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Community / Council ready to carry out island impact assessments

SIC leader Steven Coutts says the local authority needs to ‘practise what we preach’ when it comes to impact assessments

Foula. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

A FRAMEWORK is being put in place for Shetland Islands Council to carry out islands impact assessments on its own policies, strategies and services – but one elected member believes it is “just another case of government bureaucracy”.

Local government is one of the many authorities which is required through the Scottish Islands Act – under sections which came into force in December – to take into account island communities when implementing new policies.

This also extends to possible retrospective assessments.

Discussion of island impact assessments over the last few years have generally been around the effect national decisions could have on island communities like Shetland.

But a report to councillors this week said the local authority should prepare its own assessment if a policy, strategy or service would have an effect on an island community which is “significantly different from its effect on other communities” in its area.

This means that the council may end up preparing assessments for communities on Shetland’s outlying islands.

Shetland South member Allison Duncan, however, said at Tuesday’s policy and resources committee meeting that he felt making the council carry out its own assessments was another layer of bureaucracy from the Scottish Government.

He argued that the council has already been assessing the impact on communities.

Duncan also said the assessment carried out by consultants on Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) plans to centralise air traffic control in Inverness, which was not heard in parliament, was a “shambolic failure” by the government.

The council previously said the HIAL assessment was a “cursory process rather than a genuine process of engaging with the community around the issues, options, impacts and mitigation measures”.

“This is another area where I just don’t trust this present government,” Duncan said.

But council leader Steven Coutts said he was “very comfortable” with the prospect of carrying out islands impact assessments.

He admitted it would be odd if the council did not undertake them having pushed hard for the government to implement the islands act.

“I would be very confident…that we would very much take the view that our islands are there to be protected,” Coutts said.

The leader’s position was backed by others in the chamber, with Shetland South member George Smith sympathising with Duncan but urging him to “stick with it”.

“I think we need to make sure we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” he said.

However, Smith said the Scottish Government and HIAL – which it effectively owns – “should be ashamed of themselves” with regards to the islands impact assessment on air traffic control.

He said there has been “no commitment” shown from HIAL to deliver on the findings of the report.

Coutts though said that it laid bare the faults in the air traffic control programme – but he added that an organisation undertaking assessments needs to listen to the results.

The report received final approval from the full council on Wednesday.