Scottish Water has been accused of “corporate arrogance” and treating Highland residents “with contempt” over its expansion of a waste water treatment plant in the village of Ardersier.
The Scottish Government agency built the extension on the village plant to deal with increased capacity.
Ardersier residents had campaigned vigorously against the plans for the £11 million project to expand the treatment works in the village.
Highland Council eventually approved the plans, but they have recently served an enforcement notice on Scottish Water for a breach of planning control, relating to the erection of a gantry over the plant which was not shown in the original plans – increasing the height of the development by more than 6ft 7ins.
As a result, the water authority has applied for retrospective permission for the changes they have made to allow increased heights of the picket fence thickener tank and inlet works and installation of electrical substation.
But councillors on the south planning committee yesterday issued a damning statement on Scottish Water.
Local councillor Roddy Balfour said: “This was contentious from the beginning. This was corporate arrogance from the start.
“We were simply not informed about the changes. There is severe suspicion of culpability, if not contempt. There was a breach of trust between Scottish Water and the community.”
Councillor Carolyn Caddick added: “I cannot believe Scottish Water are so complacent that they have not designed it correctly in the first place. The assumption is they did this on purpose.
“It is a failure to adhere to conditions and they think it is a done deal. It is a disregard to the community and to the council, as we spent time deliberating the original application.
“I am deeply, deeply disappointed by Scottish Water in this action.”
Councillor Ron MacWilliam added: “Scottish Water has expressed contempt to the community, to this committee and to planning process.”
Councillor Andrew Jarvie added: “It is quite a cheek for a major public agency to go down this route. They clearly had consent and went against it.”
A report by officials to the committee said: “It is not for the planning authority to provide an explanation of how or why Scottish Water has developed in this way nor should it be excused.
“It is the case that the development, as now proposed, will sit higher within the site. It will therefore be visible from greater distance.
A Scottish Water spokesman said: “We recognise the disappointment that the local community and councillors feel about the need for a retrospective application to revise the planning consent for our project at Ardersier.
“Unfortunately, in the course of our detailed design work, the need to engage with the community and with the planning process about an increase in height, including the addition of an access gantry and handrail to one of the structures, was missed.
“A review is taking place to understand how this happened and minimise the risk of a similar situation recurring.
“Since this omission came to light, we have discussed this in some detail with the Community Liaison Group that we have been working with in recent years.
“We understand the councillors’ decision and will continue to work with the Liaison Group and the planning service to provide the further information that is needed. We are sorry that this situation has arisen and will continue to do all we can to resolve it appropriately via the planning process.”