The next item of business is the continuation of stage 3 proceedings on the Planning (Scotland) Bill. We pick up where we left off last night. I remind members that we have 45 minutes to deal with the remaining amendments.
The third national planning framework highlights trees, woodlands and forests as economic and environmental assets. In addition, it reiterates the aim for the expansion of woodland over the next 10 years to support carbon emission reductions and wider land use objectives.
Current Scottish planning policy says that local planning authorities should do the following:
“identify woodlands of high nature conservation value and include policies for protecting and enhancing their condition” and
“consider preparing forestry and woodland strategies as supplementary guidance to inform the development of forestry and woodland in their area, including the expansion of woodland of a range of types to provide multiple benefits.”
I am pleased to note that all planning authorities, with the exception of those in Aberdeen city, Shetland and Orkney, have such a strategy already. Councils such as Highland Council have sophisticated strategies; Highland Council’s is in its second or perhaps its third iteration. The three councils that do not have strategies do, however, have supplementary guidance.
Amendment 207 requires all planning authorities
“to prepare a forestry and woodland strategy”.
Importantly, that requirement is to be fulfilled as the authority sees fit, provided that it covers the key elements in subsection (2) of the amendment. Given that planning authorities already publish either a strategy or supplementary guidance, the amendment merely gives those a statutory footing and ensures that they will continue to be produced.
I move amendment 207.
“are to prepare a forestry and woodland strategy”,
that they should
“identify woodlands of high nature conservation value in” their area and that they are to
“set out the planning authority’s policies and proposals in their area, as to—
(i) the development of forestry and woodlands,
(ii) the protection and enhancement of woodlands”.
As a member of the Woodland Trust and the species champion for the holly tree, I welcome this addition to planning law. I want to see woods and forests protected. If there is a climate emergency, as the First Minister says, our planning system should not be making it easy to chop down trees. We need more of them, not fewer, and we should plan for that. I say “Well done” to Mr Wightman for introducing this amendment. We shall be whole-hearted supporters of it.
Forestry and woodlands are an integral part of both our urban and our rural landscapes. I agree that it is important that strategies are prepared for their protection, enhancement and resilience. The amendment will introduce a requirement for planning authorities to prepare and consult on forestry and woodland strategies for their areas or, in collaboration with other authorities, across a wider area. However, that is not new. Strategies are already prepared as a matter of course by the majority of our planning authorities, as Mr Wightman pointed out, either singly or in collaboration, as is encouraged by Scottish planning policy and guidance in “The right tree in the right place”.
Amendment 207 takes that position a step further, and I agree that the time is right to do so in the context of recent changes that have been made through the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Act 2018, through the new Scottish forestry strategy and in response to climate change. I thank Mr Wightman for working with us on the subject, and I am happy to support his amendment.
This suite of complementary amendments would update and modernise the planning system in relation to Scotland’s peatlands. That special habitat’s importance has grown in recent years because of its capacity to be a vital natural carbon sink. Members will recall that I spoke to similar amendments at stage 2 but, after listening to the minister’s concerns, I did not press them.
I thank the minister for discussing the stage 3 amendments with me; I have also had support from civil servants, including Andy Kinnaird. After further work, I remain convinced that the system of permissions and extraction rights for the habitat is out of date and no longer fit for purpose. I intend to listen carefully to what the minister says before I decide whether to press the amendments.
Many local authorities do not have comprehensive information about existing permissions, never mind the fact that many permissions should not exist at all in the context of Scotland’s climate emergency. I commend the Scottish Government for giving a high priority to phasing out peat use and peat extraction, in recognition of their significant climate change impacts and of the adverse effects on water and wildlife from damaged peatlands.
However, about 500,000m3 of peat is still extracted annually in Scotland. That removes a carbon store that takes thousands of years to form and results in the loss of almost all biodiversity value on the sites involved and in changes to hydrology that can have negative effects on flood management for our communities and populations. The Scottish Government is right to spend millions of pounds per annum on the peatland action fund to restore degraded peatlands across Scotland, so it surely makes sense, for coherent policy, to prevent the degradation of further sites, whose restoration costs could well lie with the public purse.
