North Sea oil pipeline upgrade halted during pandemic

The company is concerned about bringing staff together to work on the upgrade during the coronavirus outbreak.

Plans to close and upgrade a North Sea oil pipeline have been put on hold because of the coronavirus crisis.

Chemicals giant Ineos was to shut the Forties Pipeline System (FPS) in June to upgrade it.

Now the shutdown of the pipeline has been delayed until at least August.

The delay is due to concerns about bringing the increased number of workers required for the upgrade together during the coronavirus pandemic.

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A company statement said: “Ineos is mindful of the benefits of completing this project work to the future operation of FPS and the risks of not going ahead.

“However, it recognises the importance of maintaining a flow of oil and gas through FPS during the current situation.

“The company found that there was an overwhelming desire to delay the shutdown by its customers which it is responding to.

“In the coming days Ineos will continue to have discussions with its customers and other stakeholders to define the best dates to plan these projects.”

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The Forties pipeline system is a major pipeline network in the North Sea.

It carries 30% of the UK’s oil every day to shore to a terminal in Cruden Bay.

Ineos to spend over £1bn at Grangemouth to slash emissions

Ineos says it wants to achieve net-zero emissions by 2045.

STV News
Grangemouth: Ineos to spend £1bn on slashing emissions.

Scotland’s largest climate polluter Ineos says it is spending more than £1bn in a bid to slash greenhouse emissions at its Grangemouth refinery.

The petrochemical multinational said its Grangemouth operation – which includes oil, chemical and power plants – currently emits around three million tonnes of CO2 per year.

Ineos said it wants all businesses at the Grangemouth site to make and use hydrogen along with using carbon capture mechanisms to store at least one million tonnes of CO2 by 2030.

It added its plans will “deliver a reduction in excess of 60% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 through a series of investments, partnerships, and innovative engineering”.

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Ineos says it wants to achieve net-zero emissions by 2045.

Net zero cabinet secretary Michael Matheson welcomed the “significant investment, which demonstrates Ineos’s support for Scotland’s journey to becoming a net-zero economy by 2045.

“This will not only drive forward innovation and diversification to tackle emissions at Grangemouth, but will also support the decarbonisation of other sectors, sites and regions across Scotland”, he added.

Andrew Gardner, chairman of Ineos Grangemouth, said: “Climate change is one of the most urgent environmental, economic and social issues of our time.

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“We’ve set an ambitious plan to achieve net zero by 2045 and today we are announcing the next stage of our road map which includes an investment in excess of £1bn.”

Five Ineos sites at Grangemouth poured around 3.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2019, making it the largest climate polluter in the country, according to figures from the Scottish Environment and Protection Agency (Sepa).

The power company SSE ranked as second-worst, with its gas power station at Peterhead emitting around 1.6 million tonnes that year.

Terry A’Hearn, chief executive of Sepa, said: “As Scotland’s environmental watchdog, Sepa has an active and ongoing programme of engagement with Ineos.

“We remain focused on both addressing environmental compliance and in supporting and welcoming transformational innovation and investment wherever it occurs to help Scotland to continue its journey towards net zero.”

Ineos added its plans will create low carbon, hydrogen infrastructure “critical to secure the future of large-scale manufacturing at Grangemouth.”

The refinery at Grangemouth has been operating since 1924 and was one of the first to transform crude oil in the UK. It currently produces a range of fuels including petrol, diesel, kerosene, LPG and jet fuel.

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The refinery itself is run by Petroineos, a joint venture between Ineos and PetroChina formed in 2011.

Ineos said since acquiring the Grangemouth site in 2005 it has reduced net CO2 by 37%.


Anti-vaccination protesters cause M8 tailbacks near jab centre

The demonstration targeted the motorway near the Pyramids Business Park by Bathgate in West Lothian on Wednesday morning.

Traffic Scotland via Twitter / © Google Maps 2020
There is a mass immunisation centre at the Pyramids Business Park.

A group of demonstrators protesting against the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine for children aged 12 and up have caused huge tailbacks on the M8.

The anti-vaccination protest targeted the motorway near the Pyramids Business Park, by Bathgate in West Lothian, on Wednesday morning.

Traffic Scotland said there was slow traffic on the M8 eastbound between Junction 5 and Junction 3A due to the demonstration.

From Monday, those aged 12-years-old and older who qualify for the coronavirus vaccine were able to attend a mass immunisation centre at the Pyramids Business Park.

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Police Scotland has been contacted for comment.


