COMMUNITY councillors in Garelochhead have withdrawn their objection to controversial plans for a new fish farm on Loch Long – but they’ve stopped short of throwing their weight behind the project.

As previously reported in the Advertiser, Loch Long Salmon Limited (LLS) is seeking permission for a ‘semi-closed’ salmon farm at Beinn Reithe, between Ardgartan and Glen Mallan.

Community groups in the area are already split, with the community council in Arrochar, Tarbet and Ardlui – within which the proposed site is located – having given its support to the plans, while their counterparts in Cove and Kilcreggan have lodged an objection.

A total of 129 members of the public have also objected, though there have been 45 expressions of support for the firm’s plans too.

The company held an ‘information day’ for the public at the Three Villages Hall in Arrochar on July 4.

Documents published on the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority’s website reveal that Garelochhead Community Council (GCC) submitted an objection to the plans towards the end of last year – but that it has now asked for that to be withdrawn.

In an email dated July 23, GCC member Fergus Madigan, who deals with planning matters for the community council, told the planning officer dealing with the case: “The Garelochhead Community Council withdraws our objection lodged on December 6, 2021.

“It is our duty to reflect the broad views of our community and we simply cannot justify an objection at this stage as representative of such.

“We are currently going back to our community for further input, and we will adopt a neutral stance until further notice, as is our duty under our code of practice.”

Cove and Kilcreggan Community Council lodged an objection to the plans in May, citing concerns over fish conservation, the protection of the landscape, risk to wildlife and loss of amenity.

But their counterparts in Arrochar, Tarbet and Ardlui gave the proposal their backing in March, stating that the project “brings the opportunity for much needed employment… with direct and indirect benefits to a community in dire need of regeneration”, and saying that “the benefits to our deprived rural area [were] a significant factor in forming our decision”.

The plans were first unveiled last October, when LLS revealed proposals for four circular marine farming enclosures around 300 metres from the western bank of Loch Long.

The company said it hoped the project would provide around 12 jobs in the area.

If the project is granted permission it would be the first fish farm in Loch Long – a point raised by several of those who have submitted objections to the application.

The firm also says it is the first fish farming company in Scotland seeking permission to use “semi-closed” salmon farming systems, rather than the conventional “open net” pens that are a common feature of many of Scotland’s sea lochs.

“Semi-closed” systems are already in use in Norway, Canada and the Faroe Islands, and the firm says they deliver “environmental and animal welfare benefits” by capturing uneaten food and fish waste, keeping out predators, and preventing sea lice getting into the salmon enclosures.

A statement submitted by the applicants along with the formal planning application says: “This transformative approach provides a different and significantly more sustainable approach to marine salmon farming and has also been demonstrated to deliver improved welfare for the farmed fish.”

Among the other bodies to have objected are the Argyll Fisheries Trust, which says that problems have been experienced with “semi-closed” systems in Canada and claims that the applicants “appear to be lacking in experience” in operating such systems, asking that any trials take place in an area where other fish farms are already located.

According to the National Park’s website, the original determination deadline for the application was in February – but that the ‘standard consultation date’ was June 30.

An ‘expiry date’ for the application is given as Friday, August 5, although the proposals have already been designated as a 'major application' by the park authority, meaning that the application will be decided by the park's planning and access committee.

The committee's next meeting is due to be held on Monday, September 12.