The new regulation enables ministers to call in plans, which may affect protected sites – like the ship-to-ship oil transfers planned for the Firth of Forth.

Environment secretary Richard Lochhead told MSPs: “This case has thrown up gaps in our powers that the regulations before us today is intended to correct these gaps.

“By passing them, we will no longer be vulnerable to hazardous activities that fall within the powers of this parliament. Even with these regulations, the power to stop the proposal for ship to ship transfer in the Forth lies with Westminster. Today, we are calling for those powers to be used.

The decision to move ahead with the proposal has been welcomed by the Green Party.

Robin Harper MSP said: “I am delighted that the government has agreed with us. Shifting power back to Ministers using Habitats Directive Regulations is the right way to bring about swift action on this threat.

“The Forth marine environment is of world heritage significance, is vital to the local economy and developments must be subject to proper scrutiny.

At present, the Forth Ports Authority has the final say on proposals from SPT Marine Services, which would see 7.8 million tonnes of Russian crude pumped each year between tankers anchored four miles off the coast.

The amendment to the Habitats Directive would enable the Executive to suspend projects until compliance has been validated.

Mr Lochhead assured MSPs that areas where ship to ship transfer takes place and is not opposed, such as Scapa Flow, will not be adversely effected.

He said: “This will enable me to advance discussions with Whitehall from a position of strength and to apply pressure for them to make immediate use of their powers to control ship to ship transfers in the Firth of Forth.

“Our actions will amount to securing an important piece of environmental legislation and providing the spur for essential action elsewhere that many of us all over the chamber believe is long overdue.”

Dana Gornitzki

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