Lockdown and Covid19 has not stopped Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) proceeding with their plans for Remote Towers.
HIAL have commenced a retrospective impact assessment for their plans and it is now ‘well underway.’
The Islands Act was supposed to prevent developments taking place which would affect island communities in the Northern and Western Isles without having first completed impact assessments.
Prospect, the trade union which represents the air traffic controllers working for HIAL have said that the response by HIAL shows ‘contempt’ for the Islands Act.
Prospect argues that the move to Remote Towers would not only remove vital employment from the Highland and Island economies but would reduce safety and connectivity by leaving air traffic control facilities at the mercy of unreliable connectivity.
Staff, local councils and MSPs have been arguing that the Islands Act, which requires an Islands Impact Assessment (IIA) to be completed setting out the impact of changes on Island economies, should be used to force a rethink in these plans.
However HIAL have made it clear prior to commencing the consultation that they will not change their plans, regardless of the result of the IIA, rendering the whole process a sham, according to Prospect.
Inglis Lyon, HIAL’s Managing Director said:
“As there is currently no guidance on how island impact assessments should be undertaken, the Scottish Government Islands Team was consulted for guidance before starting the process.
“The approach the independent consultant is taking reflects the Islands Act’s requirement that an islands impact assessment should ‘describe the likely significantly different effect of the policy, strategy or service compared to its effect on other communities (including other island communities) in the area in which the authority exercises its functions’
“The process underway will also assess ‘the extent to which the authority considers that the policy, strategy or service can be developed or delivered in such a manner as to improve or mitigate, for island communities, the outcomes resulting from it’.
“The island community impact assessment will not recommend whether the programme should or should not go ahead, rather it will highlight where mitigating actions are required to address any significant impact the programme may have on a particular community.”
The impact assessment for HIAL will be carried out by Reference Economic Consultants. It is clear from the statement from Inglis Lyon that the decision will not be overturned, despite its impact on the islands, but that only actions to mitigate the impact will be considered.
Prospect negotiations officer David Avery said:
“The Islands Act was supposed to protect Island economies from exactly these kind of misguided changes, but on its first real test it is being shown up as essentially worthless.
“The contempt HIAL are showing for the spirit and intent of the legislation must surely force the Scottish Parliament to demand that the law is strengthened so that truly independent assessments can be mandated and their results respected.
“If HIAL allowed to force through this change in the teeth of opposition from local communities, local politicians, and their own staff, then the credibility of the Islands Act and of the Scottish Government’s stated policy to protect Island economies will be in tatters.
“It is perfectly feasible to deliver the improvements the projects is attempting to deliver while maintaining employment and services in Island communities however HIAL refuse to consider this, despite it being cheaper and easier to deliver.”