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Seabank Tank Farm

Historic Context

Update on Tank Farm - November 2016

At the beginning of November for some reason only known to themselves, Historic Environment Scotland decided to "consult" on making the whole of the oil tank farm (45 tanks plus  the pump house) an historic monument!  This would mean that the tanks can never be removed, the site can never be made safe and this huge piece of land, which blocks Invergordon from development, could never be regenerated.  For Invergordon and its potential growth this would be a disaster.  The site has many potential uses such as housing, both private and social, as well as landscaping walks, industry and tourism such as a hotel - the sky is the limit!

Not to be outdone I am working on a project with the owners and the Highland Council, with funding from the Scottish Government to test an area of land to see how contaminated it is, as well as look to do a trial/pilot scheme to remove a few of the tanks, with a view to eventially removing all the tanks and remediating the land.  This initial work has begun, and we are awaiting agents going on site to begin testing.  We hope to have the first phase concluded within the next few months.

The Area Ross and Cromarty Committee in Highland Council have written to Historic Scotland advising them to back off and we hope they will listen - we will not settle for having Invergordon held back, its bad enough that it has taken this long to begin removing the tanks, but thanks to the MOD who dumped this lot on Invergordon, no funding has been forthcoming.  It has taken a long time to locate sufficient monies to begin this project so fingers crossed we can get the site cleared before HES list it as an historic monument (because apparently it is the only one left in the world - that might be because the MOD didn't give a damn about Invergordon!).

About the tank Farm

Invergordon fuel depot was located at the naval dockyard and port operated by the Royal Navy at Invergordon, a coastal town which lies adjacent to the sheltered deep waters of the Cromarty Firth. During World War II, the fuel depot at the port operated in conjunction with the Inchindown fuel depot located underground in the hills to the north of the town, and which formed a massive, bombproof storage facility which would have supplied the fleet if Britain's ports had been blockaded by the enemy.

The town of Invergordon first became a naval base during World War I, when its deep water sea access made it an ideal location for the Royal Navy to establish a refuelling and repair base for the large naval cruisers of the time, with the construction of an Admiralty pier. The port provided one of the largest and safest anchorages in Britain, and was provided with two tanks farms to store and supply fuel to the ships, at Cromlet and Seabank. A hospital was also constructed at the eastern end of the town.

During the economic downturn of 1931, the entire complement of the Atlantic Fleet went on strike when the government attempted to reduce costs by cutting ratings pay. It took the direct intervention of King George V to avert a potential disaster.

During World War II, the naval presence expanded as the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) established Evanton airfield (also known as Novar Airfield) to the west, created to cater for carrier based aircraft. The seaplane base of RAF Alness (also known as RAF Invergordon, was also established to the west, and lay between the two Navy facilities.

On February 15, 1941 a Junkers 88 is reported to have carried out a solo attack on the Seabank tank farm. Approaching from the east at only 40 feet it dropped two 500-pound bombs. The first bomb passed through one tank and into the next. Tank 13 in fact! Although it exploded it failed to start a fire, but tons of oil spilled out on to the adjacent railway tracks and nearby station. The second bomb also passed went through another tank, but failed to explode after landing in the oil slick. The aircraft then made a sharp turn to avoid a church steeple, and machine gunned a Sunderland moored in the firth, causing slight damage, before making its escape. The attack had lasted four minutes, and was over before the defences had reacted. Two civilian workmen had been on top of one of the tanks when the attack began, but managed to slide down to safety - one is said to have headed home, while the other sought refuge in the nearest pub. Stories regarding detonation of the bombs conflict, however it is clear that there was no fire. Tank 13 was completely destroyed in the attack though, and there resultant gap remains on the site as evidence. Only one casualty appears to have been reported - the local bin-man's horse, said to have died as a result of the heavy fuel oil contaminating its hooves. The German plane was reported to have flown over the High Street flapping its wings to show off. Although the naval base has been closed in 1956, the proximity of Invergordon to the oilfields of the North Sea oilfields meant that the development of oil rig construction and maintenance facilities allowed the area of the docks to remain productive.

