Kate Forbes: "Scrap the proposed HPMAs and back local control"

The SNP leadership candidate Kate Forbes has promised to scrap plans for Highly Protected Marine Areas if she emerges as First Minister and to consider devolving marine powers to local authorities.
The HPMAs would wipe out all forms of fishing in the seas of the Hebrides and the west coastThe HPMAs would wipe out all forms of fishing in the seas of the Hebrides and the west coast
The HPMAs would wipe out all forms of fishing in the seas of the Hebrides and the west coast

Her commitment is extremely significant not just for coastal communities in which it will be widely welcomed but also for the SNP’s coalition with the Greens since HPMAs have been repeatedly referred to as a key product of the so-called Bute House Agreement that brought them into the Scottish Government.

Ms Forbes has also lambasted her Ministerial colleagues for “poor decision-making”, policy-making in “silos” without regard for wider impacts and working against efforts to stem rural depopulation.

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She could not understand “why anyone in government” would have thought the current proposals a good idea.

Her intervention came against a background of mounting criticism of the HPMA plans.

This week, community councils in Harris described them as “insane” and said the “Scottish Government seems intent on depopulating our islands”.

Ms Forbes, who represents Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch at Holyrood, has committed herself to scrapping what is being consulted on and to “instead commission a feasibility study into devolving marine protection and inshore fisheries powers to local authorities”.

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She said “regulations shaped by coastal communities would better reflect local needs and values, while also protecting the marine ecosystem for future generations.”

In a comprehensive renunciation of the SNP Government’s approach, she said that “competent government” should look at the cumulative impact of any proposed legislation rather than working in a silo, and that the current HPMA proposals are “an example of how not to do government”.

Ms Forbes said: “I would commission a feasibility study into giving councils more power to ensure marine protection designations are effectively implemented and enforced, and ideally consult on which of Marine Scotland’s statutory responsibilities could be more effectively delivered by local authorities.

“Local communities are often the ones most affected by changes in marine ecosystems, and they can provide valuable knowledge and insight into the health of local fish stocks and other marine resources, and a more tailored approach could also improve monitoring and enforcement.

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“So I’d like to see a study consider if this way of working could improve outcomes, both for local communities and for the growth of the blue economy.”

The MSP said: “No other EU country has implemented HPMAs and there is no evidence to demonstrate they actually achieve their aims. The current plans will have a disproportionate socio-economic impact on our island and coastal communities, and could impact work being done in other parts of government to reverse population decline."

She added: “I cannot understand why anyone in government, particularly when we are deliberately trying to stem depopulation in rural areas, thought it would be a good idea to take such a blanket approach.”

The scathing and wide-ranging nature of Ms Forbes’ intervention contrasts with the approach taken by Na h’Eileanan Siar MSP, Alasdair Allan, who is supporting the Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf in the leadership contest.

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Mr Allan has so far declined to take a public position on the consultation paper which was published in December.

In a letter this week to Kenny Macleod, chairman of Harris Development Ltd, he said he had been “engaging with relevant local stakeholders over the past fortnight”.

The isles MSP continued: "I share a significant number of the concerns which have been raised locally on this issue in recent weeks with regards to the proportionality and enforceability of the proposed areas”.

Mr Allan said he would be meeting with the Minister, Mairi McAllan, to raise his concerns with her.

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In response, Mr Macleod told him: “It is the lack of public support from you for the precarious position that this legislation will put us in that is most worrying.

"I am sure that the vast majority of feedback from islanders will be against the project and as such I would have expected you to speak out against it too”.