A cyber-attack on Sepa is threatening to derail plans for a new cafe at Portknockie’s Bow Fiddle Rock.
The environment agency has been under a “complex and sophisticated” bombardment since December – bringing much of its operations to a halt.
As a criminal investigation continues and Sepa takes steps to prevent any further damage, it has been unable to process applications from developers.
The fallout has hit all manner of people – including for Portknockie developer Sandy Laing, who has been left frustrated for several months in his attempts to build a cafe on land overlooking the celebrated natural landmark.
‘I would give up, but I’ve got people asking about jobs’
A 15-month planning row, eventually won on appeal, had already delayed the project in the Moray village.
Now Mr Laing, who has already spent £8,000 on the plans before a shovel has been put in the ground, is sometimes left wishing he had never embarked on the venture.
However, he remains committed to the project to bring employment to the village he has lived in his whole life as well as benefits for tourists.
He said: “If I had known it would be this long a process I probably would never have started. I’m becoming very discouraged by it all.
“We can’t do anything until we get the permissions from Sepa but it’s very difficult to move things forward with them at the moment because of the cyber-attack.
“I would give up, but I’ve got people who keep asking me about jobs. That’s one of the main reasons I started.”
Sepa cyber-attack subject to criminal investigation
Sepa says the cyber-attack affecting its internal systems, processes and communications, which have hit the Bow Fiddle Rock plans, is currently subject to a live criminal investigation.
More than 4,000 files, which included a mix of information – public and otherwise – were stolen in the hack and published online in January.
Since then, Sepa says it has disconnected its IT systems to avoid further unauthorised access.
Mr Laing, who is a retired builder, has owned the land overlooking the cliffs at Portknockie since 1988 and it was once home to his business.
After decades working within sight of the Bow Fiddle Rock, he believes there is a demand for a cafe from visitors.
He said: “While I’ve been working here, I’ve seen lots of people go to have a look at Bow Fiddle Rock, and they have often asked me where they can get something to eat.
“We’re not talking about big meals, just a cup of tea and a snack.”
Information on Sepa’s website has advised developers that it is currently unable to process permit applications.
It adds: “We are currently unable to receive, verify or determine applications for waste management licences, simple waste exemptions or controlled activities in the water environment, including registration of new private sewage systems.
⚠️ Service Status Update
🖥 In continuing to respond to the impacts of a significant cyber-attack, we're prioritising protecting Scotland’s environment and providing priority services to people, communities and businesses.
— Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) (@ScottishEPA) March 5, 2021
“The exceptions to this are existing private sewage treatment systems.
“Please do not submit any applications at this time and check regular updates.
“While some systems and services may be badly affected for some time, step-by-step we’re working to assess and consider how we recover.”
Sepa declined to comment further when contacted by the Press and Journal, but encouraged Mr Laing to contact them directly if he had an urgent issue.