The MoD planned to vacate the Cromlet site in 1989, and with the removal of the tank farm and its ancillaries, the site was cleared and decontaminated over a 24 week period concluding in March 1991. The Cromlet Oil Tank Farm had extended to some 9.2 hectares (22.7 acres) (approximately and contained 13 oil storage tanks each with a capacity of 3,000,000 gallons.

Royal Navy fuel depot - The Seabank tank farm continued to serve the fuel depot after the removal of the Cromlet tank farm, and oil tanks which served the fuel depot still remain within the large Seabank tank farm, which is still present on the site today.

All features, including the pump houses, ditches and earth banks which surrounded the facility were visible on RAF aerial photographs taken in 1946, which showed the area south of the railway.

Ownership

The MoD sold the Seabank oil tank farm at the same time it sold the Admirality Pier. The MoD offered both up for sale together, one as the “benefit” – the pier and one as the “burden” – the tank farm, meaning that in effect there could be productive use of the pier, but it was expected the tank farm was to be a problem, which basically the MoD didn’t want to retain due to the potential cost of either restoring it to some sort of use, regenerating it or decontaminating it. Since the sale of both, the pier has been used in a joint venture by Cruise Highland (50% Bannermans who purchased both and 50% the C.F.P.A.) The Admirality Pier has brought in considerable profit over the last few years. This year the Cruise Highland partnership has been dissolved as the new Port of the Cromarty Firth plan to extend your own holdings to include a new pier to invite the cruise ships into.

The Bannermans have never taken forward any initiatives with the tank farm and it has lain derelict for all these years. Of some concern is the fact that, although fenced off, there are several holes in the fence, made my children and those who wish to walk their dogs on the tank farm and cut across the town from one end to the other, as a quicker route. It provides a direct route from Inverbreakie and Seabank to the Academy for school children, that many still use.

It is a worry because where tank 13 was bombed there is a large put of stagnant water, that children have been seen skating on when iced over in the winter. Also children have accessed the top of the tanks with their weak structured asbestos roofs; as well as found using the old pump house as an adventure playground and skate park. None of the above is acceptable, but seems to fall within the remits of the Council’s Environmental Health and the Health & Safety Executive, the former – it is causing no noise or nuisance issue and the latter, it is not a working operational site, so does not fall within the HSE either.

Currently, I am exploring ways to make the owners more accountable for preventing access, but this is not easy. I am worried that a child could seriously injure themselves or worse.

Initiatives to Regenerate the Tank Farm

In or around 2012 the Scottish Government provided a fund to Councils, called the Vacant and Derelict Land Fund, whereby Local Authorities could identify areas of land that needed to be brought back into use. The Seabank tank farm was a subject of one of these schemes and the local Members, myself (Cllr Maxine Smith) and Cllr. Martin Rattray worked closely with the Council’s Planning & Development department to take forward this initiative.

An Independent consultancy was invited to run the project, but £200,000 later, they printed a thick report on possible uses for the tank farm (although we could have done that for them!); but it lacked what was really needed, which was the evidence of the amount of contamination on the site. Bannemans had liaised with the consultants over the time of their research but would not give permission for their site to be tested for levels of contamination.  Therefore the project fell at the final hurdle.

The Council are convinced that the site is contaminated and estimated a clean up cost way back then of circa £2.5million, but that was several years ago.  Increasingly standards are higher for clean ups so this figure has probably significantly increased.  Had the owners realised their liability and cost of a clean up, they might have considered off-loading their site to the Council for a nominal sum, as the Council may have been in a position to seek grant funding for is decontamination.  Unfortunately, this did not happen and the site remains a) contaminated, b) dangerous and c) a blight on the landscape of Invergordon, but moreover holds back the town from any significant development.

Suggested uses for the farm were housing, landscaping, woodland, hotel, tourism, retail, leisure and anything else that may spring to mind, but importantly it would provide valuable land to improve and regenerate Invergordon for the future.

Currently I (Cllr. Maxine Smith) am working on a project with a Windfarm Developer to take forward a community windfarm, which would give 50% benefits of the profit to the townspeople – the land on which the proposed windfarm sits is owned by the same owners of the Seabank Tank Farm. It is hoped that in communicating with them over the windfarm and taking forward a successful profitable project for all, that the Bannermans would negotiate on future uses of the tank farm, and work with me and the community to find a positive use for the massive land mass of 22.5 acres.




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