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Kilmallie community councillors are to ask Highland Council for clarification on traffic movement data used in a report to planning committee members last week ahead of their decision to greenlight plans by Alvance Aluminium for a £94m recycling plant on the Lochaber smelter site at Fort William.
At the community council meeting on Monday night, chairman John Hutchison said one of the big concerns at the recent meeting of the Loch Linnhe Community Alliance which he had attended had been Alvance’s application, in particular what he termed the ‘poor’ Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
‘There was also the fact the applicant lodged 132 documents as part of the process. We know it’s big application but that really makes it a tough job for community people to keep an eye on this sort of development,’ he said.
Community councillor Maggie Mackenzie said she was left ‘despondent’ after watching last week’s meeting of the local authority’s South Planning Applications Committee which approved Alvance’s application.
‘I watched the meeting and became very despondent by it. They discussed the size of the factory, but until Allan [Caol and Mallaig ward councillor Allan Henderson] mentioned traffic, there had been no mention at all of the effect this would have on the community,’ she said.
‘The EIA was meant to go out for community consultation, but it was just dreadful. We couldn’t really consult on it.’
Councillor Mackenzie said she was also concerned that the report presented to the meeting asserted that Transport Scotland had direct discussion with the A830 Corpach Group of which she is a member.
‘Nobody’s had direct discussions with us. I didn’t expect there to be, but to hear it being said that there had been direct discussions was annoying,’ she said.
‘And the planning committee was told the uplift [in HGV numbers] would be negligible. That was the words that were used.
‘The report last week said the worst case scenario was an extra 68 HGVs a day – but that’s an uplift of 17 and half per cent. I don’t see how that can be regarded as negligible and I don’t see how the committee can be told that. I find that quite upsetting. It’s almost as if the community has not been taken into account in this at all.’
Ward councillor Ben Thompson said the use of the ‘word’ negligible had a technical definition when an increase was less that 10 per cent and that the data source in the report to councillors – which stated an increase of just over five per cent – was different from information quoted by Councillor Mackenzie.
Councillor Mackenzie added: ‘Last year we did the survey and talked to the community and this was just such a big let down. It feels we are just being ignored by Highland Council.’
Councillor Thompson commented: ‘I think one question is why that information [in the report] is different to the information from Transport Scotland that Maggie is citing.’
Councillor Henderson added: ‘Fortunately there will be further discussions on this aspect but it is important the community sticks with this because it will add a lot of pressure to the road and I don’t see anything coming forward from Transport Scotland to mitigate that,’ he said.
The community council agreed to write to the planning officer involved and to committee chairman,Councillor Jimmy Gray to ask for ‘clarity’ on the report.
When asked to comment on the approval of the company’s plans, Brian King, president of ALVANCE British Aluminium, said: ‘We welcome the Highland Council’s decision on our plans to expand Lochaber’s existing low-carbon operations.
‘I would like to thank everyone from the local community who took part and shared their views in the public consultation particularly as Covid restrictions meant we had to carry it out online.
‘Our focus will now turn to studying and fulfilling the various planning conditions associated with the consent which need to be met before taking the project forward.’