22 March 2012

(S4O-00836) Forth Estuary (Contaminated Water)

Colin Keir (Edinburgh Western) (SNP): 8. To ask the Scottish Government what the environmental impact on the Forth estuary was of the leak of contaminated water near South Queensferry on 14 November 2011 and what action has been taken to mitigate it. (S4O-00836)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): A range of countermeasures were deployed during and following the incident near South Queensferry on 14 November to mitigate any environmental impact, and samples that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency gathered show that there has been no significant impact on the water environment as a result of the leak. BP is currently finalising a report on the incident, which will consider the need for further action to restore the watercourse and land fully to their previous condition. SEPA will examine any such proposals in due course and will continue to review BP’s activities at the site.

Colin Keir: Will the minister clarify what remedial measures are being taken by BP and what steps are being taken to ensure that improvements to testing regimes are implemented and that any learning points are acted on?

Stewart Stevenson: The most important thing at this stage is to highlight the fact that a warning was issued by SEPA to BP as a result of the incident. If the agreed remedial actions or necessary improvements in testing regimes are not undertaken, it is possible that SEPA will take further enforcement action. I hope that that gives the member the reassurance that he seeks.

(S4O-00835) Climate Challenge Fund

Jim Eadie (Edinburgh Southern) (SNP): 7. To ask the Scottish Government what progress the climate challenge fund is making in combating climate change by helping local communities to reduce their carbon emissions. (S4O-00835)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): On 13 March, I was pleased to announce that 43 communities have been successful in sharing £6.9 million of awards over the next three financial years. That represents the first intake of applicants since we announced our continued commitment to the Government’s climate challenge fund. We will maintain the funding at the 2011-12 level of £10.3 million per annum over the next three years.

Jim Eadie: As the minister is aware—and as Marco Biagi mentioned earlier—the Bike Station in Causewayside, in my constituency, plays an important role in helping to achieve the Scottish Government’s 2020 target of 10 per cent of all journeys being made by bicycle. Does the minister agree that, beyond the climate challenge fund, all Government departments and local authorities must look for innovative ways of providing and encouraging investment in active travel so that we can all reap the benefits of cycling and walking as healthy, low-carbon forms of transport?

Stewart Stevenson: I agree with the thrust of the member’s question—I suspect that no one in the chamber would disagree. We all have opportunities to weave a little bit of active travel into our busy lives. Yesterday, I had enough time to walk from Haymarket to St Andrew’s house. I thoroughly enjoyed the spring weather, and others can do the same.

Patricia Ferguson (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (Lab): The minister is well aware of the good work that is carried out by the staff and volunteers of the Lambhill stables, in my constituency. By September 2011, they had reduced CO2 emissions by just over 165 tonnes with help from the climate challenge fund. The project submitted a carefully worked-out bid for further help from the climate challenge fund, which would have reduced emissions by a further 600 tonnes, but that bid was rejected by the SNP Government. Can the minister advise what other sources of funding might be made available to that important community initiative?

Stewart Stevenson: The Government has nothing to do with whose applications are accepted or rejected—an independent panel evaluates the projects. However, I have asked that those who have not been successful in the current round of funding be given help to understand why their application might not have met the criteria that the independent panel applied. I hope that that will be helpful in enabling those who have not been successful in round nine of the funding to make submissions in round 10, which is now open for applications.

(S4O-00832) Climate Challenge Fund

John Pentland (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab): 4. To ask the Scottish Executive what the total actual reduction in CO2 tonnage has been from projects receiving grants from the climate challenge fund. (S4O-00832)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The reported reduction in CO2 from the climate challenge fund so far is 128,357 tonnes of savings. That figure is from community groups that are in receipt of CCF funding and have submitted final reports for the awards period 2008 to 2011. It by no means represents the total savings that will ultimately be achieved.

John Pentland: Has the minister stopped using the total that is based on estimates for projects, some of which have produced little or no actual savings, despite contributing hundreds of thousands of tonnes to the figures that have been quoted by the First Minister and others?

Stewart Stevenson: I am very optimistic that the mix of projects that we supported through the first eight rounds of the climate challenge fund, and those projects that we will support in round nine, which was announced recently, will give us a substantial figure indeed.

However, I remind members that when I was before committee in the previous parliamentary session, I made the point that not every project would deliver on its promise. We are trying to be innovative and challenging, so we will have projects that succeed—the overwhelming majority—and we will have some that teach us something negative because it is not the way forward. It is important to realise that 100 per cent success will not be achieved. The 700,000 tonne figure that we previously reported is the figure for which we are shooting.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): I am glad that the minister emphasises the creative, experimental and empowering nature of the fund. That is exactly what we had in mind when we persuaded the Government to adopt the policy in the first place. What can be done to minimise the risk of projects, including small projects, being left vulnerable when they lose funding at short notice? How can we ensure the sustainability of the projects that are coming through as a result of the CCF?

Stewart Stevenson: I acknowledge Patrick Harvie’s not insignificant role in setting up the climate challenge fund. In considering projects through the panel, which is independent of ministers, we will always seek to identify the projects that have the greatest chance of delivering what they promise. So we have a process to minimise the risk. On the ending of funding, we stress to people to whom we grant funding through the climate challenge fund that it is a time-limited grant with no guarantee of successor funding from the same source or from other sources. The scheme, for which the member should take some of the credit, has been overwhelmingly successful.

(S4O-00831) Air Quality Regulations (Breaches) (Grangemouth)

Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP): 3. To ask the Scottish Government how many breaches of the sulphur dioxide 15-minute mean objective, as specified in the Air Quality (Scotland) Regulations 2000, have taken place since the Grangemouth air quality management area was declared in November 2005. (S4O-00831)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Between November 2005 and February 2012, 761 exceedances of the objective were recorded across the three air quality monitoring sites in Grangemouth.

