Withdrawal of gravel bank removal plans?

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Plans for the removal of the gravel bank on the River South Esk could be withdrawn following the refusal of a Controlled Activities Regulations (CAR) licence from SEPA - one of three statutory approvals required for the work to take place.

Although the river, which is a special area of conservation for fresh water pearl mussels and Atlantic Salmon who, along with their habitats, are protected, has not burst its banks for over 17 years residents have been raising fears about the possibility of damage to their homes.

A planning application for the removal of the gravel bank was lodged in May 2011 followed by the submission of an environmental statement in March of this year.

A report prepared by consultant AECOM, on behalf of the Angus Council’s head of roads found that any impacts on the protected species could be mitigated during the gravel removal process. However they were unable to predict what impacts the post-construction stage could have on the species is stating “there may be an affect to the integrity of the qualifying species”.

This uncertainty resulted in the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) objecting to the planning application.

SEPA, who also objected to the planning application, refused to issue a CAR licence after they stated concerns that the gravel bank, which they claim is in a relatively stable state, does not pose a progressive threat to flooding and unless there was regular removal of material, the bank may reform in its original location or nearby.

Planning officer, Fraser Blackwood, of SEPA explained: “Given the uncertainty surrounding post-construction impacts on the water environment and the fact that flood risk will only be slightly reduced and not removed from the properties on River Street, we consider that the proposal is unlikely to be capable of consent under Water Environment (Controlled Activities)(Scotland) Regulations (CAR) 2011.

“We therefore object in principle to this planning application.”

However SEPA have stated that they are supportive of the long-term flood prevention scheme proposed for Brechin as “this will deliver a significant reduction in flood risk in the area.”

If the Council wanted to grant planning permission despite objections from SNH and SEPA then the application would need to be referred to the Scottish Ministers which could result in a Public Inquiry.

Director of Infrastructure services, Eric Lowson said in his report: “A report by the planning and transport division on the planning application, which would take cognisance of the objections from SNH and SEPA, is now anticipated to be taken to the development standards committee in September 2012 for determination by the planning authority. In light of the representations made to the planning authority it is recommended that this committee as applicant now instructs that the application be withdrawn.”

They could also appeal the decision by SEPA to refuse a CAR licence, however, if the council lost their appeal they would be liable for the costs incurred by SEPA.

Mr Lowson said: “Given the reasons for refusal given by SEPA, the council does not have substantive grounds upon which to make a successful appeal.

“It has also been considered that there are no procedural grounds for appeal

“Accordingly it is therefore recommended that the council do not appeal SEPA’s decision in this regard.”

Not happy with the decision made by SEPA is Brechin councillor Bob Myles who said: “I am pretty furious at this really as in all the discussions we had with the guys beforehand they said they would not get in the way and now they are coming up with a refusal of licence.

“I discussed with Mairi Evans who is convenor of that committee that we go to appeal thinking she would go to appeal but now they aren’t going to appeal.

“So whether she has changed tack or will move to appeal on Tuesday remains to be seen but if she doesn’t I definitely will.

“It is absolutely ridiculous to refuse that when we are speaking about the big scheme and obviously we will need permission for that too.

“The big scheme is far more disruptive than the small gravel bank will be and if they are going to block the gravel bank removal it would seem certain they will block the big scheme as well so what on earth are we wasting our time for.

“I think we have to question SEPA and ask them why they are doing this as it is absolutely ridiculous.

“Any discussions we have had with SEPA before they haven’t objected to it. I don’t know where they find their objections now.

“I will move to appeal. I think we should take this to the top because it is absolutely crazy and I am hoping to get support of councillor Evans for this.”

At the time of going to press the Brechin councillor Mairi Evans was unavailable to comment.

Angus Council’s infrastructure services committee, who met as the Brechiner went to print, has been recommended to withdraw the planning application, to agree not to consult Scottish Ministers and not to appeal against the decision by SEPA.

A meeting allowing residents to discuss the Brechin Flood prevention Scheme and Gravel Band Removal, has been set up by local resident and former chairman of the Brechin and District Community Council Douglas Murray which takes place on Thursday, August 23 (tomorrow) at the Bridgend Bar on River Street. The meeting will open at 6.30pm to allow people to view plans with discussions starting at 7pm.

Douglas Murray explains: “On September 24, 2008, as the then chairman of Brechin and District Community Council, I arranged a meeting for local residents to discuss proposals in relation to both the Flood Scheme, and possible removal of the gravel bank.

“I have received requests to hold a further meeting in light of recent and impending decisions of Angus Council.

“There are other issues on the designs for River Street, which locals may wish to consider including a possible complete ban on car parking along most of the street.”