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Chamber and committees

Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Agenda: Continued Petitions, New Petitions


New Petitions

Digital Communications Infrastructure (Permitted Development Rights) (PE1954)

The Convener

The next agenda item is consideration of new petitions. PE1954, which was lodged by Lorna Buntain, calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to amend the current permitted development rights for digital communications infrastructure to encourage the use of underground ducting for new broadband service installations and avoid the installation of unsightly telegraph poles and overhead cables; ensure that local communities are made aware of plans to install digital communications infrastructure in their areas and are given an opportunity to share their views prior to any installation work taking place; and ensure that all digital infrastructure, including underground ducting, is routinely maintained by the developer.

Lorna tells us that, as part of the roll-out of ultrafast full fibre broadband, Openreach has erected hundreds of telegraph poles across Lennoxtown and Milton of Campsie. That work was carried out without prior consultation with the local community. Having received no prior notice, local residents raised objections with Openreach about the installation of the telegraph poles only to receive what they felt were unhelpful and dismissive responses.

As we do with all new petitions, the committee requested an initial view from the Scottish Government. In its response to that request, the Scottish Government has highlighted that, although

“land use planning is a devolved power”,

telecommunications remains “a reserved matter”. In response to the petition’s aim to amend permitted development rights, the Scottish Government notes that the permitted development right for digital communications infrastructure was included in phase 1 of its review of permitted development rights and was amended following a public consultation in August 2020. The Scottish Government believes that, having been recently reviewed and updated, the

“current provisions ... strike an appropriate balance”

and it has no plans to further amend permitted development rights in that area.

Do members have any comments or suggestions for action?

Alexander Stewart

I note the petitioner’s comments, and it is also interesting to see the information that has come back from the Scottish Government. Looking at the permitted development rights on digital infrastructure, I am not sure that, in reality, we can take the petition much further. Therefore, I propose that we close it under rule 15.7 of standing orders on the basis that the Scottish Government has recently reviewed and updated the permitted development rights for digital infrastructure, considered its position and struck “an appropriate balance” and that there are no current plans for further amendments to those rights.

Thank you, Mr Stewart. Mr Ewing, I think that I saw you nodding in assent.

Yes. I agree with Mr Stewart.

Are we generally agreed, then?

Members indicated agreement.

We thank the petitioner but, in view of the response that we have received from the Scottish Government, we will close the petition under rule 15.7.

Public Toilets (PE1955)

The Convener

PE1955, lodged by John Wood, calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to ensure that local authorities provide good-quality, clean and accessible public toilets by placing a statutory duty on local authorities to provide adequate public toilets and ensuring that sufficient funding is available to local authorities to meet that requirement.

The Scottish Parliament information centre briefing highlights a 2018 BBC report, which revealed that 15 of the 28 Scottish councils that responded to an FOI request had fewer public toilets in 2018 than they had in 2010. The briefing also points to a comfort scheme that runs in a number of local authorities and which provides grants to businesses and organisations when they register to become providers of toilet facilities. I have to say that I was unaware of that scheme.

In its response, the Scottish Government states that

“there are no plans ... to make the provision of public toilets a statutory obligation on local authorities.”

It points to the rural tourism infrastructure fund, which includes

“project proposals”

to deliver

“new public toilets, car parking, and waste disposal facilities.”

In his response to the Scottish Government, the petitioner says that the provision of public toilets is

“a basic requirement of public and environmental health”,

not simply “an optional ‘tourism’ issue”. He points to the Scottish Government’s role in ensuring “health and environmental protection” as a demonstration of why the issue is of national importance.

I note from a motion lodged by one of our parliamentary colleagues that this is national toilet week, of which I was also unaware. We are therefore considering the petition at an apposite moment. Do members have any comments or suggestions for how to take the issue forward?


Fergus Ewing

It is appropriate, and very convenient, convener.

There is, in principle, a strong argument behind what the petition calls for, but there is a more practical option that we might pursue. I appreciate that it is perhaps not absolutely what the petitioner wants, but we might want to consider asking the Scottish Government whether it believes that the rural infrastructure fund could be continued and extended. I know that the fund is a popular financial provision with both local authorities and the Scottish Government. It is fairly flexible, and I know that it has been well used in Highland to address local issues of concern in places such as the fairy pools on Skye and has enabled solutions to be found to some long-standing local community issues.

Given that experience, I wonder whether we might even encourage the Scottish Government to work with local authorities on using the fund to fill gaps in the provision of public toilets throughout the country. The scheme, as a modus operandi, seems to be practical and has been working in practice for a good few years now.

The Convener

Are there any other suggestions or are members content to proceed on that basis? It might also be useful to write to Highland, South Ayrshire and Aberdeenshire councils in order to understand how the comfort schemes operate. As I have said, I was not previously aware of them, and I would be interested to find out how many businesses are actually supportive of the schemes and what effort had to be put into achieving them; what the annual cost is; and how widely advertised and understood the schemes are. They would seem to offer an opportunity that other councils might wish to take into account. In addition, councils might seek to use the rural infrastructure fund that Mr Ewing has suggested we write to the Government about as a means of facilitating that.

Are we agreed?

Members indicated agreement.

We will carry on the petition at our convenience.

