I thank members very much indeed.
At consideration stage, the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill Committee amended the bill to require mitigation commitment documents, including the landscape and habitats management plan and the environmental mitigation plan, to be signed off by the relevant bodies. Those bodies—the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, Historic Scotland and the local planning authorities—are known collectively as the mandatory consultees.
The mitigation commitment documents are important to construction of the authorised works because they set out the environmental standards and protections that the promoter and its contractors will meet in order to protect the environment and to minimise inconvenience to residents and others. The committee is keen to ensure that the process of finalising those documents is inclusive, robust and open, and that it makes best use of local knowledge and
Since we amended the bill at consideration stage, Network Rail and the mandatory consultees have had exchanges with a view to achieving a more time-effective and cost-effective method of engagement. The mandatory consultees have agreed the new process, which is why amendment 1 has been lodged.
Under the new proposal, the mandatory consultees will be fully and properly engaged in and consulted on each document. All their requests and suggestions for changes will be incorporated, unless doing so is not reasonably practicable because, for example, of overwhelmingly strong grounds of cost or safety. Safety remains an overriding issue and we expect nothing in the process to impinge on the safe operation of the railway. Safety is governed by railway standards and subject to approval by Her Majesty's railway inspectorate.
Should Network Rail assert that a proposed change is not reasonably practicable, it must suggest an alternative approach or give reasons why the change cannot be made. Moreover, it must discuss its suggestions and difficulties with the consultee. If the parties cannot reach agreement on the proposed change, there is provision for escalation to an arbitration process which would, in broad terms, involve the dispute's being referred up the management lines of each of the organisations concerned. If, having been considered at director level, the dispute still cannot be resolved, it can be referred to an arbiter for a decision, which would be binding. The revised code of construction practice now reflects that process.
The committee has modified the code of construction practice to specify that discussions will take place to reach agreement on timetables for production of the mitigation documents. The discussions will cover the timetable for consideration of alterations and alternative solutions, the method for consultation on each document, and how and when each document will be approved. That approach will ensure full consultation, engagement and consideration on suggestions for improving the documents; at the end of the day, that is what is important. We all want to be sure that there are high standards of environmental mitigation to reduce the impacts of the railway works both on the environment and on local communities.
The process that I have outlined is set out in an amended version of the code of construction
Taken together, amendments 1 and 2 will leave intact the protections that the committee introduced at consideration stage while avoiding the possibility of the mandatory consultees incurring needless expense as a result of employing experts to advise them on matters that are not within their remits. Although the mandatory consultees will no longer have formally to approve the final documents, each and every comment and suggestion that they make will have to be incorporated. The only exception to that will be when it is not reasonably practicable to make a suggested change, in which case there will be full, open and inclusive consultation and discussion on alternative approaches, with provision made for resolution by arbitration if the parties cannot agree.
I move amendment 1.
I congratulate the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill Committee on its thorough work. Many people who live adjacent to the proposed line have been concerned about the process, as is the case with any major rail or road construction exercise. The committee has done a good job under the able leadership of my colleague Phil Gallie, who has now completed 17 years as a member of Parliament and who, I believe, has ambitions to go to another place, as they say, although not the House of Lords. I wish him well in that. The committee's arguments were good. I am surprised that Phil Gallie has not yet mentioned the European convention on human rights but, no doubt, that will come in time. We support the amendments.