Minutes of Meeting of the Planning, Development, Europe and Tourism Committee held in the Council Chamber, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness on 30th May, 2001 at 10.30 a.m.
Mr R Saxon, Mr J S Rosie, Mr J H Green, Mr G M Smith, Mr F R M Keith, Mr D Allan, Mrs A L Magee, Mr D R Green, Mr R MacIntyre, Mr D Philip, Mr S MacKenzie, Mr M M Downie, Mr G Scott Moncrieff, Mr A D Sutherland, Mr W Fulton, Mr J C Cole, Mr R Lyon, Mr C L Goodman, Mr J Gray, Mrs J N Home, Mrs K G Matheson, Mrs L MacDonald, Mr A S Park, Mr R Severn, Mr B M S Dunlop, Mr A R McFarlane Slack
Non-Members also Present:
Mr A I MacDonald, Mrs D J Steven, Mr J W Oag, Mr W Mowat, Mr W J Ross, Mrs R Finlayson, Mr R W Durham, Mrs M E Paterson, Mr A M M Beaton, Mr G Coutts, Mr J W A Thomson, Mr G M Bruce
Representing Scottish Natural Heritage:
Ms E Stuart, Ms L Yost
Officials in attendance:
Mr J D Rennilson, Director of Planning and Development
Mr D Thompson, Director of Protective Services
Mr G Robson, Head of Environment
Mr M Greaves, Head of Economic Development and Community Planning
Mr A Anderson, Head of Tourism and Support, Cultural and Leisure Services
Mr A Dyer, Senior Countryside Officer, Planning and Development Service
Mr G Summers, Principal European Officer
Mr C Wishart, Senior Planner (Natural Resources Team), Planning and Development Service
Mr A Brown, Senior Planner, Planning and Development Service
Mr A Sutherland, Access Officer/Surveyor, Planning and Development Service
Mrs R Moir, Principal Administrator, Corporate Services
Mrs R Daly, Committee Administrator, Corporate Services
Mr A S Park in the Chair
An asterisk in the margin denotes a recommendation to the Council.
All decisions with no marking in the margin are delegated to the Committee.
1. Apologies for Absence
Apologies for absence were intimated on behalf of Mr J W G Paterson, Mr E C MacKinnon, Mr S J Shiels, Ms E MacDonald and Mr R Wynd.
2. House of Lords Decisions on Human Rights Appeals
As a matter of information intimated by the Director of Planning and Development, the Committee NOTED that, in relation to recent test cases under the Human Rights Act, the House of Lords had found in favour of the Secretary of State for the Environment and had ruled that the planning system met the requirements of the Human Rights Act.
3. Revenue and Capital Expenditure
The Committee NOTED
(a) in line with normal practice at this point in the financial year, no budget
monitoring statements in respect of capital or revenue expenditure had
been submitted to the current round of Committee meetings for the
period to March 2001;
(b) Finance staff were currently working to complete the Council's year-end
(c) a final outturn statement for the year would be presented for Members’
information at the following cycle of Committee meetings.
4. Foot and Mouth Disease
There had been tabled at the meeting Report No. PDET 34/01 dated 29th May, 2001 by the Director of Protective Services providing an update on arrangements in place to deal with the Foot and Mouth Disease crisis.
The Director provided a brief outline of the economic impact of the crisis, including the level of non-domestic rates relief awarded to businesses in the Highlands. The relaxation of restrictions on access to the countryside was highlighted, which had led to a clear presumption in favour of access. Revised risk assessment procedures based on the procedure developed in Highland had now been introduced, making prevention of access more difficult to justify. Closures could no longer be preventative but only official in terms of the risk assessment procedures. Access provisions for the Speyside Way managed by the Moray Council were outlined, as was the review of the position on disinfectant footbaths in Skye and Lochalsh and Lochaber.
In response to questions from Members, it was clarified that the Highland Council had no powers to remove signs preventing access to the countryside, although Area Managers and Countryside Rangers were working together on such access matters.
Members were advised that the section of the Speyside Way long distance route from Nethybridge to Aviemore was now open for public access. In addition, the Council’s Senior Countryside Officer and the Speyside Way Route Manager would be approaching landowners and farmers in the Highland Council area whose land along the route remained closed, to inform them of the new guidance on risk assessments.
After discussion, the Committee NOTED:-
(a) measures taken by the Council and others in relation to the current
outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the UK and
(b) the latest position regarding access to the countryside.
