Section 8 — General purpose and functions
National Parks (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
Sylvia Jackson (Labour)
Amendment 31 relates to section 8(1), which provides:
"The general purpose of a National Park authority is to ensure that the National Park aims are collectively achieved in relation to the National Park in a co-ordinated way."
The amendment would add:
"and to high standards of design and environmental stewardship."
I lodged amendment 31 because our national parks will include some of the finest landscapes in Scotland. It is clear that in managing national parks, a balance should be struck between local needs and the protection of great national assets. We should think about all aspects—social, economic and environmental—of sustainable development.
The ability to maintain our finest national landscapes and resources is of the utmost importance. Therefore it is imperative that a general purpose of a national park authority should be to ensure that the national park's aims are achieved with
"high standards of design and environmental stewardship."
That imperative applies to the four aims that are set out in the bill.
It is not intended that the promotion of
"high standards of design and environmental stewardship"
should be detrimental and restrictive—quite the opposite. Managing national parks in that way should enhance the parks' roles in every way, especially for those who live in the park areas.
Sylvia Jackson (Labour)
I refer to the design of any aspect of national parks, for example building, planning and more general matters.
"National Parks should secure high standards of environmental stewardship."
Another paragraph refers to the fact that, in relation to planning issues and so on, there will need to be
"enhanced design standards which may need to be adopted by the planning authority within the National Park area."
I suggest that
"high standards of design and environmental stewardship"
are vital components in maintaining and enhancing the special qualities of national parks via the aims of the parks. I recommend that members agree to amendment 31, which originated from the Scottish Council for National Parks.
I move amendment 31.
Fergus Ewing (Scottish National Party)
Amendment 18 seeks to provide balance and to make national parks work. The aims of the national parks are set out in section A1. It is important to begin by reflecting on the fact that there has been added to that section a word that completely alters the sense of what was in the original bill, which said that the first purpose of a national park would be
"to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area."
The original drafting also said that the fourth purpose of a park would be
"to promote economic and social development of the area's communities."
The significant word that has been added is "sustainable". The fourth purpose of the park as set out in the bill now reads:
"to promote sustainable economic and social development of the area's communities."
That word alters completely the sense of the original bill because any development that is pursued as an aim of the park must now be sustainable. I contend that the phrase "sustainable development" means development that does not harm the environment.
If I am correct, it follows logically from the only ordinary interpretation of the words that there cannot be conflict between the aims in section A1(a) and section A1(d). The first says that we want to conserve the environment—everybody wants that. The second says that, none the less, we will pursue the aim of sustainable development. Sustainable development is development that does not detract from, harm or hamper conservation. That point was not made during stage 2. I want to emphasise it today, in the hope that members of all parties will find it possible to support my amendment, which is not being pursued in a party political way.
I have three further arguments that I will put briefly. First, what sort of message does it send if we fetter the decision-making power of the authority so that, if it appears that conflict exists, it must give greater weight to conservation considerations, even if the conflict is with sustainable development? As I say, I do not believe that, by definition, such conflict can possibly occur. Having appointed members of a park authority, we should surely trust them. We should trust the local people and the members who are on the authority to do the job and to take each decision on its merits. That is surely what sensible, intelligent people—people with vision, as the minister said—should do, will do, and will always seek to do. Devolution should not end in Edinburgh. Unless we accept this amendment, we are constraining the decision-making powers by the application of the Sandford principle, which I believe to be unnecessary.
Secondly, there is no definition of what conflict means. The Sandford principle must be applied where it appears to the park authority that there is conflict. But what constitutes conflict? If two voluntary organisations object to a proposal, I submit that that could well be construed as conflict. If the park authority says that it is not conflict, will voluntary organisations seek a judicial review and go to the Court of Session? A similar thing has happened, in one instance, three times in three or four years. Will they then try to block the park authority, saying that it has exercised its discretion inappropriately by refusing to hold that there is conflict? I have raised at stage 1 and stage 2 the point that there is no definition of conflict; there has been no attempt to amend the bill to indicate what that word means. Without a definition of that word, I believe that we are in serious difficulty.
Thirdly, there are existing designations of land—national scenic areas, of which there are more than 40 in Scotland; sites of special scientific interest; Ramsar sites; and sites designated under the habitat directive. All of those designations are in effect now; all of them will continue to be in effect the day after the national park is created. The purpose of the designation of a national park is not to confer further protection on land; it is to enable the management of areas of special importance from the point of view of conservation.
