Harbours (Severe Weather Events)

Question Time — Scottish Executive — General Questions – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:40 am on 8th March 2007.

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Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party 11:40 am, 8th March 2007

To ask the Scottish Executive what assessment it has made of the cost of increased severe weather events for small harbours such as Wick. (S2O-12248)

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

Ports and harbours around Scotland make their own and continuing assessment of the effect of severe weather on infrastructure and shipping. Wick harbour authority has been in contact with the Executive about the recent significant storm damage, and we await further information from it with regard to possible funding under the fishing harbour assistance scheme.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I am sure that the minister shares the concern that I and the harbour trust have expressed that the cash for strengthening the south river pier, which protects the Lower Pulteneytown area, must be made available quickly because of the serious potential for flooding and inundation following the severe weather event in late February. As another such event could happen soon, will the minister ensure the speedy approval of schemes to use the reported £17 million underspend in coastal and flooding schemes in the current financial year?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

The local member, Jamie Stone, has already raised this matter with me, and I have undertaken to look closely at any potential for responding quickly to such matters in Wick harbour. I know from my experience in harbours that tackling these matters quickly is of the utmost importance. We will look closely at any application to find out how we can most efficiently use resources. That said, I hope that Mr Gibson understands that the grant schemes have particular constraints.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

The increase in the incidence of severe weather events mentioned by Mr Gibson, increased pressures on the Scottish fishing industry and the hoped-for growth in maritime tourism in the north of Scotland mean that more vessels are likely to find themselves on the seas in bad weather. Will the minister ensure that the matter is given priority? Will he join me in congratulating the Royal National Lifeboat Institution on its excellent life-saving work? The bad weather is placing more burdens on the institution, which in 2006 rescued more than 1,000 people from danger at sea.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I absolutely agree with Mr McGrigor's point about the RNLI and I am sure that he shares my view that it plays an essential role in many of our coastal communities. Indeed, I have a strong connection with the Lerwick and Aith branches in my constituency and very much respect their work. Just last weekend, I attended a retirement do for a former RNLI skipper in my home town of Bressay.

I take the member's point about the wider impact of the weather on shipping at sea. I am sure that he is aware that the technology—the electronic equipment, the forecasting techniques and so on—on board most forms of shipping down to the smallest vessels has progressed tremendously. Nevertheless, I take his point about the importance of secure harbours. We will continue to work on the matter with port authorities and harbour trusts.