5. European Network Proposals on Maritime Safety
At their meeting held on 10 May, 2001, the Highland Council had agreed that:-
a. the Convener write in the strongest terms to the Deputy Prime Minister
and the Secretary of State for Scotland to:
i. ask that the right of innocent passage in the Minch be removed
and it become a controlled waterway and
ii. press for the restoration of local coastguard services in the Pentland
iii. the Chief Executive investigate how to involve Europe in this matter;
iv. a report on the actions that could be taken in this regard be
prepared for submission to the next meeting of the Land and
Environment Select Committee.
Members were reminded that the Land and Environment Select Committee had considered a report on the issues raised at its meeting the previous week.
There was now circulated Report No. PDET26/01 dated 22nd May, 2001 by the Director of Planning and Development highlighting opportunities that existed for the Council to promote its objectives on maritime safety through its active membership of European networks, in particular the North Sea Commission (NSC), the Atlantic Arc Commission and the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR). He briefly outlined the concerns of these bodies for maritime safety and indicated that these concerns would shortly be presented in the form of a resolution to the NSC General Assembly in June 2001 and to the CPMR in September 2001. He commented that the Council also had an opportunity to submit its own resolution to both the NSC General Assembly and the CPMR. If adopted, the resolutions would be placed on the work plans of the various organisations and would be used to lobby the EU, European Parliament, EU Member States and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
The Depute Chairman (Europe) commented that the Atlantic Arc Commission had received a copy of the report submitted to the Land and Environment Select Committee of 24th May, 2001 on tanker traffic in the Minch and were supportive of the Council’s position. She hoped that a small group of Members could meet urgently to agree the wording of a resolution to the NSC and the CPMR to meet their relevant deadlines.
Members stressed the need for improved training of crews to ensure better safety, expressed concerns regarding the age and quality of vessels presently being used and hoped that these issues could form part of any resolution. All members of crews should be certified for certain duties and the suggestion was made that, when hazardous cargoes were being carried, vessels should fly a warning flag to draw attention to this. Support was also expressed for fitting automatic-release towing pennants to all vessels over 10,000 tonnes, as recommended by the Donaldson Inquiry. Members argued that there should be greater regulatory control of both the Minch and the Pentland Firth, in particular to ensure the use of pilotage and tugs. Members suggested that these issues be explored with the Scottish Executive and the DETR, with particular reference to the possible imposition of controlled waterway status, and be taken into account when drafting the proposed resolutions for submission to the European networks.
The Depute Chairman (Europe) reminded Members that local authorities were members of the various commissions of the CPMR as the appropriate second tier layer of Government. She advised that the Scottish Executive had indicated an interest in CPMR membership and suggested that, as the Executive was an arm of the primary tier of Government, it should not be eligible for membership. Moreover, she pointed out that the CPMR was sometimes used as a lobbying route to Member State governments. This could create an anomalous situation where the Executive could be asked to be involved in lobbying against itself. She sought Committee support for recommending that the Scottish Executive have observer status only.
While agreeing to give this support in principle, Members asked that the legal position be clarified and the view was expressed that this stance should be adopted only on the basis that the same exclusion applied to other Member State governments, so as not to disadvantage the Scottish Executive’s involvement.
After discussion, the Committee AGREED:-
a. to support, in principle, the maritime safety measures being proposed by
the NSC and the CPMR;
b. to seek to ensure the incorporation of the Council's policy position in to the
texts of the resolutions of these bodies;
c. to instruct the Principal European Officer, in consultation with the
Convener, the Depute Chairman (Europe), the Depute Chairman (Land and
Environment), Mr W Fulton and Mr G Scott Moncrieff, to formulate
appropriate resolutions for submission to the NSC and the CPMR;
d. that these resolutions also form the basis of direct lobbying representations
to the European Commission, the European Parliament and the
International Maritime Organisation; and
e. following clarification of the legal position and the approach taken by other
Member States, to recommend to the North Sea and Atlantic Arc
Commissions that membership of those organisations be restricted to local
authorities as second tier government bodies and not be extended to the
Scottish Executive, who might more appropriately have observer status.
6. Indicative Forestry Strategy Update
There had been circulated Report No. PDET27/01 dated 18 May, 2001 by the Director of Planning and Development proposing steps to be undertaken to update the Highland Indicative Forestry Strategy (IFS).
