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Politics / I’ve listened to marine area concerns, first minister says

Humza Yousaf pictured in Lerwick in August 2022. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

FIRST minister Humza Yousaf has reiterated that the Scottish Government will engage with fishing communities over proposed highly protected marine areas (HPMAs).

He was asked about the thorny topic at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday afternoon as he unveiled his blueprint for the next three years of government.

The Scottish Government has just finished consulting on proposals to introduce HPMAs to ensure “clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse seas”.

But the seafood industry has expressed deep concern given that aquaculture activity would be banned in these areas.

Yousaf said he has listened to the concerns of coastal and fishing communities, and committed to the government engaging on the matter in the future.

“We are not going to impose these policies on communities that don’t want them,” Yousaf said.

Meanwhile the government has also committed to spending £25 million on a scheme convert suitable properties – such as empty houses – into affordable homes for key workers and others, as part of an action plan to increase housing in remote, rural and island areas.

The new document New Leadership – A Fresh Start document confirms that the government will deliver a remote, rural and island housing action plan.

This would “set out our approach to rural housing delivery, including support for community housing trusts, and actions to allow suitable properties, including empty homes, to be purchased, or long leased, and turned into affordable housing for those who need them in rural areas, including key workers”.

The topic was a feature of Yousaf’s SNP leadership campaign.

He said it is important for key workers like NHS staff and care workers to have housing, as well as for people in rural communities.

It is an issue which has been felt in Shetland over recent years, with some people moving up to the isles struggling to find a place to stay.

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In comes as the Scottish Government consults on proposals to give councils the ability to raise the amount of council tax paid on empty and second homes.

Yousaf said: “We want everyone in Scotland to have an affordable home that meets their needs and this work to improve the availability of sustainable long-term housing opportunities is a core part of that.”

The government’s new document also confirms the government will deliver “six new major vessels on the ferry network”.

There is also continued support six Scottish Islands – including Yell – to become carbon neutral by 2040.

Yousaf also confirmed that the introduction of the controversial deposit return scheme will be delayed to March 2024.

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