The Friends of the Firth of Clyde (FoFoC) were heartened by the turn out for the Public Meeting at Largs Academy hosted by Largs Community Council on Thursday 21st February 2019.
Over 300 people, from local and further afield island communities, turned up to hear our presentation about the Clyde/Peel Port plans for Oil Rig Decommissioning at Hunterston Peninsula. FoFoC provided an overview of our understanding of the project; emphasised our whole hearted support for the development of an environmentally sustainable ‘circular economy’, whilst also having significant concerns regarding the lack of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project; the scale and impact of the work required; the lack of evidence for promises of large numbers of jobs; and the risks to the wellbeing of local communities, along with the bird and marine life that is dependant on the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which surrounds Hunterston.
The audience were given the opportunity to ask questions of a panel of representatives from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and North Ayrshire Council. Representatives from Clydeport; Marine Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage sent their apologies.
Panel Members: Anne Carson (Chair), Largs Community Council; Karen Yeomans, Exec Director Economy and Communities, North Ayrshire Council; Jim Miller, Head of Planning, North Ayrshire Council; Alex Gallagher; Councillor & Portfolio for the Economy; North Ayrshire Council; Ian Murdoch, Independent Councillor, North Ayrshire Council; Pamela Armstrong, SEPA Application Lead; David Ogilvie, Sector Lead SEPA; David Walker, SEPA; Caroline DeJong-Briggs, Chair Friends of the Firth of Clyde; David Nairn, Environmental Advisor Friends of the Firth of Clyde & Fairlie Community Council; Clare Baguley, Friends of the Firth of Clyde.
The panel session started with Councillor Alex Gallagher giving a brief account of his trip to Shetland, Dales Voe to see the decommissioning facility that operates there. Councillor Gallagher explained he was one of several previous council members that had been before. He described how sections are floated into a ‘shed’ for dismantling. Unfortunately, the site wasn’t operating at the time of his visit, so he couldn’t comment in much detail, including on the noise levels, but Councillor Gallagher offered his view that it appeared relatively clean. Time was short and FoFoC didn’t have the opportunity to ask further questions, which leaves a number of questions about the similarity of Dales Voe to Hunterston unanswered.
Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) provided a helpful overview of the situation with regard to licensing and the legal framework that they are required to work within. Sector Lead, David Ogilvie, outlined how this framework brings with it opportunities, but also limitations and how it is very important that the Oil Industry are involved in taking responsibility for the the decommissioning partners that they commission. Pamela Armstrong, who is overseeing the Hunsterston license application, gave a factual run down of the process to date relating to the current Waste Management License (WML) application that has been submitted, and her colleague, David Walker explained that, although the planning conditions had specified a Prevention, Pollution & Control (PPC) licence would be submitted, a WML actually provides SEPA with more opportunity to control. The WML licence application is still under consideration. The question of why reference to a PPC licence was consistently made throughout the planning agreement in reference to mitigation for all environmental risks, and whether this calls into question the nature of the original risk assessment, which ruled out the need for an EIA, remains to be answered.
This was followed by a lively Q & A session with the audience. The questions were wide ranging and forcefully made; including the fit of decommissioning with the recently announced £100m of investment for substantial development of tourism on the North Ayrshire coast; why an EIA cannot be done anyway if it would settle the communities’ concerns; and how a WML gives more effective regulation for decommissioning than a PPC License.
A surprise event happened during the panel discussion when Karen Yeomans, Exec Director Economy and Communities for NAC, produced a letter that has been received the day before from the Scottish Government that stated they supported NAC’s decision to not require an EIA. This letter was a response to a personal request for appeal of the original EIA decision submitted by Clyde Porpoise, CIC that was submitted back in August 2018. We’ve been awaiting the response with interest and having now seen a copy there are a number of questions about it that we will pursue. Of concern is that the letter does not respond to all the original objections or explain how the Scottish Government have reached their opinion; it is not signed, or officially CC’d to NAC, but oddly refers to sending a copy to East Ayrshire Council. We are taking our time to look into this letter and its contents and will respond in due course.
Independent Councillor Ian Murdoch provided an overview of his ongoing attempts to ask questions in the North Ayrshire Council Chambers about the impact and extent of the proposals. Ian has been steadfast in his challenge to NAC for full transparency and public consultation. Jim Miller, Head of Planning for NAC asserted his view that NAC have been consistently open and transparent in their management of the project.
One criticism was levelled at FoFoC for being ‘nimbys’ who were happy to use oil based products, but not deal with the consequences; however the vast majority of challenging questions from the audience were to our North Ayrshire Council representatives, and support for the aims of FoFoC was overwhelmingly positive from the audience.
The evening ended with a call to members of the audience to:
(i) sign up as a FoFoC supporter so we can stay in touch with further updates
(ii) urgently engage with their elected representatives to express their views
(ii) Contact their Community Councillors to find out if they will be attending the first official Community Liaison meeting with Clydeport to be held on 18th March 2019, to have their voice heard and have input into the ongoing proceedings – as soon as we have more information we will let everyone know.
It was fantastic to hear so many people saying they had learned a lot from the evening and that they intended to sign up to support the aims of the FoFoC. A massive thank you to everyone who came along.
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