SEPA blasted for showing no respect

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Environmental experts have faced a blasting after a no-show at a public hearing on Mull.

Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) sent in a report outlining why  a holiday development plan for Tobermory’s waterfront should be rejected – but failed to send an official in person to present it and answer questions.

More than 70 people turned up at the meeting in Aros Hall last week to hear how councillors had been advised to refuse Argyll Properties’ plans for a retail unit, visitor centre and three self-catering units at land next to Taigh Solais and fire-ruined MacGochans.

Mull councillor Mary-Jean Devon said although there was no legal onus on SEPA to be at the meeting, the organisation’s absence showed a lack of respect and courtesy for the hearing and to those who were there.

‘There were a lot of comments about SEPA not being there. They took a lot of stick. There were questions people wanted answering and could not get answers for. We are not the experts, we depend on the advice of our statutory consultees but SEPA did not have the courtesy to turn up,’ she said.

Despite more than 50 letters of support, SEPA said the proposed site was at medium to high risk of flooding and was in a one in 200-year coastal flood zone.

Councillor Devon asked for an adjournment at the hearing on January 29 and got ‘unanimous backing’ for it.

She said: ‘That was the result we wanted. I’m hoping for the best. We are going up against SEPA and the flood risk office to give the Scottish ministers the final call. The ministers will review it and make the decision.

‘I had questions I wanted answers for and couldn’t get, as did others. As councillors, how could we make an informed decision on that? If we refused the development, we would be going against some of our own local development policies.’

SEPA has objected to the development because it would put new buildings on a previously undeveloped site, putting buildings and more people in flood danger.

The Oban Times asked SEPA why it did not send representatives to the meeting and if it would consider coming to Tobermory to answer people’s concerns.

A spokesperson said: ‘As a statutory consultee under planning regulations, SEPA submitted an objection in principle to the proposed development at this location based on a review of the available flooding information, on the grounds that it would place buildings and persons at flood risk. We would advise that Tobermory Harbour area was subject to coastal flooding during Storm Brendan in January.’

The spokesperson added the majority of Tobermory was not currently at risk of coastal flooding but added: ‘The flood risk to other coastal communities will be determined on a site specific basis – there is no blanket approach. SEPA provided detailed evidence to Argyll and Bute Council for our objection in principle. This is based on the findings of a detailed Flood Risk Assessment. We also engaged directly with Argyll and Bute Council in recent days with further advice on the specific flood risk event in January in Tobermory.’