MICHAEL RUSSELL email@example.com
A flurry of activity this week saw the Ministry of Defence agree a start date for the consultation into extending the exclusion zone around the torpedo testing range off Raasay.
Last week the MoD’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation sent the Free Press an advert detailing “proposed new byelaws” governing the Raasay Ranges.
Following Free Press inquiries this week, Steve Meo of the DIO stated that the intention of the advert was to inform the public of the forthcoming consultation – but the text made no mention of that.
A second, near-identical advert was then submitted, which now included the line: “The Public Consultation will commence on 30th Sep 2015.” Both were signed by Giles Rowe, head of the byelaws review team.
The original advert claimed that copies of the new byelaws could be seen on the gov.uk website. However, the second confirmed that those documents will not be available for public viewing until 30th September.
On Tuesday, Skye and Lochalsh MP Ian Blackford wrote to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon demanding to know why the consultation process was started during the parliamentary recess, “limiting the ability of myself and others to question the minister as to what is going on”.
The letter added: “One might ask the question are you prepared to amend the proposed byelaws. I think we all know the answer to that question. This simply appears as if it is the MoD running roughshod over the interests of the wider community. You have the powers to do so but it gives you no credit whatsoever.”
Mr Blackford asked Mr Fallon to make a statement to the House of Commons as soon as the recess ends, scheduled for 13th October. He also reiterated his fears for the 140 fishermen whose livelihoods will be seriously affected if the range is doubled in size, as the MoD originally proposed early this year.
According to figures supplied by Marine Scotland to local fishermen, £1.7 million will be lost to the local economy every year if the expansion plans go ahead.
Following a recent meeting at the BUTEC base in Kyle, a spokesman for the North West Responsible Fishermen’s Association said: “This loss would have a long-lasting effect on the area, and the displacement of vessels would be felt north to Gairloch and south to Mallaig with a ‘domino effect’ as gear was moved from the new range area.
“There will also be an increase in gear conflict. As it is, creel boats lose thousands of pounds annually because of trawl activity, this in the form of lost creels and lost days looking for them. The existing area open to trawlers would also be under pressure from the static gear sector.”