A three-year INEOS-led project is expected to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by more than 80 per cent by the end of 2012.

Angus MacDonald: I am sure that the minister will agree with me that any exceedance of the SO2 15-minute mean objective is one breach too many, and 761 is far in excess of that. Although local Grangemouth industry has made some attempt to reduce the number of exceedances, does the minister share the concerns of local residents that a proposed 100MW biomass electricity plant could have a detrimental effect on the air quality in Grangemouth, particularly when the cumulative effect from Longannet and other industrial plants in the area is taken into account?

Stewart Stevenson: I will not comment because of the possible role of Scottish ministers in making planning decisions on any specific proposal. However, the member has brought up a very important matter that decision makers should take account of so that a proper decision can be made in due course.

(S4O-00830) Climate Justice Fund

James Kelly (Rutherglen) (Lab): 2. To ask the Scottish Executive when it will officially launch its climate justice fund. (S4O-00830)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The Scottish climate justice fund will be launched as soon as practicable.

James Kelly: I am sure that there is agreement across the chamber on the fund’s objectives. Low-carbon technology can also be used in the battle against climate change in poorer countries and to bring benefits in that respect. What role can good examples of low-carbon technology in Scotland play in other countries?

Stewart Stevenson: I am happy to have the member’s support—and, indeed, the support of the chamber—for our climate justice initiatives. Low-carbon technology and helping other countries to develop it form an important part of the agenda. What might seem like a rather simple example of the practical help we can give is a cooking stove designed by, if I recall correctly, Strathclyde University—I might be wrong, but I am pretty sure that that is right—that gives the same thermal input for one quarter of the wood input.

However, I must also sound a brief note of caution: as well as supplying technology, we also need to change human behaviours.

Annabelle Ewing (Mid Scotland and Fife) (SNP): I am pleased to have participated in the first ever parliamentary debate on climate justice, which took place in our Parliament on 1 March. Will the minister confirm that, when it is rolled out, a key focus of the climate justice programme will be the emphasis on locally led, sustainable programmes, particularly in the agricultural sector?

Stewart Stevenson: Decision making is at an early stage but the climate justice programme should concentrate in the first instance on sectors in which Scotland has particular expertise and it should, in any event, be about sustainable projects with strong local involvement.

Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Does the minister recognise the United Kingdom Government’s commitment to climate justice? How will the Scottish Government work with the UK Government on the issue to ensure a co-ordinated approach?

Stewart Stevenson: I have found that it is perfectly possible to make common cause with UK ministers. I met Ed Davey, who has taken over as Secretary of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, a week past Friday. I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment has also met Ed Davey. We are always happy to work with the UK Government where we can make common cause, and this is an agenda on which we are in substantial agreement.

(S4O-00829) Cycling (Rural Areas)

Anne McTaggart (Glasgow) (Lab): 1. To ask the Scottish Executive what plans it has to invest in cycling infrastructure to improve take-up rates of active travel. (S4O-00829)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):
We are providing significant investment for cycling infrastructure in Scotland’s urban and rural areas. On 8 February, an additional £20.25 million was announced for infrastructure to support active travel over the next three financial years. That funding is in addition to the £15 million over the next three years in the budget line for wider sustainable and active travel initiatives, a significant proportion of which supports the promotion of active travel across Scotland.

Anne McTaggart: The minister will have read Transport Scotland’s report on transport emissions, which concluded that the Government’s transport policies could lead to an additional 17 kilotonnes entering the atmosphere by 2022. Does he agree that the report makes it even more essential to have the infrastructure in place to encourage increased take-up of sustainable means of travel such as cycling?

Stewart Stevenson: I am pleased to say that increasing numbers of our civil servants appear to be cycling; certainly one who directly reports to ministers regularly appears with his cycling hat firmly under his arm. We want to continue to encourage walking and cycling as very important health-giving elements of active travel and to see that they are taken up by more people.

Marco Biagi (Edinburgh Central) (SNP): Will the minister provide some insight into the potential use of the climate challenge fund to support take-up of active travel in rural and urban areas? One example that I am familiar with is the Bike Station, which sits on the boundary between the Edinburgh Central and Edinburgh Southern constituency. Might such initiatives provide scope for further support around Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: The Bike Station is an excellent example of work involving people in the community. Indeed, I visited it three and a half years ago and plan to visit it again soon to see what progress it has made in its initiatives. I am happy to update the member when I have had those discussions.

(S4O-00822) Machrihanish Airbase Community Company

Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): 4. To ask the Scottish Executive what support it is providing to the Machrihanish Airbase Community Company. (S4O-00822)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The Scottish Government is committed to supporting rural communities in acquiring land to help to build independent, resilient and flourishing communities across Scotland. Through advice and financial assistance, we have been supporting the Machrihanish Airbase Community Company to achieve its aim of buying the former Royal Air Force base at Machrihanish. We are working closely with the Ministry of Defence to take forward improvements to the water, sewerage and electricity infrastructure at the base.

Jamie McGrigor: I thank the minister for that reply, but he will be aware of concerns over problems with the water, sewerage and electricity infrastructure. What support is the Scottish Government giving MACC to tackle those problems and encourage the development of what could be a dynamic and economically important site for green excellence and a great economic opportunity for the people of Campbeltown and Kintyre?

Stewart Stevenson: We should be happy with the progress that is being made. I note the explicit request, following a meeting of the Kintyre initiative working group on 24 February, for continuing support, which we are giving. However, there was also a specific request that there should be no running commentary on the detail of negotiations at this sensitive time. The constituency member—Mr Russell—has respected that request, and I strongly urge Mr McGrigor to do the same.

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