PLANNING permission for a proposed new fish farm on Loch Long has been refused.

Members of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority's board turned down Loch Long Salmon's plans for a site in the shadow of Beinn Reithe on Monday.

The company's planning application was considered at a special meeting at the Three Villages Hall in Arrochar - and the board backed the recommendation of national park planning officials, who said permission should be refusedon the grounds that it would not comply with parts of the Local Development Plan.

It had attracted more than 200 objections, but also support from a number of MSPs including Jenni Minto (SNP, Argyll and Bute), culture secretary Angus Robertson, Pam Gosal (Conservative, West Scotland) and Donald Cameron (Conservative, Highlands and Islands).

Local MP Brendan O’Hara (SNP, Argyll and Bute) was also reported at the meeting to have registered his support.

The officer’s recommendation was agreed by 10 votes to one, with only Councillor William Sinclair (Liberal Democrat, Cowal) disagreeing with it.

He is one of three Argyll and Bute councillors on the national park board, but Lomond North Councillors Iain S Paterson (SNP) and Maurice Corry (Conservative) submitted apologies.

Loch Long Salmon's proposals were for a 'semi-closed containment' system - the first time such technology would have been used in Scotland, though it is already in use in Norway and, experimentally, in Canada.

Addressing the meeting on behalf of the applicants, Loch Long Salmon's managing director Stewart Hawthorn said: “I have worked in salmon farming for more than 30 years. Over that time the industry has evolved, but now it must transform. The national park can play a key role by supporting this project.

“There is support from the local community, a cross-party group of councillors, and the local MP. The Scottish Government has described it as being of national significance to Scotland.

“This game-changing project is in complete alignment with the park’s plan that calls for the park to have partnerships beyond its borders.

“It demonstrates that salmon can be farmed while protecting fish and other wildlife. There are no ecological grounds to refuse this application.”

Other supporters who spoke at the meeting included Ronald Ross, the chair of Arrochar, Tarbet and Ardlui Community Council; Councillor Gordon Blair (SNP, Cowal) and former councillor George Freeman, who represented the Lomond North ward on Argyll and Bute Council until his bid for re-election earlier this year was unsuccessful.

Roger Brook, of the Argyll and District Fishery Board, was the first objector who spoke, saying: “We have done an awful lot on the River Goil to try to enhance it for the salmon population. Only about 20 salmon come into the river.

“All of the work we have funded and done can be destroyed by escapes coming from this farm.”

John Piper, who also objected, added: “The environmental impact assessment found no evidence of creatures that we know live here with us.

“The developers have refused to show the view from the A814. We regularly use the road and know with certainty it [the proposed farm] will be clearly visible [from there].”

At the end of a meeting which lasted for more than four hours, board convener Major James Stuart sought opinions from the board on a decision.

Ronnie Erskine proposed that the board endorse the officials' recommendation to refuse permission, and was seconded by Professor Christopher Spray.

Councillor Sinclair said: “As somebody who represents a wider area, and with the economic value, not just to the local area but further afield, I am not minded to agree with the recommendation that is being set out.”

But his amendment failed to find a seconder and all 10 other board members agreed to the recommendation, which was carried.

Following the decision, Mr Stuart said: 

James Stuart, Convenor of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority, said: “Today the National Park Authority Board refused an application for a marine fish farm below Beinn Reithe, Loch Long.

“This decision was taken following careful consideration by the Board of the planning assessment report, together with responses from statutory bodies and community members, and representations from speakers both in support of and in objection to the proposal at a thorough public hearing in Arrochar today.

“This application is for development within a National Park and it is our view that such a nationally important landscape is not the appropriate location to host development of such an industrial scale and where the risk of an escape of farmed fish could impact on designated water courses.

“The semi-closed containment systems proposed – whilst noted as a substantial step forward for the industry - have not yet been trialled in Scotland and there is not a sound body of evidence on which to base decision making. 

“There is a clear risk that the technology may not be sufficiently successful and the location of the application site in Loch Long – with connectivity to the Endrick Water Special Area of Conservation and its fragile population of Atlantic salmon – means that the impacts associated with a potential escape of farmed fish is a significant concern. 

“The proposed development also presents a number of significant landscape, seascape and visual issues. It would have an industrial character and would notably contrast with the largely undeveloped and remote character of the local landscape.

“The National Marine Plan, the Local Development Plan, our National Park Partnership Plan and Scottish planning policy all require the special landscape qualities and landscape character types of the National Park to be conserved and enhanced.

"This is also the founding aim of the National Park to which greatest weight is given in any planning decision.”