Vision for a Sustainable Society in the Highlands and Islands
We have a clear vision of a sustainable society for the Highlands and Islands, which is based on the four interconnected principles: ecology; equality; participative democracy; and peace and non-violence (see Annex 1 below).
We believe that adopting the green, sustainability agenda is the key to a better quality of life for present and future generations here in the Highlands and Islands.
The Highlands and Islands are among the most beautiful and attractive places to live and work in the world, but housing, jobs and good local organic food can be hard to find, and it can be difficult for local voices to make themselves heard. Local services in this large, rural area are expensive to deliver and often under threat. New technologies can be slow to arrive where there is little commercial incentive to roll them out.
In fact, economic, social and environmental issues are inseparable. For change to be sustainable, we need to address the growing inequalities in society. Social divisions and ill health will only worsen as long as people endure poverty, a degraded environment, substandard housing, unhealthy food and pollution. Measures to boost our economy will fail if they cause expensive environmental damage now, or in the future.
Specific measures for realising this vision are summarised below. We will:
1.1 Help create a future where the land and sea of the Highlands and Islands are flourishing and managed by people who are rewarded for being environmentally sensitive, particularly so that our natural resources can be passed onto future generations in a better state than we inherited them. We will protect and restore (sometimes threatened) important habitats in order to foster (for example) effective deer management, good water quality, and species reintroduction.
2.1 Develop incentives to encourage higher occupancy of all properties through renting and Council tax adjustment, to maximise the contribution from absentee landowners and second home owners.
2.2 Encourage the development of new, strategically-sited housing and workplaces designed to benefit existing communities across the Highlands and Islands, rather than poorly planned, car-dependent urban sprawl around Inverness.
2.3 Encourage alternative, more environmentally friendly building methods including the use of local materials such as timber, straw bales, sheep’s wool insulation and other lower impact materials.
2.4 Enhance the environmental quality of all built-up areas, with increased provision of public open spaces, footpaths and cycleways; make ‘Homezones’ standard provisions of new housing and business developments, and encourage more mixed-use developments to reduce the need for commuting.
3. Democracy and local empowerment
3.1 Replace the centralised Highland Council with a new framework of local government that reflects the people and communities across the Highlands.
3.2 Revolutionise the way land is owned and used in the Highlands and Islands by introducing a land value tax that will encourage active occupation of land and increase opportunities for new housing.
3.3 Ensure that sufficient funds are made available to schools to provide everyone with academic, practical and aesthetic skills, working in close co-operation with local enterprise and traditional industries. This will help provide access to universal, life-long education, which is essential to a just, democratic, sustainable society, whose members are able to enjoy a satisfying quality of life.
3.4 Protect Gaelic where it survives and promote its wider use as an important part of the culture of the Highlands and Islands.
3.5 Strengthen grass-roots democracy by increasing the resources, power and responsibilities of Community Councils, and devolve more responsibilities to them. Community Councils should be able to initiate or block new developments in their area.
3.6 Re-structure local government to get rid of unnecessary, overpaid top executives, and review the cost- effectiveness of external consultants; and allocate the savings to front-line services.
3.7 Scrap all the Public Private Partnership deals and similar contracts that take public money and pour it into the pockets of big private companies and the overpaid people who run them.
4. A local sustainable economy
4.1 Replace the Highland-wide ‘Local’ Development Plans with a Green alternative that will support the whole of the Highlands, with a focus on reducing dependence on road and air travel and developing strong, resilient local economies as far as possible.
4.2 Safeguard services in rural areas, such as healthcare, schools and post offices, and create a strategic network of local facilities, including libraries, museums, swimming pools and leisure centres to reduce dependence on Inverness.
4.3 Improve local resilience and self-confidence in all parts of the Highlands and Islands currently suffering weak investment to build vibrant strong communities and retain young people by encouraging and investing in local businesses, traditional skills and apprenticeships.
4.4 Support small businesses, farmers and crofters by sourcing local produce throughout the public sector and subcontracting suitable local work such as snow clearance and road maintenance, reducing business rates and other measures.
4.5 Stop any further domination of our economy by major supermarkets. New supermarket proposals will be required to submit detailed social, economic as well as environmental impact assessments as part of the planning process and may be required to mitigate the adverse effects of their operations.
5 Local food and resources
5.1 Encourage the use of local resources rather than imported goods and service. Not everything needed in the Highlands and Islands can be produced locally. We will fight unfair, enhanced delivery charges for the Highlands and Islands imposed by carriers to subsidise cheap deliveries elsewhere.
5.2 Enable schools and communities to grow and/or buy local food, which is better for our health, strengthens the local economy and reduces our carbon footprint.
5.3 Encourage local food production for local consumption more generally through a range of policies including: via the planning system; by actively promoting the establishment of allotments in every community that wants them (whether established and/or managed by local community groups or by The Highland Council); and creating smallholdings/crofts to meet growing demand.
