A CLIMBDOWN over plans a Wester Ross community feared would damage its pulling power for visitors and pose a potential health risk has been welcomed by campaigners.
Scottish Water is to review plans for the future of waste water treatment in Gairloch "in light of the continuing concerns of the local community".
It has withdrawn its application to amend its discharge licence at Gairloch Waste Water Treatment Works and will continue to operate the existing plant "while options are explored for a viable long-term solution".
A stakeholder group will be set up under an independent chair and will involve representatives from the local community, Scottish Water and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.
Alan Thomson of Scottish Water said: "We recognise that customers in Gairloch continue to have strong concerns about our proposals for changes to waste water treatment in the area. We have been liaising with the local community about the development of our plans, but we have not succeeded in addressing all of the issues raised sufficiently.
"In light of this, we believe it is right that we should review our plans and seek to establish a closer and more constructive dialogue with local stakeholders. We will continue to manage the operational challenges at the existing waste water treatment works in the meantime, but we do not believe this will be the right option to protect the local environment in the long-term.
"Any long-term decisions we make on the future of waste water treatment in Gairloch will be the result of full and open discussion with the stakeholder group, which we intend to establish under an independent chair.
Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, said: "I am pleased Scottish Water has withdrawn its application and will be discussing future options for waste water treatment at Gairloch with the local community.
"There is now an opportunity for everyone to work together to identify an approach which provides long-term protection for Gairloch and Big Sands. This approach must be environmentally sustainable, meet the required standards on a continuing basis, and ensure the area maintains its status as an invaluable natural asset to the local community and its many visitors. The new group which is to be formed will have a vital role in ensuring these objectives are met."
Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant, who has campaigned on the issue for some time and raised it at First Minister’s Questions, said: "It will be welcomed by the numerous constituents from Wester Ross who have written to me incensed and anxious about the proposed system which would have left bacteria and sewage filtering into the sea for part of the year," she said.
"However the water authority has be criticised for that making a real hash of this decision making process – asking the community what they want, giving them what they don’t want, only to go back to the community yet again!
"I’m hoping this can be settled once and for all to the satisfaction of the people of this area. It’s gone on long enough.
"This beautiful location deserves the best quality water, both for those who make a living from the sea and those who enjoy it for leisure activities."
Fellow Highlands and Islands MSP Maree Todd was amongst others welcoming the move. She said: ""This is a really positive outcome for my constituents in Gairloch."