At stage 2, a target of net zero emissions by 2045 has been accepted for the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill. The word “net” is important. The United Kingdom Committee on Climate Change’s advice on net zero targets says that it is
“confident that Scotland could feasibly achieve” a higher target than the rest of the UK because of its greater sequestration capabilities.
Given increasing global recognition of the need for carbon reductions from land use activity, the proposals in the amendments would offer a relatively quick and cost-effective opportunity to address the issue in the public interest. The Scottish Government supports the UK Government’s target for retail soil supplies to be peat free by 2020 and for commercial horticulture to end the use of peat by 2030. The Scottish Government has also set a target of restoring 250,000 hectares of peatland by 2030. The amendments are entirely in line with that policy position, so I want to know clearly whether the minister thinks that amendment 208 should be pressed and the other amendments moved.
I hope that members will bear with me as I discuss these technical amendments in turn. Whether or not I move them all, it is important to put the issues on the record, so that we can move forward together as a Parliament, with the Scottish Government in the lead—particularly if I do not press all the amendments.
Amendment 208 would allow planning authorities to impose nature conservation as a recognised aftercare condition. Schedule 3 to the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 sets out three uses—for agriculture, forestry and amenity. A note from the Scottish Government on the amendment, for which I thank the minister, explained that the 1997 act defines a use for amenity as meaning that the land is
“suitable for sustaining trees, shrubs or other plants”,
which is dealt with in planning advice note 64, on the reclamation of surface mineral workings. That is welcome, but the critical omission from the list in schedule 3 is peatland restoration. Amendment 208 would remedy that by introducing a broader definition.
Planning advice note 64 was up for consultation and revision in 2015 and has not been updated since January 2017. Can the minister confirm whether he still intends to update PAN 64, as recommended by the opencast coal review? Will he commit to consulting on the adequacy of the advice on aftercare and the priority that is given to nature conservation, particularly if my amendment is withdrawn?
I highlight that, since stage 2, on the advice of the minister, I have edited the amendment that I lodged then to remove the involvement of Scottish Natural Heritage. I will not go into the details of that, but it is appropriate, because SNH has only an advisory role. The amendment is reasonable, given the environmental and climate emergency. The Scottish Parliament information centre has confirmed that the amendment would strengthen the status of nature conservation, particularly in light of developments in understanding about the importance of peatland and other issues that I have highlighted. For a number of mineral extraction sites, nature conservation is indeed the most appropriate and locally desirable afteruse. If I withdraw amendment 208, I urge the Scottish Government and members across the chamber to take forward the issues that are raised in it.
I come to amendments 209 to 211. Following comments from the minister at stage 2, I altered the similar amendments that I lodged then to limit their scope to peatlands, rather than all mineral extractions. There are two difficulties. The onus is wholly on planning authorities to monitor whether sites are lying dormant, and the power does not prevent operators from leaving sites dormant for years and then restarting operations without input from the planning authority. Under amendment 209, where an operator has left a site dormant and ceased operations for two years or more, the planning permission would automatically be suspended and the operator would need to proactively apply to the planning authority to resume operations. That would rebalance the situation and would put some onus on operators to keep their permissions up to date, and it would improve the ability of planning authorities to become aware of dormant sites. However, there may be a different solution to that issue.
Amendment 210 would introduce a sunset clause. It aims to simplify and clarify the process of the review of old mineral planning permissions by introducing a sunset clause for all old peat extraction consents, setting a time by which they must all be reactivated or they will permanently expire. Current permission periods are lengthy and poorly regulated. I will not go into the detail but, in the 23 years for which the processes have been in place, there has been ample opportunity for site operators and local authorities to make use of them. However, in a report in 2003, which was a significant number of years ago, SNH struggled to draw conclusions about progress with ROMP, having encountered difficulties obtaining information from local authorities.
That is another concern. The Environment Act 1995 introduced a requirement for the periodic review of mineral permissions, but only 15 sites are known to have gone through that review process, and there is no penalty or mechanism to enforce those statutory requirements. I would appreciate hearing from the minister whether a more robust mechanism might be put in place. It tends to be developers that trigger the process voluntarily. There is no centrally available information on sites where planning permission has ceased to have effect, and existing planning permissions act as a barrier to obtaining funding for restoration through mechanisms such as peatland action.