In my constituency, there is growing concern about some aspects of the bill and especially about what will happen if the Sandford principle is to be applied in the way that is described. My constituents have seen many battles in the past between the people and powerful voluntary organisations; no one wants to see them again. It seems to me that those battles are as though
Robin Harper (Green)
I am sorry.
Beware the Wolf of Badenoch—even though he comes before us in sheep's clothing. He tells us not to worry, saying that it will not make any difference if one little phrase is removed from the bill by means of his amendment. I put it to members that removing it would eviscerate the bill. I would contend that, if anything, the bill should be strengthened.
The Executive is to be congratulated on bringing this bill to Parliament, not just 50 years after similar legislation came into force in England, but nearly 100 years after the great John Muir started his campaign for national parks in the United States.
Robin Harper (Green)
I shall rise to Dr Ewing's challenge. That was part of a persistent policy of the United States Government to get rid of the Indians from just about everywhere in the United States, not just the parks—and it was certainly not a policy of John Muir's.
Robin Harper (Green)
I have a feeling that there are still some members who do not understand the international significance of national park designation. It is internationally accepted that parks can be graded from 1 to 6. It is my fear that, even with the bill as it stands, our national parks may be graded only at 5 or 6. It remains to be seen whether, once they are set up, they will achieve higher status. The idea behind the Sandford principle is not a complete ban on activity; it is simply that all developments in a park, whatever they are, should be consistent with the conservation of the natural aspects and human geography of the park.
The Transport and the Environment Committee, which has hardly been mentioned so far today, also considered the bill in detail and agreed that the socio-economic aims of the national park
My new amendment introduces the original recommendation of the Sandford report and would provide a safety net whereby if the park authority perceived a conflict, the conservation aim would prevail rather than just be given greater weight. I have lodged amendment 32 to give the minister an opportunity to assure us that the Executive wording that my amendment is intended to replace is sufficiently robust to ensure that the Sandford principle will be effectively introduced by the bill and adhered to when the parks are set up. I still fear that the bill is not sufficiently robust but, if the minister can assure me that the present wording of the bill incorporates the Sandford principle, I may decide not to move my amendment.
Elaine Murray (Labour)
I must take issue with Fergus Ewing's definition of "sustainable". I question whether his definition has any legal force. It could be argued that something is sustainable if it can be sustained in the longer term.
Alasdair Morgan (Scottish National Party)
Does Elaine Murray accept that if "sustainable" is in the bill—nobody is suggesting that we delete it—it will have legal force once the bill is passed and must therefore have legal meaning?
Elaine Murray (Labour)
I am saying that the legal meaning of "sustainable" is not necessarily what Fergus Ewing wants it to be when he argues for the Sandford principle to be removed from the bill.
We are discussing what happens when the national park authority exercises its functions; what happens when two voluntary sector organisations fall out is not relevant. If there is a conflict between the various aims of the national park, the national park authority is to give greater weight in the exercise of its functions to environmental considerations.
We are seeking to strike an appropriate balance between conservation and development. Sylvia Jackson spoke about some of the concerns in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs area, which to me—as an outsider—appear to centre on possible misuse of the environment. People feel that the institution of a national park might damage the
When drafting enabling legislation, the Executive needs to strike the right balance. I believe that in this bill the Executive has done that. It is saying that if there is a conflict between the aims of a national park, the national park authority must in the exercise of its functions give greater weight to environmental considerations. I know that Robin Harper feels that that phrasing does not have quite the strength of "prevail", but I believe that it has the same intention. The intention is quite clear—that if there is a problem in the functioning of the park, environmental considerations must take precedence over everything else. That is probably the right approach, given that we are talking about national parks. Robin Harper was quite right to make that point. In our discussions of direct representation, we have concentrated on the local perspective, but our intention is to establish national parks with a national and international reputation. We must not lose sight of the importance of that.
Murray Tosh (Conservative)
Fergus Ewing made a number of significant points that go to the heart of the discussion that took place in the Conservative group when we considered the correct approach to take to section 8. Throughout this process, we have seen it as important that, when framing the objectives of this bill, the Executive should recognise that development of local communities is vital and must not be prevented. All along we have been concerned by the possibility that national park areas might be set in aspic and that we might not be able to move forward in those areas to meet the requirements of the communities that live there.
