Fury as red tape crackdown holds up Forth protection

Oil tankers in the Forth
Oil tankers in the Forth
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NEW rules to protect the Forth from ship-to-ship oil transfers have been held up yet again – because of a government clampdown on red tape.

The change in the shipping regulations, designed to prevent potentially devastating oil spills, was first promised more than two years ago but has already been delayed twice.

Now it is being subjected to a “red tape” review before it even takes effect.

Although the change in rules has been agreed by ministers, it is being delayed by the UK Government’s new regulations about new regulations.

Edinburgh North & Leith Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz said: “It’s bizarre that this government’s policy on cutting red tape appears to mean delaying this change even longer.

“This has been going on for more than two years now.”

Concern about oil transfers was sparked by a proposal, later withdrawn, to transfer 7.8 million tonnes a year of crude between ships in the Forth.

Mr Lazarowicz brought forward a private member’s bill in the last parliament to impose tough constraints on ship-to-shop transfers, but agreed to drop it when the then Shipping Minister Jim Fitzpatrick promised to deal with the issue in revised regulations. The change of rules was passed in April 2010, just before the UK general election.

But one of the first acts of the new coalition government was to suspend and review the proposed new regulations after four MPs from south-west England tabled a Commons motion calling for them to be scrapped.

That delayed the implementation of the regulations firstly until April 2011 and then until October 2011. Now Shipping Minister Mike Penning has shelved the regulations again.

In a letter to East Lothian Labour MP Fiona O’Donnell, he announced: “Although the entire review is now complete, it has become necessary, in order to meet the coalition government’s reducing regulation requirements, to delay the commencement further.”

The UK Government has a “one in, one out” policy on regulations, which is designed to restrict the amount of red tape.

But Ms O’Donnell said the latest delay was a blow to campaigners who had fought for improved protection of British waters from oil spills.

She said: “The Minister himself said that he recognises the concerns of local residents and stressed that there is a need for proper regulation.

“So it seems bizarre that following his review he is going back to square one to assess if the regulations are necessary.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “Due to the sheer scale of the review of regulations being undertaken, it has been necessary to further delay the commencement of these regulations.”

iswanson@edinburghnews.com