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28 June 2012

(S4O-01182) Raptor Populations

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con): 4. To ask the Scottish Executive how it assesses the population of raptor species across Scotland and how this information is recorded and published. (S4O-01182)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Information on the number and breeding performance of the 19 species of raptor and owl that regularly breed in Scotland is co-ordinated annually by Scottish Natural Heritage and collated under the Scottish raptor monitoring scheme. There is a link to the information from the SRMS on the Scottish Natural Heritage website.

Alex Johnstone: I thank the minister for that answer and for the written answer that I received yesterday on a related subject. The minister will be aware that there is a growing number of reports of attacks by large avian predators on livestock. That was brought home to me by a constituent, Mrs Moyra Gray of Glendye, who successfully filmed a golden eagle attacking a lamb—although, happily, the attack was fought off by a particularly vociferous blackface ewe. Will the minister give an undertaking that, in what is a difficult situation, he will ensure that there is accurate and independent recording of populations of large avian predators and of reports of attacks on livestock to ensure that, at some point in the not-too-distant future, we begin to address the issue of how farmers might be appropriately compensated for what I believe are increasing losses?

Stewart Stevenson: I take the member’s general point that any actions that Government takes should be evidence based. No one would disagree with that. We certainly want to understand the nature of the issue. It was interesting that, yesterday, a film was released of a buzzard taking an osprey chick, which shows that sometimes there are issues between raptor species and not simply issues for animals for which humans are responsible. I am certainly always interested to have more information so that we can better inform our decisions.

14 June 2012

(S4O-01138) Water Framework Directive

Nigel Don (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP): 10. To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making towards meeting the goals of the water framework directive. (S4O-01138)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The directive requires member states to have river basin management plans to manage the water environment. We are halfway through the first cycle of producing plans and 63 per cent of Scotland’s water bodies are at “good” status or better.

Nigel Don: I welcome the progress that has been made. How will improving water be considered in the context of the review of spending priorities for the Scottish rural development programme?

Stewart Stevenson: Improving water quality is one of the key objectives for the next SRDP. Water policy officials are fully engaged in the development process to ensure that we deliver on improving Scotland’s water quality objectives.

(S4O-01137) Seafield Waste Water Treatment Works

Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (Lab): 9. To ask the Scottish Government how many complaints were made about the Seafield waste water treatment works in the monitoring year following completion of the odour improvement plan. (S4O-01137)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): In the monitoring year that ended on 1 June 2012, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency received one complaint, Scottish Water received 21 complaints and City of Edinburgh Council received 243 complaints. Many complaints related to a specific incident in March, in relation to which remedial measures have been put in place.

Malcolm Chisholm: Given the large number of complaints, despite the fact that option A in the odour improvement plan was supposed to take more than 90 per cent of the local community out of the odour zone, and given the particular failure of option A to deal with peaks of solid effluent coming into the plant, does the Government accept that further investment will be required, and is it ready to take account of that in future financial allocations to Scottish Water?

Stewart Stevenson: Scottish Water has been receiving some £110 million each year, which is a substantial investment. The most recent odour problems have been caused by a winter that was substantially drier than normal, which led to a build-up. A specific issue to do with incorrect storage of sludge in contravention of the site’s odour management plan has been addressed.

(S4O-01136) Canals (Environmental Improvements)

Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab): 8. To ask the Scottish Executive what work it is doing to improve the local environment around the canal network. (S4O-01136)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): We provide British Waterways Scotland with Scottish Government grant support of £10 million per year. British Waterways works closely with partners across Scotland to make a significant and positive impact. An example is the Helix Trust project, which attracted funding of £25 million from the Big Lottery Fund and transformed around 350 hectares of underused land into vibrant new parkland.

Sarah Boyack: I very much welcome the minister’s answer. In Edinburgh, the Fountainbridge canalside initiative has been formed by local enthusiasts to promote better environmental quality, an urban orchard, allotments and increased biodiversity. What support is available to help such groups to progress their plans and bring them to fruition?

Stewart Stevenson: I very much share Sarah Boyack’s interest in canals. In urban settings such as Fountainbridge there are big opportunities to improve the environment by using the canal as an anchor point. Partnership working with British Waterways Scotland, which is well used to working directly with a range of community bodies, is the most appropriate approach.

(S4O-01134) Public Bodies Climate Change Duty

Gavin Brown (Lothian) (Con): 6. To ask the Scottish Executive how it is meeting its climate change public sector duty to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change. (S4O-01134)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Officials in the energy and climate change directorate lead work to co-ordinate the Scottish Government’s own compliance with the duties in part 4 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. That includes both operational action and appropriate policy responses, as set out in the guidance that the Scottish Government published in February last year to assist all public bodies in complying with the duties. Particular progress has been achieved in embedding carbon emissions reduction measures across the operation of the estate, and in improving governance, target setting, reporting, public engagement and acting sustainably—for example, through sustainable procurement.

Gavin Brown: I have looked at the minutes of the public sector climate action group, which the minister chairs, I think. It is stated in those minutes that

“Zero Waste and Sustainable Procurement are to be taken forward at a lower level of priority”.

