.

.

20 December 2007

(S3O-1725) A90 (Laurencekirk)

20th December 2007

A90 (Laurencekirk)

4. Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will provide funding in 2008-09 for a full grade-separated junction on the A90 at Laurencekirk. (S3O-1725)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The trunk road investment programme for 2008-9 is, as is normal with planning for major improvements, long term, and is largely as inherited from the previous Administration, which made no provision for that work.

Mike Rumbles: Nicol Stephen, a previous Minister for Transport, implemented short-term measures at the Laurencekirk junction, such as a 50mph speed limit, speed cameras and a new surface. Those were only ever intended to be short-term measures. To save lives and prevent accidents, the solution is to build a grade-separated junction. When will the Scottish Government be in a position to make the necessary funding available? Can the minister give the Parliament a specific date—a year, perhaps—when we might expect a grade-separated junction to be built there?

Stewart Stevenson: I accept that, on 11 January 2005, Nicol Stephen announced the improvements that were made at the junction, to which the member referred, and I supported their introduction.

In answer to a question from Mike Rumbles, on 29 September 2005 Tavish Scott addressed the issue and said:

"The forthcoming Strategic Transport Projects Review will provide the future framework for decisions on competing priorities for investment in schemes to improve the trunk road network, including proposals for grade separation at junctions such as the A90 at Laurencekirk."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 29 September 2005; S2O-7713.]

Mike Rumbles can be assured that we shall do at least as well as that, and we will strive to do better. It will not be difficult.

(S3O-1730) Domestic Energy Efficiency

20th December 2007

Domestic Energy Efficiency

2. Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what initiatives it will pursue to deliver domestic energy efficiency and what reduction in CO2 emissions those initiatives are intended to deliver. (S3O-1730)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The Scottish Government is committed to improving domestic energy efficiency and has a range of policies and initiatives in place to reduce domestic carbon emissions.

Since May, we have pursued a number of new initiatives that are aimed at the domestic sector. Those include: the introduction of a one-stop shop for domestic consumers in Scotland to provide advice on energy efficiency, microrenewables and transport; the establishment of an expert panel to advise the Scottish Government on low carbon building standards; and, most important, our commitment to introduce a Scottish climate change bill, which will set a mandatory target of cutting emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. As part of the development work for the bill, we will introduce a robust framework that will allow us to monitor and report on emissions reductions.

Sarah Boyack: I observe that, according to the Scottish Government's own figures, nearly a quarter of Scotland's households cannot afford adequate heating. Will the Government examine fuel poverty and carbon reduction? In particular, will it reconsider the spending review decision to freeze spending on fuel poverty programmes in the light of research? Will it commit to considering reconvening the fuel poverty forum, which brought together independent experts and charities working in the field, and which has not met in the past year? Will the Government take up the major issue of domestic energy efficiency and join up its work on energy efficiency and climate change targets in the light of the fact that there is an urgent problem in Scotland now? The matter is not about future issues; it is about what the Scottish Government can do now at its own hand.

Stewart Stevenson: The member raises an important point in relation to an issue in Scotland. Through the Sullivan task force, the Government is considering what can be done to address energy efficiency in homes. However, the two major contributors to addressing fuel economy are reserved to Westminster. The first is the cost of the energy that is used in homes. Westminster has responsibility for ensuring that the price of fuel is affordable. Secondly, Westminster has a number of residual powers in relation to energy efficiency in homes. We will talk to Westminster about that to ensure that, between Westminster and the Scottish Government, we can make the progress that was committed to by the previous Administration and is endorsed by the current one.

13 December 2007

(S3O-1653) National Planning Policy Guideline 11

13th December 2007

National Planning Policy Guideline 11

4. Mr Frank McAveety (Glasgow Shettleston) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive when it will report back on the consultation on the replacement of planning guideline NPPG 11 on sport, physical recreation and open space. (S3O-1653)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): "Scottish Planning Policy 11: Open Space and Physical Activity" was issued by the Scottish Government on 15 November this year. It replaces national planning policy guideline 11. An analysis of consultation responses and a consultation report were published on the same date and are available on the Scottish Government website.

Mr McAveety: I declare my membership of Fields in Trust. Will the minister comment on the concerns that have been raised by a number of organisations about the failure to carry through the consultation process that addressed how we deal with national minimum standards for open space and recreation? Would he care to review the process of consultation, given that there is substantial concern about the lack of impact it had on the decision that was made?

Stewart Stevenson: During the consultation, a number of views were put forward. There was support for minimum standards, but significant concerns were raised about the inflexibility of imposing standards right across the country. Julie Procter, the chief officer of Greenspace Scotland, said of SPP 11:

"We are very happy with it because it gives greater strength to open space planning by requiring local authorities to have an open space audit and to build strategies into the development plans."

Our document, as proposed, entirely supports our principle of local decision making while ensuring that green space will be available right across Scotland.

6 December 2007

(S3O-1532) Railways (Glasgow-Shotts-Edinburgh Line)

6th December 2007

Railways (Glasgow-Shotts-Edinburgh Line)

5. Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what the fastest possible end-to-end journey time was on the Glasgow to Edinburgh via Shotts rail line during the Executive's recent examination of the case for electrification of the line. (S3O-1532)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The plans for faster diesel services would reduce the journey time to around 67 minutes. That includes time for some intermediate stops. Electrification would reduce the time by a few minutes more, subject to detailed timetable planning.

Charlie Gordon: Will the minister ask Transport Scotland to investigate whether further improvement to the electrification option could come from combining that work with the re-laying of the track and the resignalling of the line?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes some reasonable points. Some 22 miles of the line remain unelectrified. At the moment, the service that leaves Glasgow Central at 6 in the morning takes 55 minutes. As we introduce new diesel-based rolling stock, we will see improvements.

Electrification of the whole line would create the opportunity for further improvements. We have not yet considered the re-laying of the line, but I would be happy to engage with my officials to examine what scope there might be for that in the middle of the next decade, after the control period for which we have recently put in the higher-level output specification. That could play an important role in improving communications in central Scotland and in addressing the climate change agenda. It would therefore deliver significant benefits.

Sandra White (Glasgow) (SNP): The minister will be aware of the proposed price rises for rail travel, which will result in the price of a journey between Glasgow and Edinburgh rising to £17. That link is vital to the economy of both cities and of Scotland as a whole. Does the minister share the public's concerns about the price rises? Will he meet me to discuss those concerns?

The Presiding Officer: I am afraid that that question was not relevant to the question that was lodged.

