1. In your opinion, what is the most pressing environmental issue facing the Edinburgh Northern and Leith constituency?
The two most pressing environmental issues facing the constituency is cleaner transport and warmer homes.
Of these, the transport one is the easier to tackle. We can encourage cycle use by upgrading cycle lanes on streets, like Leith Walk and Lower Granton Road, wide enough to handle them. 26,000 people live with 800m of Leith Walk and in storage right now, there is enough materials to have the trams run to the Foot of the Walk. Let's get on with it.
2. If elected, how will you use your role as MSP to encourage the Scottish Government and Edinburgh Council to improve how they work together on environmental issues facing this constituency?
Edinburgh Council is currently undergoing severe levels of cuts and while the Scottish Government always demand more services, it's no good if there is no funding for the changes. Liberal Democrats would free councils to raise and keep more money to spend in their local communities instead of having to be dictated to by central government.
If elected as your MSP, I will ensure that I keep good lines of communication open with Edinburgh Council. It is important that each level of government understand each other and, despite any party differences, common ground is found to work together for the good of all.
The main environmental issue affecting the city (and nation as a whole) will be to bring up the energy efficiency of our existing homes. We will need transparent communications between central government and local authorities to achieve this.
3. How will you use your role to inspire and encourage greater pride and civic engagement in our public spaces?
It would be great if we have more of them! We really need more green spaces and play spaces incorporated in the new residential plans for the Port of Leith.
What parks that we have are well used and I would be sympathetic to turning over more space to allotments. This is already been done in Victoria Park for instance. For public health and fitness, I would also like to see more outdoor gyms, as already exist in Musselburgh and Silverknowles. These can be put into quite small spaces that would otherwise be neglected.
I want to see Stedfastgate brought back up to some form of good use. The fountain monument there has been vandalised, brick paving ripped up and seating damaged. If areas like these had some form of dual usage then they are more likely to be appreciated.
4. When local issues are so important for many constituents, how will you ensure that the global issue of climate change, and our impact, is always kept front of mind?
I spent twenty years travelling the world in energy so know the reality of global energy generation first hand. We live in exciting times however because even the industry itself realise that the time of oil is drawing to the end. Our energy is moving over to electricity and that means more local generation. It does not mean however that Scotland is isolated from the rest of the world. We will be still importing gas for the next twenty or thirty years while our renewable industry grows. Scotland will still be a part of the UK and European-wide power network and will, at different times, be an energy importer and exporter.
It is for these reasons that Scotland cannot be isolationist in outlook. How the UK and Europe generates energy will continue to affect us and greenhouse gas emissions, regardless of what we do here. We have to continue to take an interest in the global energy picture.
5. Which environmental policy do you think the current Scottish Government has been successful at implementing over the last 5 years, and which policy could do with some improvement?
Liberal Democrats do welcome the start made by the Scottish Government on land registration, with private land being registered by 2025 and public land by 2020.
I wish I could be more generous but I can't think of another damn thing that has been successful. Great and ambitious environmental targets are set but are never reached. The Scottish Government has a statutory duty to eradicate fuel poverty by November 2016. It refuses to accept this is going to be missed despite the fact a third of households (845,000) are in fuel poverty. In some rural and remote areas (Orkney for instance) it is almost two-thirds.
I have been at hustings where the SNP claim that the nation is on target to meet our renewable heating targets by 2020. The target for that year is 11% and currently we are at 3% renewable heating production. How is that even near being "on target"? If we are going to be anywhere near the 40% target set for 2030, we have to move on this immediately.
If the SNP are serious about reducing Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions, why is it that at a Spectator event here in Edinburgh on the 28th of April, George Kerevan MP, SNP representative on the Treasury Select Committee, appeared on stage with Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, and agreed to half tax on Air Passenger Duty by 2018? Anybody with environmental awareness knows that that air travel is the worst method in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and that aviation fuel is otherwise untaxed at any level.
6. Where do you stand on amending the current law on ownership of Scottish land or property by overseas companies to say that the land must be owned through a UK registered company or other organisation? (E.g. Much of the ownership of brownfields land in the constituency is by offshore companies who are hard to trace.)
The law needs changing. Where I live in Newhaven Harbour, I look over the brownfield site whose exact ownership is only known to the lawyers involved.
Liberal Democrats will work with other parties to ensure:
An effective and transparent land register for Scotland
We will work with other parties to establish fair taxation based upon land value in order to replace the council tax.
Liberal Democrats would like to see the right for local communities to purchase land extended to urban communities, and especially applied to neglected or abandoned plots.
7. What is your stance on equal rights of appeal under the planning system? Currently only planning applicants can submit appeals, not councils or other community organisations.
I see the need for reform, especially when councils fail to represent the views the local community. The redevelopment of the Accies site in Stockmarket was railroaded through by the council in the teeth determined local opposition. In these circumstances the local community should indeed have the right to appeal and that any process should be affordable.
Local communities cannot have the right to veto in all circumstances however. Now it is debatable whether the trams were a good idea or not but imagine if each neighbour had the right to appeal the route.
A balance is required between local effects and greater needs. Thus the effects of a retail development (such as Accies) is local and should be able to be appealed. I would want to look at the effects upon developments that have wider applications and am open to ideas on the issue.