President Biden ‘anxious’ to attend Glasgow climate summit in person

The US leader said he planned to ‘be there with bells on’.

Phil Noble via PA Wire
US President Joe Biden is ‘anxious’ to attend the Glasgow climate summit in person.

The US President said he is “anxious” to be in Glasgow in person to attend a major climate summit later this year.

UK ministers are keen for the COP26 international climate conference to involve face-to-face meetings and speeches after the event was delayed by a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In what will be a boost to organisers, Joe Biden has given his clearest indication yet that he plans to travel from the US to the summit in Scotland, which will run for two weeks from October 31 to November 12.

Speaking in the White House during a meeting on Tuesday with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Biden said: “As we look ahead to the UK hosting COP26, which I’m really anxious to attend in Glasgow in November.

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“We’re going to be there with bells on, as they say.”

Johnson and COP26 president Alok Sharma are working to ensure that the talks in Glasgow result in an agreement to slow global warming.

They are pursuing a target of limiting any further temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius in a bid to prevent the worst affects of climate change being realised.

The summit will involve calls to accelerate the phasing out of coal, curtail deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables.

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Johnson has been pressing world leaders to pledge $100bn dollars annually to help support developing nations deal with the impact of climate change as part of Cop efforts – a request Mr Biden responded to by committing to try and double the US’s outlay to $11.4bn dollars per year, or £8.3bn.

Earlier this month, Sharma said he was confident COP26 would be able to go ahead as planned in Glasgow, despite rising Covid levels in Scotland.

He said that a range of safety measures were being put in place, including providing vaccines for accredited delegates who would otherwise be unable to access the jab in their own countries.

“I am confident that we are going to have a physical COP26. We are planning for that,” he told the BBC.

“What’s vitally important is that the people who are coming are safe but also the people of Glasgow are safe. I am confident that we will have a safe event.”


Renewable energy start-up hopes to power two million homes in five years

Renewco Power aims to accelerate the development of renewable energy projects.

Steve Parsons via PA Wire
Renewco says its founders between them have some 100 years of experience in renewables development and investments.

A new renewable power business hopes to provide enough clean energy for two million homes within five years.

Edinburgh-based firm Renewco Power aims to accelerate the development of renewable energy projects, focusing on the rollout of large-scale solar and wind farms across the UK and Europe.

It already has a gigawatt of early stage projects in the pipeline across the UK and Europe.

And the firm, which has received backing of £24m from energy giants SSE plc, hopes to expand that so it has the capacity to provide more than 4GW (gigawatts) within five years – the equivalent to powering approximately two million households.

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Renewco says its founders between them have some 100 years of experience in renewables development and investments.

Chief executive Gavin McCallum, who previously worked for BP Alternative Energy said: “There is a growing and urgent demand for utility-scale renewables projects across Europe, and we are excited about the potential we see for Renewco.

“Renewco has a unique blend of entrepreneurial talent with deep power sector and financial expertise which we will use to accelerate new developments across Europe. We will be growing our team over the coming months, adding further commercial expertise to accelerate the delivery of our strategy.”

Martin Pibworth, SSE Group energy and commercial director said the new company had a “first class management team”.

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SSE expects to “generate strong returns” on its investment, he added, saying: “We see this as a complementary investment to SSE’s own core renewables and distributed energy businesses and look forward to seeing Renewco deliver their ambitious plans.”


Pret a Manger to open 200 more UK shops in next two years

The sandwich and coffee chain was battered by the pandemic.

martinrlee via IStock
The company revealed that it plunged to pre-tax operating loss of £256.5m for 2020.

Pret a Manger has said it will open more than 200 UK shops over the next two years, after securing a further £100m cash injection.

The sandwich and coffee chain was battered by the pandemic but said it has seen its city centre sites recover further in recent weeks as more workers have returned to the office.

The company revealed that it plunged to pre-tax operating loss of £256.5m for 2020, in new filings on Companies House.

Pret saw its revenues fall by 58% to £299m for the year, as it was forced to shut the shops for months and saw footfall significantly depressed by Covid-19.

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It said its regional shops were now at their strongest ever levels while its London City sites had rebounded to 72% of weekly pre-pandemic sales.

The company said it will look to continue the latest phase of its recovery strategy by investing to rapidly expand its shop estate.

It revealed that it has been backed by a new £100m net investment by owner JAB Holdings and founder Sinclair Beecham.

Funding will be used to help the group double in size within five years, with 200 UK shops set to built in the next two years.