Can the minister expand on that statement?

Stewart Stevenson: I chair that group jointly with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities environment representative. That representative will be someone new, as the previous one was not re-elected.

What Gavin Brown has read, of course, reflects how relative priorities will change over time as progress is made on activities, and we move our primary focus to areas in which greater attention is required. That is an example of progress having been made and of a refocusing on areas in which progress is less satisfactory.

James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP): How are local authorities performing in contributing to meeting climate change targets? In particular, how is Glasgow City Council performing? Following an Audit Scotland report in 2010-11, that council was shown to have the worst record of all 32 local authorities.

Stewart Stevenson: The guidance on public bodies’ duties is very clear, and it applies to all public bodies—including all Scotland’s councils. All the councils, including Glasgow City Council, signed a declaration in 2007 to work on that subject. It is, of course, for Glasgow City Council to determine how it delivers on that aim, but I certainly expect every council and every public body to demonstrate significant progress now. I am disappointed to hear what James Dornan has reported.

Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab): Will the Scottish Government undertake an assessment of the overall progress of the public sector under all three parts of the public sector duties? If so, how will that be done and when will the results be published?

Stewart Stevenson: We monitor all the activities from the 21 reporting streams under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. That progress is monitored in significant part through the COSLA and Government joint body, to which I already referred. For the time being, that appears to be the best way of tracking what is happening in local authorities.

(S4O-01132) Water Pollution

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): 4. To ask the Scottish Executive what steps it is taking to tackle water pollution. (S4O-01132)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Scotland’s river basin management plans include a range of measures to protect Scotland’s water environment from pollution. The Scottish Government is working closely with key stakeholders on the implementation of the plans.

Claire Baker: Concerns have been expressed by constituents in Kinglassie in Fife about pollution in the Lochty Burn. Locals have worked hard to improve their local environment and to make it an attractive waterway to the village, but their efforts have been hindered by recent pollution of the burn by iron deposits, possibly from old coal mines. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency is working with the Scottish Coal Company to investigate the issue, but it has been doing so for over a year and we are no further forward. Will the minister raise those concerns with SEPA? Will he ensure that SEPA is adequately resourced and has robust strategies in place to deal with water pollution arising from Scotland’s industrial past?

Stewart Stevenson: I say briefly that I am happy to raise the issue with SEPA and to ensure that I am informed on this clearly very important but local issue. On SEPA’s resources, it has become a very effective organisation and the way in which it now discharges its responsibilities means that we probably have better coverage than we have had for many years.

Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Will the minister join me in welcoming Scottish Water’s best practice incentive scheme, which seeks to protect water supply quality, for example at Loch Ascog on Bute? Could that scheme be extended elsewhere?

Stewart Stevenson: I know that Scottish Water takes environmental issues extremely seriously. As Jamie McGrigor does, I very much welcome the publication of best practice, and I welcome the news about what is going on in Bute, of which he has just apprised me. I will certainly look into extension of that scheme to other parts of Scotland.

(S4O-01129) Proposed Water Framework and Industrial Emissions Directives

Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP): 1. To ask the Scottish Government what representations it has received regarding the impact on businesses of the proposed water framework and industrial emissions directives. (S4O-01129)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The Government has regular dialogue with businesses over the development and implementation of policy. The water framework directive is a well-established policy and officials recently met the chemical industry and others as part of our development of a forthcoming consultation on the implementation of the industrial emissions directive.

Angus MacDonald: Some concern has been expressed recently by industries in my constituency regarding timescales for implementation of both directives. Given that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said a few months ago that the impact on industry would be minimal, will the minister highlight to his United Kingdom Government counterpart and European Union officials the fact that, given that the current economic downturn is creating significant challenges in the petrochemical and agrochemical industries and the fact that the costs involved in implementing the directives can be considerable, there has to be a degree of give and take—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Mr MacDonald, I need a question.

Angus MacDonald: Will the minister ask that industries that require extra time be given it in order to comply with the directives?

Stewart Stevenson: As recently as 19 April, I wrote to the UK Government to support the UK negotiating strategy on the implementation, and asking that it be proportionate and that timescales be appropriate in order to avoid unnecessary and disproportionate cost.

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): The Scottish Government’s consultation document on proposals for an integrated framework of environmental regulation says that, in order for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to become the sort of regulator that we need, consideration should be given to having a single permitting procedure which, it is argued, will simplify the range of current procedures. Can the minister clarify what sort of procedures we need? In the week of the Rio+20 conference, can he assure us that there will be no risk of private enterprises being able to opt out of regulation and being able to undertake their own regulation of our natural resources—specifically, water?

Stewart Stevenson: It is up to private enterprises to obey the law and regulations. To that extent, they have to be internally self-regulating, and everyone in the company has to understand that. The role of bodies such as SEPA in regulation is in inspecting those processes and the outcomes. None of the changes that we are considering will change the basic principles of the duties within the company, or our role in monitoring what they do in order to deliver the desired outcomes.

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