HIGHLAND Council is "under no obligation" to improve flood defences in an area of Conon Bridge where the flood risk has been heightened.
The revelation, by the council’s flood scheme engineer Matt Smith, came this week as councillors debated a planning application for homes in an area blighted by flood fears.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) attempted to block the small housing scheme which would be built 1.25 metres below Riverbank Road.
SEPA has increased the flood risk threat for that area following changes to government flood policy. It said the new tenants and those living around the new homes would be exposed to future flooding from the River Conon.
Mr Smith told councillors the heightened risk status meant that the village’s current flood defences were deemed inadequate for any new development in that area.
But he said the council only had a duty to protect existing homes.
He said: "We have an obligation to maintain the flood defences. We don’t have an obligation to increase standards of protection. There’s a great many areas in the Highlands that don’t have any flood defences and money should be spent protecting existing development as opposed to upgrading existing flood defences to allow future development."
He spoke at a meeting of the council’s north area planning applications committee on Tuesday.
The council - and SEPA - were urging councillors not to approve plans for three homes north east of Glen View, High Street due to inadequate flood defences.
North area planning manager Dafydd Jones said: "Eventually the people who buy these houses will face the consequences and they won’t go back to the applicants, they’ll come back to us to ask why we allowed their house to be built somewhere it might flood."
But councillors said they could not allow development in the village to be held back.
Dingwall and Seaforth Independent councillor Margaret Paterson said: "We can’t keep turning developers down and saying ‘no you can’t develop this site’. We have to try and resolve the problem."
Cromarty Firth SNP councillor Maxine Smith agreed, saying the scheme should be approved.
She said: "I keep thinking about how long ago the last flood was - it was 1966, that’s a long time ago. I just hate to see all of Conon Bridge held back because we have a one in 200 year chance of flooding. I’m going to go for granting this."
Angela MacLean, Dingwall and Seaforth councillor voted against the housing scheme but believed the council had "a moral obligation" to improve flood defences.
Members voted 10-6 in favour of the scheme.
Its Cheshire-based developer Brian Elias said he was "very confident" that the site would not flood.
He bought the land just before SEPA heightened the site’s perceived flood risk.
Mr Elias said it had been a tough battle to get his scheme approved.
"As you can see I’m still angry but that’s because I have been fighting this for two-and-a-half years," he said.
Conon Bridge resident and councillor Alister Mackinnon said "common sense" had prevailed with the decision to approve the housing plans.