Scottish Water is facing a race against time to start work on a controversial £11million sewage plant upgrade in a Highland village.
It has emerged that the planning permission for the contentious project in Ardersier is due to expire in January.
Despite the looming deadline, the agency has still to confirm a start date for the work and insists its “current focus” is on engaging with local residents.
The Press and Journal also understands that it is still to meet all 22 of the conditions attached to the original planning consent in 2011.
Highland Council said last night it had made it clear to the body that the work cannot commence until it does.
The scheme involves a new sewer, extended outflow into the Moray Firth and expanded treatment plant in the village.
A failure to progress it could have implications for plans to build thousands of homes in the east of Inverness, including the Tornagrain development, which the upgraded plant would serve.
Yesterday, angry campaigners staged two protests against the project at Highland Council’s headquarters in Inverness and at Ardersier’s War Memorial Hall.
Close to 2,000 people have signed an online petition against the project, and the campaign has been backed by Holywood star Dame Helen Mirren, who was married in the village.
Residents have raised concerns about the impact of the scheme on the local environment and their quality of life, and claim there was insufficient consultation when the plans were first discussed.
Scottish Water says the work is essential to support future development, but has written to all residents and held a series of additional engagement events to try to reassure residents.
Last night, a spokesman confirmed that there was no start date imminent, saying: “Our current focus is on engaging with the community and we are holding a further information event in the village today.
“No date has been confirmed at this stage for the start of work at Ardersier Waste Water Treatment Works.”
A Highland Council spokeswoman said: “I can confirm that our area planning office are in discussions with Scottish Water on these matters and Scottish Water are fully aware that development may not commence until the terms of the conditions are satisfactorily addressed.”