Karen Whitefield (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): Does the minister agree with my constituents that, irrespective of whether the line is electrified or whether improvements are made to the diesel service, the line must be improved to speed up the service?

The rail link between our two major cities must be improved to provide a high-speed service. If the economies of North Lanarkshire and West Lothian are to improve, and if residents are to benefit, transport links for those areas must also improve. Does the minister agree that, when the line is improved, there will have to be limited stops in Shotts and Livingston?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will be aware of the four lines that connect the west with the east and of the very substantial investments that this Government has committed to in order to improve journey times. We will look for improved rolling stock for the line, and we hope that it will be delivered in 2009.

As I said to Mr Gordon, I am of course prepared to engage with my officials and consider what benefits may derive from the re-laying of track on the line. Should Ms White wish to pursue the matter that she raised, I would of course be happy to meet her to discuss any matters of interest.

(S3O-1564) Edinburgh South Suburban Railway

6th December 2007

Edinburgh South Suburban Railway

4. Mike Pringle (Edinburgh South) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will welcome and endorse petition PE1080 by the Capital Rail Action Group, calling for the Edinburgh south suburban railway to be reopened as an effective and environmentally friendly way of easing congestion problems in the Edinburgh South constituency and the city as a whole. (S3O-1564)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The City of Edinburgh Council is refreshing its business case for the scheme and carrying out an appraisal under Scottish transport appraisal guidance of all potential solutions to the transport problem. I welcome that approach and will consider the report through the strategic transport projects review.

Mike Pringle: Given the considerable public transport investment in other parts of the city and that more than £8 million of funding for the project has already been secured by E-Rail—more than 45 per cent of the total costs—can the minister offer my constituents an equally environmentally friendly and cost-effective plan to ease south Edinburgh's congestion problems?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will know that the reworking through the STAG process is in part to address the relatively poor return on investment that has so far been identified. He will also be aware of the work that is successfully being concluded at Waverley station to upgrade its capacity from 24 to 28 trains per hour, but that the four additional trains per hour are already committed for other purposes. We have to work out whether there is capacity, in particular in the corridor between Waverley and Haymarket, but I remain on board to look at what the council brings forward.

Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central) (Lab): I welcome the minister's commitment at least to consider the project in the context of the strategic transport projects review. What he said about capacity constraints actually makes the case for the project being included in the review. Many of us believe that a further upgrade at Waverley station is essential. Will he commit to consider that in the context not just of a south suburban railway but of improving rail services across south-east Scotland generally? Will he consider that as an urgent priority? It is something that Scottish National Party candidates talked about during the election campaign and that we in the Labour Party have been committed to for some time.

Stewart Stevenson: I am sure that the member will recognise the commitment and enthusiasm for railway travel that I share with her—I have made some 30 railway journeys in the past two months on my own account; I am an enthusiastic rail user—but substantial problems remain in trying to increase capacity at Waverley. I am open to looking at how capacity could be increased, but the fundamental constraints between Waverley and Haymarket are likely to be a considerable barrier to forming a complete loop. However, there may be other options for delivering benefits to Edinburgh.

22 November 2007

(S3O-1294) Waverley Line (Costs)

22nd November 2007

Waverley Line (Costs)

4. John Lamont (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con): To ask the Scottish Government what the current estimated building costs are for the Waverley railway line to Galashiels. (S3O-1294)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The costs are under review as part of the due diligence process that Transport Scotland is undertaking, which will be completed shortly.

John Lamont: The minister will be aware that Scottish Borders Council is to fund part of the railway project's cost and that it is doing what it can, through developers' funds, to put arrangements in place to provide that funding. However, will he give me and the council a guarantee that he will not allow council tax levels to increase or front-line services to be cut to fund the railway project?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will have heard by now of the exceptionally good relations between the Government and local councils. Scottish Borders Council is part of that developing relationship. I am confident that the commitments that the previous Administration made and which the current Administration has continued stand fast. I hope that that is also true of the council.

Christine Grahame (South of Scotland) (SNP): Given that the Borders railway business case is partly predicated on house building in the travel catchment area, what progress has been made on housing development?

Stewart Stevenson: I have spoken to Scottish Borders Council and the other councils that are involved in the Waverley railway partnership about the important role that housing development plays in the business case for the Scottish Borders rail line. Scottish Borders Council has had useful and encouraging discussions with major house developers that give weight to the claims that developers will contribute and will create a significant uplift in housing in the Borders that will justify continuing to look at this important project.

Jeremy Purvis (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD): The minister is aware of the critical importance of the line into the heart of my constituency. Will he confirm that the due diligence and the review—yet another—of the railway's business case are showing that the case is sound and better than expected when the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Bill was considered by committee? When will he reach a view on the business case review? Will he confirm that the project will not be delayed by investigations into alternative types of funding for capital projects?

Stewart Stevenson: We expect to reach a view on the due diligence when the report is presented to us later this year. As the member knows, funding of £115 million at 2002 prices is in place. We should judge the way forward for the project by the three tests that the previous Administration required to be met and which we continue to consider to be the proper tests.

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): I am intrigued to know how the Borders railway line impinges on Rutherglen, so I call James Kelly.

James Kelly (Glasgow Rutherglen) (Lab): Because the question involves transport, and as the budget has just been announced, I would like to ask about the bus route development grant, which provides much-needed support to bus routes in my constituency—

The Presiding Officer: I am sorry, Mr Kelly, but the question was about the Borders railway. That was a good try.

15 November 2007

(S3O-1199) Water and Sewerage Services (Charges)

15th November 2007

Water and Sewerage Services (Charges)

3. John Scott (Ayr) (Con): To ask the Scottish Government when it intends to publish its consultation on the wider principles of charging for water and sewage services for 2010 to 2014. (S3O-1199)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The consultation will be published shortly.

John Scott: I thank the minister for that helpful answer. As he knows, many smaller charitable and voluntary organisations and churches benefit from water and sewerage charge exemptions, but they are due to end in 2010. Although a commitment on the part of ministers to extend the existing exemption would be welcome, even more welcome would be a commitment to look favourably on the granting of mandatory 80 per cent relief to all charities and voluntary organisations, which has been recommended by the Scottish Charity Law Review Commission and supported by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. Will the minister undertake to consider the proposal, which would clearly be of enormous benefit to Scotland's voluntary and charitable sectors?

Stewart Stevenson: Like other members, I have received a number of approaches on the subject. It is a matter of concern throughout Scotland. The member can be assured that the proposal is a key part of what we will consider when we look at what will happen after 2010. The approach to reviewing charges is, of course, based on ensuring that the customers who place the least burden on the water system pay the least. The member may care to consider his question in the light of that part of my answer.

