Speech on Woodland and Green Spaces : Scottish Parliament 12th. December 2007

Johann Lamont : I welcome the opportunity to contribute to what I perhaps uncharitably described—when I first heard what was to be debated—as a tree-hugging debate.
Those of a more cynical bent might think that it is a time filler, but given my lack of cynicism and my happy disposition, I am happy to acknowledge that there are important and challenging issues in the debate, both for the Administration and for members.

I say to Rob Gibson that the point about SPP 11 is not a diversion but a central issue.
I am sure that he would have acknowledged that in the past, even though now, in power, he is unable to do so.
My first point is that woodlands and green spaces are particularly important for those in urban areas such as my constituency.

I ask the minister to confirm that the Executive intends to pursue environmental justice and address the anxiety that I have about the decision to merge Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
He will recall that, when the First Minister was asked about the matter, he said that everything would be okay because they would be absorbed into a rural services body. If any communities deserve the protection of SEPA, it is surely those in urban areas that already live with the consequences of industrial development, pollution and dereliction over time.
I would like an answer to that point.
Secondly, I am also sure that the minister will confirm and recognise the importance of green spaces and woodlands in addressing the health needs of people in areas of deprivation.

In my own constituency for example, excellent work has been done on a localised basis to reach out to men who do not address their own health needs.
As well as education, that has included an activity group, including jogging and walking outdoors. Considering such a project, the importance of urban woodland space becomes obvious.
The minister may be aware of serious concerns at a local level about the funding of such projects because of uncertainty in the community regeneration fund and the role of community planning partnerships.

Indeed, I understand that health boards were not consulted on those plans ahead of the budget, and I look for some reassurance on that localised budgeting, which makes such a difference to the community projects that bring together health issues and the environment.
My third point, on SPP 11, is the most important.

I want particularly to appeal to those Scottish National Party back benchers who have a long record of supporting moves to protect green space in urban areas.
I urge them to support our moderate amendment.
It asks them not to take a view, but to agree that there should be further consultation on certain questions.
Let me give members a brief history lesson.

As has been indicated, SPP 11 was put out in draft form for consultation.
Critical elements included timescale for audit and minimum standards within new developments.
Anyone who represents an area where there has been a new development will understand that if open space is not included at the beginning, people will reject it being put beside them at a later stage. If it is really important, it should be done during the development.
I am not clear why the SNP would indicate that that issue is somehow a matter for local government, considering how other planning matters are dealt with.
Another critical element in the consultation was non-sporting green spaces.
Those were tough choices, so it was deeply disappointing that, once consulted on, those critical elements were dropped.

That decision did not correlate with what the consultation found.
The elements were dropped after a redraft was circulated to a number of stakeholders, and it is disappointing that there was not a further opportunity to consider that difficult shift.
I will quote two groups.

The spokesman for Fields in Trust said:
"There is a sense of deep, deep disappointment.

"There was an expectation that we would be one of the best countries in Europe in terms of open space planning but these hopes have been dashed".
The spokesperson for Play Scotland spoke of its "huge disappointment" with the SNP:
"There is huge pressure on local authorities to release land for developers and they have the upper hand at the moment.

"That is not a good situation for Scotland."
The Labour amendment would provide for further consultation.

This week of all weeks we need to give confidence that the planning system seeks to find a balance between development and the protection of the environment.
The draft of SPP 11 that went out for consultation gave that; the filleted version does not.
Our amendment would ensure simply that, by consulting further on the critical elements, people can feel confident that this Administration, like the previous one, understands the balance and is transparent in delivering it. SPP 11 is about a good environment across Scotland, and I urge back benchers to support the Labour amendment on that basis.