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Chief executive officer Pano Christou said that the growth plan will see Pret target more transport hubs, motorway service stations and suburban areas.

“We are keen to open more stores in regional and suburban areas, as these have been really strong recently,” he said.

“We have obviously kept an eye on the way trends have shifted since the pandemic and obviously areas such as service stations have been particularly busy, so that it why we have linked with Moto and Motor Fuel Group

“We are seeing lots of property opportunities but it is unsurprisingly competitive for the best sites, but I think landlords see us as a really strong brand and are keen to bring Pret in.”

The group has diversified its business operations since the start of the pandemic as it sought to ease its reliance on city centre workers for trade.

It saw the chain launch of retail coffee products, it coffee subscription service and expanded through delivery operators.

Mr Christou said the firm was more resilient as a result of its “omni-channel” approach.

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He added that certain new launches were more successful than others, with the group pulling back from its trial for evening meals after disappointing results.

The update also comes days after the group announced a fiver per cent pay rise for its cafe workers.

Mr Christou said that the industry-wide staff shortages have posed a “a challenge” for the business, but that it hopes investment in its pay structure could entice more new employees.

The group axed around 30 stores and thousands of jobs following the initial impact of the pandemic.


Strike action ballot for university staff over pensions and pay

Industrial action will be considered at 152 institutions across the UK.

Ceri Breeze via IStock
Union warned that universities could face action that will disrupt the end of term

University staff will be balloted on strike action before Christmas in a dispute over pensions, pay and working conditions.

The University and College Union (UCU) has announced it will open a ballot to members in October on whether or not to take industrial action this term.

The dispute comes after a joint negotiating committee backed pension proposals put forward by Universities UK (UUK) to deal with an estimated £15bn funding shortfall in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

The union argues that changes to the USS will mean that a typical lecturer on a £42,000 a year salary will lose 35% of their guaranteed retirement benefits.

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UCU’s higher education committee has confirmed that strike ballots will open at 152 institutions across the UK on October 18.

Six institutions will be balloted on USS only, 83 are to be balloted over pay and working conditions, and another 63 institutions in the UK facing two ballots over both USS and pay and working conditions.

The union has warned that universities could face action that will disrupt the end of term and continue into the next term unless employers return to negotiations with better offers for both disputes.

The president of the National Union of Students (NUS) has offered her support for staff planning to take action, saying “students will hold employers responsible” if vice-chancellors do not come to “a negotiated settlement”.

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The ballot will close on November 4, unless employers resolve the dispute beforehand, and UCU will consider the results on November 8 with action expected to take place before the end of the year.

It comes after strike action was held at universities across the UK in February and March in 2020, as well as in November and December in 2019, amid ongoing rows over staff pay, conditions and pensions.

Members of the UCU also took part in an unprecedented wave of strikes at universities in the spring of 2018 amid a dispute over pension reforms.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “University staff propped up the entire sector during the pandemic, but they are now being thanked with huge cuts to their pensions, unbearably high workloads, and another below-inflation pay offer – all whilst universities continue to generate a handsome income from tuition fees.

“The truth is that very well paid university leadership, who manage institutions with bigger turnovers than top football clubs, are choosing to exploit the goodwill of staff, repeatedly refusing to address the rampant use of casualised contracts, unsafe workloads or the shocking gender and ethnicity pay gap in the sector.”

She added: “There is still time for university chiefs to resolve a situation which is entirely of their own making, but they must return to negotiations and make credible offers.”

NUS national president Larissa Kennedy added: “Staff working conditions are student learning conditions and we stand shoulder to shoulder with our educators in fighting for a more just education system.

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“We demand fully funded, accessible, lifelong education where our spaces of teaching and learning belong to the students, staff and communities they exist to serve.

“Until then, it is entirely in the gift of vice chancellors and employers to come to a negotiated settlement and address the fundamental issues repeatedly raised by staff.

“If they don’t, students will hold employers responsible.”

A UUK spokesman on behalf of USS employers said: “We are disappointed UCU is campaigning for industrial action over reforms to USS, as they have not proposed a viable solution of their own.

“The USS Trustees’ assessment of the scheme’s costs means reforms are needed; no change is not an option. The employers’ reform proposal will prevent harmful and unaffordable rises in contributions.

“UCU may not like the legal and regulatory constraints pensions operate under, but it is irresponsible to make students and staff suffer as a result.

“The reforms voted for by the Joint Negotiating Committee ensure good benefits can be provided for affordable contributions, but employers will still consider alternative solutions.”

