Marine National Park (Objections)

Question Time — Scottish Executive — General Questions – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:41 am on 1st March 2007.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative 11:41 am, 1st March 2007

To ask the Scottish Executive what weight will be given to local objections when determining the location of Scotland's first marine national park. (S2O-12165)

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I have published today the non-confidential responses and summary analysis following the Executive's consultation on Scotland's first coastal and marine national park. The report summarising the responses shows that 72 per cent of respondents to the consultation expressed support, in principle, for a coastal and marine national park to be progressed in Scotland. However, a significant number of respondents expressed detailed reservations both on specific sectoral concerns and on aspects of the proposed locations. We will now consider the next steps as we seek to address the issues that have been raised. I plan to make a further announcement on the way forward in March. No decisions have been taken.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

The minister will be aware that the Scottish National Party—whose acronym, in this instance, appears to stand for "Stop the National Park"—has frequently drawn attention to the significant levels of local objections in most candidate areas along the west coast. In view of that opposition, which the minister has just mentioned, will the minister care to save himself a lot of time and trouble by simply announcing that the park will be located in Dumfries and Galloway, where there have been few significant objections and where those of us who have the real interests of the region at heart would thoroughly welcome it?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

As I said in my initial reply, respondents to the consultation were very split. Even for those who indicated continuing support for—and, in some cases, a growing degree of acceptance of—a park in principle, a significant number of issues remain. It seems sensible for me to do what I said. I will consider further the detail of the responses and how best to progress the matter, and I will make an announcement to the Parliament in due course.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Will the minister publish, in the Executive's analysis of the responses, the analysis in respect of each proposed candidate and, in particular, the views of the people who live in the west Highlands on the notion that there should be a park in that area? Will he confirm that he will not seek to foist national park status on any community that does not want it? Does he agree with me and the Scottish National Party that the money that will be spent on setting up a new bureaucracy—perhaps £5 million a year—would be better spent on creating more affordable housing in rural Scotland?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

It would be better for Fergus Ewing to direct the latter point to his colleagues. I do not see John Swinney in the chamber, but he is a strong advocate of national parks. Indeed, he advocated them in the chamber and said that we need to extend the existing national parks. Whether we should spend more or less money on national parks is a question that Fergus Ewing could properly raise in a debate with his colleagues. I suggest that he lodges a motion on the matter at the next Scottish National Party conference.

The substantive point was about what I propose to do with the responses to the consultation. I have already said that I am publishing today the non-confidential responses and a summary and analysis of them. I expect Fergus Ewing to pay close attention to them. If I intended to foist a national park on people, I would have stood up today and said, "I'm ignoring all the responses. I'm going to declare a park." I am not doing that, and the Executive would not behave in that fashion. We take seriously the detailed responses that we received. We will analyse them and I will make a statement to the Parliament in due course.