Gil Paterson (West of Scotland) (SNP): Is the minister aware that there has been a constant volume of complaints about noxious smells emanating from the Dalmuir sewage works, which are spreading over a wide area of Clydebank? Is he prepared to kick up a stink of his own and intervene to bring some positive action and respite to the residents of Clydebank and, I fear, beyond?

Stewart Stevenson: Gil Paterson will forgive me for not having experienced the noxious smells in Clydebank personally—I had always had the highest regard for the environment there. I take note of his comments and will ensure that I discuss the subject with Scottish Water when I next meet its representatives.

(S3O-1229) Fire Sprinklers (Regulations)

15th November 2007

Fire Sprinklers (Regulations)

2. Michael Matheson (Falkirk West) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it has any plans to review the regulations for the installation of fire sprinklers. (S3O-1229)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Building regulations on fire safety are being reviewed by a building standards advisory committee working group. The installation of fire sprinklers is included in the review.

Michael Matheson: I draw the minister's attention to the concerns expressed by the Fire Brigades Union, Central Scotland Fire and Rescue Service and the Scotland Patients Association about NHS Forth Valley's reluctance to consider installing a fire sprinkler system in the new Larbert acute hospital. Does the minister agree that modern fire sprinklers are the best way to protect people and property from fire? Will he consider extending the existing regulations for the mandatory installation of fire sprinklers in new hospitals and schools, particularly given the vulnerable nature of the individuals who occupy such buildings and the disruption that would be caused should they experience a fire?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will recall a visit that we both made some years ago to a demonstration of fire sprinklers—I think that it was in Hamilton. I was impressed by the efficacy of such provision and it is a subject in which I am taking a close personal interest as a minister.

I understand that the issue that the member raises about Larbert hospital is under review and that it is a matter directly for NHS Forth Valley, but he can be assured that we will consider such matters in our review of the issue more generally.

8 November 2007

(S3O-1148) Climate Change

8th November 2007

Climate Change

7. James Kelly (Glasgow Rutherglen) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what measures it is taking to tackle climate change. (S3O-1148)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The statement that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth made to Parliament in June committed us to consult on proposals for a Scottish climate change bill. The bill will propose a statutory target to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. It will establish a clear, long-term statutory framework to help us hit that target and thereby contribute to the global effort that is required to tackle climate change. In the meantime, we are taking forward emission reduction measures in addition to developing additional measures.

James Kelly: I am sure that the minister agrees that microgeneration is an excellent mechanism by which to reduce both carbon emissions and fuel bills and thereby tackle fuel poverty. Does he agree that the swift passage through Parliament of Sarah Boyack's proposed energy efficiency and microgeneration bill would provide immediate benefits to householders and the environment?

Stewart Stevenson: We have convened an expert panel on building standards and have had helpful contributions from experts from Norway, Denmark and Austria. Microgeneration is included in the considerations to which they have applied their minds. I expect to publish the results of their deliberations in the near future, and James Kelly should expect microgeneration to play an important part in future plans.

(S3O-1127) A9

8th November 2007

A9

1. Roseanna Cunningham (Perth) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what effect improvements on the A9 will have on communities through which it runs. (S3O-1127)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Our current programme of improvements on the A9 will improve access to communities served by the A9, improve safety, reduce accidents and save lives.

A study of the A9 from Stirling to Perth has been undertaken to identify where future improvements would be beneficial. The study has identified where grade-separated junctions would be best sited on the A9 from the Keir roundabout at Dunblane to the Broxden roundabout at Perth to improve safety.

The study will feed into the strategic transport projects review, which will consider the proposals in the corridor study to improve safety, including the provision of grade-separated junctions, along with proposals on improving journey times.

Roseanna Cunningham: I know that the improvements that the minister has talked about in respect of the whole of the A9 will be widely welcomed. I am grateful for his acknowledgement that dual carriageways have their own safety issues, particularly at junctions with local access roads where the junctions are not grade separated. He has rightly anticipated my concern about the number of accidents that occur on the A9 around the Auchterarder, Blackford and Aberuthven area, where we have a number of such junctions. What is the likely timescale for the potential improvements that he has indicated might be on the cards? The situation in the area is becoming difficult, particularly given that there is a railway station there too.

Stewart Stevenson: The member will know that I share her concerns, and those of members throughout the chamber, about road safety. Transport Scotland has agreed in principle to a developer contribution for the improvement of the Loaninghead junction at Auchterarder. The timing of the scheme is linked to development proposals, but we know that the developer is anxious to proceed.

At Blackford, a number of minor improvements have been made in the past couple of years. A video study has identified how the junction operates and further improvements are expected to be undertaken during this financial year.

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): What timescale does the minister envisage for dualling the whole of the A9 north of Perth? He will be aware from my written questions that the Scottish Government does not own even a fraction of the land necessary to dual the A9. Is that another Scottish National Party broken promise?

Stewart Stevenson: I always feel uneasy when Labour members use that sort of language, given Labour's long track record of broken promises. The member should be absolutely assured of our commitment to ensuring that the A9 is dualled. That is why we are planning for the dualling of the A9 and doing intensive studies to identify the next part of the A9 to dual.

Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): Although I completely understand why Roseanna Cunningham asked the question that she asked, I remind the minister that the A9 extends much further north than Inverness—it extends right up to Caithness. What about the Berriedale braes and the Navidale bends? Will the investment in the southern part of the A9-welcome though it is to Roseanna Cunningham—mean that the much-needed improvements in my constituency are going to be kicked into the long grass for a long time?

Stewart Stevenson: It is slightly ungracious of Gentleman Jamie to express things in those terms. He will of course know that I was up in his constituency to initiate a project in Helmsdale relatively recently. Of course the A9 all the way to the very north of Scotland is an important part of the road infrastructure that receives my close attention.

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): The minister has been telling us for some time, and has repeated today, that the SNP Government's commitment is to plan for the dualling of the A9, yet we read in today's press that transport improvements are likely to be the victims of a tight budget round. Will he give us a commitment today that by 2011 we will see real progress in dualling the A9, or is his commitment to plan for dualling simply an empty slogan?

Stewart Stevenson: I give an absolute commitment not to believe everything I read in the press. There will be real improvements on the A9 in the timescale.

Dave Thompson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): A recent report in The Press and Journal highlighted research that showed that upgrading the A9 to a dual carriageway would boost the Highland economy by around £1 billion over 30 years and would create 4,500 jobs. Based on those figures, the Highlands could have missed out on a boost to its economy worth £333 million during the past 10 years of Lib-Lab Executive mismanagement, as well as on the opportunity for much-needed employment. Will the minister do all that he can to redress that lack of action and to put the Highland economy back on track?

