The final regular update from Highlands & Islands Labour MSP David Stewart before the election in May covers a host of subjects – this is an edited version but we’ve tried to keep all the salient points specific to Moray intact.
Readers should note that all MSP’s whose constituencies include Moray and our MP have been invited to submit similar regular articles in the past but have, thus far, elected not to accept the offer.
SEPA Flood Warnings
Earlier this month I became involved in the issue across Moray, but particularly in Forres, of SEPA issuing flood warnings for residents of that area on Wednesday 30 December 2015, from out of date maps and technology.
SEPA had issued a flood warning shortly before 4pm on Wednesday (December 30, 2015) stating that West Forres was in danger of flooding from the river Findhorn, along with the A96 at that location. Similar warnings were issued at the Broom of Moy and Waterford and for the Seafield area.
Local Independent councillor, George Alexander, has already been vocal with his comments lambasting SEPA for using an out of date flood map on the Forres warning, and claimed they had created unnecessary panic by not taking into account the new flood alleviation scheme which was opened last year.
The new Pilmuir and River Findhorn flood scheme protects Forres from flooding was opened last spring, and includes a pumping station to direct water away from residential areas, in the event of inundation.
I did read somewhere that SEPA have allegedly said that there was no guarantee against flooding and that was why they issued the warning. However, I would say that before you spend £45million building a scheme to prevent flooding, you must be pretty sure that it is going to work.
I wrote to SEPA and just received a response from Terry A’Hearn, Chief Executive of SEPA, apologising for the undue anxiety caused to some residents of Forres.
The letter continued: “As a result of heavy rainfall and the associated forecast a Flood Alert message was sent to floodline registered customers and the emergency services. The duty Flood Warning Officer followed current procedures which do not take into account the new flood alleviation schemes.”
Terry A’Hearn then went onto explain that Moray Council are not adopting the flood alleviation schemes until this month, with updated flood warnings being issued later this year and all customers being notified.
First of all, it is right and proper that the Chief Executive apologise for the anxiety caused, but it fails me why it can take so long for Moray Council and SEPA to come together and agree adoption of the new flood alleviation schemes. I would have thought this could have happened within weeks of these schemes being completed.
This month I have stepped up my campaign to improve road management, driver behaviour and road safety on the A96 Inverness–Elgin Road.
Just this week I wrote to the Transport Minister proposing increased HGV speed from 40mph to 50mph, improved signage especially in relation to advisory signage telling drivers of slow moving vehicles to pull over and let faster vehicles passed.
I also proposed additional laybys and suggested building a crawler lane or overtaking lane between Inverness and Nairn, similar to the two between Brodie and Elgin.
Excessive speed, driver behaviour, road conditions and importantly frustration contribute to road collisions. The Police are rightly pretty good at dealing with speeding drivers, they are easy to deal with and are responsible for generating millions in fines.
What I want to know is what is being done about the motorists that use the A96 Inverness – Elgin Road every day, usually at peak rush hour times and have 20 or 30 vehicles queuing up behind them. All they have to do is engage common sense and pull over, but they don’t.
Frustration makes some drivers take a course of action which is not acceptable – they take risks, risks to their own and other people’s lives. We need to address adverse driver behaviour and also those elements of driving that cause frustration.
Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT)
I am backing calls for military personnel living in service-provided accommodation to be exempt from the new Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT).
Our military personnel are in a unique situation when it comes to housing. Serving in the military often means posted to different locations with the necessity of living in service-provided accommodation.
It is not uncommon that during a prolonged posting in one location service personnel buy an ‘off base’ home. For tax purposes, this will become their main residence. However, if they are then posted away, the fear is that, once again, being in service-provided accommodation the house they own will be regarded as a second home for tax purposes.
We often call upon service personnel to prepare for when they leave the service. Having a home to go to is the best preparation they can have. The extra financial burden of the LBTT will not encourage this important piece of forward planning.
The Military Covenant allows for the taxation system to be adapted to reflect particular circumstances. Consequently, I am calling on the Scottish Government to take into account the unique nature of service life and to exempt service personnel from the main residence conditions of the LBTT, when they have been living in service-provided accommodation.
Derelict Buildings in Moray
I also stepped into the issue of dealing with derelict buildings which I understand was being discussed at the Moray Council Planning and regulatory services committee recently. It is understood that the Authority have identified 100 such premises in Moray and they were looking at compulsory purchase orders to allow them to deal effectively with same.
I managed to introduce a Member’s Bill in 2014, – ‘Buildings (Recovery of Expenses) (Scotland) Bill’, – which became law and gives Local Authorities extra powers to re-coup their costs when dealing with defective and dangerous buildings.
The Bill reintroduces charging orders which will enable Local Authorities to recover their costs in a more efficient and cost effective manner.
Too many buildings have been allowed to drift into disrepair and need urgent remedy. It is, of course the owners’ responsibility to repair buildings. My Bill aims to enable councils to carry out desperately needed repairs whilst shifting the financial burden back to the owners themselves.
I am optimistic that that Local Authorities will proactively use this new power to ensure they will not be out of pocket when stepping in to deal with building standards issues. This will mean they will feel more confident in carrying out repairs, hopefully leading to less repairs being delayed, scaled back or even cancelled due to concerns over cost recovery.
Indirectly, it will hopefully also stimulate the repair and maintenance sector of the construction industry as more repairs will be carried out.
Visit to Moray
Finally, I visited Moray on 15 January 2016 and was joined by Councillor John Divers. The first appointment was a really interesting visit to Mohn Aqua based at Forres Enterprise Park – they build innovative products for the fish farm industry.
We then travelled to Elgin and met the city BID team, before having a surgery at the Elgin Youth Café. The afternoon was particularly enjoyable as we were welcomed to RAF Lossiemouth by Commanding Officer Group Captain Paul Godfrey OBE MA RAF and had very meaningful discussions with the station commander and his executive team.