Green Transition (North Ayrshire)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 13th January 2022.

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Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

4. To ask the First Minister what steps the Scottish Government will take to urgently progress the green transition in North Ayrshire, following the closure of Hunterston B power station on 7 January. (S6F-00650)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

The workers of Hunterston B have made a really valuable contribution to our energy security over many years, and I have no doubt that they will continue to distinguish themselves through the safe decommissioning of the site.

Although that process will take time, we must plan and invest in the green transition of North Ayrshire. We have invested £103 million in the Ayrshire Growth Deal, and we are working with partners to deliver projects that I know will help to create the good green jobs that are needed in the region.

We will also publish a draft energy strategy and just transition plan this year, which will set out how we will work with businesses, trade unions and communities, to manage the economic and social impacts of a changing energy system.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

The closure of Hunterston B is the end of an era for North Ayrshire, regardless of one’s view on nuclear power. One hundred and twenty-five jobs have been lost, with more to follow over the next eight years, as the plant defuels and is then decommissioned.

Significant investment that would bring 900 jobs is considered with regard to subsea solar energy cable manufacturing at Hunterston Port and Resource Centre—PARC. Does the First Minister agree that the efforts of the Scottish Government agencies that are working with North Ayrshire Council must be redoubled and on-going to attract and consider further potential job-creating developments at Hunterston?

The First Minister:

Yes, I agree. As Kenny Gibson knows all too well, I grew up in North Ayrshire not too far from Hunterston B power station, so I know first-hand how important it has been, over many years, to the local economy.

As the station is decommissioned, it is important that we support that green transition, to which the Ayrshire Growth Deal is central. The Scottish Government and our agencies are working with regional partners to support the delivery of the Hunterston Port and Resource Centre project, the proposed subsea cable manufacturing project, to which Kenny Gibson referred, as well as multiple other projects across Ayrshire that are included in the deal. Colleagues in North Ayrshire Council lead and drive those projects on behalf of the wider deal.

It is important that we fully support that transition and I give an assurance that the Scottish Government will continue to do so.

Photo of Baroness Katy Clark Baroness Katy Clark Labour

Last month, I raised the point with the Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise that, although North Ayrshire Council has set up a task force to look at the economic development at Hunterston, its ambition has always been that the Scottish Government be involved, with a ministerial task force to look at the development of the Hunterston PARC site.

Will the First Minister look at that, given how important it is to ensure the creation of good quality trade-unionised green jobs? Since the area is of environmental importance and includes a site of special scientific interest, will biodiversity and environmental concerns also be taken into account?

The First Minister:

I am happy to consider that wider point. I accept the importance of the environmental consideration for the reasons that the member has set out.

It is for the Scottish Government to set the wider policy and strategic framework, which we will do through the draft energy strategy and the just transition plan to which I have referred, both of which we will publish over the course of this year.

Beyond that, it is right that local councils and agencies drive those plans. As I said earlier, the Scottish Government is contributing more than £100 million to the Ayrshire Growth Deal. That balance between local leadership and strategic direction from the Scottish Government is always one that we need to be careful to get right. However, I will consider the wider point and revert to the member as soon as possible.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

I, too, thank the workforce at Hunterston, who have been an integral part of the North Ayrshire economy and community.

Nowhere in Mr Gibson’s question, or in the First Minister’s answer, did I hear an explanation as to how the Scottish National Party’s current moratorium on exploring new nuclear energy technology, or even having a sensible debate about it, will support either job creation in North Ayrshire or secure reliable energy for Scotland.

Why is the Scottish Government simply not interested in exploring Scotland’s potential to be a world leader in that field?

The First Minister:

People will continue to debate the issues and that is right and proper. I and my party have made clear our views on new nuclear power over many years. In summary, there are two reasons why I am behind that view: new nuclear power is not good value for money for taxpayers, to be blunt about it, and there is still the issue of what we do with the nuclear waste that comes from nuclear power, which nobody has really been able to satisfactorily resolve.

Scotland has an abundance of renewable energy potential. In the not-too-distant future we will, for example, hear the outcome of the ScotWind leasing round, which is about ensuring that we maximise our offshore wind potential. We are focused on making sure, both for our energy needs and for the jobs and economic needs of the country, that we maximise the vast renewable low-carbon potential that we have and that is what we will continue to do.