5.4 Support organic production, farmers’ markets and local food networks.
5.5 Make the Highlands and Islands a nuclear and GM-free zone.
6. Climate change: renewable energy and energy efficiency
6.1 Promote best practice in low energy building so that all new homes can be carbon neutral and net energy producers and the energy burden and running costs of existing buildings can be greatly reduced.
6.2 Draw on the Highlands’ and Islands’ vast potential renewable energy resource by investing in local, small-scale renewable energy schemes, particularly on new housing, schools and other public buildings and including co-operative and community enterprise projects.
6.3 Encourage the development of more efficient renewable technology including wave generation, tidal power, and offshore wind; review power distribution networks to minimise impacts on health and eco-systems, including ensuring that the electricity grid is upgraded in order to handle the increased capacity needed for renewable energy schemes.
6.4 Refuse any proposals to develop new nuclear power stations.
7.1 Generally improve railways in order to take traffic off the roads, and to reduce traffic pressure on Inverness, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow as well.
7.2 Provide more rail passing loops, while working towards complete dual tracking, and introduce a modern signalling system; create better integrated timetabling; improve rolling stock; upgrade the lines to and from Inverness; open railway stations at Conon Bridge, Clachnaharry, Culloden, Beechwood and elsewhere and increase the frequency and speed of the trains available.
7.3 Upgrade the Far North Line with a Dornoch Firth crossing to link Dornoch into the rail network and reduce journey times to Caithness, while retaining the Lairg loop.
7.4 Develop modern freight handling facilities at key locations, including Kyle of Lochalsh, aiming in particular to transport food by rail.
7.5 Cease expansion of airports until new aircraft technology and working practices substantially reduce the carbon footprint of air travel; introduce a sliding scale of landing charges based on CO2 per mile to discourage private jets and inefficient air freight transport; introduce a levy on aviation fuel.
7.6 Regulate the bus services, and so ensure the integration and improvement of bus services throughout the region and provide incentives for communities to develop their own bus services.
7.7 Require all proposals to upgrade roads to include assessments of social, economic and environmental impacts and to consider alternatives.
7.8 Undertake a study into the potential for increased water-based public transport.
7.9 Encourage sustainable transport, healthy exercise, and local tourism by building a network of separate routes for walking and cycling, including a coastal path from Inverness to John o’Groats.
7.10 Reduce unnecessary journeys and help communities and businesses flourish across the Highlands and Islands by maximising access to modern technology, including high speed broadband services for all.
7.11 Oppose all transport of nuclear and other extremely hazardous materials through the region by rail or otherwise.
7.12 Encourage and provide incentives for local communities to develop car share schemes.
We are confident that a green, sustainable future is possible in which all can participate and benefit. Green policies can help create a happier, healthier society which strengthens rather than damages the ecosystems it depends on.
The Highlands and Islands Green Party will campaign vigorously to achieve this vision and its benefits.
Annex 1 – Principles for a sustainable society
The Highlands and Islands Green Party is committed to forming a sustainable society. Our vision of such a society is guided by four interconnected principles. These principles give a holistic view that is in common with all Green Parties around the world.
Our environment is the basis upon which every society is formed. Whenever we damage our environment, we damage ourselves. Respect for our environment is therefore essential. More specifically, in a sustainable society:
- the capacity of the environment to provide ecological system integrity, biological diversity and productivity is protected and enhanced;
- substances taken from the earth, in their extraction and use, do not exceed the environment’s capacity to disperse, absorb, recycle or otherwise neutralise their harmful effects (to humans and/or the environment);
- similarly, the manufacture and use of artificial substances do not exceed the environment’s capacity to disperse, absorb, recycle or otherwise neutralise their harmful effects (to humans and/or the environment);
- all infrastructure, technologies and processes make minimum use of natural resources and maximum use of human innovation and skills.
A sustainable society is founded on co-operation and respect, and free from discrimination on grounds of gender, race, sexuality, disability, age or religion. Furthermore, people of all ages enjoy a high standard of health, set and achieve high personal standards of their development and learning, and have access to varied and satisfying opportunities for work, personal creativity, and recreation.
Politics is too often conducted in a polarised, confrontational atmosphere and in a situation remote from those that it affects. A sustainable society enjoys:
- decentralised participative systems that encourage individuals to control the decisions that affect their own lives.
- trusted and accessible systems of governance and justice.
- communities and society at large sharing key positive values and a sense of purpose.
- the structures and institutions of society promoting stewardship of natural resources and development of people.
- homes, communities and society at large providing safe, supportive living and working environments.
Peace and non-violence
Violence at all levels of human interaction is rejected and succeeded by relations characterised by flexibility, respect and fairness.