Stewart Stevenson: The P and J, that ever-reliable publication, quoted directly from the source in question—the report by the Highlands and Islands transport partnership and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. The report is a useful contribution to the debate on the value to the Highland economy of the A9 as a dual carriageway. I note that the area of Scotland where the greatest growth may be being experienced is Inverness, and the Highland economy is absolutely vital to sustainable economic development in the north. That is why we are looking at the figures, planning for the dualling of the A9 and making real progress on the A9, and members on other parties' benches should listen carefully.

25 October 2007

(S3O-971) Green Spaces (Glasgow)

25th October 2007

Green Spaces (Glasgow)

5. Robert Brown (Glasgow) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive what action it will take through the planning system to protect parkland and other green space in Glasgow. (S3O-971)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): National planning policy on open space is set out in national planning policy guideline 11, which is on sport, physical recreation and open space. That is under review and will shortly be replaced by Scottish planning policy 11, on open space and physical activity.

Robert Brown: I welcome the review of the national planning policy guideline. The minister will be aware of the furore over the plans for a nightclub in Glasgow's botanic gardens, which have—rightly—caused outrage throughout the city, not least because of the lack of consultation or even public information before Glasgow City Council agreed a lease. Is he also aware of the local campaign against the loss of green space at Broomhill Avenue and at Turtle park and Stepping Stones park in Pollokshields? My good friend the Deputy First Minister supports the campaign on the latter.

Will the minister consider earlier implementation of the changes in the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006 to strengthen community consultation and provide ministerial scrutiny when councils have a conflict of interest? Will he also examine whether changes to public consultation on the lease and sale of public land could play a part in supporting local communities and in preventing outrages such as the botanic gardens proposals from happening again?

Stewart Stevenson: I am very much aware of the botanic gardens and Broomhill Avenue issues to which the member refers. I note the concerns that he and local people have expressed about the Broomhill Avenue proposal. I am aware of no planning application at this stage. As the council owns the land, the matter may come to the Scottish ministers for determination, so I will not be specific.

SPP 11, which we will publish shortly, will require all Scottish local authorities to undertake an open space audit and prepare an open space strategy. The member raised other issues in relation to planning and open spaces. He can expect those matters to be addressed fully in a number of statutory instruments that will shortly come forward for consultation. If they are not, I expect that I will receive a response from the member.

Sandra White (Glasgow) (SNP): The minister will be aware that the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006 placed great emphasis on public consultation. Is he aware that the proposal for sale of land in the Broomhill area has never been put out to public consultation and that the local councillor was never consulted on it? Does he agree with local people, a local councillor and me that the land should not go on sale until proper consultation has been carried out?

Stewart Stevenson: I will make no specific reference to the merits of the proposal, which is at an early stage. However, I agree with the member that an important part of a council's responsibility in considering developments of that kind is that there should be full and frank consultation with the local community and all interested parties. I support all efforts to achieve that.

(S3O-920) Barra Runway

25th October 2007

Barra Runway

3. Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what plans it has to provide Barra with a purpose-built airport runway. (S3O-920)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I expect advice before the end of the year on the future of air services to Barra, including the potential for a hard runway.

Rhoda Grant: When the minister considers Barra airport's future, I urge him to ensure that air services continue. They are incredibly important to the people of Barra for social reasons. People who are going to hospital in Glasgow need to access those services, which are also important for the island's economic growth. I urge the minister to ensure that air services continue by providing a purpose-built runway with a cross-runway on which aircraft can land.

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Could we have a question, please?

Rhoda Grant: Will the minister assure me that he will fight for that important service in that small community?

Stewart Stevenson: I assure the member that I am absolutely aware of the need to continue the air service to Barra. However, the basis for providing a hard runway, rather than continuing to use the three runways that are available at Tràigh Mhòr, is not yet clear and I await further advice. A hard runway would be aligned in one fixed direction, so it is likely that there would be more diversions from Barra than there are with the current provision of three runways on the beach.

Another issue is that the aircraft that operate the service are reaching the end of their lives, but the good news is that that aircraft type is entering remanufacture. An alternative option may be to acquire two further aircraft.

Alasdair Allan (Western Isles) (SNP): In the light of what the minister has said, will he give a long-term commitment to supporting air transport in Barra, no matter what type of runway—whether man-made or natural? On the other option that he outlined of acquiring new aircraft, what stage has consultation with the community and other interests reached?

Stewart Stevenson: The community's opinions and views are important in reaching a decision. Serious concerns are felt about the environmental impact of building a hard runway on the environmentally vulnerable machair that is adjacent to the present runway. That is one factor that will be considered, in addition to the fact that a hard runway would be likely to be substantially more expensive than purchasing two additional aircraft to operate the service from the beach at Tràigh Mhòr.

The Presiding Officer: I call Tavish Scott. He should bear it in mind that the question is about the runway at Barra.

Tavish Scott (Shetland) (LD): Of course, Presiding Officer. The minister will be well aware of today's news, which affects Barra, that the franchise arrangement between Loganair and British Airways will end in October next year. When he considers that announcement, which does indeed affect Barra and many other parts of the Highlands and Islands, will he take it into account that Loganair's statement says that the change will have no impact on the air discount scheme, which of course assists Barra, and that the scheme should continue? Will he give an assurance that the scheme will continue for the rest of the parliamentary session?

The Presiding Officer: That was a lesson in opportunism.

Stewart Stevenson: Today's announcement from British Airways and Loganair in no way affects the air discount scheme's operation. The member will know that we are considering where to take that scheme.

I have met Loganair in the past fortnight, and one issue that we discussed was the future of the franchise arrangement. Loganair is confident that, under the code-share arrangement that is in place, people will continue to be able to book flights with the BA prefix through the British Airways booking system, so customers will experience little change, although the relationship between Loganair and British Airways is about to change. That will affect the member's constituency as well as Barra.

(S3O-961) Orkney Public Transport

25th October 2007

Orkney Public Transport

2. Liam McArthur (Orkney) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive how it plans to ensure that Orkney Islands Council is able to maintain Orkney's internal public transport services. (S3O-961)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Orkney Islands Council has asked the Scottish Government for substantial additional financial support towards the capital costs of a long-term programme to improve its interisland transport services. We are considering that request as part of our current spending review and we will be in touch with the council in due course.

