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February 10th – February 16th, 2024

February 10th – 16th, 2024

First Forced Land Sale; Who Wants a National Park? But first ….

Rural: Brechin is Still Suffering

            Despite Humza Yousaf’s promise of helping ‘as much as we can’ and being in it ‘for the long haul’, Brechin, one of the places worst affected by Storm Babet last October, feels forgotten, writes Mark Smith in the Herald, ‘What about the people on the edge?’ 12/02/24.  More than 120 homes were evacuated, sewage, oil and slime were left in the streets, and 60 properties will probably never be habitable again.

            Families were given £1500 and businesses £3000 by the government, forgetting that River Street is an area where many people had little to start with, and also forgetting that farmers whose losses run into hundreds of thousands of pounds were refused even the £3000.  Those sums do not compensate those who have lost everything.

            Some £61 million of agricultural funding from the UK has ‘disappeared’ from the Scottish budget.  Humza Yousaf cannot say where it has gone, but is promising to return it.  Angus Council has taken £250,000 from its reserves so far to help local residents, but it is fair to say people feel forgotten by central government.

            Brechin Bridge, the main entry into the town from the east, was only repaired enough to use this week. Until then, motorists had to go to Brechin via Montrose (doubling the time and the cost).  And the bridge will have to close again in the summer when river levels subside to repair the lower levels of the bridge.

            The Scottish government initially disbursed some emergency funding but it is very easy for Central Belt politicians to forget places like Brechin.  They don’t count in the big scheme of things.

Lochaber doesn’t want to be a National Park

            Local opposition is becoming vocal to a plan to designate the whole of Lochaber as a National Park, with concerns surrounding the possibility of job losses, over-tourism and rising house prices.  More than 6000 online supporters have registered their concerns, including the suspicion that local residents were kept in the dark about the plans, only finding out through the pressure group.

            Opponents say national parks do not work in towns and working communities, nor the area out to the Small Isles, with the fishing and marine leisure industries not consulted.  The cost of the national park is estimated at £13 million a year, but Belford Hospital in Fort William is very stretched particularly in the summer with a huge influx of tourists, and was already due to be replaced at a cost of £160 million to the government.  But this plan was dealt a blow recently when government budget cuts mean there is now no cash to do it.

            Dunvegan Primary School needs replaced, as does the Corran ferry, as well as road upgrades, and some accommodation businesses closing due to government regulations. Locals complain of over-tourism already and roads which are choked in the summer. Another national park by 2026 was one of the conditions of the Bute House Agreement, some say without seeing whether another one is actually needed or will add to existing problems.

What about a Coast and Marine National Park?

            Research has shown that two thirds of Scots want a new national park to include coastal and marine areas in it, with 33% strongly supporting it and 30% somewhat supporting it.  Only 10% of respondents oppose the idea.  Submissions for the new national park must be lodged by February 29th, after which a detailed investigation will be undertaken by NatureScot, and legislation will follow in due course.        

Loch Tay Development

            Discovery Land Company (DLC) has applied to build a golf cart maintenance complex on land at Kenmore which is earmarked for affordable homes under a development plan already lodged with Perth and Kinross Council, arguing that there will still be enough space for 24 affordable homes even when the golf cart maintenance complex is built on the 16-hectare site.            

            But the maintenance complex will include a garage, wash bays, offices, access routes and other landscaping, reducing the land available for housing.  Initially the plot was estimated to be enough land for 21-33 homes of which 25% would be affordable, with the remainder low cost and/or mid-market housing or staff accommodation.  The plans site the housing next to existing residential properties rather than near the castle or the high-end housing under construction.

           Public objections must be made to PKC’s planning department before February 23rd, 2024.

First Scottish Forced Land Sale

          A forgotten piece of land in St Andrews has become the first private property seized under a ‘forced sale’, with the owners, an offshore trust on the Isle of Man, ordered to sell to a local community group which got £61,750 government money for a buyout which the owners refused.

         Scottish Conservatives are naturally fizzing about a ‘sinister land grab’, but opponents hope it will be the start of local people taking precedence over absentee landowners who allow land to fall into disrepair when it could be put to good local use.  The aim of the legislation, introduced in 2020, was to force sales if land would be used for sustainable development and a change of ownership would be the best way of achieving a significant community benefit.

Flip of a Coin gives Council an Extra £2 million

            Housing developer Artisan Real Estate must pay £3 million to Edinburgh City Council for its development of 256 flats and commercial space in Ferry Road.  Council was deadlocked on how much the company should pay towards local education infrastructure under the section 75 procedure.  Should it be £1 million as proposed by the Conservatives, or £3 million as the SNP wanted?  A second vote stalled so the unusual solution was agreed on, with the Conservative councillor ironically the one who called the flip of the coin and cost the developers more.

            But Artisan are not happy, saying the extra cash award may jeopardise the project altogether.

