Nigg Construction Yard (Compulsory Purchase Powers)

Question Time — Scottish Executive — General Questions – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:41 am on 22nd March 2007.

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Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 11:41 am, 22nd March 2007

To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will support Highland Council in exercising compulsory purchase powers in relation to land adjacent to the former Nigg construction yard. (S2O-12476)

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

It is for the local authority to decide whether it wishes to use its powers of acquisition under the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) (Scotland) Act 1947. If the authority decided to use its powers, the Scottish ministers would thereafter be required to consider whether to confirm the compulsory purchase order. It would not, therefore, be appropriate to indicate at this stage whether ministers would support such action.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

Is it not a disgrace that one landowner can hold to ransom the future of the yard, which has benefited people in the past, myself included, and which could offer employment for the future? Is it not a disgrace that one man can jeopardise all that? Will the minister go further and tell me that, if Highland Council approaches the Executive on the matter, he and his colleagues will give full support to the compulsory purchase of the land?

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

I refer the member to my previous answer.

I am aware of the importance of the Nigg construction yard to the economy in the Highlands. Jamie Stone and Peter Peacock have raised the issue. The act I referred to dates back to 1947, and we are considering whether there is scope for improving internal processes for CPOs, as part of the wider range of actions to oil the wheels of the development of land and property. Work is under way to consider how the Executive can enable local authorities to make full use of their compulsory purchase powers so that land can be effectively reassembled for regeneration. I hope that Highland Council will think along those lines.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I acknowledge the minister's difficulty; he has a statutory position and cannot commit himself in advance. My understanding is that, as part of the strategic plan for Scotland, the Cromarty firth will be identified as of strategic significance, not just to the Highlands, but to the wider Scottish economy. Although he cannot rule in supporting compulsory purchase, can he not rule out supporting it if the case is strong enough?

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

That it is exactly the kind of situation that we might be considering when we come forward with streamlining processes for CPOs. I am happy to say to Peter Peacock that nothing will be ruled in or out.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

The Cromarty Firth Port Authority Order Confirmation Act 1973 was set up under a Tory Government. It precluded the compulsory purchase of the Wakelyn Trust ransom strip and, by December 1980, had ended other CPO powers for the Cromarty Firth Port Authority. Is it not time to redress the balance and authorise not Highland Council, but Highlands and Islands Enterprise with compulsory purchase powers to step in and break the deadlock, in order to gain control of the ransom strip, in the public interest, so that a private trust cannot strangle the development of that major yard in the Highlands?

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

I would have thought that, on the whole, CPOs were more appropriate for the local authority than for the enterprise agency. I do not often agree with Conservative initiatives, but the removal of compulsory powers from port authorities is one that the Conservatives might have got right.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

Does the minister agree that, in a local economy such as Invergordon, it is important for all agencies to work openly and positively with local businesses, especially to avoid displacement of employment and resources? Is he content that that is happening in Invergordon in relation to the former Nigg construction yard?

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

I suppose that I am responding to questions on the planning issues. Planning powers should be used to facilitate economic growth, which is why the Executive has moved forward with the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006. There is an urgent need to reconsider the CPO arrangements in that context. As I said in response to a previous question, that is what the Executive is currently doing.