THE Southern Hebrides Against Marine Environmental Designations (SHAMED) group has launched a fresh attempt to block plans for the establishment of a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in the Sound of Barra.
The organisation understands that SNH was due to send its final, post-consultation recommendations to the Government yesterday (Monday August 27 2012), but feels that: “there is little doubt that SNH will be unmoved by the scientific and legal objections which were submitted to it during the course of the consultation and that they will be advising Scottish Ministers to confirm this site also”.
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament on February 8, Environment Minister, Stewart Stevenson, explained his intentions towards the Sound of Barra and, according to SHAMED, the Minister’s key point was as follows:
“If I designate the Sound of Barra, my objective is to do so when three conditions are fulfilled. First, I will invite local interests to participate in the development of a management plan that has the objective of protecting those interests…I am asking my officials to bring forward proposals that address the issue of management.”
SHAMED now asks how Mr Stevenson can imply, on the one hand, that he has not yet decided to designate the Sound of Barra as an SAC when, on the other hand, he refers to setting up a management plan in order to protect it and deployment of officials to promote such a step.
One of SHAMED’s objections to both marine SAC’s is their conviction that previous Environment Ministers, Michael Russell and Roseanna Cunningham, repeatedly stated to the public that they had not yet come to conclusions on whether to notify the sites. In private, however, they were instructing officials to progress the designations and doing so well in advance of receiving SNH’s scientific cases on which their ministerial decisions should have been based.
Mr Stevenson is, as SHAMED sees it, similarly trying to give the impression that his final decision is still under debate. And yet his officials are currently engaged in negotiating a management structure for the Sound of Barra.
SHAMED chairman, crofter-fisherman Angus MacLeod, said: “There are three aspects of Mr Stevenson’s statement that I want to highlight. In the first place, there is no basis in law for the Minister to attach such conditions to his decision to designate the Sound of Barra. This decision must be based on science alone, not on whether local interests agree to participate in a management plan for the site. Pre-designation discussions on management agreements are not new but, as far as I am aware, no Minister has the right to say that the decision to designate is actually dependent on them taking place.
“Secondly, SHAMED is nevertheless of the view that for the same avoidance of doubt it is vital that we do not take up any invitation ‘to participate in the development of a management plan’. To do so could allow the Minister to say that he had fulfilled this first and most important condition. He has created the condition. If we can ensure that it remains unfulfilled, the designation cannot go ahead. ”
SHAMED’s concern is that the meetings between officials and local interests have not been held in public. As a result, people are possibly unaware that their participation in discussion could be construed as supporting the SAC’s progress. This participation, Angus MacLeod believes, could give the Minister the green light that he is looking for.
Mr MacLeod continued: “The third aspect concerns the definition of ‘local interests’. We are confident that no democratically elected representative or organisation in Barra and Vatersay supports the designation of an SAC in the Sound of Barra. But we are very aware that Eriskay and South Uist will also be affected by the imposition of this marine SAC or Regulatory Order and that these communities also fall within the definition of ‘local interests’.
“I would therefore ask Storas Uibhist, the principal landowning interest in Eriskay and South Uist, to enter into this open debate. I hope they will feel able to inform us on whether they have been engaged in discussions with Government officials on the Sound of Barra SAC or RO.”
Mr MacLeod concluded: “If this is indeed the case, it would be useful to know whether these discussions pre-date the Minister’s parliamentary statement. More importantly, it would be helpful to know whether any financial inducements have been offered by the Government in order to secure ‘local interest’ support for a management plan structure for the Sound of Barra because this helps the Minister to fulfil his first condition.
“If that is the case – but I sincerely hope it isn’t – I believe it will strengthen the arguments we have put together in order to mount a legal challenge against the imposition of the marine SAC’s at East Mingulay and Sound of Barra.”
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