John welcomes police commitment on dangerously slow driving

John Finnie three-quarterJohn Finnie has urged police to take seriously the issue of dangerously slow driving on roads like the A82, and says he welcomes Police Scotland’s positive response.

John wrote to Police Scotland leadership to raise the issue of slow driving, which is especially prevalent on scenic roads during the tourist season.

In reply, the Local Area Commander for road policing in the North, Chief Inspector Louis Blakelock, recognised the problem, saying:

“You correctly raise the point that inappropriate speed, like driving too slow, does as you suggest lead to frustration and irresponsible driver behaviour.

“Driving slowly, causing tailbacks and frustration is a behaviour that falls within the provisions of Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (Careless Driving) and this type of behaviour is one that is routinely addressed by Police Officers patrolling the A82 and other roads.

“I wish to reassure you that Police Officers tasked with patrolling the A82 will be made aware of your concerns and they will continue to challenge inappropriate speed in the circumstances you describe as part of their core duties on the A82 and other trunk roads”

John said:

“While excessive speed remains one of the biggest threats to safety on our roads, driving too slowly on trunk roads is also a significant problem.

“During tourist season especially, queues can readily form on our trunk roads behind vehicles travelling 30mph whose occupants are effectively sight-seeing.

“This of course causes great frustration and can lead to increased danger from behaviours such as irresponsible overtaking.

“I’m pleased with Ch Insp Blakelock’s positive response to the issue, and I hope the increase in dedicated Road Policing Officers will help keep vital roads like the A82 flowing smoothly and safely.”

Islands Bill could kickstart a revolution in local democracy

John Finnie speaking at the University of the Highlands and IslandsIslands Minister Humza Yousaf has announced that the government will be publishing their Islands Bill within the next 12 months, the culmination of years of work by island communities and the island councils to make the case for more local democracy and a better deal from national government.

John Finnie has given a warm welcome to the news, saying:

“It’s great news that we’ll be able to move forward quickly with the Islands Bill. I’m looking forward to making it a genuinely radical and transformative event for Scotland’s islands, to fulfil the vision of the Our Islands Our Future campaign, whose hard work and ambition has brought us to this point.

“Power in Scotland is incredibly centralised, so the priority for Greens is to bring powers from Edinburgh back to island communities. For example, giving island councils control over the sea bed (currently in the hands of the Crown Estate) and flexible powers to decide their own taxes and raise more of their own funds would allow them to unlock the huge marine energy potential and the jobs and revenues that come with it.

“I’ll also want to make sure that the Bill recognises the similarity between island communities and many of our more remote mainland communities, especially on the western peninsulas of the Highlands and Argyll and Bute. It’s likely that many of the Bill’s provisions would also benefit these communities, and I’ll be arguing to have them included.

“I hope the Islands Bill can be the start of a much wider debate about where power lies in Scotland, and how it can be brought closer to the people. Island communities have taken the initiative to demand decentralisation of power, but they are certainly not the only communities that need it.

“As local democracy campaigner Andy Wightman (now Green MSP forthe Lothians) described in his eye-opening report Renewing Local Democracy, Scotland is one of the most centralised countries in Europe. The average population of a local council area in the European Union is less than 6,000 people; in Scotland it’s 166,000. The average European local authority gets more than 40% of its income from its own locally-controlled taxes; in Scotland it’s a quarter of that.

“The Islands Bill is a precious opportunity to make our island communities the pioneers of a powerful, decentralised, participatory local democracy, showing the way for change across Scotland.”

If you want to dive into the detail of the Scottish Government’s proposals so far, you can read their original consultation document, all the public responses, and the analysis of responses on the consultation website.

John opposes unfiltered sewage plan for Gairloch

Children playing in the water at Gairloch beach.
Children playing in the water at Gairloch beach.
Photo: Gairloch by Kyle Taylor. CC BY 2.0.
John Finnie has spoken out against Scottish Water plans to remove the filtration system from their waste water treatment works at Gairloch, exposing some of the Highland’s best beaches to high quantities of harmful bacteria.

John has lodged a formal objection with the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), urging them not to grant permission for the downgrade.

The proposal to replace the current membrane filter system with simple septic tanks would result in bacteria from human waste, such as E. Coli, being pumped into the Loch. Scottish Water’s own studies show that the bacteria would make the waters and beaches unfit for bathing up to 3 kilometres from the outflow – an area that includes the much-loved beaches at Gairloch and Big Sand.

John said:

Registry Department, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, Graesser House, Fodderty Way, Dingwall, IV15 9XB. Thursday 4 August 2016. Dear Sir/Madam,  Fhasaich (Gairloch) Sewage Treatment Works, CAR/L/1002928.  I wish to object to the above application by Scottish Water, which seeks permission to replace the present membrane filtration system with a system of septic tanks.  The applicant describes its proposal as “more sustainable” than the present arrangement, but the accompanying dispersion study demonstrates that it would increase the discharge of faecal coliform in volumes sufficient to render the surrounding beaches unfit for bathing.  Though the beaches at Big Sand and Gairloch are not yet designated bathing waters, they are in fact well-used for swimming and other watersports, and I understand the local community has recently applied for bathing designation. These beaches are important to the local tourist economy, and to the quality of life of local people, and both are well within the 3000m of the outflow within which the Scottish Water dispersal study calculates both the mandatory and guideline standards for designated bathing waters would be breached if the application is granted.  Loch Gairloch boasts two sites on the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s North West Highlands Snorkel Trail, including at Carn Dearg, approximately 1000m from the proposed outflow. At that range the dispersion study calculates the concentration of faecal coliform would exceed the mandatory limit by over 200% (6790/100ml as against a limit of 2000/100ml).  The downgrading of effluent treatment proposed in this application is justified by cost savings alone; there appears to be no suggestion from any party that the proposal represents an improvement in environmental protection.  The greatly increased bacterial pollution that would result from the license variation would be likely to damage the economy of the local area, and the health of both local and tourist users of the Loch. It would also unfairly pre-empt the community’s application for designation as a bathing area.  I believe that these adverse social and economic impacts are more than sufficient to conclude that the application should be denied. Yours sincerely, John Finnie MSP
Click here to read John’s letter of objection to the Gairloch sewage plan (PDF).
“Big Sand was recently voted the best beach in the Highlands, with Gairloch coming in fourth. These beautiful beaches are well-used by tourists and locals alike for swimming, snorkelling, kayaking and other watersports.