He added: “Universities are regrettably well prepared to mitigate the impact of any industrial action on students’ learning, and minimise disruption for those staff choosing not to take part.”

Raj Jethwa, chief executive of Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA), said: “It is very disappointing that UCU seeks to kick-start another campaign to encourage its members to cause disruption for students through potentially damaging industrial action.”

He added: “The final offer from employers was fair and meaningful in the context of the sector’s ongoing delicate financial situation.

“We very much hope the trade union members understand the considerable pressures which continue to face their HE institutions.”


Controversial housing plans probed by police rejected

An investigation found no wrongdoing but left the application 'tainted by apparent bias'.

© Google Maps 2020
Near Tappernail Farm, Reddingmuirhead.

A controversial planning application that became the focus of a police investigation returned to Falkirk Council’s planning committee after three years – only to be turned down.

The application by Persimmon Homes to build 91 houses near Tappernail Farm, Reddingmuirhead, had been approved in 2018, before a lengthy police investigation stopped it going any further.

That investigation did not find any evidence of wrongdoing but it left the application “tainted by apparent bias”, a council report said, and a fresh decision was necessary.

When the committee met on Tuesday to discuss the matter, the two councillors who had been at the centre of the investigation – Conservative leader James Kerr and Labour’s John McLuckie – both gave their apologies, although the report made clear that “there is no suggestion of any actual wrongdoing by any party”.

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A deputation by Shieldhill and California Community Council which attempted to speak about the two councillors was interrupted, with at least two councillors threatening to walk out if any more was said in the meeting.

Maria Montenaro, speaking on behalf of Shieldhill and California Community Council, argued that the background was relevant as they felt there it showed that planning permission should never have been granted in the first place.

This was crucial to her argument because without that permission in place, the site would not have been included in the new local development plan (LDP2), which planners and councillors have to consider very carefully before going against.

However – after legal advice was given – she was forced to curtail her remarks and concentrate on her plea that the land was vital green space for the community – a plea that was backed by a petition with more than 200 signatures.

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Speaking on behalf of Persimmon, Gordon Johnson said it was their “strong belief that this development will be a positive addition, not a negative drain as suggested by some”.

He said: “These houses will bring new families to these communities, who will, in turn, bring new children to the schools, spend money in local shops and use local services.”

The developer had also agreed to pay contributions of more than £600,000 to alleviate any impact on health services, education and transport, while it also promised that 23 of the homes would be affordable housing.

Councillor Gordon Hughes said that he was concerned that the site was an over-development of the Braes, which has seen a massive expansion in recent years.

And he was not convinced that Persimmon’s financial contributions would make up for the pressure that would be put on schools, doctors’ surgeries and transport by the new housing.

He was backed by two lower Braes councillors, Alan Nimmo and Adanna McCue who had similar concerns.

In making their decision, all of the councillors were aware that the housebuilders could well appeal to the Scottish Government to overturn their decision.

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For the third Lower Braes councillor, Malcolm Nicol, that was the deciding factor in his decision to back the development as he was worried that the housebuilder would win on appeal and the council would lose the promised contributions.

After a vote, the committee turned down the plan.

Speaking after the meeting, Maria Montenaro said: “I’m disappointed that Sheildhill and California Community Council’s deputation wasn’t heard in full, given the controversy over the application, but it’s a good decision and I think the right decision for communities across the Braes area.”

Story by local democracy reporter Kirsty Paterson


Drink-driver sentenced over death of two friends in crash

Logan Russell was 17 when his Vauxhall Corsa left the road and collided with a tree in Fife.

Police Scotland
Tragedy: Ethan King and Connor Aird died following the crash in 2018.

A drink-driver who caused the deaths of two teenage friends as he drove them home from a party has been ordered to be detained for 42 months.

Logan Russell was 17 when his Vauxhall Corsa left the road and collided with a tree in Fife.

Ethan King, 17, died at the scene. Connor Aird, also 17, died later in hospital. A third passenger, Daniel Stevens, suffered serious injuries and spent a week in hospital.

Russell, now 20, managed to get out of the vehicle and told witnesses who went to their aid: “Help my friends. Can you get them out the car? It’s all my fault.”

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On Tuesday, a judge told Russell that he should have known the risks of driving after consuming alcohol and with a limited amount of sleep.

Lord Boyd of Duncansby said that if he was going to drink, he should not have taken the car, and added: “What happened here should be a warning for others.

“The victims are not just those who have died, but those left to grieve.”

He told Russell, who was also banned from driving for four years, that if he had been a mature adult offender he would have jailed him for six to seven years for the offence.