Liam McArthur: The minister has referred to the Scottish transport appraisal guidance appraisal—STAG appraisal—of Orkney's internal transport needs, which is likely to lead to major expenditure of more than £100 million on new ferries and infrastructure. However, until that work is completed and the funding is secured, the problem remains of funding the current internal ferry and air services, which have experienced large cost increases as the result of factors that are beyond the council's control. Will the minister therefore urgently consider Orkney Islands Council's request for a continuation of the special transport grant of about £1 million, which previous transport ministers provided to keep those vital lifeline services running? Will he give the council the reply that it seeks and needs?

Stewart Stevenson: The First Minister, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth and I have all visited Orkney in recent months and we have discussed the issue with the council, so we are clearly aware of the difficulties that it faces. I regret to say that until the comprehensive spending review is complete, I cannot make new commitments, but I assure the member that we are aware of the council's position.

4 October 2007

(S3O-857) Proposed Disabled Persons Parking (Scotland) Bill

4th October 2007

Proposed Disabled Persons Parking (Scotland) Bill

6. Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will support the disabled persons parking (Scotland) bill. (S3O-857)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I understand that a final bill will be introduced in Parliament later this year. We will reach a view at that stage.

Jackie Baillie: The minister will be aware of the very real problem caused to disabled people by the abuse of disabled parking bays; indeed, that much is clear from the Government's own research, which was published just last week. It is equally clear that the current legislation is not fit for purpose. Will the minister tell the chamber why the Scottish Government has declared its support for the proposed sunbed licensing bill, which has yet to be published, and the tartan register, which is not even before the chamber—both worthy proposals, I am sure—but remains silent on improving the lives of disabled people in Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: I think that I can say without ambiguity that we certainly support what Ms Baillie's proposed bill seeks to achieve. However, we need to see whether the material in the bill delivers.

In the meantime, we are engaged on this subject. I have written to Councillor Pat Watters of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to remind him of local authority powers to promote orders to protect the parking spaces in question, and I await his reply. We are as committed as Ms Baillie is to supporting people with blue badges and ensuring that they are able to park wherever they require.

27 September 2007

(S3O-714) East Coast Main Line (Reston)

27th September 2007

East Coast Main Line (Reston)

4. John Lamont (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what plans it has to improve the east coast main line and, in particular, to reopen a station at Reston. (S3O-714)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The reopening of a railway station at Reston and other possible train service changes are being considered as part of the wider options for making best use of capacity on the east coast rail route and are included in the consultation on the east coast main line route utilisation strategy.

John Lamont: As the minister knows, the reopening of a station at Reston is of particular importance to Berwickshire. I am concerned that there appears to be doubt about who should progress the issue. Scottish Borders Council believes that it is a matter for the Scottish Government, but the Government thinks that it is a matter for the council. I would be grateful if he could clear that up for us.

Stewart Stevenson: My understanding is that Scottish Borders Council has the primary responsibility for the development of the feasibility study, which includes the proposal to reopen Reston station. I am informed that it has not yet fully completed its appraisal as it is awaiting comment on the stage 1 Scottish transport appraisal guidance report from Transport Scotland. The matter is with a Government agency, but Scottish Borders Council will shortly be in a position to progress its responsibilities.

20 September 2007

(S3O-656) Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route

20th September 2007
Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route
2. Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive why it will not make a statement on its intended method of financing the Aberdeen western peripheral route until any public inquiry on objections to the road has been completed. (S3O-656)
The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): We will examine the funding of the Aberdeen western peripheral route for its suitability for taking forward under our proposed Scottish futures trust. The procurement of the scheme will proceed as the statutory process takes its course.
Mike Rumbles: I have a letter from Alex Salmond dated 15 June 2007 in which he says that he will ensure that the road
"is not financed by ... PPP/PFI".
Does not the minister accept that by dropping the commitment to a public-private partnership programme, he risks, at least, further delay on top of the one-year delay that he has already announced, and that he might jeopardise the entire project?
Stewart Stevenson: No.
Richard Baker (North East Scotland) (Lab): What is the current estimate of the increase in cost of financing the western peripheral route that will result from the minister's decision to delay its construction by a year? What share of that cost will be borne by council tax payers in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire?
Stewart Stevenson: The scheme cost remains £295 million to £395 million. The member refers to my announcement of a new date for the completion of the Aberdeen western peripheral route, but I draw to his attention the fact that I inherited every single day of delay, which I reflected in the announcement of a 2012 completion date.
Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con): I ask the minister to give an assurance that, whatever he decides about the future funding of the project, he will not let his ideological aims and objectives get in the way of its progress and that not a single penny will be added to the tax bill of local taxpayers as a result.
Stewart Stevenson: I am sure that the member knows that, as a north-east member, I share other members' belief in the urgent need to address the issue of traffic in Aberdeen. I will work night and day to ensure not only that we deliver the project that Aberdeen needs, but that we do so at a cost that is affordable and through the use of a funding mechanism that is more effective in cost terms than the discredited PPP system.
Brian Adam (Aberdeen North) (SNP): What further progress has been made on starting the northern leg of the AWPR?
Stewart Stevenson: I am pleased to say that this week detailed ground investigations have commenced on the northern leg. The work will involve the drilling of approximately 100 boreholes and 183 trial pits and the deployment of 30 geotechnical engineers, geologists, drillers, ecologists and archaeologists. That work is firm and real evidence of our determination to make early progress when we can.
Lewis Macdonald (Aberdeen Central) (Lab): Further to Richard Baker's question, I give the minister a third opportunity to say to what extent the additional costs of the project will be borne by local council tax payers. What part of the envelope of £295 million to £395 million will now be paid by council tax payers in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire?
Stewart Stevenson: I am sure that the member knows that the price range that I quoted, which remains the same, is based on 81 per cent of the costs being met by the Scottish Government, 9.5 per cent of them being met by Aberdeen City Council and 9.5 per cent of them being met by Aberdeenshire Council. There is no change.

13 September 2007

(S3O-602) Edinburgh Airport Rail Link

13th September 2007

Edinburgh Airport Rail Link

5. Alison McInnes (North East Scotland) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive when it will report back to the Parliament on its work on continuing to progress the Edinburgh airport rail link project. (S3O-602)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): As promised, we will report back to Parliament at the end of the month on the review of governance issues identified in the Audit Scotland report.

Alison McInnes: I thank the minister for his answer. I remind the minister of two points. First, the terms of the motion on EARL that the Parliament agreed on 27 June were:

"That the Parliament ... further calls on the Scottish Government to continue to progress the EARL project by resolving the governance issues identified by the Auditor General".