The bill presents a logical opportunity to simplify those procedures and to align planning with other areas of Government policy on peatland. Setting a clear end date for old planning permissions by introducing a sunset clause for extraction permissions would deliver that. Under amendment 210, all companies that have consents in the phase II and III lists or sites that were consented before 1982 would need to reactivate them—which seems a reasonable stipulation, considering how long ago that was—by a fixed national date or lose the consent permanently, although restoration and aftercare conditions would still apply.
That would remove long-term uncertainty around the status of the carbon in the soils and it would remove the burden on local authorities to instigate the process, thereby overcoming issues with lack of enforcement and clear data collection. The sunset clause does not pose a risk of encouraging developers to start production at unworked sites with old permissions, as it would simply require companies to reactivate consents.
Some members will be relieved to hear that we have come to the final amendment in the group. Amendment 211 clarifies that any calculation of compensation for restrictions on working rights for peat extraction should assume that there will be no UK “market for horticultural peat”—I will not repeat the dates. That would give planning authorities the confidence to consider restricting working rights in strategically important areas to allow for peatland restoration, because authorities would have greater clarity on the scope of possible compensation claims. Amendment 211 would not result in a ban on the sale of the products, but it would prevent peat extraction sites from claiming compensation on the assumption that there will still be markets for the products beyond the dates specified. Rather, the damaging products will have been phased out.
There is a presumption against new commercial peat extraction in the planning permission system and, in particular, in planning policy. Schedule 8 to the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 allows local authorities to order that mineral extraction be discontinued if that is in the interest of their districts, but any such order could trigger a claim for compensation by the holder of the extraction rights. Schedule 10 to the 1997 act, on periodic review of planning permissions, provides that compensation provisions are applicable when working rights to mineral extraction are restricted as a result of new conditions, except those relating to restoration and aftercare. In practice, that provision has been cited as a deterrent to planning authorities considering limiting the length or size of peat extraction sites, even when the peat extraction is clearly not in local interests or in the interests of meeting biodiversity targets. I gave an example at stage 2, so I will not go into details. Auchencorth Moss in Midlothian, in my region, is one such example. RSPB Scotland states that the site accounts for an enormous one fifth of Scotland’s total carbon emissions from peat extraction, and it is adjacent to a site of special scientific interest. I will not go into more detail, but the site is very precious.
I thank the minister for meeting me to discuss my amendments and for sending over information. I understand that the Government has concerns about amendment 211 in relation to the European convention on human rights, and I will listen carefully to the minister’s response.
However, there is clear public interest in ensuring that peatlands are safeguarded, and that there is a more transparent and realistic basis for compensation claims to prevent instances such as the one that I have highlighted from taking place. The Scottish Government has supported targets for ending horticultural peat sales, due to a significantly increased understanding of the importance of protecting and restoring peatlands for reasons relating to carbon and the wider ecosystem. I very much hope that the minister will consider those points.
I thank those members who have been able to listen for listening.
I move amendment 208.
The Presiding Officer:
I say not only to Ms Beamish but to other members that these are the sort of detailed arguments that should be explored at stage 2 of a bill. I do not want to diminish the arguments that Ms Beamish has made in any way. She made it clear that she wanted to put her arguments on the record and I will certainly not curtail the speech of any member who wishes to do so. However, it is disappointing that there is such a level of detail at stage 3. I note that, already, the chances of keeping to our timetable this afternoon have been highly diminished. I make that point not only to Ms Beamish but to all members.
I am very grateful to Ms Beamish for the co-operation that there has been. I really appreciate the fact that she mentioned Andy Kinnaird, the bill team manager, who has been a stalwart during the bill’s progress and has helped a great deal.
The Scottish Government recognises and supports the need to phase out the use of peat as part of our ambitions for tackling climate change and promoting peatland restoration. However, I cannot accept Ms Beamish’s amendments, given that there are already mechanisms in place to ensure that such issues can be addressed in a proportionate and fair way. Such mechanisms include existing order-making powers in the 1997 act, which allow planning authorities to deal with issues relating to dormant mineral sites, and a range of policy initiatives to phase out the use of peat in horticulture.
