Scotland’s island communities face many challenges, with populations in decline, and issues with connectivity and accessibility as well as geographic remoteness. While steps are already being taken to tackle these issues, there remains a need to maintain focus and proactivity in policy making and implementation to ensure that islands are not disadvantaged.
The purpose of the Islands (Scotland) Bill, introduced to the Parliament on 9 June, is to make sure that focus on the needs of island communities is sustained, and to create conditions for growth. Government has already committed to provide the net revenue from Crown Estate marine assets out to 12 nautical miles to coastal and island councils.
The bill provides key definitions for “island”, “inhabited island” and “island community”, and commits Scottish ministers to producing a national islands plan providing a strategic direction to improve the outcomes of island communities across Scotland across all services and policies provided by the Scottish Government and the public sector.
Scottish public authorities, including the Scottish ministers, must have regard to island communities when exercising their functions. Impact assessments should be prepared when a new or revised policy, strategy or service could have a significantly different effect on island communities from its effect on other communities. This has been termed “island-proofing”. One key element is a regulation-making power for the creation of a licensing scheme for any works in or under the sea in the coastal waters surrounding islands for up to 12 nautical miles, to give island local authorities more control in the development of the seas around their island communities. This would operate in tandem with the national framework under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010.