Wrong place, too big, not green; my submission to the Scottish Government on the Leith biomass plant

I have now made my submission to the Scottish Government on the Biomass plans, which you can see below.

The submission focuses on the point that campaigners have made regarding the plant; that it is in the wrong place, is too big, and is not green enough for Edinburgh or Scotland; in relation to the Edinburgh Citly Local Plan and the National Planning Framework for Scotland 2.

Sheila Gilmore MP Biomass Scottish Government Submission

If you haven’t already made your submission to the Scottish Government, you have a matter of days to do so. Visit www.noleithbiomass.org.uk for help on making a submissison.

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Disability living allowance reform

Many constituents have contacted me since my election regarding disability living allowance (DLA). This followed the Government’s announcement that it would reform DLA. Last year’s June Budget stated:

The Government will reform the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to ensure support is targeted on those with the highest medical need. The Government will introduce the use of objective medical assessments for all DLA claimants from 2013-14 to ensure payments are only made for as long as a claimant needs them.

The Government then launched a consultation on their reforms on 6 December. This ran until 18 February. Ihave made a submission to this consultation, which took into account many of the concerns expressed to me by constituents. You can find a copy of my full submission below, but I have summarised my main thoughts here.

  1. I am concerned that the proposals contained in the consultation document are vague. For example, although it refers to a ‘new objective assessment’, it is unclear as to whether this will take account of fluctuating conditions, like MS, or consider evidence from GPs. This is of particular importance given the difficulties many people have encountered with the assessment for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), where applicants are regularly rejected and then successfully appeal. This causes distress to those involved, and it will be important to avoid this in any reform of DLA.
  2. I note that at no point does the consultation document refer to the Government’s  aim to cut £1 billion from the DLA budget by 2015, also announced in the June budget. I would suggest that cuts are clearly the main driver behind these new proposals, and the consultation is simply an attempt to divert attention from this.
  3. I am also concerned about the timetable for the consultation. The Government’s own guidelines state that consultations should last for at least 12 weeks but should be extended as and when appropriate. The DLA consultation was originally only open for 9 weeks, the bulk of which fell over the Christmas and New Year holidays. In addition, a number of constituents have said that given the group set to be affected – people with disabilities – the consultation should have been extended further.
  4. I also note that although the consultation closed on Friday 18 February, the new Welfare Reform Bill was published on Thursday 17 February. I believe that this demonstrates that the Government has already made up its mind, and that responses to the consultation won’t be taken into account. This reinforces my view that the whole exercise is a smokescreen to disguise deep cuts to the DLA budget.

You can find details regarding the Welfare Reform Bill here…

http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2010-11/welfarereform.html

…and although the consultation has now closed, the relevant documents can still be found here:

http://www.dwp.gov.uk/consultations/2010/dla-reform.shtml

I can assure you that I and my opposition colleagues will continue to express our opposition to these proposals. You can see my full submission below:

Response to DLA Consultation

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When green is not green

On Saturday I spent some time in Leith meeting residents to discuss the plans for a Biomass plant at Leith Docks. Leith Docks might not be in my constituency of Edinburgh East, but the proposals, a joint venture between Forth Ports and Scottish and Southern Energy, stand to affect many of my constituents.

We were leafleting with the simple message: this plant is in the wrong place, it is too big, and it is not green.

Developers insist the biomass fuel plant could provide over a third of Edinburgh’s energy, be the beginnings of a municipal heating system and ultimately reduce carbon emissions produced in making the electricity we need.

The plans just don’t add up; at a meeting last week, residents were shushed when organisers tried to claim the greater efficiencies would come thanks to the municipal heating system. This municipal heating system is at present an idea that will only be developed when consent is granted, so, efficiency of this green ‘renewable’ plant will be around 30-40%, similar to existing electricity plants.

Further still, in 40 years time, when Forth Ports have finished regenerating the area, the plant area will be again be redeveloped, without a plant to supply a municipal heating system!

I found on Saturday that many people are aware of the plans, but they don’t know that their submissions have to be in by 28 February 2011, or how to make an objection. www.noleithbiomass.org.uk have set up an excellent site with objection letters and further information on the plans – I urge you to have a look and make a submission.

I will be making my submission in due course.

We need to reduce carbon emissions and use the resources that we have in Scotland. Sourcing the wood chippings from around the world is not green, nor is ferrying waste and ash through the already clogged roads in Edinburgh East.

I’m with the campaigners on this one; the plant is too big, in the wrong place, and it is not green.

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Opposition works

Sometimes Opposition is a thankless task as you sit on those green benches hearing the result of yet another vote being read out where we are beaten by 80+ votes.  But this week have come a couple of Government announcements which demonstrate the importance of opposition both inside and outside of parliament:

  • The Coalition had announced an end to the funding of debt advisers in Citizens Advice Bureaux in England at the end of March. Today they have announced they have found some money to keep staff in post for the following few months until they introduce their ‘new system’ of providing debt advice.  Specialist debt advisers in CABx enhance the sterling work done by the volunteers.  Several of my fellow MPs had been raising this repeatedly at questions and in debates.  Local bureaux had been lobbying their own MPs hard.
  • Yesterday the Government announced it was putting ‘on hold’ its plans to sell 15% of forestry Commission land in England.  Originally this sale was going ahead separately from the ‘consultation’ currently taking place on disposal of the remaining 85% on ‘long leases’.  The proposals on forests had sparked a huge amount of opposition (one of the biggest email postbags most MPs have had since the election) and it was clear in the debate the Labour Party asked for last week that many Coalition backbenchers were very unhappy at the proposals – including a Tory MP for part of the New Forest who pointed out that overall the proposals weren’t even going to save much money.

ForestsWe’re not out of the woods yet (apologies – the Forestry debate must have had the highest pun rate of any debate I’ve heard).  The Government is still planning to replace face to face debt advice with some form of telephone/web based advice system, which won’t be nearly so good at dealing with the complex debt problems many people have.  I know my English colleagues will go on arguing the case but at least there won’t be a gap left between the old service ending and the new one beginning.  And the Forest sell-off is only on hold not abandoned.

But it does show that opposition can succeed. So I hope all you campaigners out there will keep up the good work.

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