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Ross-shire fish processing jobs slipping through the net because of 'blinkered' planning approach - claim

By Hector MacKenzie

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Alister Mackinnon: 'Council needs to consider the bigger picture'
Alister Mackinnon: 'Council needs to consider the bigger picture'

THE far-reaching impact of a planning knockback for two fish farm sites has resulted in the "significant" loss of jobs in Ross-shire and prompted accusations that a "blinkered" council is harming the economy.

The fallout from the issue led to the resignation of veteran Ross-shire councillor Alister Mackinnon from they key budget leader post he had held.

The Dingwall and Seaforth councillor is also a co-founder of Organic Sea Harvest whose plans for two new sites on Skye were rejected by a Highland Council planning committee.

The refusal for a Balmacqueen site, which would have created nine jobs, has also directly resulted in the loss of 20 jobs at Highland company, Gael Force Group. Approval was denied eight votes to six.

Gael Force Group had been due to supply equipment for the farm. Its founder, Stewart Graham, slammed "a shocking narrowness in consideration and a failure of process and joined-up thinking" over the decision.

The refusal of planned sites in both Flodigarry and Balmacqueen has also hit the recently opened Dingwall-based processing plant, Loch Duart, which would have handled an estimated 5000 tonnes of salmon, supporting 15 extra full-time jobs in the county town.

Mark Warrington: Far-reaching impact.
Mark Warrington: Far-reaching impact.

Its managing director, Mark Warrington, said: “The economic impacts go beyond the job creation on the Isle of Skye. In this case, Loch Duart feels that the decision to refuse the planned sites has repercussions that will also affect several support services throughout the Highlands and the wider country.

“The processing and packing work for Organic Sea Harvest would have created more jobs at Loch Duart, in addition to bolstering those of the 85 people currently employed in Dingwall. It is crucial that full consideration is given to smaller-scale, specialised producers who fly the Highland and Islands flag around the world. The Scottish Government’s own economic impact reports clearly underline the numerous jobs created across Scotland in supporting each fish farm development.”

Alister MacKinnon, who stepped down as Highland Council budget leader following the decision to knock back Balmacqueen, said: “Planning decisions cannot be made lightly given their far-reaching effects. They cannot be made with a blinkered outlook. A council needs to consider the bigger picture across the whole Highlands and consider the effect their decision would have on other businesses.

“I believe there is a need for largely-unobtrusive fish farms to be one of Scotland's key rural industries living alongside and in harmony with the tourism sector. The Highlands are currently in economic recovery. Planning decisions come with great economic consequences that can be felt throughout the Highlands. Many were not aware that refusing OSH planning would have such an effect on Gael Force or Loch Duart.”

He added: “I was born in Uig, and Staffin is extremely precious to both my family and OSH as a company. The area is economically-fragile and, in keeping with the OSH ethos, we wanted to care for the local area, ensure our staff are well looked after and provide benefits to the local community.”

OSH is the only salmon farming company in Scotland to focus solely on producing the finest organic salmon, with both existing sea sites officially certified as organic by the UK Soil Association.

Loch Duart, purchased its own processing facility in Dingwall for the first time in its 21-year history. It currently produces 6000 tonnes of salmon from its farms in Sutherland and the Outer Hebrides and employs 160 people.

The Journal asked OSH if planned an appeal, It said: "The case is still under consideration with our legal advisor and that we expect to have a conclusion shortly."

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