Business: SNIB controversially invests in Luxury Surfing Resort

            Just as many public swimming pools around Scotland are being shut down by councils who cannot afford to keep them open, the publicly-owned Scottish National Investment Bank has seen fit to invest £38.8 million in the Lost Shore Surf Centre in Edinburgh, which will include a 750 ft beachfront, accommodation pods and luxury lodges, a spa and live events venue.

            SNIB said the investment supports its ‘place mission’ and create new job opportunities, but it is unclear whether any profits from the venture will be repayable to the bank at some point.

The planned Conversion Therapy Ban

            may be beyond Holyrood’s powers, according to leading KC Aidan O’Neill, who calls it a ‘disproportionate intrusion into private and family life and freedom of religion and freedom of expression’.  He points out that it would not just affect parents of gay or trans children, but that parents objecting to  heterosexual children who wish to dress in an over-sexualised or provocative way may not be able to do anything to stop them.  Ditto if children wanted to associate with what their parents regarded as ‘unsuitable’ or dangerous friends.  Healthcare professionals, family members and religious leaders would be in the firing line, with church leaders possibly having to impose state-decreed dogmas instead of their faith positions.

            O’Neill called the proposals ‘fundamentally illiberal in intent and effect’, ‘jellyfish legislation’ with concepts such as gender identity not defined but possibly entailing criminality.

The Scottish Prison Service

            is refusing to reveal the responses of female prisoners to a poll about sharing accommodation with male-bodied inmates, on the grounds that it would breach confidentiality.  And the SPS will no longer disclose how many male-bodied prisoners are held in the female estate.  Caroline McAllister of ‘Women Won’t Wheesht’ says the SPS claim that women are not bothered about men in their prisons is wrong, and that female prisoners are fearful of sanctions if they speak up.  If women really aren’t bothered, why doesn’t SPS publish the poll results?

Food Subsidies to Continue

            Humza Yousaf has confirmed to NFU Scotland that 70% of the total future farm support of £620 million a year will continue as direct payments, confounding environmental activists who wanted conditionality attached to any subsidies.  Only 30% of subsidies will have conditionality attached to aims like creating wetlands and restoring peatland.  Up until 2027, 80% of support cash will be direct payments, with the present system in place in Scotland until at least 2026.

            About 85% of farmland in Scotland is classed as ‘less favoured’, with a high prevalence of uphill farming and crofting, generally grassland rather than rich arable land.   The Agriculture and Rural Communities Bill going through Holyrood will encourage sustainable regenerative agriculture and avoids the cliff edge of a sudden loss of subsidies which would have a disastrous effect on Scotland’s food production.

Health and Social Care:

           Fresh from his failure to commit anything to keep Grangemouth refinery open, and his move to Health Secretary, Neil Gray now feels it may be difficult to keep the NHS free at the point of use, given budgetary constraints, and is taking his plans to Cabinet shortly.  He is looking for greater productivity among other things, a bit insulting to healthcare staff already on the edge.

           Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership (GHSCP) is suffering an £86 million funding gap at the same time as its reserves are almost exhausted.  The partnership is responsible for administering social care, addiction and homelessness support, child protection and criminal justice services, but is ‘almost certain’ to fail to meet its legal requirements.  This financial year they had to make £22m budget cuts, and the recent Home Office decision on ‘batch’ asylum approvals will significantly worsen homelessness, with the council likely having to house 1800 successful applicants when homes are simply not available.

          Cuts may be made to rehab costs, services to children living with addicted adults, and care home places for older people, and even care placements for children.

Bridges buckling under Heavier Vehicles

            Larger, heavier vehicles are causing problems in parking spaces designed for smaller cars, with electric vehicle batteries making cars much heavier.  Multi-storey car parks, bridges and potholed roads are buckling under the strain of electric vehicles being 33% heavier than petrol ones, which themselves are heavier than they were when much of the infrastructure was built.  The new Range Rover weights nearly 3 tons, almost twice the 1970 version. 

            One multi-storey car park in Berkshire was closed on safety grounds as it was ‘crumbling’ and Glasgow’s plan to extend the size of existing spaces will cost 2000 spaces.  Over 400 of the 3,105 UK bridges already deemed unable to carry the largest loads are in Scotland, with remedial costs estimated at over £1 bn.  Potholes worsened by heavy vehicles, will cost £1.7 bn to repair.

            Edinburgh Council is considering imposing congestion charges for cars entering the central and business areas.  And with the legal weight for driving under a standard Category B driving licence being 3.5 tons, a fully loaded SUV may now weigh more than that, requiring a different driving licence.

Finally

            A soggy fox in East Lothian had to just bite the bullet and swim for safety when he became cut off by the tide when looking for food.  He became stranded in the Firth of Forth lying in wait for birds off the beach at Longniddry, being forced to swim more than 900ft to safety.  Initially recoiling at the freezing water, he eventually decided he had no choice and made it to safety with only one stop to rest on a rock.

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