I recently had the opportunity to speak in Stage 1 of the Housing (Scotland) Bill to highlight some of the concerns of my constituents who are forced to take housing in areas of the Borders that can be several miles away from their family or workplace.
Housing is probably the single biggest issue that constituents contact me about and there is a lot of frustration that local people cannot always secure social housing in their own communities. A few miles may not sound a lot, but it’s important to recognise that in rural communities like the Borders, the difference between living in Eyemouth or Duns, Jedburgh or Earlston can be, for many people, profound and significant.
It is important that the bill is amended to give social landlords the ability to include extra priority for applicants with a local connection, and it is my intention to move amendments to cover this issue.
MOBILE PHONE COVERAGE
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has called on the Scottish Government to change planning rules in order to boost mobile coverage.
The FSB want ministers to follow through on suggestions to remove some planning requirements for telecommunications developments. This would make it easier to install digital infrastructure and could help boost the mobile signal in areas that are currently poorly served, such as the Borders.
I have backed these calls as I believe that it would be an effective way of dealing with the long-standing problem we have in this region of poor mobile signal. Huge parts of the Borders still do not have access to a 3G signal, with around a quarter
of areas not having access to even a 2G signal.
As long as any signal masts were placed responsibly and when there were no local objections, I cannot see why we should not move ahead with this suggestion.
The Conservatives have announced that, following next year’s UK general election, they would give councils south of the border the final say on the approval of onshore wind farms, in addition to ending any additional subsidies for them.
I think that this is a welcome move, and there is no doubt in my mind that these proposals should be enacted in Scotland as well.
Over the past few years we have seen Scottish Borders Council and other local authorities repeatedly overruled when it comes to planning application refusals. It makes a mockery of councils if, after consulting with local residents and stakeholders, they choose to reject a planning application, only to have that decision overruled by the SNP Government.
In addition to phasing out wind farm subsidies, we need to ensure that those deciding whether a wind farm should be sited are those in the community who it affects.