Long wait for Ministers’ answer on shipping rules to protect Scapa Flow

John Finnie speaking at the University of the Highlands and IslandsJohn Finnie is pressing the Environment Minister for answers on the long-overdue review of ballast water management rules designed to protect Scapa Flow from ecological damage.

Neither Aileen McLeod nor her predecessor as Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Paul Wheelhouse, have made any announcement on the review since Mr Wheelhouse told the Scottish Parliament it was underway almost a year and a half ago.

John said:

“The environment of Scapa Flow and Orkney’s shipping industry are both of huge importance, not only to the Islands but to Scotland as a whole. They can’t be treated as an afterthought or put on the back burner.

“I’m perplexed as to how the Scottish Government review of the ballast water management policy could have taken almost a year and a half, with no updates or explanations along the way.

“Meanwhile, Orcadians are left wondering whether the Minister will ever get round to it.

“I hope the Minister will respond with a clear answer on when the review will be published, so that the many people that rely on a healthy ecosystem and a well-run port at Scapa Flow can stop wondering what’s going on.”

The dumping of ships’ ballast water in sensitive habitats like Scapa Flow is strictly controlled because it can release industrial pollutants from ships, and invasive plant and animal species from their previous destinations, into the local ecosystem.

Under the EU Habitats Directive, the Scottish Government is required to oversee these rules, as Mr Wheelhouse confirmed when he told Holyrood that his officials had begun a review of new ballast water rules proposed by Orkney Islands Council.

In a written answer on 16 July 2014, Mr Wheelhouse said:

“Orkney Islands Council approved a revised Ballast Water Management Policy for Scapa Flow on 10 December 2013. Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and stakeholders have expressed concerns about the proposals and the need to ensure compliance with European legal requirements. In view of these concerns and Scottish Ministers’ statutory responsibilities, my officials have been reviewing the council’s appropriate assessment to determine whether we are satisfied that the proposals are compliant and, if not, whether or not there is a need to use statutory powers available to ministers in the regulations implementing the EU Habitats Directive.”

In the seventeen months since, no Scottish Government minister has said anything further about the review. Now John has lodged a formal Parliamentary Question to press Ms Campbell to update MSPs and commit to a publication date:

Question S4W-29897: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 10/02/2016
To ask the Scottish Government, further to the answer to question S4W-21880 by Paul Wheelhouse on 16 July 2014, what the conclusions are of its review and whether it plans to publish them.

According to the Standing Orders of the Scottish Parliament, Ms McLeod is expected to reply by Thursday 9 March 2016.