A Highland Council planning committee has ignored official advice and granted planning permission to two Dingwall businesses.
Graham MacGregor Joinery and Fraser Mackenzie Electrical had both applied for permission to build new units at Dingwall Business Park.
However, planning officers recommended both applications for refusal because Sepa said the area is a flood risk.
Ironically, Sepa itself has premises at the business park.
Councillors were left incredulous as the implications became clear, with north planning committee chairwoman Maxine Morley-Smith admitting the case is “complicated”.
Writing off Dingwall Business Park?
The business park is protected from flooding by a bunded area, and planning officers say to their knowledge it has not flooded in recent years.
However, the flood protection measures falls short of current tightened legislation in wake of the climate emergency.
Planning officers say this left them with no choice but to recommend the applications for refusal.
This prompted councillor Richard Gale to ask “Does that mean we are writing off an entire business park?”
Officers reassured members that current businesses could continue to operate, but admitted that future development hangs in the balance.
On further discussion, it emerged that Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which runs the business park, has sold off sites to various businesses over the years.
Highland Council, HIE and Sepa recently convened a meeting for business park tenants to discuss the flood risk.
There was confusion and inconsistency regarding who is responsible for maintaining the bund. HIE has since ordered a survey of the bund as is considering investing in better flood defences.
This would most likely require the council to adopt the land.
Planning officer Dafydd Jones described the situation as “most unfortunate”.
Support for Dingwall businesses
Dingwall councillors revealed their frustration with the process and urged committee members to support local businesses.
“What we’re not happy with is that the businesses that are there just now are told that they’re OK and new businesses are not,” said councillor Angela MacLean.
“In my view there will be no new businesses in this park unless there are improvements to the bund.
“The frustrating thing for local members is there was this big announcement about funding to Nigg Energy Park – which was welcomed – and then to Ardersier, to create possible jobs in the future.
“Whereas for a fraction of the funding the bund at the business park could be upgraded by HIE and we’d have businesses in there by the end of the year.
“For economic development we have to ensure that we have our business parks open for business.”
She added: “Our officers are following the new guidelines that are in place but we as a committee can take a different position. As NPAC we need to support local regeneration.”
Committee members voted unanimously to approve both applications.
However, as there’s an objection from Sepa, the council’s decision will now go to Scottish Government ministers.
In the meantime, discussions with local officers will continue.