18 March 2014

S4M-09355 National Planning Framework 3 and Scottish Planning Policy

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-09355, in the name of Kevin Stewart, on the Scottish Government’s third national planning framework and the review of Scottish planning policy.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I am very pleased to use my local constituency as a window on to this important Government proposal. Top of my list must be energy and the impact of proposal 3, which relates to carbon capture and storage.

Peterhead, which is referred to as Boddam on page 51 of the NPF document, can make three significant contributions to Scotland and beyond. First, as an intermediate technology, carbon capture and storage can assist in addressing climate change until we are 100 per cent renewable in all forms of energy. Secondly, carbon capture and storage can create jobs. If we set the pace on carbon dioxide capture from gas production, our expertise becomes saleable and more well-paid jobs are a result. Finally, pumping the resulting carbonic acid into quasi-derelict oilfields creates value that is perhaps similar or greater than the actual cost of investment in carbon capture. Oil will remain a vital chemical feedstock even as we eliminate it as an energy source. It will remain of very substantial value.

The harbours in my constituency are mentioned in the national planning framework: Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Buckie. They form part of the plan in relation to offshore renewable energy and each has its own individual but significant opportunities to contribute to mitigating climate change and to job creation. In addition, supporting the harbours will lead to the creation of a broader infrastructure that will be of value beyond those issues.

I differ from some previous contributors to the debate because I think that the national planning framework, which focuses on projects and practice, and the Scottish planning policy, which focuses on policy, work to different timelines and that there would be dangers in merging them into a single document. The SPP evolves relatively slowly to give planning certainty; the national planning framework responds to more short-term issues and opportunities. We must not allow them to become disconnected, because that would be very dangerous indeed. When we produce a national planning framework, we should revisit the Scottish planning policy to make sure that they are properly aligned.

We should remind ourselves that projects have three attributes: a beginning, a middle and an end, and that the end is the most important part of a project because that is when the benefits are delivered. However, policies have a beginning and then endure over the long term, with no determinate end, so they are rather different things.

I very much welcome a relook at separation standards for onshore wind. It is time that my local council in Aberdeenshire looked at its own standards, which are a little bit different from those of neighbouring councils. That creates pressures not only on the council, from a planning point of view, but on some of the communities in Aberdeenshire.

I also welcome the reference in the document to regeneration in Peterhead and Fraserburgh. That is important.

However, I depart from the approach that the document takes in being anchored in city regions. I am not a great fan of cities. The culture of the north-east does not live in the city; it lives in rural areas and filters reluctantly into the city.

Broadband is an area in which we can create advantage for rural areas where there is, as yet, a great deal of unrealised potential, although the current plans for broadband may deliver less than we hope for. Investment is planned to go where the line speed is under 2 Mbps, but line speed does not really matter. We could build a railway line with a 100mph speed limit on it, but if we put too many trains on it, they will be able to run at only 20mph. The same is true of broadband—it is the throughput on lines that matters. I have a line speed of over 2 Mbps at home but I rarely cross 250 Kbps throughput. In fact, my terminal at the Parliament is 250 times faster than my terminal at home; yet, my line at home is not on the schedule for upgrade. We should look at that matter. The point is made on page 39 of the NPF.

The NPF says that regional transport partnerships have a crucial role to play. We must have good connections across Scotland—that is certainly true. In the north-east, my local regional transport partnership, Nestrans—which Alison McInnes was a very effective chair of, if I recall correctly—is worth keeping. However, the verdict on the rest of them is, at best, not proven. It is time that we had a look at what they really contribute.

Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce commends the Scottish Government for its

“ambition to use planning system to drive economic growth across Scotland”.

Others will welcome the document. I very much welcome the wide-ranging debate and look forward to seeing the NPF in its final form when it arrives in due course.


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