The Committee AGREED:-
a. to approve publication of the Council’s intention to prepare an alteration to
the Structure Plan - to incorporate an updated IFS;
b. to approve the principle of launching initial public consultation on the
review of the IFS with a discussion paper, along the lines indicated in the
c. to delegate approval of the content of the discussion paper and the
publicity arrangements to the Highland Forestry Forum Steering Group.
7. Highlands of Scotland Tourism Strategy
There had been circulated Report No. PDET28/01 dated 21st May, 2001 by the Director of Cultural and Leisure Services recommending a revised Highlands of Scotland Tourism Strategy 2001/2005. The Strategy, a copy of which had also been circulated, outlined how agencies and the tourism industry would work together to deliver a sustainable, high quality tourism product in the Highlands.
During discussion, Members suggested that the Strategy should highlight the marketing opportunities offered by special interest sectors such as angling; the quality and reputation of Highland food; the benefits of television exposure such as that gained through the popular series "The Monarch of the Glen"; and the potential for hosting Europe-wide events, particularly to disseminate the Highland experience to new EU member states.
During further discussion, Members expressed the view that an open appraisal of the Highland tourism industry should be undertaken to reveal and recognise those areas where quality standards were below what tourists were entitled to expect. While in a minority, substandard businesses damaged the reputation of the area as a whole and undermined the excellent work of the majority of Highland tourist enterprises. Members commented on the need for tourist establishments to invest in their employees to promote an improved service and discussed the benefit to the tourism industry of membership of the Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board.
Allied to these considerations was the fact that the Scottish Executive’s allocation of funding for tourism equated to approximately only one tenth of the amount allocated in Ireland. To consider how the Council could contribute to promoting tourism, a group of cross-service officials could meet to co-ordinate the Council’s activities. Members commented on the need to ensure readable and clear road signs and that Economic Development Managers should play an increased role in managing their upkeep. Misunderstandings about the Scottish weather presented an obstacle to tourism, as had the unfavourable exchange rate with European countries and misinformation about the impact of the Foot and Mouth Disease crisis, particularly in the United States.
After discussion, the Committee AGREED (a) the terms of the Strategy, taking into account the issues raised during the debate, and (b) that approval of any subsequent changes, together with ongoing monitoring, be delegated to officers, in consultation with the Chairman, Depute Chairman for Tourism and other Council nominated Directors on the HOST Board.
8. Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board Funding Agreement
There had been circulated Report No. PDET29/01 dated 21st May, 2001 by the Director of Cultural and Leisure Services recommending a funding agreement with the Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board.
Members were reminded that budget approval for the level of the Council's 2001/02 funding to HOST had already been given. Formal submission of the circulated agreement would comply with Accounts Commission guidelines on "Following the Public Pound". During discussion, Members were advised that the Council could decide each year the level of its funding to HOST and that the agreement was designed to protect this degree of flexibility. In response to a question on the drafting of the agreement, Members were advised that it was standard to review the level of funding payable in the event of a change in key Board personnel.
While recognising that this item was fully delegated to this Committee for determination, the view was expressed that, given the level of funding involved, the item should be referred for determination by the Highland Council.
After discussion, Mr D Allan, seconded by Mrs K G Matheson, moved that the funding agreement be approved as recommended by the Director of Cultural and Leisure Services.
As an Amendment, Mr W Fulton, seconded by Mrs L MacDonald, moved that the Committee defer consideration of the proposed agreement and that it be remitted for determination by the full Highland Council.
On a vote being taken, the MOTION was carried by 16 votes to 6 and, accordingly, the Committee APPROVED the HOST funding agreement.
9. Redundancies at SGL Technic Limited, Muir of Ord
With the approval of the Chairman, this matter, not appearing on the Agenda for the meeting, was taken as an item of urgent business to allow an immediate Council response to a recently announced redundancy situation.
There had been tabled Report No. PDET33/01 dated 28th May, 2001 by the Director of Planning and Development updating Members on a recent announcement by SGL Technic Ltd, Muir of Ord, to make 80 of their 200 employees redundant and describing the response to this in Ross and Cromarty.
During discussion, Members were advised that Ross and Cromarty Enterprise and the Employment Service had declared this to be a ‘major redundancy’ situation, which would give automatic entitlement for those affected to receive immediate access to appropriate packages of assistance. The situation also clearly qualified for response through the Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE) Initiative. Members expressed their concern for the economic impact the redundancies would have on the Muir of Ord area and urged that the PACE response team dealing with the redundancies be located in the Muir of Ord factory. In addition, the view was expressed that the possibility of business rate relief should be investigated.
