Orkney's MSP, Liam McArthur, has today (Wednesday) reiterated his support for a petition calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to halt HIAL's Air Traffic Management Strategy.
Speaking at a meeting of Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee, which agreed to continue looking into the petition, Mr McArthur re-affirmed his opposition to HIAL's plans to centralise Air Traffic Control, which would move highly skilled jobs away from island communities and centralise operations in Inverness.
This follows questions raised by Mr McArthur yesterday in the Scottish Parliament chamber about whether HIAL's plans reflected, in part, the make-up of a Board with no members from an island community. The comments were made during a debate on similar concerns in relation to the make-up of CalMac's Board.
In March, HIAL’s own Island Impact Assessment into the proposals identified a series of “negative” and "significantly negative” impacts for islands communities, notably the loss of "high quality employment" and salaries from the local economy. A Digital Scotland report this summer also rated the plans as "amber-red" due to concerns over the deliverability of necessary infrastructure.
Commenting afterwards, Mr McArthur said:
"I welcome the committee's agreement to keep open the petition and seek further information on the range of issues identified within the Island Impact Assessment and Digital Scotland's report on HIAL's plans.
"The committee appeared to share my concern that Scottish Ministers have failed even to discuss with HIAL’s management the findings of the recent islands impact assessment. That report laid bare the potential consequences of this centralisation on local jobs and livelihoods, as well as our lifeline air services. It cannot simply be brushed aside without calling into question the credibility of the government’s Islands Act.
"Meanwhile, Digital Scotland has sounded the alarm on the achievability of HIAL’s plans when it comes to the necessary digital infrastructure. It is no wonder that these plans face opposition from island communities and representatives of every political party.
“Modernisation is undoubtedly needed, but the argument that the only way to do this is through centralisation is simply untrue. That is why it is so important that the Petitions Committee continues to keep this issue in the spotlight and demands answers from SNP Ministers and HIAL."
Speaking at the committee, Mr McArthur said:
"I would urge the committee to keep this petition open. I think there has been a lack of willingness by HIAL's management to accept the deep, deep concerns there are across all the communities served by the air traffic services that are to be centralised in Inverness.
"That goes across the political spectrum and those who have no political affiliation at all. I think there is no question that modernisation of air traffic control services is needed, that's not contested at all. What is fiercely contested is that the remote tower model is the only viable model that will achieve that modernisation and the regulatory requirements that are coming down the track.
"Since the last committee took evidence, the most substantive development has been the publication of the island impact assessment. Certainly, within an Orkney context it identified no positive benefits and a range of significant negative impacts from the centralisation proposals.
Therefore, I think there is a feeling in the community I represent that if the Islands Bill, and the “islands proofing” concept, is to mean anything then simply setting aside that islands impact assessment is simply not a sustainable position. In written questions, Ministers have confirmed that they have had no engagement with HIAL's management on the outcome of that island impact assessment which seems to me unjustified and unsatisfactory."