We feel that the line that the Executive has come to as the bill has evolved is balanced. The difficulty that I have with some of the points that Fergus Ewing made is that there is not yet sufficient clarification in the bill of how ministers will regulate this matter. At stage 2, I moved an amendment that would have put on the face of the bill the concept of zoning. The subject was discussed extensively in committee. It is clear that what is sustainable in one zone may be unsustainable in another. I assume that if someone wanted to develop an hotel in Aviemore on an existing commercial site, that would be regarded as sustainable development, whereas if they tried to build it in Glen Derry, that would not be considered sustainable or acceptable. The principle of zoning is central.
At stage 2, the minister would not accept that zoning should be included in the bill, so I withdrew my amendment. I hope that she will make it as clear in the debate on these amendments as she did in the earlier discussion on electoral arrangements that when we reach the stage of considering zoning in practice—when we have the necessary subordinate legislation and regulations—there will be full consultation on what that involves. We need to know how zones will be determined and how precise they will be. Will they be very broad band, or will they be like local plan zones, where tightly defined policies are laid down to guide development in communities?
The committees did not really examine those issues; we all fell foul of the timetable at various points in this process. It would be interesting to hear what Sarah Boyack's intentions are when it comes to putting flesh on the skeleton concept of zoning in the national park areas. If she is able to give reassurance on that, I think that there is no requirement for Fergus Ewing's amendment.
Fergus Ewing also addressed conflict. As I read the bill, it is for the national park authority to decide whether proposed actions are in conflict with its aims. In that respect, it is no different from what planning authorities all over the country do when they review development proposals. They consider whether development proposals accord with or conflict with the approved development plans. If local authorities consider that they conflict, there will generally be a presumption against approval and there may, in certain circumstances, be referral on to ministers. Conflict should not give us particular cause for concern.
Murray Tosh (Conservative)
I cannot speak for the minister, but I understood that the bill tries to give the national park authority the lead role in resolving conflict—it is to be vested within the community, its representatives and the various people on the national park boards. I think that what is in the bill to resolve conflict is perfectly adequate.
The problem with Fergus Ewing trying to found entirely on sustainability is, as I said earlier, that sustainability has a different precise meaning in different locations. There may be a meaning of sustainability, but I am not sure that it is possible to found on the meaning of the word. I would rather leave it to local people, the local plan authorities—the people on the ground, as it were—to resolve this for themselves through the interpretation of where there is conflict and where and when they should apply what we know as the Sandford principle, although that is not in the bill and is not legal either.
I am sure that Fergus Ewing does not intend to do this but, in effect, his amendment seems to strike out the central concept of the national park. What is the point of having the national park if we are not prepared to give primacy to conservation where that is the prime consideration? In other zones of the park area, where there is building and economic development, it is appropriate to put that first so long as we are happy that it accords with the overall principles.
Robin Harper's amendment goes too far the other way. They are perhaps the mirror image of each other—equally extreme in different directions—Mr Nasty and Mr Nice in their approaches. I suspect that Robin Harper's amendment is not really necessary either. I have no specific view on Sylvia Jackson's amendment. I am not sure that it adds anything to the bill. Ministers and the Rural Affairs Committee have evolved this to the stage where it is about as right as we can get it.
I suggest that we should not accept any of the amendments in this group.
Alasdair Morgan (Scottish National Party)
During the debates in the Rural Affairs Committee there was felt to be—as has been alluded to—tension between conservation and development, which are two of the four aims. Those tensions are illustrated by amendments 18 and 32.
Some of the arguments on both sides are somewhat exaggerated. It strikes me that we cannot necessarily give any proposal that comes forward either a tick or a cross against not just the two aims, but the four aims that are laid down in section A1 of the bill. Those are conservation and enhancement of the natural and cultural heritage; promoting sustainable use of the natural resources; promoting—before it was amended—recreation in and understanding and enjoyment of the area; and promoting sustainable economic and social development.
It is oversimplifying life too greatly to say that a proposal does not meet one criterion but does meet another. I thought that the balance in the bill was about right at stage 2, but I confess—I am speaking personally—that I am somewhat persuaded by Fergus Ewing's argument. Some of the responses that I have heard today have persuaded me even more to agree with Fergus's argument. I do not think that Murray Tosh's argument that sustainability means different things in different parts of a park area necessarily goes against Fergus's argument, as we could say exactly the same of the other aims that are laid down in section A1: in different parts of the park, the interpretation of the other aims will also vary.