After discussion, the Committee AGREED:-
a. that officials liaise with the company and with other agencies to assist in
minimising the effect of the job losses at SGL Technic Ltd; and
b. to request that the Partnership Action for Continuing Employment Initiative
response team be located in Muir of Ord.
10. Draft Land Reform Bill Part One – Access to Land Provisions
(a) Minutes of Meeting of Access Working Group
At their meeting held on 28th March, 2001, the Committee had agreed, amongst other things, to delegate detailed consideration of the proposed access legislation and outdoor access code to an ad hoc Working Group. There had been circulated and confirmed as an accurate record the Minutes of the Meeting of the Access Working Group held on 2nd May, 2001.
(b) Proposed Response to Consultation on Draft Land Reform Bill
There had been circulated Report No. PDET30/01 dated 21st May, 2001 by the Director of Planning and Development recommending a response to the Scottish Executive on the Draft Land Reform Bill in relation to the access to land provisions. Members were advised that the Scottish Executive deadline for responses had been extended. The report invited further consideration on a number of issues prior to the response being submitted to the Scottish Executive.
In relation to access over land bearing crops, the Committee was advised that the original submission from the Access Forum supported cropped land being included in the general right of access. It was suggested that this stance was worthy of the Council’s support.
During discussion, Members commented that greater powers and resources would be required for local authorities for the establishment of core paths and to resolve disputes. The draft legislation should make a distinction between the use of paths by walkers and by horses and cycles, in particular the compatibility issues arising out of multiple use of paths. The view was expressed that clear signs should be erected to ensure the responsible use of some routes, particularly in relation to routes which passed through farms and where animals were grazing. It was hoped that the local authority could encourage particular core routes and ensure that they were properly maintained.
Members recognised the key role that Local Access Forums (LAFs) would have and took the view that all individuals with a genuine interest should be encouraged to be involved and that the development of LAFs in the Highlands should reflect Highland circumstances and seek consensus working.
Some Members expressed their dissatisfaction with the draft legislation and sympathised with the stance adopted by Shetland Islands Council. The latter had responded to the Scottish Executive by saying that they could not support the draft legislation in its present form as it represented a reduction in the public's right of access to land. Other Members commented that a complete re-draft was unrealistic and that the Bill would be enacted based on its current form. It would therefore be more constructive to try to influence the future legislation by offering positive comments on the present draft. Reference was made to the lobbying arrangements agreed by the Land and Environment Select Committee in relation to the Right to Buy elements of the Draft, which would seek to persuade MSPs of all parties of the inadequacies of the proposals. This approach would also give a further opportunity to make known the Council's views on the Access elements of the Bill.
After discussion, Mr A S Park, seconded by Mr A R McFarlane Slack, moved that the Committee approve (a) the Minutes of Meeting of the Access Working Group of 2nd May, 2001 and (b) the proposed response to the Draft Land Reform Bill: Access to Land provisions, as set out in the report, taking into account the various specific comments raised during the debate.
As an amendment, Mr S MacKenzie, seconded by Mrs L Macdonald, moved that the Council follow the example of Shetland Islands Council and indicate to the Scottish Executive that the Highland Council could not support the proposed legislation in its present form and therefore recommended that this part of the draft Bill be withdrawn and re-written.
On a vote being taken, the MOTION was carried by 16 votes to 5 and accordingly the Committee APPROVED:
a. the Minutes of Meeting of the Access Working Group of 2nd May, 2001 and
b. the proposed response to the Draft Land Reform Bill: Access to Land
provisions, as set out in the report and taking into account the various
specific comments raised during the debate, for submission to the Scottish
11. Proposed Reforms To SSSI - Scottish Executive Consultation
There had been circulated Report No. PDET31/01 dated 22nd May, 2001 by the Director of Planning and Development on a Scottish Executive consultation document entitled "The Nature of Scotland - A Policy Statement", dealing with reforms to the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) process, on which comments had been invited by 29 May, 2001.
Members were advised that a draft response, in terms outlined in the report, had been submitted in time to meet the deadline and that arrangements had been made for any further comments to be submitted following the meeting of the Committee. The report recommended a series of comments to be submitted to the Scottish Executive in respect of the consultation document. It was suggested that the consultation presented an opportunity to re-iterate the Council’s view on the need for reform of the National Scenic Area designation process.
