Councillors between rock and a hard place

Councillors found themselves between a rock and a hard place this week when considering what to do with 40,500 tonnes of surplus rock.

A planning application was received from community landlord Storas Uibhist to allow removal of rock which was extracted from Gasaigh Island, South Uist during the recent Lochboisdale harbour works. Original planning permission for the project specified that the rock must be used within the limits of the site to fit in with the local Development Plan.

However the rock is currently on a site earmarked for development and permission is being sought to transport 86% to market on the mainland by boat and the remaining 14% to be used locally.

Objections have been lodged by Macaulay Askernish who operate the Askernish quarry on the grounds that making the rock available to the local market would be likely to lead to loss of jobs and a threat to a long standing local business.

Even 14% of the total amount of rock is more than the objector sold to the local market in the whole of 2014.

Cllr Donnie Steele said: “This application has more holes in it than a rabbit infested croft! Storas are working actively against one of their tenants, there could be serious job losses and it goes against the development plan.”

South Uist councillor Ronnie Mackinnon said it would be ‘ridiculous’ to export the rock off the island.

Councillors were uneasy with approving the recommendation that the application be approved until they had more details of the agreement which would be drawn up. They agreed to recommend to full council that the decision be deferred until all details are available.

Another application for Sand Extraction from Vallay Island, North Uist was also deferred until the applicant provides the results of an analysis to give evidence of the quality of the sand.

The application is to extract 5000 tonnes of sand, over a period of ten years, from a 1.4 hectare site within a high dune system.

An existing site at Balemartin, North Uist has planning permission for sand extraction but the applicant has submitted statements by local building merchants in support of the planning application, which claim that the sand from Vallay Island has properties that make it more suitable for certain building works than the sand from the consented site at Balemartin.

Those building merchants say they are currently buying sand from the mainland for Uist works.

The committee was asked to approve the decision that the application be refused but an amendment was put forward by North Uist councillor Neil Beaton to defer a decision to the next meeting until after sand analysis has been completed. In a vote the amendment was carried.

Cllr Beaton said: “In fairness to the applicant and to the people who are going to be spending money building houses we should do what gives best value.”

He said possibly the proposal could create one or two jobs.

Cllr Donnie Steele supported refusal of the application. He said: “It could have a serious effect on the area around it.” He referred to Gualan Island from which he said people had taken sand and it was now the site of coastal erosion.