Wheelchair Accessible Homes (PE1956)

The Convener

PE1956, lodged by Louise McGee, seeks to increase the provision of wheelchair-accessible homes. The petition calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to review the existing wheelchair-accessible housing target guidance, and to explore options for increasing the availability of wheelchair-accessible housing in Scotland.

In the background information to the petition, Louise tells us that she has been waiting for around five or six years to be offered a more suitable house, but the local authority has been unable to do so, due to a lack of wheelchair-accessible houses in the area. In its response to the petition, the Scottish Government has set out a range of actions being undertaken to increase the number of wheelchair-accessible houses across Scotland. They include making

“funding ... available through the Affordable Housing Supply Programme”

and publishing

“guidance for local authorities on the setting of Local Housing Strategy ... targets to support the delivery of ... wheelchair accessible housing across all tenures.”

The Scottish Government also states that it is taking forward reviews of the housing adaptations system and the “Housing for varying needs: a design guide” publication, and has suggested that

“the petitioner may wish to contribute to public consultations which will take place as part of this work.”

Do members have any suggestions that we might consider?

Alexander Stewart

The petitioner makes some valid points. Adaptations have been discussed in the past in the Parliament, and various committees have looked into the current situation and how it can be appraised.

I think it important that we continue with the petition, so I suggest that we write to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations to seek information on the progress that is being made to deliver more wheelchair-accessible homes across Scotland, in particular. We can also seek confirmation from the Scottish Government on issues that the petitioner has raised. For example, in the petitioner’s view, there are issues with the current housing adaptations system—as I have said, the system has been looked at by committees in the past—in respect of the management of adaptations, the backlog and any difficulties in that respect. Seeking confirmation from the Scottish Government would give us an update on the current situation.

Are members content to proceed on that basis?

Members indicated agreement.

The petition will stay open. We will write as suggested by Mr Stewart and consider the petition again in due course.

Motorhomes (Overnight Parking) (PE1962)

The Convener

PE1962, which was lodged by Lynn and Darren Redfern, is on stopping motorhomes parking overnight outwith formal campsites, caravan parks and aires. The petition calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to improve licensing enforcement on motorhomes to ensure that they park only in designated and regulated locations.

Lynn and Darren explain that motorhomes place an unnecessary burden on local communities when they park outwith formal spaces, with the disposal of rubbish, chemical toilets and dirty water. The Scottish Government has responded to the petition highlighting the rural tourism infrastructure fund, which has helped with the provision of facilities and with addressing issues of irresponsible waste disposal. It also highlights newly revised NatureScot guidance for land managers on off-road parking and positive awareness-raising work by the visitor management group.

The Scottish Government states that it believes that the current response to the increasing use of motorhomes is “sufficient”, and points to feedback that

“campervans have been managed better in 2022 than in previous years”.

Therefore, it does not believe that

“introducing a formal requirement to use specific sites”

would address

“the challenges outlined in the petition.”

Do members have any comments or suggestions for action on the petition?

Paul Sweeney

This is not only a rural problem, but a persistent problem in parts of Glasgow, too. For example, I have dealt with constituent correspondence in relation to the parking of motorhomes on Glasgow Green. The petition might give us an opportunity to look at what local authorities do to enforce motorhome parking and whether there are local byelaws or provisions that could be more widely adopted. I have to say that it feels like a matter for local authorities to deal with through byelaws and local levies and parking restrictions rather than something to be dealt with through statutory measures.

Fergus Ewing

The petitioners are probably not alone in suffering inconvenience from the illegal parking of camper vans in inappropriate places, and there is no doubt that it happens. However, the Scottish Government response might be correct in that I am not sure that the particular prescription advocated by the petitioners will necessarily solve the problem.

It also occurs to me that, as a matter of road traffic law, and perhaps criminal law in relation to illicit parking or local byelaws—I am sorry; I do not know whether you have considered that—the petitioners’ reference to aires is very helpful. I discovered when I was tourism minister that aires exist as facilities for caravans, camper vans and so on outwith settlements, with provision of services such as water and sewage facilities. They are serviced sites. They are very prevalent in France, which apparently has a network of aires, but we have not got off the mark with them here. I wonder whether, in an effort to solve the issue another way, we could ask the Scottish Government to consider promoting aires—I know that VisitScotland is keen on that—as something that would qualify automatically under the rural infrastructure fund, which again appears in our deliberations today.

I realise that that is not quite what the petitioners want, and I have some sympathy with them, because this is a big problem in the Highlands, particularly on the single-track roads that serve small communities. Illicit parking in lay-bys is another problem, particularly on the NC500 in the Highlands.

Aires would be the proper long-term solution. It would make everybody happy; holidaymakers could enjoy the countryside as they travel around in their camper vans, if that is what they choose to do, and locals could avoid being inconvenienced by that third-party pleasure.

The Convener

I am grateful for that exposition. It seems like a commendable action that we could take in relation to the Scottish Government.

Is there also a way forward for us on Mr Sweeney’s suggestion? Would it involve our writing to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and finding out what enforcement takes place? I know from wearing a different hat in relation to showpeople that councils’ approaches to this matter can be highly individual and variable in the extreme. I do not know whether there would be a common response, but it might be interesting to find out how those matters are being approached and dealt with.

Does the committee agree to keep the petition open, move forward on those two streams and see what further information comes to us?

Members indicated agreement.

That brings us to the end of the meeting. Thank you all very much. We will meet again on 7 December.

Meeting closed at 12:10.