During discussion, Members commented on the need to ensure elected Member involvement in the SSSI designation process. Members sought and received advice that the proposed independent appeals process would be truly independent and that Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) were trying to move away from making compensation payments to individuals in relation to abstention from new projects. Support was expressed for stressing the need for economic and social factors to be considered alongside scientific factors at the notification stage. There were no funding arrangements for such bodies as community councils to lodge an appeal and the view was expressed that the independent appeals mechanism should be local rather than national. Members commented that the benefits of SSSI designations had not been fully exploited and that SNH should be encouraged to develop further its strategy to raise awareness of the designations and their nationally important natural features.
After discussion, the Committee AGREED that the following comments be submitted to the Scottish Executive:-
a. many of the proposals for biodiversity, reforms to SSSIs and wildlife
protection set out in the consultation document were acknowledged as
b. there should be a right of appeal against notification where there were
significant social and economic interests;
c. membership of the proposed independent appeals body should draw on a
wide range of backgrounds and interests, and should consider appeals
against notification as well as refusals of Potentially Damaging Operations
(PDO) Notices of Intent;
d. the possible work of an independent appeals body under this proposed
legislation should be co-ordinated with possible work under the proposed
land reform legislation;
e. there should be funding and facilitation support for community councils to
be involved in the proposed SSSI procedures;
f. future work by SNH on increased interpretation of SSSIs should be co-
ordinated with current work under the Highland Interpretive Strategy
g. there should be early involvement by the Council in the preparation of
management schemes under the proposed Natural Care programme;
h. the Council wished to reiterate its earlier request for reform of the National
Scenic Area designation process; and
i. proposed reforms to National Scenic Areas along the lines set out in SNH's
Advice to Government in 1999 should be carried out, with legislation
introduced to establish a new statutory basis.
12. Natural Heritage Zones - Draft Local Prospectuses Scottish Natural Heritage Consultation
There had been circulated Report No. Report No. PDET32/01 dated 22nd May, 2001 by the Director of Planning and Development on a consultation document from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) on Natural Heritage Zone Local Prospectuses. The report set out some generic thoughts relating to all of the Natural Heritage Zone Local Prospectuses.
The Chairman welcomed to the meeting Ms Eileen Stuart and Mrs Linda Yost of SNH. Mrs Yost made a brief presentation to the Committee on the Natural Heritage Zone Programme and invited comments on the draft Local Prospectuses. She stressed that the aim was to create a shared vision for the next 25 years for sustainable use of the natural heritage. The draft Local Prospectuses constituted a contribution on behalf of the environment to the debate on sustainable development. They would provide a framework that would inform SNH's corporate plan and would influence that organisation's decision making and prioritisation of resource use. Mrs Yost concluded by emphasising that this was not a new tier of natural heritage designations.
During discussion, Members emphasised the need for full and meaningful consultation on the manner in which Natural Heritage Zones would be progressed. It was explained that the documents would be refined in the light of comments received, prior to publication early next year. Members sought and received reassurance that the zones would not seek to exclude certain developments and would not have legal status upon their completion. Members commented that the terms of the individual Prospectuses should be considered at Area Committees.
The Director confirmed that the draft Prospectuses relating to the Cairngorms area were not yet being consulted upon, in order to avoid confusion with the ongoing consultations regarding National Park status.
After discussion, the Committee AGREED:-
a. to welcome the production by SNH of Natural Heritage Zone Draft Local
Prospectuses and include in its response the comments set out in the
report and during debate; and
b. that a final response by 31st July, 2001 be remitted to the Director of
Planning and Development, to allow inclusion of further detailed comments
by Members and officials, including those emerging from consideration at
13. Eastgate Shopping Centre Development Royal Sun Alliance (In/2000/231)
With the approval of the Chairman, this matter, not appearing on the Agenda for the meeting, was taken as an item of urgent business to allow immediate action on legal advice just received, in order to prevent any delays with ongoing work on the extension to the existing Eastgate shopping centre in Inverness.
The Director of Planning and Development explained that the Inverness Eastgate shopping centre redevelopment scheme required two minor road stopping-up Orders to be made to facilitate some re-modelling of the facades on the existing Phase 1 Eastgate. As part of the appraisal of the planning application, the Director of Roads and Transport had no objections to the minor closures. Legal advice indicated that the most appropriate procedure to achieve the stopping-up would be to use the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997.
The Committee AGREED that two stopping-up Orders as detailed be made under the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997.
The meeting ended at 1.25 p.m