DEFENCE chiefs have been criticised for doubling the size of a torpedo testing range in waters off the west coast of Scotland, where fishermen say they are being forced out of the area.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is being accused of not entering into any consultation over their decision to expand the range, which is operated by the British Underwater Test and Evaluation Centre (Butec) within the Inner Sound, between Applecross and Rona.
The MoD must realise that the days are gone when they can just steamroller over Scottish interestsDave Thompson, Highland SNP MSP
Highland SNP MSPs Rob Gibson and Dave Thompson are seeking a meeting with deputy defence minister Phillip Dunne, who last week announced a £22 million investment in Butec, operated by private firm QinetiQ on behalf of the government.
Mr Thompson said: “This is an unwanted blow for fragile fishing jobs in areas that need every support and consultation.
“Any changes to MoD restricted areas must be fully consulted on and no decisions taken until all interests have had a chance to have their say. We live in a new Scotland and the MoD must realise that the days are gone when they can just steamroller over Scottish interests.”
Mr Gibson added: “Local static and mobile-gear fishers in Wester Ross and around the Inner Sound are up in arms.
“There are channels of consultation that have been completely ignored by the MoD. We have written to the MoD to seek an early meeting to open up a dialogue so that local fishing interests are not swept aside by Westminster diktat.”
Mr Gibson said: “What evidence is there of the Ministry of Defence talking to local people before this surprise announcement of doubling the sea area from which local fishers are to be excluded?”
Ian Blackford, the SNP’s parliamentary candidate for Ross, Skye and Lochaber in the upcoming general election, said: “The MoD’s management of Butec is yet another example of remote decisions made in London that ignore local needs.”
Duncan Finlayson, of the North West Responsible Fishing Association, said he was alarmed and dismayed about the proposed expansion of the Butec range.
He claimied that lack of consultation “demonstrates utter contempt for the local fishermen and our community”.
Mr Finlayson added: “The area in question is generally considered to be among the best on the coast for top-quality, high-value langoustine and is a vital part of an industry which puts many hundreds of thousands of pounds directly into our local economy.”
Mr Finlayson said he understands there will be no extra employment created by the expansion, but added: “It is inevitable that there would be jobs lost at the fishing.”
An MoD spokesman said last night they now planned to carry out consultation in the summer.
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