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29 September 2011

(S4O-00223) Diffuse Pollution (South Scotland)

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab): 10. To ask the Scottish Executive, in light of the four recent negative Scottish Environment Protection Agency beach monitoring reports in South Scotland, what financial support it will provide specifically to help farmers tackle diffuse pollution. (S4O-00223)

Actually, there were two recent negative Scottish Environment Protection Agency beach monitoring reports in South Scotland and four in the whole of Scotland. I apologise for that.

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency is working closely with stakeholders and land managers across Scotland on measures to control diffuse pollution in catchments, with funding available through Scotland rural development programme rural priorities.

Claudia Beamish: I highlight just six farms in my region of South Scotland that are within a 3-mile radius of a farm at Broad Field on the Clyde, which have heavily invested in storage capacity to mitigate the effects of diffuse pollution. They have indeed had the support of SRDP grants. I seek reassurance on behalf of my constituents there and elsewhere that that support can be maintained, as there are now also pressures given the cost of spreading machinery and the issue about fencing that the minister mentioned in answer to a previous question. There is also a concern for tourism—

The Presiding Officer: Will you get to the question, please?

Claudia Beamish: Will the minister please reassure the farming community and tourism sector on the issue?

Stewart Stevenson: We continue to place a high priority on this issue. In addition to providing financial support through the SRDP, we are engaging with people who can make what are in some cases fairly simple changes to activities or who can relocate activities in a way that contributes to a significant reduction in diffuse pollution in catchment areas.

(S4O-00222) Glasgow City Council (Environmental Improvement)

Patricia Ferguson (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (Lab): 9. To ask the Scottish Executive what recent discussions it has had with Glasgow City Council concerning environmental improvement initiatives. (S4O-00222)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

Recent discussions with Glasgow City Council on environmental improvement initiatives have focused on delivering an excellent green legacy from the Commonwealth games, sustainable transport, and supporting forestry and community projects.

Patricia Ferguson: Is the minister aware that, where land can be shown to be contaminated, a local authority has a duty to identify potential hazards and, where necessary, to remediate the land in question? That is particularly important where there are houses on the land. It is intended that the cost of such work should be recouped from the polluter. Can the minister advise my constituents and Glasgow City Council who should pay for such remediation if the polluter is a company that went out of business almost 100 years ago?

Stewart Stevenson: To be candid, the honest answer to that question is that I am not sure, but I will seek to get an answer to the member. I would not wish to mislead her and say that I can identify the inheritors of the debts of a company that went out of business 100 years ago.

(S4O-00220) Forestry Commission Scotland (Leased Farmland)

Roderick Campbell (North East Fife) (SNP): 7. To ask the Scottish Government how much farmland is leased to Forestry Commission Scotland. (S4O-00220)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

Forestry Commission Scotland manages a total of 11,306 hectares of leased land, including 320 hectares of land at Loch Katrine that continues to be used for agricultural purposes. In 2010, FCS launched a land-leasing scheme aimed at creating productive woodland in partnership with farmers. Although a number of applications have been received and are being progressed, none has reached final agreement.

The Presiding Officer: I call Roderick Campbell. [Interruption.] One moment, please. The member’s microphone is not on. [Interruption.] Maybe you could just shout, Mr Campbell.

Roderick Campbell: How far does the minister believe that land leased to Forestry Commission Scotland will go towards meeting the planting target of 10,000 hectares a year?

The Presiding Officer: I hope that you got that, minister.

Stewart Stevenson: Yes, Presiding Officer, I got the essence of that quite clearly. After all, someone who is engaged in the courts will be used to projecting their voice.

It is clear that leasing can play an important role. The cost of afforesting a hectare of ground under leasing arrangements is about 50 to 55 per cent of the cost of purchasing and then afforesting that land. Therefore, it is a useful supplement to the other efforts that Forestry Commission Scotland is making to meet our target of moving from 17.5 per cent of our country being afforested to 25 per cent.

(S4O-00218) Scottish Environment Protection Agency (European Bathing Water Directive)

Margaret McDougall (West Scotland) (Lab): 5. To ask the Scottish Executive what plans it has to meet the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to discuss the European bathing water directive. (S4O-00218)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

Scottish Government officials are in regular contact with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and other stakeholders on the protection of Scotland’s bathing waters.

Margaret McDougall: As I am sure the minister is aware, some beaches are granted abnormal weather waivers if they fail water-quality tests following heavy rain. Those waivers are given predominantly to east-coast beaches, rather than west-coast beaches, because of the reliance on rainfall data, which is difficult to obtain for some local areas. Does the minister agree that more transparency is needed about how waivers are granted and about the data that is used in considering whether to grant a waiver?

Stewart Stevenson:
Margaret McDougall is perhaps aware of my previous difficulties with weather forecasting, which is certainly an imperfect science. She makes an interesting point, to which I confess I have not given great consideration before. I will talk to my officials about it.

It might be worth saying that I have sought to discuss with officials whether our approach to monitoring our beaches, which involves a uniform number of inspections of each beach, is appropriate. I have asked whether we should move to a risk-based system in which we inspect beaches that have a history of intermittent or regular failures.

I have discussed the subject with my officials. What Margaret McDougall said will add something of value to future discussions.

John Scott (Ayr) (Con): Given the challenges of diffuse pollution facing Ayrshire beaches, will the minister guarantee that by 2012, in the most difficult circumstances, all the public authorities—SEPA, local authorities, public health boards, Scottish Water and Scottish ministers—will be working together during such short-term pollution events?

Stewart Stevenson: Diffuse pollution is recognised as a substantial contributor to bathing water quality failure. SEPA officials have been walking up some of the watercourses that feed into beaches and in many cases quite simple steps to deal with the situation have been identified, including, for example, moving cattle feeding troughs further away from watercourses, to ensure that they are less contaminated by diffuse pollution. I believe that our various agencies and officials are working well together; I look forward to Scotland’s beaches and bathing waters performing better in subsequent years; and I hope that I have given the member the necessary reassurance.

(S4O-00215) Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority (Meetings)

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab): 2. To ask the Scottish Executive when it last met representatives of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority and what issues were discussed. (S4O-00215)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

The Scottish Government has regular meetings and discussions with representatives of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority on issues regarding its operations.

Jackie Baillie: I am delighted to hear that. The minister will therefore be well aware of the concerns raised by the community in Luss regarding the use of the visitor centre for commercial purposes. He will be aware that the national park authority dealt with that property, but has now leased it out. That is having a detrimental impact on the future viability of other local businesses, which I am sure the minister regrets.

Will the minister suggest to the national park authority that it takes action quickly to resolve the matter before any local businesses close?

Stewart Stevenson: I understand that the business to which the lease has been attributed is based inside the park area, so it is at least contributing to the local economy. There is a meeting on 28 October—which will involve the chief executive—to discuss some of the concerns that have been raised on the subject. I encourage all those who have issues with the lease to engage in that process.

Without commenting specifically on the Luss visitor centre and other centres, I point out that the programme has been a successful initiative by the park authority to raise further money, which has been reinvested in communities such as Luss. There are benefits to it, albeit that there are remaining concerns that must be resolved at the October meeting.

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