It concerns me that we are still arguing about what sustainable economic and social development means. Given that that is one of the main aims of a national park, as stated in section A1 of the bill, we are in a sorry state if we do not yet know what it is. I look forward to the minister explaining to us the official line on the definition of sustainable development in different areas of the park. I take on board what Fergus Ewing said and would be inclined to support his amendment 18.
I am not convinced that amendment 31 is needed. If it is needed, I am not convinced that it is in the correct place. It is not obvious what "design" means and I think that the amendment might be withdrawn.
Sarah Boyack (Labour)
We have had as thorough a debate today as we had at stage 2. At that point, I said that the success of the national parks would depend on getting the balance right. I agree with Elaine Murray on that point.
Murray Tosh said that he thought that we have got the bill about as right as we can get it. I would like to keep that comment for posterity. Alasdair Morgan said that it was important that we do not exaggerate fears. I would like to hang on to that sentiment, as I believe that amendments 32 and 18 typify the polar opposites of the debate and are not representative of the balance that we are trying to achieve. Amendment 32, in the name of Robin Harper, reflects a fear that the principle in section 8(6) is not strong enough and will not prevent unfettered development. The fear behind amendment 18, in the name of Fergus Ewing, is that the principle will always be invoked and will stifle all forms of development to the detriment of local people. Both fears were debated at stage 2, when the committee's opinion was that we had the balance right. I feel that we have.
Robin Harper asked whether our national parks would be national parks as defined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. If we manage to maintain the balance that we have in the bill, the answer would be yes. However, if we tinker with the bill and attempt to remove the Sandford principle, the answer might be no.
The key objective is to deliver a national park authority that is required to act to achieve all four of its aims: conservation of the natural and cultural heritage; the sustainable use of natural resources; enjoyment and recreation; and the sustainable economic and social development of communities. At stage 2 we added not only the word "sustainable", but the word "communities". It is important that we remember that we are talking about the economic and social development of communities.
Following consultation on the draft bill, we added
Zoning will help us to do that. It will ensure that, if appropriate, different approaches will be taken in different parts of the park area. The construction of the national park plan will be subject to wide consultation which will bring the community into the discussion. People will be able to air their views about where zoning should occur and what the nature of the zones should be. Careful planning and positive management, as provided in the national park plan, will be vital to the balance that we must deliver.
Despite all the care, there will be times when conflicts are difficult to resolve. In such cases, it is right that the conservation of a park's special qualities should be given greater weight. The wording is significant: it is not "take precedence", as the matter concerns the judgment of the national park authority in dealing with difficult issues. I do not agree with amendments 18 and 32. The bill strikes the right balance at the moment.
Amendment 31 is similar to an amendment that Sylvia Jackson lodged at stage 2. I gave a commitment then to think carefully about the points that she made. I support the aspirations behind the amendment. Of course we want good design in buildings and good stewardship. However, this is not the right place in the bill to address that, or the right way in which to achieve those aspirations.
The amendment refers to two specific issues: the design of buildings and environmental stewardship or land management issues. Section
The bill as drafted strikes the right balance; nevertheless, this has been a useful debate, as it has illustrated the difficulties and challenges that the national park authority will face. Statutory guidance will help the authority in that respect. I hope that the commitments that I have given will encourage Sylvia Jackson not to press her amendment when we come to vote on it.
Division number 7
For: Campbell, Colin, Crawford, Bruce, Elder, Dorothy-Grace, Ewing, Dr Winnie, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Grahame, Christine, Ingram, Mr Adam, Lochhead, Richard, McGugan, Irene, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Mr Gil, Quinan, Mr Lloyd, Swinney, Mr John, White, Ms Sandra, Wilson, Andrew
Against: Aitken, Bill, Baillie, Jackie, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Canavan, Dennis, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Fabiani, Linda, Ferguson, Patricia, Fergusson, Alex, Finnie, Ross, Galbraith, Mr Sam, Gillon, Karen, Godman, Trish, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Gorrie, Donald, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Hamilton, Mr Duncan, Harding, Mr Keith, Harper, Robin, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Hyslop, Fiona, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Jenkins, Ian, Johnston, Nick, Johnstone, Alex, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, MacKay, Angus, MacLean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, Marwick, Tricia, McAveety, Mr Frank, McConnell, Mr Jack, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McIntosh, Mrs Lyndsay, McLeod, Fiona, McLetchie, David, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Mundell, David, Munro, Mr John, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Thomson, Elaine, Tosh, Mr Murray, Wallace, Ben, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan, Young, John
Abstentions: MacDonald, Ms Margo