A week at Westminster with Gordon MP Malcolm Bruce

Vote to keep Aberdeenshire Local

Local elections on May 3 will shape local priorities for the next four years. Liberal Democrats have led Aberdeenshire Council for 16 years. It has been assessed as a well run council delivering services cost effectively and Aberdeenshire ranks as one of the best places to live and work.

Turnout in local elections is often low but the services councils deliver are important and I hope people will turn out. Liberal Democrat priorities are to work with local people and communities to meet the challenges ahead in ways that best meet local needs. That is why Liberal Democrats do not produce national manifestos for local government. Each area produces its own. This contrasts with the SNP who are clearly looking for councillors to be cheerleaders for independence and central control such as through a national police force – not what Aberdeenshire needs right now.

Time for a moratorium on wind turbine apps

With over half Scotland’s wind turbine planning applications being submitted in Aberdeenshire, it is clear that planners and councillors are being overwhelmed.

I firmly believe that we need the widest diversification of energy sources and we need more renewable energy to enable us to lower carbon use. Nevertheless, it seems to me that local councils, such as Aberdeenshire, should be allowed to have a moratorium on applications in those areas where there is a likelihood of saturation being achieved.

Some applications are clearly speculative. Others have a clear community benefit. At any one time there are approved applications which are not progressing, making it difficult for planners to determine how many turbines will actually be built in any one area.

I have no time for the petulant and hysterical intervention of Donald Trump into the equation. Apart from anything else, the seascape off Balmedie is a busy maritime highway with oilfield supply and support vessels, cargo ships and parked oil rigs.

In any case, in the longer run it is to be hoped that offshore wind generation may supersede onshore wind as the principal source of wind generated electricity, in the process helping to diversify the oilfield support industry and bring investment to our smaller ports.

In a number of recent cases, the Ministry of Defence have submitted late objections, having initially waived any concerns. A moratorium which allowed a more considered approach to each application would help avoid this.

Such a power would probably require legislation but I would urge Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament to consider it. I would not necessarily envisage a planning authority imposing a moratorium across its whole area or for every kind of application but where there was a potential proliferation of turbines beyond the council’s own assessment of saturation. This would enable applications already approved to be considered alongside new applications and lead to a ruling that, in a given area, no new applications would be accepted until those already granted had either gone ahead or lapsed.

Let’s work together to deliver Inveramsay, Tipperty and others.

Of course, I welcome the announcement of an agreed line of route for the replacement or effective elimination of the notorious Inveramsay Bridge. I attended the viewing of the alternatives last year and had a clear idea of the best route.

The Minister stated that the work was due to be completed during this Parliament subject to statutory process. If this is achieved that will be welcome but it is worth noting that Alex Salmond stated shortly after he was elected in 2007 that it would be completed by the end of the last Parliament i.e. 2011.

Mr Salmond seems obsessed with personally attacking me for the lack of action on Inveramsay Bridge. One thing I have learned over the years, which, apparently Mr Salmond has not, is that securing infrastructure investment requires engagement at all levels with administrations of different complexions – and it takes time.

From Bucksburn to Huntly, upgrades and by-passes have been completed and I have worked for them all. The Tipperty section of the A90 has been in and out of Government programmes since before the by-pass was mooted, and the rest of the Ellon to Aberdeen section converted to dual carriageway. The only reason it is not completed is that the Scottish Government chose to link it to the delayed Western Peripheral Route. Why don’t they just get on with it?

A couple of weeks ago I was in Fraserburgh, where poor transport links are a key issue compromising jobs and investment in the town. The question people might reasonably ask is why 25 years of SNP representation has failed to secure the upgrades they need.

Tax cuts and pension boost a remarkable achievement

The first, extended two year session of Parliament is coming to a close. It has inevitably been demanding and controversial as the main reform agenda of the Coalition Government has passed into law.

The scale of the problems facing the UK and the wider economies of OECD countries is daunting. The Government has not only had to tackle the biggest post war deficit we have ever faced but reform health and welfare systems and the way government works.

It is easy to criticise details of the Government’s programme which are the result of difficult decisions. However, if people do not acknowledge the scale of the problem and identify how they would approach the deficit they risk being just destructively negative.

In these circumstances, where the UK economy is flat-lining and trading partners are in reverse, it is remarkable that we have been able to maintain the UK’s Triple A credit rating and consequent low interest rates. Against this background, the fact that the Government have raised the tax threshold from £6,475 to £9,205 next year and then £10,000 is a remarkable achievement especially when pensions and most benefits have also been raised by inflation – delivering an increase in the state pension.

The slight reduction in unemployment last month is also encouraging, with positive improvements in the private sector, but it is far too early to say whether the economy is yet turning round. There is still a lot of heavy lifting to do.