long-standing concerns that the facility is over-capacity, is at threat of flooding. They have also voiced concern about the transporting of millions of litres of sewage through the area every year.

The concerns date back to when the facility – which deals with waste water from Nether Lochaber, Ballachulish and Glencoe – was installed in 2009, but a lack of communication between the operator, Scottish Water, and the community has now led to animosity.

Scottish Water now plans to contact the community councils directly to clarify any issues.

Chairman of the Nether Lochaber Community Council for many years and now acting secretary, Iain Jenner has been dealing with the issue since the beginning.

Clarifying the source of the animosity, he said: ‘This issue is why I got involved with the community council in the first place.

‘The plan was originally rejected by the Highland Council but everything was kept as it is and it was made subterranean which falls within the permitted developing rights, so no need for permission. There was no flood risk assessment for this works that sits three metres above sea level, and the excess capacity, after accounting for the Glencoe Hotel, was 14 units. There does not seem to have been any strategic planning when installing it.’

A total of 76 homes in Nether Lochaber and some in Ballachulish use private septic tanks.

Scottish Water say that this is a cheaper option for some rural homes that would take a significant amount of pipework to connect to the system at cost to the owner.

A spokesperson for Scottish Water said: ‘Under the current framework that Scottish Water operates within, any customers wishing to connect would be responsible for funding and laying any new lengths of sewer required to join the public system.

‘Where new or upgraded sewer network infrastructure is installed to adoptable standard and adopted by Scottish Water, a defined ‘reasonable cost contribution’ can be made using the funding that Scottish Water receives from its existing customers.’

Chairman of Ballachulish Community Council and the Association of South Lochaber Community Councils, Kevin Smith, noted that the communication breakdown was clear, as the only way residents could get information was through Freedom of Information requests.

This breakdown led to rumours spreading about how the ‘sludge’ was being disposed, but Scottish Water have confirmed it is treated properly.

The spokesperson said: ‘Our site at North Ballachulish, like waste water treatment works all over Scotland, separates the incoming waste water that it receives into sludge and a liquid effluent.

‘The effluent is treated to a standard that allows it to be safely returned to the environment, while sludge is collected and taken by road for further treatment so that it can be safely disposed of on land. In the case of North Ballachulish, the nearest site with capacity to treat the sludge is Fort William.’

Residents have noted an increase in the amount of Scottish Water tankers transporting the sludge. Scottish Water told the Lochaber Times that this is an ‘unfortunate byproduct’ of treatment as there can be difficulties getting everything out at once.

While Scottish Water appreciated that there are more tankers on the roads, it said that some are servicing private septic tanks.

It said it does not anticipate flooding to be an issue in the area.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency confirmed that ‘safeguards are in place’ for waste water and it supports Scottish Water and the government to develop the network.