Secondly, the response of the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth to that motion being passed was:

"I also put on record that the Government will pursue the terms of the resolution in relation to the Edinburgh airport rail link."—[Official Report, 27 June 2007; c 1192.]

I ask the minister to explain how suspending work on the EARL project, as well as his comment to the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee on Tuesday that suspending work on EARL was

"the way to protect the public purse and ensure that we do not allow the project to go ahead",—[Official Report, Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, 11 September 2007; c 26.]

square with those two earlier points? Is it not the case that the minister has already decided to defy the will of Parliament and to ignore the promises of his cabinet secretary?

Stewart Stevenson: I assure the member that we continue to engage with the governance issues. I refer her to the answer that I gave to Tavish Scott on 6 September, which refers to meetings that John Swinney has had with BAA and Network Rail. Those form part of a continuing programme of engagement with this important issue, which precisely addresses the governance issues that were contained in the motion that was passed by the Parliament.

Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): Would the minister not accept that it is a strange definition of "continue to progress" to suspend the work that is being done on a project? Would he not accept that it is his responsibility, as Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change, not just to bring the interested parties and stakeholders together but to tell them to get on with the work and to progress the project, which was agreed to by Parliament?

Stewart Stevenson: Mr McNulty might not have been listening. We are firmly engaged in addressing the governance issues that the Auditor General for Scotland identified. By the end of the month, we will present our response to what we have found and on what we can do now.

(S3O-592) Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route

13th September 2007

Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route

4. Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive when it now expects construction work on the Aberdeen western peripheral route to begin. (S3O-592)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): We expect construction of the Aberdeen western peripheral route to begin in 2010.

Alex Johnstone: I thank the minister for that reassurance. One of the greatest causes of concern and potential delay is the mystery that surrounds the decision-making process that preceded the announcement of the final route some 18 months ago. Will the minister undertake to approach previous ministers to ensure that papers that informed the decision-making process are made available to the local inquiry?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will be aware that the consultation on the AWPR received some 8,215 responses, so it represents a substantial issue that requires to be dealt with. The Government will certainly ensure that any public local inquiry is informed to the maximum extent possible. If previous ministers have papers to which I do not have access that might help to inform that inquiry about the decision-making processes, I seriously encourage them to make them available to the inquiry.

Brian Adam (Aberdeen North) (SNP): In connection with the timing of the construction of the Aberdeen western peripheral route, will the minister consider starting on the northern leg first?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes an excellent suggestion, which we are certainly considering. A number of practical problems are associated with it, however. To enable construction to take place, we have started the process of land acquisition, and we will continue to pursue that at best speed. We will continue to consider the proposal and I will try to promote it.

6 September 2007

(S3O-509) Rail Service (Shotts)

6th September 2007

Rail Service (Shotts)

7. Karen Whitefield (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what steps it is taking to improve the rail service between Glasgow and Edinburgh via Shotts. (S3O-509)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Transport Scotland is leading work to provide firm proposals for the most cost-effective ways to improve reliability, bring down journey times and provide capacity for the expected continuing growth in rail passenger numbers between Edinburgh and Glasgow, including the Glasgow to Edinburgh via Shotts line. The results of that work will be reported to Parliament later this month and will be considered as part of the strategic transport projects review.

Karen Whitefield: I am grateful to the minister for his response and I look forward to reading Transport Scotland's report next month. However, is he aware of the concerns of my constituents in Shotts who want to access the rail service? Does he agree that it is simply not good enough that residents in Shotts with physical disabilities are denied access to the rail service because their station is not disabled accessible? Will he confirm that work will be undertaken to end that situation?

Further, is the minister aware of the growing campaign supporting the introduction of a limited-stop express service on the Shotts line, which would greatly improve access to the route for not only Shotts residents but a number of communities across Lanarkshire and West Lothian? In addition, can he confirm that the Caledonian express proposals will be given consideration?

Stewart Stevenson: Three for one.

On disabled access, the United Kingdom Government has allocated funding under the access for all scheme. The Scottish portion of that totals £41 million, of which £35 million has been allocated to Network Rail to improve step-free access to stations. Shotts station has not yet been included, but we will certainly look at future funding for Shotts.

We are considering the limited-stop express as part of our general desire to improve capacity, reliability and speed on the Glasgow to Edinburgh line. The proposed Caledonian express is part of our consideration of the future of the Glasgow to Edinburgh line and the proposal is being considered by Transport Scotland.

(S3O-503) Forth Crossing

6th September 2007

Forth Crossing

4. John Park (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive on what date a decision will be forthcoming about a replacement Forth crossing. (S3O-503)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Transport Scotland has been working over the summer to consider both the bridge and tunnel options. It has also been holding some very successful public information exhibitions. In parallel with those, further work on environmental and geophysical surveys, funding and legislative and procurement options is continuing. That work will inform a decision by ministers on the type and location of the crossing in the autumn.

John Park: In May, the Executive announced plans to remove tolls on the existing crossing. Immediately after that decision, the minister was contacted by both the Transport and General Workers Union and me, as we were interested to find out whether he would meet workers' representatives to discuss the issue. To date—this is very disappointing—he has refused to meet the union. In my experience, that lack of dialogue with workers' representatives is unprecedented since devolution. My question is simple: will he commit to meeting those workers in the near future to discuss their views on the future safe operation of the bridge, or will it be a lot quicker for the trade unions to buy a fringe ticket for the SNP's conference in October?

Stewart Stevenson: At the meetings that I had with both bridge boards, the agenda included the issue of the staff who are employed in collecting tolls. As employers, it is the boards' responsibility—and our urgent need—that they deal humanely and properly with the situation in which the employees find themselves.

If anyone wishes to talk to me about the operation of the bridges, I will be happy to talk to them. Until the negotiations between management and staff are complete, it is important that I do not make things more complicated for either party by joining that discussion. However, I will be happy to meet anyone who wishes to discuss the continued safe operation of the bridges, which is in all our interests.

The Presiding Officer: This question has excited a lot of interest, so I cannot promise to call all members who want to ask a supplementary.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): John Park's question refers to a "replacement" Forth crossing, presumably based on the assumption that the existing crossing might be closed to heavy goods vehicles at some point in the future. If the minister's intention is not simply to replace the crossing, will he endeavour to describe his proposals more accurately in future by referring to it as an additional Forth crossing?

Stewart Stevenson: It is a replacement crossing. We cannot allow unconstrained growth in traffic over the Forth. Our aim is to maintain traffic at 2006 levels for all modes.

I point out to the member that the existing bridge is a listed building, so although we may have a new crossing, we cannot remove the existing one without the permission of the appropriate body.

