Coastal and Marine National Park

Question Time — Scottish Executive — Rural Affairs and the Environment – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 28 June 2007.

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Photo of John Park John Park Labour 2:15, 28 June 2007

To ask the Scottish Executive what progress it has made on examining proposals for a coastal and marine national park. (S3O-438)

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Some support was expressed during the coastal and marine national park consultation exercise, as well as a number of concerns. I am clear that we need to consider how a coastal and marine national park would sit in the broader context of the management of our marine resources. Although I am not opposed to the principle of a coastal and marine national park if there is local support, there are a number of other priorities facing Scotland's coastal communities and seas that I wish to address first.

Photo of John Park John Park Labour

The cabinet secretary will know that we are about to debate the competing priorities to which he alluded. Does he support the introduction of a marine bill to identify the future priorities? Many stakeholders would like such a bill to be introduced soon. Does the cabinet secretary have such a bill in mind now or will he consider it in the near future?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

As I explained to the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee only yesterday morning, I am in favour of a Scottish marine bill. I know that there is widespread support for that among all the parties in Parliament and beyond, in the nation, for going down that road. I cannot comment on the timetable for future legislation—that timetable will be made available after the summer recess. However, I am clear that we should first tidy up the bureaucracy and the governance of Scotland's marine waters. After all, Scotland has the biggest share of European Union waters. There are increasing and competing demands on our waters, including the demands of renewable energy, marine wildlife and tourism. We must first sort out the existing governance before we consider adding new layers of governance, such as a coastal and marine national park.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

The minister has given no timetable for introducing legislation on marine national parks and he will be aware that the Conservatives are of the view that such parks should not be included in the marine bill. Can he give an indication of the timetable for that bill?

He will also be aware that there is strong opposition to a marine national park, particularly in the north and west of Scotland, although opposition does not appear to be so strong in the south-west. Will he therefore assure Parliament that, before any legislation is introduced to create a marine national park, the widest possible consultation will be undertaken and that the result of the consultation will be adhered to? Does he agree that community buy-in is vital to the success of the creation of a marine national park in Scotland?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I certainly agree on that last point. On the timetable, I can only reiterate that after the recess the Government will produce its timetable for future legislation.

I acknowledge that there are real concerns in some communities and that there is opposition to the creation of a marine park, but there is also much support in other communities, so we must strike a balance. I agree that, when we decide to make progress, it will be absolutely essential that we get the consultation right. I am aware of criticisms of the previous round of consultation and am keen to examine it closely. We must get the process spot on next time.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

The minister's predecessor, Ross Finnie, instructed the Scottish Enterprise network to talk to all the key stakeholders. The minister will be aware that, when the Cairngorms national park was being established, the business community had concerns similar to those that have been expressed about a marine national park, but that those concerns were addressed when the Cairngorms national park was set up. Has he cancelled the work that was going on or does he intend to make progress with work on a coastal and marine national park, in parallel with his work on the marine bill?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I am preparing to make my position clear on the previous Administration's commitment to set up a working group involving stakeholders and officials to consider marine national parks and on the previous Administration's request to the enterprise companies to consider the economic impact of setting up parks, as was their remit. I have not taken a decision on the exact status and how we will make progress in relation to those bodies. However, I am conscious that we have limited resources and that, if we are to make progress with a Scottish marine bill, that will place demands on parliamentary and Government time and on resources. I must strike a balance in taking that decision.