The Hearing part of the Local Enquiry took place over Zoom as a virtual hearing, split into two parts over three days.
The Reporter started by saying that all submissions, including those not forming part of the hearing, would be taken into account before making her decision, and that Scottish Ministers would have the final say.
The hearing itself however, would only cover:
- Firstly the need for the proposal as questioned by the objection submitted by local resident and DECC constituent Fiona Henderson from Midtown.
- Secondly the landscape issues which formed the remaining objection by Highland Council.
This meant that the flood risk would not be part of the hearing itself, partly due to the DECC issuing a reply which stated that after our second written submission we no longer would wished to take part. This final reply was, I believe, never discussed by the DECC, and remains unexplained.
Part One: This took all of the first day and consisted of a series questions and replies by Fiona H regarding the following:
- The need for the proposals in the overall context of national energy requirement.
- The sustainable credentials of the proposals, particularly the claims by ILI about the proposal in itself being regarded as a Renewable Energy development.
- Questions about the size of the proposal given the market reasons given by the applicants, and whether or not a smaller or larger dam was more appropriate.
- The alleged environmental improvements resulting directly as a result of the proposal and whether or not these would happen anyway in the near future without the need for the proposal.
- The applicant’s statements and methodology in general particularly those involving the ecological losses versus gains .
In summary Fiona H implied, with some evidence, that many of the applicant’s claims were at times exaggerated, the economic case unconvincing, the environmental downsides underplayed, and in general scientific terms, many of their conclusions lacked sufficient rigour.
The applicants of course countered these claims with their own statements and evidence from their seven strong team including a QC.
The reporter’s job will be to decide what weight to give to each of the arguments and come to a conclusion.
This took up the remaining 2 days of the hearing and was for the most part a more balanced situation with each side having a team of experts and a QC apiece.
This time the arguments were entirely based around legal and technical points about the interpretation of Highland Council and Scottish government policies on the effect of cumulative developments in the proximity of the proposal and the Loch Ness area in general.
Basically these centred around whether or not the policies which were largely created to protect against over development and excessive visual intrusion in sensitive landscapes applied in this case and how relevant they were.
These arguments were too complex and nuanced for me to makeany meaningful attempt to comment on, but suffice to say, will be decided on strict legal interpretations of either sides case.
In other words the reporter will need to turn to governement lawyers to help her reach a conclusion on this part of the hearing.
The Flood Risk
Apart from the Bamforth report which highlighted concerns over the current regime of the Reservoirs Act and called for a review, ILI are also relying on SEPA’s representation to the enquiry which is, and I quote:
“the probability of failure of a reservoir structure managed under the 2011(Reservoirs) Act is considered to be so low that it is beyond the scope of likely probabilities considered within the Scottish Planning Flood Risk Framework. As a result we have not considered the reservoir breach analysis when providing you with advice on flood risk. “
So, for the avoidance of doubt, SEPA have not even considered the implications of a future seismic event or an inherent seismic weakness, despite that being responsible for the tunnel collapse at Glendoe.