Mary Mulligan (Linlithgow) (Lab): I am very concerned that little recognition seems to have been given to the impact of a new crossing in West Lothian. Will the minister say when he last met with representatives of West Lothian Council? Did they raise with him my concerns about the impact, which I know he will recognise, of a new crossing on villages such as Philipstoun, Newton and Winchburgh? The minister will be aware that I have written to him about the matter. Will he say how he intends to ensure that those villages are not affected badly, both during the construction phase and once the new crossing is open?

Stewart Stevenson: I agreed earlier this week to meet representatives of West Lothian Council and, indeed, the other councils that have an interest in any new crossing. I expect to deal appropriately with the matter that the member raises at that time.

Tricia Marwick (Central Fife) (SNP): In reaching a decision about whether to have a bridge or a tunnel, will the minister bear in mind that the number 1 priority for business in Fife and Tayside is that the gap must be closed between the possible closure of the bridge to HGVs in 2013 and the opening of a new crossing, which should happen in 2016? Will he make that the number 1 priority so that we can somehow telescope the timescale left to us as a legacy by the previous Government, which refused to take any action on the matter in November 2005?

Stewart Stevenson: Earlier this week, I met the Road Haulage Association and, in a separate meeting, the Freight Transport Association. They made clear their concerns about the choice of crossing and their input will form an important part of the decision-making process.

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con): I thank the minister for his earlier explanation of the decision-making process on the physical nature of a new Forth crossing, but is he giving any consideration to the fiscal mechanisms that will be necessary to fund such a crossing? When will any decision on that be made?

Stewart Stevenson: The financing of the crossing is part of the overall consideration. I refer the member to my original answer, in which I spoke about further work on funding as part of the work that must be done before the decision can be taken to Cabinet and thereafter brought to Parliament.

28 July 2007

(S3O-445) Forth and Clyde Canal (Kirkintilloch)

28th June 2007

Forth and Clyde Canal (Kirkintilloch)

2. David Whitton (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (Lab): I confess that I lodged my question because I was unsure which minister is responsible for canals.

To ask the Scottish Executive what action is being taken to develop and improve the canal network, in particular the Forth and Clyde canal at Kirkintilloch. (S3O-445)

The Presiding Officer: Stewart Stevenson will put the member out of his agony.

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I am indeed the minister who has the great pleasure of being responsible for canals.

British Waterways is working with local authorities and other partners to take action to develop and improve many parts of our canal network. Kirkintilloch provides a very good example of a community that is capitalising on the rebirth of the Forth and Clyde canal. More than £15 million is being invested there in canalside developments.

David Whitton: Well, now we know—that is very nice.

In a spirit of good will, I invite the minister to come in the summer to Kirkintilloch in the heart of my constituency—as he knows, it is the canal capital of Scotland—for the Kirkintilloch canal festival on 25 and 26 August. There, he can see for himself how that investment has been put to good use.

After the hurly-burly of trams and train links, I recommend that the minister focus on the more sedate mode of travel that canals provide, which can make a big contribution to the Scottish economy through tourism and trade. Canals carried freight before railways were invented and they could still carry freight today.

The Presiding Officer: The member needs to get to the end of his question.

David Whitton: I hope that the minister has read "Scotland's Canals: an asset for the future". Will he ensure that canals continue to benefit from a share of Government spending in their infrastructure investment?

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the member for the invitation. I have communicated with British Waterways, whose annual general meeting is on 27 September, and I certainly hope to receive an invitation from it to visit a canal in the summer. Now that the member has given me the appropriate dates—25 and 26 August—I may encourage it to consider inviting me to Kirkintilloch.

Canals are an important part of tourism, travel and sustainable development. The member may care to know that in the most recent year, the Scottish Executive provided its highest level of funding to British Waterways Scotland for a considerable number of years. I have no reason to believe that the future will carry anything different but, of course, because of the comprehensive spending review, I am in the hands of the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth.

Dave Thompson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): What plans does the minister have to ensure that there is a fixed link over or under the Caledonian canal at Tomnahurich in Inverness, so that there is a free flow of canal and road traffic at all times?

Stewart Stevenson: I am aware of local concerns about that issue. I understand that a working group that Highland Council heads and which is working closely with British Waterways is seeking to identify options. Because I am the minister with responsibility for planning, too, I do not wish to make a specific comment at this stage. However, I hope that the matter will be resolved speedily.

Patricia Ferguson (Glasgow Maryhill) (Lab): I have no wish to disrupt the consensual attitude in the chamber these days, but I must take issue with my colleague Dave Whitton. Maryhill is of course acknowledged as the capital for the canal in Scotland. Maryhill lock is a scheduled historic monument and we in Maryhill are particularly proud of it.

Joking aside, when the minister discusses such issues with British Waterways, will he take up the regeneration of the area around the Forth and Clyde canal in my constituency? The prospects for regeneration are huge, and the opportunities are immense for the communities that live around the canal, but progress has been very slow. There seems to be movement now, but I would be grateful if the minister took the issue up with British Waterways.

Stewart Stevenson: I am happy to do that. One of my favourite books used to be "Para Handy", so Bowling—which is, at least, near Glasgow if not in Maryhill—is close to my heart. I will raise the point that the member makes when I meet British Waterways.

21 June 2007

(S3O-322) Transport (Ayrshire)

21st June 2007

Transport (Ayrshire)

3. Cathy Jamieson (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what its transport priorities are for Ayrshire. (S3O-322)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Transport priorities for Ayrshire are the responsibility of the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport and the relevant local authorities. The Scottish Executive will continue to work closely with those bodies, in line with the national transport strategy, to meet the transport needs of Ayrshire.

Cathy Jamieson: The Scottish Executive has responsibility for trunk roads. Does the minister agree that road safety for vehicle passengers and pedestrians is a key element of any transport strategy? Does he consider further improvements to the A77 in my constituency, including a bypass for Maybole, to be a priority? Will he examine the accident statistics for the A70 and consider making it a trunk road in light of its strategic importance in connecting south and east Ayrshire with the M74? Finally, will he consider what improvements can be made to the A76, including bypassing the villages that suffer from heavy traffic, such as Mauchline and New Cumnock, and take early action to ensure that the footpath that runs part of the way between Cumnock and New Cumnock is completed so that those who walk the route regularly can do so in safety?

Stewart Stevenson: It may interest the member to know that I will shortly consider the regional transport strategies. I expect to see reflected in those that affect Ayrshire the matters that she raised. On a date yet to be agreed, I will visit Ayrshire to see some of the roads in question. I will do so at the invitation of John Scott, the Conservative MSP, but I will be happy to meet other people during that visit if it assists in ensuring that I understand the issues in sufficient detail to respond appropriately.