I want to avoid putting additional provisions into the bill when they are already addressed elsewhere. In particular, I am very cautious about forcing all existing sites to close without further consideration of the environmental and compensation consequences. In her speech, Ms Beamish mentioned the peatland restoration fund. Her amendments have the potential to require significant compensation or to prompt legal action from companies seeking compensation. The Government considers that funding would be more effectively spent on the peatland restoration fund. I know that Ms Beamish does not necessarily disagree with that.
Although I cannot support the amendments, I appreciate that Ms Beamish has highlighted very important issues around Scotland’s peatland. The Government recognised them and, in a much earlier group, lodged our own amendment to the bill to place a requirement on Scottish ministers to have regard to the desirability of preserving peatland when preparing the national planning framework.
Ms Beamish can be assured that when we look at that framework, which we will move on to next, I will pay due attention to what we do in those areas. I know that she will be at me if I do not—and I welcome that.
I am more than willing to look at the current wording of the advice notes that Ms Beamish mentioned, and at whether they require the updating that she referred to. I am happy to have further conversations with her on that.
What we have done reinforces our commitment to ensuring that planning policies on peat extraction are considered in the context of climate change, and I know that Ms Beamish will continue to scrutinise how we move forward on all of those issues. My door is always open.
As I make a final decision on whether to press the amendments, will the minister clarify the situation in relation to those very long-term, outstanding sites, around which there is a lot of uncertainty and a lack of clarity on what the local government relevant planning authorities are doing? Is it possible for him to highlight the issue to local authorities, because if I do not move the amendments, the possibility of restarting sites is a serious concern?
I am happy to talk to local authorities about the issue. There is no problem in that. I would be concerned about the possible compensation consequences.
Ultimately, that is where we need to consider the right choice. I would rather spend money on peatland restoration than on compensation, but I am happy to discuss those matters with local authorities.
I do not intend to press amendments 208 to 211 today. It has been a very difficult decision. A range of non-governmental organisations have had serious concerns about the protections for peatlands in the bill. RSPB Scotland was one that helped to shape the amendments—but certainly not the only one. There is a serious issue around aftercare. We have seen what happened with the opencast industry. It is very important that conservation and those aspects of aftercare are looked at more carefully, so that communities benefit through access to the countryside and better mental health, and most importantly, so that carbon sequestration can happen.
It is also important that those issues are more carefully enshrined in the review of the national planning policy framework, and I would be pleased to work with the minister and others on that.
As I said, I do not intend to press my amendments in this group. However, as a final point, I think it strange that, given that peat will have no market value after a certain date, there should be concern about potential compensation.
Amendment 208, by agreement, withdrawn.
Amendments 209 to 211 not moved.
Hurray—yes, absolutely. My amendment 213 would add “green and blue infrastructure” to the infrastructure list in section 29. Amendment 214 defines green and blue infrastructure as:
“features of the natural and built environments (including water) that provide a range of ecosystem and social benefits”.
At stage 2, members may recall that I lodged a similar amendment, which would have added “nature conservation management measures” to that list. The minister explained that those liable to pay the levy do not want the definition widened too far and that nature conservation measures would not help the levy’s key aim of enabling infrastructure capacity issues to be addressed to allow development.
I have reworked my stage 2 amendment, to bring natural solutions out of the environment silo. Green and blue infrastructure gives scope for infrastructure that helps to address environmental concerns, such as flood defences, water supply, loss of public green space, climate change, and protection of biodiversity and the wider environment.
The policy memorandum states that the levy should capture land value uplift for public benefit
. In that context, the preventative spend angle of the projects should not be disregarded, particularly given that many parts of south Scotland and beyond faced flood warnings only a few weeks ago. Using the levy in that way would contribute to meeting Scotland’s commitment to the United Nation’s sustainable development goals, in particular the UN target to decouple economic development from environmental degradation.
If the infrastructure levy is to achieve its objectives and deliver offsetting public benefits, it must directly address the accumulating public costs of development and economic activity. It is difficult to see how that can realistically be achieved without new investment in green and blue infrastructure, which could offset those costs.
