According to FoE, the decision to reject the application by Orkney Sea Farms Ltd, for a salmon farm at Mill Bay on Stronsay, Orkney, was unexpected, and reverses a 20 year trend which has seen the Crown Estate profit from the promotion of salmon farming. A FoE spokesman told edie that 24% of the Scottish Crown Estates comes from fish farming, coming second only to commercial property as a source of income.

Under the current situation, Crown Estates have been put in the position of being both ‘poacher’ and ‘gamekeeper’, said the spokesman, in that it is forced to be the competent authority for regulating fish farm applications, whilst retaining the duty of the 1951 Crown Estates Act, under which it must increase the value of the estate. Fish farms add to the Crown Estate’s income through paying rent.

Under the new 1999 regulations, the Crown Estate’s regulatory powers for fish farm applications will be transferred to local authorities within two to three years, once the legislation has been passed by the Scottish parliament.

“The Crown Estate is reluctant to ask for environmental statements,” said the Foe spokesman. “In the last 12 years the Crown Estate has only required environmental statements to be carried out nine times. This is the fourth one.” According to FoE, the Orkney Sea Farms case highlights why environmental statements should be issued, and explains why industry has shied away from making them in the past.

“This decision clearly shows Environmental Statements are having a real effect,” said Kevin Dunion, Director of Friends of the Earth (Scotland). “It is heartening that after twenty years of largely ignoring the concerns of local people and the environment the Crown Estate have finally allowed quality of life and environment to take precedence over the pursuit of profits. In organising a petition against the salmon farm polluting their pristine environment, local residents have been successful in protecting the Stronsay environment.”

The Crown Estate’s version of the situation is somewhat different.

According to Ian Pritchard, Fish Farming Estate Manager for the Crown Estates, the key reason for the rejection of the Orkney Sea Farms application was as a result of navigational issues.

Under the new 1999 regulations, all fish farm applications over a certain threshold have to be considered for environmental statements, Pritchard, told edie. This begins with a screening process by the relevant authorities, who will then decide whether an environmental statement is required. In the past, instead of full statements on their impact on the environment, the Crown Estates sought supplemental environmental information. About 40% of all applications were turned down for a variety of reasons such as for being a hazard to navigation, as well as for environmental discharge.

However, Pritchard denied none of FoE’s allegations, other than the reason for the latest application refusal, saying that it was their point of view.

In a letter dated 7 August 2000, Michael Cunliffe, Head of Scottish Estates at the Crown Estate, said, “Following public advertisement and consultations with interested parties the Crown Estate Commissioners have decided that: having considered the environmental information in respect of the proposed development consent for the purpose for Clause three of the Environmental Impact Assessment (Fish Farming in Marine Waters) Regulations 1999 (“the Regulations”) is not granted… The main reason for the decision: the application, and the Environmental Statement submitted in support of it, has failed to address all the relevant issues, particularly with regard to navigation.”

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