Development (Perthshire)

Question Time — Scottish Executive — General Questions – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:41 am on 9th March 2006.

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Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party 11:41 am, 9th March 2006

To ask the Scottish Executive what assessment has been made of the length of time it will take to remove development obstacles in Perthshire created by problems with water and drainage infrastructure. (S2O-9249)

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

We are determined that development constraints that are caused by water and drainage infrastructure will be addressed in the next investment period. In the forthcoming investment programme—the quality and standards III exercise—ministers have set Scottish Water the objective of providing sufficient strategic capacity to meet the needs of all proposed new development. It will be for developers to fund local connection costs, including their relieving any local constraints that arise. However, Scottish Water will make a reasonable contribution to those costs. Today, I have laid before Parliament regulations that will increase those contributions, which will assist all developers who are required to fund the resolution of local infrastructure constraints.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

Considering the number of times that this issue has been raised, that is a disappointing answer. It has consistently been raised over the years, most recently by me in a letter last month. Of course, the issue has been overtaken by the recent row and Professor Alexander's departure. Still, however, we wait for reassurances. Developers in my constituency are still waiting. I have to ask why the minister is not yet in a position to put a timescale on the lifting of embargoes. The direct result of the problem will be that construction industry jobs will be lost. That is a serious possibility in my constituency. Can the minister put a timescale on the lifting of the embargoes?

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

Scottish Water has already been in dialogue with the councils and met a delegation from Perth and Kinross Council last month to discuss the need for investment in water supplies and waste water treatment. I understand that another meeting with the council is planned in a few weeks to discuss concerns about the local plan. The programme for all local authorities will be spread over the eight-year period of the next investment programme. It is for Scottish Water and local authorities to agree local authorities' priorities.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Does the minister understand the severe impediments to economic growth in rural Scotland—particularly the parts of Perthshire in my constituency—that are due to lack of action? Will the minister give us a definitive commitment that, as a result of the resignation of Professor Alan Alexander and the non-agreement of a Scottish Water business plan for the forthcoming period, there will be no deceleration of the investment programme that Scottish Water has proposed and that there will be a guarantee that the improvements that are required to sustain economic growth in rural Perthshire will be made?

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

Absolutely. Economic growth is our number 1 priority. It is for Scottish Water to work with local authority partners and others to deliver our objectives. We must bring about improvements in the planning and delivery of that new capacity. To aid that process, I have asked Scottish Water to prepare an annual strategic capacity report that will set out specific investment plans. It is required to publish it by 1 April this year and to update it annually thereafter. Of course, the report will cover Perthshire and will provide useful clarity to all parties.

Ministers have stated that we are absolutely determined that development constraints that are caused by water and infrastructure will be addressed in the next investment period. I give Mr Swinney a categorical assurance that the resignation of Professor Alexander will not stand in the way of that.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

The minister should be aware that social development, as well as economic development, is being held up by development constraints. For example, affordable housing schemes cannot progress. I ask the minister to be definitive in her answer to my question. Has the resignation of Professor Alexander caused any delay in the programme that is being pursued by the Executive?

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

I assure the member that the resignation of Professor Alexander should not cause any delay. We are concerned to get another chairman in place as quickly as possible. I also assure the member that £14 million is being made available annually to ensure that affordable housing interests continue to be met.