In the face of the climate and environment emergency, I hope that members across the chamber will support my amendments.
I move amendment 213.
The bill does not currently contain provision on the application of the infrastructure levy to developments that are also subject to a planning obligation under section 75 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997.
There is the potential for duplication of conditions on such developments—that is, a contribution being required for the same object or purpose under a planning obligation and by way of the infrastructure levy. It would be inappropriate for persons such as developers to be required to contribute twice for the same object or purpose. That could impact on development.
My amendment 218 seeks to avoid that by specifically enabling any infrastructure levy regulations made by the Scottish ministers to provide for the granting of relief from liability to pay infrastructure levy where the development is subject to a section 75 planning obligation and where the planning authority considers that
“to require payment of infrastructure levy in respect of the development would constitute a duplication ... of contribution by the person who is liable to pay infrastructure levy.”
The passage of the bill has been a marathon effort, but we have now come to the last group of amendments, and I am delighted to say that I support all the amendments in the group. I should say a little bit more, though—and it will just be a little bit.
The Local Government and Communities Committee highlighted concerns that the power to establish an infrastructure levy might remain in legislation without ever actually being implemented. At stage 2, I lodged an amendment to introduce a sunset clause, meaning that the power to establish a levy would lapse if it were not used within 10 years of royal assent. Although the amendment was agreed to, some members still felt that the period was too long. Having looked at the timescales for and feasibility of bringing forward levy regulations, I am happy to lodge amendment 149, which seeks to reduce the time period from 10 to seven years. I am confident that that will still give sufficient time for the additional work and consultation needed to inform the regulations.
Moreover, concerns were raised at stage 2 over the timing of payment of the infrastructure levy and the fact that payment may be sought prior to the granting of planning permission. To address those concerns, I have lodged amendment 150, which seeks to remove paragraph 9 of schedule 1 to ensure that regulations cannot preclude planning permission being granted on the basis of non-payment of the infrastructure levy.
Another concern that has emerged is the potential for overlap between the infrastructure levy and planning obligations under section 75 of the 1997 act, with the issue of duplication and double charging being raised in particular. I believe that it is a reasonable point, and I am therefore happy to support amendment 218 in the name of Alexander Stewart, which will provide the industry with greater certainty.
The bill includes a wide definition of infrastructure that funds from the levy could be used to support. However, there have been calls for the definition to include a specific reference to green and blue infrastructure. Again, I am grateful to Claudia Beamish for her co-operation and communication on all of this; her amendment 213 seeks to do what I have previously set out, and I am happy to support it.
Amendment 214 seeks to introduce a broad definition of what “green and blue infrastructure” consists of. Although I have some concerns about the detail of the amendment, I am content that the bill contains sufficient flexibility, should circumstances change and the definitions need to be amended in the future. I am therefore happy to support that amendment, too.
I am delighted that the minister has accepted the amendments on green and blue infrastructure, which will help tackle the climate and environment emergency as well as help the wellbeing of the people of Scotland.
I have no more to say, other than this has been a tough gig for everybody. Well done, all.
Amendment 213 agreed to.
Amendment 214 moved—[Claudia Beamish]—and agreed to.
The Presiding Officer:
The result of the division is: For 78, Against 31, Abstentions 2.
Amendment 159 agreed to.
Amendments 220 and 221 not moved.
Amendments 153 and 154 moved—[Kevin Stewart]—and agreed to.
Amendments 222 and 223 not moved.
Amendment 155 moved—[Kevin Stewart]—and agreed to.
Amendment 185 moved—[Kevin Stewart].
The question is, that amendment 185 be agreed to. Are we agreed?
The Presiding Officer:
The result of the division is: For 102, Against 10, Abstentions 0.
Amendment 185 agreed to.
That ends our consideration of amendments. I thank all members and the minister for their time and effort over the past three days.
At this point in proceedings, I am required under standing orders to say whether, in my view, any provision of the bill relates to a protected subject matter: that is, whether it would modify the electoral system and franchise for Scottish parliamentary elections. In my view, no provision of the Planning (Scotland) Bill relates to a protected subject matter. Therefore, the bill does not require a supermajority in order to be passed at stage 3.