“If the proposed downgrade of the sewage works goes ahead, both beaches would be exposed to a volume of dangerous bacteria that would breach the safety limits set for designated bathing areas. This would be particularly unfair given that the community are right now trying to gain designated bathing status for their beaches – this would pre-empt their efforts by spoiling the water before they have a chance to protect it.

“Scottish Water cannot be given permission to endanger the health of bathers, the economy of the community and the quality of life of local people just to save some money. I very much hope that SEPA will recognise the unacceptable cost to the area, and decline this unnecessary and damaging proposal.”

John asks Highland Council to stop bankrolling Big Tobacco

John Finnie speaking at the Edinburgh University building occupied by students in protest at fossil fuel investments
John Finnie speaking at a protest by students opposed to Edinburgh University’s fossil fuel investments
A Press and Journal investigation has found that British American Tobacco is the second-biggest equity holding in Highland Council’s pension scheme. The scheme increased its investment in the tobacco giant last year from £12.6 million to £15.2 million.

John Finnie has been campaigning to persuade pension schemes – including the Scottish Parliament’s own scheme – to stop bankrolling the tobacco, weapons and fossil fuel industries and direct their investment into more socially useful activities. He urged the Highland Council scheme to dump its tobacco shares:

“The Highland Council pension scheme manages one and a half billion pounds that could be providing a secure future for employees while investing in work that benefits society. Instead they are choosing to bankroll an industry which kills over 10,000 Scots every year.

“I don’t believe Council employees, who have chosen a career working for the wellbeing of the Highland community, want their retirement to rely on the profits of Big Tobacco.

“Ethical investments which avoid supporting harmful industries perform just as well for savers without profiting from suffering.

“And schemes like the Housing Fund for Scotland allow pension funds to invest directly in the homes and jobs Scotland needs – an opportunity Falkirk Council has already taken up.

“I’m asking Highland Council’s pension fund to stop bankrolling Big Tobacco, Big Oil and the arms industry, and build a secure future for its members on investments that will help make a better world for them to retire into.”

Multi-million pound windfarm deal for Nigg Energy Park

Cover of the Green MSPs' report Jobs in Scotland's New Economy.
Click to download the Green MSPs’ report Jobs in Scotland’s Green Economy (PDF).
John Finnie has congratulated Nigg Energy Park on securing a multi-million pound contract of works on the new Beatrice Offshore Windfarm.

The deal between Global Energy Group, which runs the Nigg facility, and engineering giant Siemens is expected to secure around 100 jobs, with work due to begin in spring 2018.

The Beatrice windfarm, to be constructed off the coast of Caithness between 2017 and 2019, will almost quadruple Scotland’s offshore wind energy capacity.

John said the deal showed the potential of the green-collar economy in the Highlands, but argued far more could be done to take full advantage of our opportunities:

“I’m so pleased for Nigg! This contract will secure around 100 green jobs and demonstrates the port’s potential as a major renewable energy centre.

“With bold national action, these 100 jobs could be just a drop in the ocean. The Green MSPs’ report Jobs in Scotland’s New Economy showed how Scotland could create over 200,000 green-collar jobs in the next 20 years.

“Today’s success for Nigg is a glimpse of how our green energy potential can create the high-quality jobs that will underpin a fair economy and a fair society. To make that a reality, we need a decisive government plan make the most of our natural advantages and our engineering skill, securing workers’ livelihoods as we lead the way from oil and gas to the energy sources of the future.”

John To Host Holyrood Meeting on Arderseir Waste Water Plant

 

John has secured a meeting with Scottish Water bosses to discuss their controversial plans for a new waste water treatment plant in Ardersier. The meeting will take place at the Scottish Parliament next Wednesday (8 June), and Scottish Water have asked to invite all other Highlands and Islands MSP, and the member for the Inverness and Nairn constituency, Rural Economy Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing.

John has given his support to the community campaign against the plans, which would see the historic village of just over 1000 residents become home to a sewage treatment plant intended to serve thousands of homes in developments along the A96 corridor.

Commenting John said:

“I’m glad I’ll be able to put the community’s objections to the waste plant directly to Scottish Water.

“Ardersier is an historic village with narrow roads and many houses dating back to the 18th century. Buildings are already suffering structural damage from coaches and military traffic to Fort George, and heavy construction traffic would cause very serious harm.

“The village’s growing tourist economy is highly dependent on its beautiful coastal environment. The beach is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the land adjacent to the planned works is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. All this could be put at risk by the proposals.

“Scottish Water say the waste treatment works shouldn’t smell if it is working properly – most who have the misfortune to live near one know that that is a big ‘if’.

“Ardersier is just an inappropriate location for this development, so I’ll be urging Scottish Water to re-examine the alternatives.”