The Islands Bill: First Stage of A National Islands Plan
The long awaited Islands Bill is now at Stage 1 in the Scottish Parliament having been introduced by Fergus Ewing the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, in the Scottish Government on 9 June 2017. But what will it mean for island communities and more specifically for us in Orkney? Let’s have a closer look at what it is proposing so far.
“A Bill for an Act of the Scottish Parliament to make provision for a national islands plan; to impose duties in relation to island communities on certain public authorities; to make provision about the electoral representation of island communities; and to establish a licensing scheme in respect of marine development adjacent to islands. “
The Bill comes after many years of consultations, negotiations and extremely hard work by all 3 Island Authorities and the Scottish Government. Councillor Steve Heddle, who stood down as the OIC Leader this year was instrumental in getting this to the stage it is at now. Starting out in 2013 with ‘Our Islands Our Future’ and progressing through many discussions including the important issues of the Crown Estate, social and economic matters, energy, renewables, transport and how we are represented locally.
Guiding the Bill through the Scottish Parliament will be the Islands Minister Humza Yousaf who said:
“This is the first ever bill for Scotland’s islands, marking an historic milestone for our island communities. I am proud and privileged as Islands Minister to be guiding the Bill through Scotland’s Parliament. ”
You can view the Islands Bill here
One of the thing to be looked at during the progress of the Islands Bill is the number of councillors we have in Orkney in each ward and how they are distributed with the multi member wards. This area will be explored with the Boundary Commission.
“This section of the Bill amends the 2004 Act to provide an exception to the usual three or four member rule for electoral wards in relation to wards which consist either wholly or mainly of one or more inhabited islands. In these circumstances the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland will have the flexibility to propose wards of one or two members”.
The issue of 3/4 councillors representing more than 1 island (or part of an island) may change so that in future separate islands may have a sole councillor (or 2 depending on size of ward) representing them.
With the following being taken into account:
- the interests of effective and convenient local government
- that each councillor should as near as possible represent the same number of electors
- the desirability of fixing boundaries that are easily identifiable
- any local ties which would be broken by making a particular boundary
- special geographic considerations that may need different treatment
It may also remain unchanged.
Island Proofing is another phrase for Impact Assessment. What this means is that before any legislation is passed by the Scottish Parliament or before other public authorities carry out changes in the delivery of a service that these changes must be tested to ensure that they are not detrimental to the lives of island communities.
“The intention is that island communities impact assessments will become a normal procedural step in public authorities’ decision-making processes, in the manner of the equality impact assessment, used in relation to the duties contained in the Equality Act 2010.”
Humza Yousaf said:
“The provision to ‘island-proof’ decision-making across the public sector will ensure the interests of islanders are reflected in future legislation and policy from the very outset.”
Anyone who wishes to carry out a development activity in the Islands Marine Area will have to first obtain a licence from the council. People who have already been granted a licence will not be affected by this. Excluded from the granting of marine licences are:
- oil & gas
These are all reserved matters to the UK Government. Also excluded is Fish Farming. This is because planning permission from a local authority is already required for fish farming.
The Marine Licences will cover the “Scottish Islands Marine Area” “which is up to a radius of 12 nautical miles from an island, measured from the low water mark of the ordinary spring tide.”
The Crown Estate
During the consultation period in the preparation of the Islands Bill the issue of the Crown Estate was raised by many contributors. This will be addressed through a separate Crown Estate Bill. There will also be a separate Bill for Planning.
The Islands Bill has been welcomed by the new Leader of Orkney Islands Council, James Stockan who said:
“We will be working tirelessly with Scottish government to ensure that there is an objective standard by which decisions over whether to conduct an ‘Islands Communities Assessment’ are made and also how the legislation will be interpreted.”
“The Guidance to be issued by Scottish Government will be central in determining how this will work in practice. We hope to have a meaningful role in the development of this Guidance and will be working closely with the Minister for Transport and Islands, Humza Yousaf, through the Islands Strategic Group to achieve this.”
Commenting Islands Minister Humza Yousaf said:
“The National Islands Plan will set out the strategic direction for supporting island communities, continuing the momentum generated by the ‘Our Islands Our Future’ campaign and the work of the Islands Strategic Group.”
Local MSP Maree Todd SNP said:
“I know that Islands by their very nature are special places with unique needs – so I welcome this historic bill which is designed to meet the distinct requirements of our Islands.”
“In particular, I am really pleased to see the provision of ‘island-proofing’ which will ensure that all future legislation and government policies takes into account the distinct interests and needs of islanders.”
Reporter: Fiona Grahame