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Russell, from Leslie in Fife, earlier admitted causing the deaths by careless driving while over the drink-drive limit.

He had previously faced a charge of causing the deaths by dangerous driving on the A915 Standing Stane Road at Windygates, Fife, on November 11, 2018.

The High Court in Edinburgh heard that he had held a full driving licence for just 55 days when the fatal collision occurred after he lost control of the car.

‘Drinking alcohol’

Advocate depute Leanne McQuillan said that on the evening of November 10, 2018, into the early hours of the next day Russell and his passengers had attended a party at a girl’s home in Windygates.

The prosecutor said: “The accused was seen by various guests to be drinking alcohol throughout the course of the evening as were the other guests.”

She said about 8.15am the girl’s father got up and noticed four youths were still in the garden and went out and told them it was time to leave.

He was uncomfortable about them leaving in a car and went to speak to them. He thought the passengers seemed drunk, but Russell did not and he drove off.

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The collision happened about 20 minutes later as Russell headed in the direction of Kirkcaldy. Two motorists were driving behind Russell’s Corsa.

The advocate depute said: “The witnesses described the car drifting gradually to the right, crossing the centre line into the opposing carriageway.

“No one saw the brake lights illuminate. The vehicle then left the roadway, struck a wooden post and fence, entered a field and collided with a tree.”

Witnesses saw smoke and stopped, and the emergency services were alerted.

As they approached the vehicle they saw Russell walk around from the driver’s side as he made a plea to help his friends.

He told police he was the driver and gave a positive breath test. A blood sample was later analysed and found to contain 118 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The legal limit in Scotland is 50 milligrams of alcohol.

‘He will live with it for the rest of his life’

Mr King was found to have died after sustaining significant head trauma. Mr Aird died on November 16 as a result of chest and head injuries.

Mr Stevens suffered fractured bones but made a full recovery, although suffers occasional pain in a leg. The court heard he remembers nothing of the crash or the party. 

Defence solicitor advocate Iain Paterson, for Russell, said: “He made a clear error to drive that morning – a dreadful error of judgement – and he understands that.

“There was a lapse in concentration, as he accepts, which led to this tragic accident.

“He does accept absolutely that he is going to be sent into custody today and he hopes that brings some solace to the families because he is deeply remorseful about what has happened.

“He will live with it for the rest of his life.”


Big event organisers not required to check vaccine status of everyone

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon provided an update on the Covid passport scheme at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.

Alan Harvey via SNS Group

Organisers of large events in Scotland will not be expected to check the vaccine certification of every single person in attendance.

Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the move following concerns raised by Scottish football bosses that it would not be possible to check the vaccine status of every supporter attending matches.

However, the First Minister insisted that those organising large events will still be expected to carry out a “reasonable” number of checks.

Sturgeon said that at venues such as nightclubs, and at “relatively small” events, it is expected that it will be possible to check the vaccine certifications for everyone who is in attendance.

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The SNP leader made the comments as she provided an update on the Scottish Government’s Covid passport scheme, which will come into effect from 5am on Friday, October 1 – with the NHS Covid Status App available for download from September 30.

Sturgeon explained that certification will be required for any venues that meet the set criteria.

It includes that the venue is open between midnight and 5am, serves alcohol after midnight, provides live or recorded music for dancing, and has a designation space which is in use where dancing is permitted.

“A pragmatic and sensible approach will be taken to each piece of guidance,” the First Minister told MSPs.

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“In legal terms, venues will be required to take ‘all reasonable measures’ to implement the scheme – in plain terms, that boils down to using common sense.

“So, for example, a venue that has a dancefloor operating after midnight – and meets the other criteria – will have to operate the certification scheme. 

“However, they won’t need to check people coming in for a pub lunch twelve hours earlier, that clearly wouldn’t be reasonable.

“But by the evening, it would be reasonable to check customers as they arrive. That’s what we mean by common sense.

“A pragmatic approach will be encouraged, so that businesses can make sensible judgements.”

Sturgeon said that the Scottish Government is working with businesses and environmental health officers to provide specific advice and guidance.

She told the Scottish Parliament: “At a venue such as a nightclub, or at a relatively small event, we expect that it will be possible to check vaccine certificates for everyone in attendance.

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“However at larger events, organisers will be expected to carry out a reasonable number of checks.

“We are currently working with businesses and environmental health officers to provide specific advice and guidance on the level of checks that should be considered both reasonable and effective to fulfil the important public health objective of certification.”

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