Alex Neil (Central Scotland) (SNP): I draw the minister's attention to the fact that the lack of sufficient public transport connections between different points is a barrier to economic expansion in Ayrshire. Will he consider the possibility of setting up, on a pilot basis, a bus route development fund similar to the successful air route development fund, to try to remove those barriers to economic development in Ayrshire?

Stewart Stevenson: A bus route development grant is already in existence: it provides £22.5 million over three years to support 50 new and enhanced bus services across Scotland. I note what the member says about public transport in Ayr. When I read the regional transport strategy later this month, I will certainly respond to the issue he has raised.

(S3O-305) Firth of Forth (Road Crossing)

21st June 2007

Firth of Forth (Road Crossing)

2. Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what progress isbeing made in planning for a replacement road crossing for the Forth. (S3O-305)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The Forth replacement crossing study has now concluded and Transport Scotland is considering the study findings. A paper is being prepared for the Cabinet to consider options and the associated costs, to allow an early decision on this important project.

Claire Baker: I am pleased that the minister recognises that it is vital for the economic and social future of Fife and the east of Scotland that planning for a replacement road crossing begins now, and that a situation in which travel to and from Fife is unreasonably restricted is not allowed to develop.

I would like to impress on the minister the importance of consultation with the current bridge workforce on changes and new proposals. Can the minister give me a guarantee that there will be full consultation with the people of Fife on the options for a replacement road crossing?

Stewart Stevenson: In relation to the changes that have been announced to the tolling regime on the existing bridge, the workforce is at the front of our minds and the Forth Estuary Transport Authority has taken appropriate steps with regard to consultation.

On the new crossing, whatever its nature might be, we have to take the people of Fife and the people on this side of the estuary along with us. The project is a strategic one that we have to get right and for which we have a tightly constrained timetable. Consultation will be an important part of taking the project forward.

Tricia Marwick (Central Fife) (SNP): I congratulate the cabinet minister for moving this issue forward quickly. I look forward to an announcement about the conclusions of the study being made in the near future.

Does the minister agree that we are so late coming to conclusions because, in November 2005, the former First Minister said that it was a particularly stupid idea to start making plans? If that had not been his position, we could have been a lot further forward than we are at the moment.

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the member for her promotion of me to the Cabinet. One never knows—some day.

At this stage, it is important to examine some of the timetable constraints that we are faced with. It is possible—although this is the earliest date—that the bridge will have to close to heavy goods vehicles in 2013. Work continues, and we hope that that will not be the case. If we can proceed at the pace that we seek, it may be possible to start construction in 2016. I am determined that we will have no further delays in addressing an issue that is important for Fife and the Lothians.

Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central) (Lab): Will the minister give a commitment to ensure that the proposals for the new Forth crossing include options for public transport? Does he accept that the new crossing gives us the chance not just to maintain vital road access across the Forth but to increase capacity for public transport, particularly given the pressure on the Forth rail bridge and the need to reduce congestion and carbon emissions?

Stewart Stevenson: The importance of public transport is very much part of our consideration of the replacement crossing. The member is likely to know that there are issues with signalling on the existing railway bridge; we are addressing them, following up on the work of the previous Administration. She may be assured that, as well as provide a new road crossing, we want public transport to be improved between Fife and the Lothians.

14 June 2007

(S3O-205) Transport Projects Review (Audit Scotland)

2. Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive what terms of reference, timescale and resources will be required for Audit Scotland to carry out a full review of the procedures used to forecast the costs of the Edinburgh tram and Edinburgh airport rail link projects; how the reporting date of 20 June 2007 was agreed; to whom Audit Scotland will report at the end of the review; and what the implications of the review are for the independence of Audit Scotland. (S3O-205) The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The Auditor General for Scotland has determined the terms of reference, resources and timescale for Audit Scotland's review, in accordance with his statutory powers. Audit Scotland has published the terms of reference on its website at www.audit-scotland.gov.uk. The Auditor General agreed the reporting date of 20 June in discussion with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth on 4 June. The Auditor General will report by presenting the findings of the review to Parliament on 20 June. There are no implications for the independence of Audit Scotland. Margaret Smith: Given that the minister has used overruns on other projects to justify reviewing the trams project and EARL, will he explain how the review can look at the process for estimating project costs and management arrangements, but cannot, in the words of Audit Scotland, "provide assurance on the accuracy of the cost estimates"? Is that because to do so would compromise the independence of Audit Scotland in the on-going review of major projects? Will the minister also inform us whether the review's findings will be made public through the whole Parliament or through the Audit Committee, which asked the Auditor General and Audit Scotland to undertake the only review of this kind when the committee was considering the Holyrood building project? Stewart Stevenson: It will be for the Auditor General to publish the results and present them to Parliament. I expect that the results will also be available on the Audit Scotland website. The member asked how we can address the accuracy of estimates and pointed to overruns on other projects. She is right that we have serious concerns about such overruns and that that gave us the impetus to look at the largest projects in our portfolio. However, the Auditor General brought forward in the schedule work that he had planned to do—it is not in itself new work. We expect that that work will inform decision making on key projects and that it will give us a solid foundation for accepting that good processes and management practices are in place in key projects. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab): When the review is completed and, as was agreed last week, a motion is put to the Parliament, will the Scottish Government accept the Parliament's decision? Stewart Stevenson: Well, let us not run ahead of ourselves in relation to what the report will say. We are committed to having a debate and to bringing to Parliament before the summer recess our views on the major projects that we are considering. Rather than expect difficulties, the member should wait for the appropriate steps to be taken and see what outcome we reach. Tavish Scott (Shetland) (LD): The minister said "overruns on other projects"—I wrote that down carefully. Will he tell members what those other projects are? Stewart Stevenson: Mr Scott will be aware that the figures that were brought to Parliament for the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine project were in the range of £65 million to £70 million. We are advised that the expected completion price will be in the order of £83 million. That is a substantial overrun, which causes us to seek assurances that we have adequate management control over even larger projects and that estimates have been derived professionally. It is perfectly natural for us to do that; if we did not, I am sure that we would attract considerable criticism. Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): I am still not clear about how value for money can be addressed by an Audit Scotland inquiry that does not look at the accuracy and reliability of cost estimates. Mr Swinney said in the debate on the matter that he would address value for money. Will the minister tell us how Mr Swinney will address value for money as a separate exercise from the one that Audit Scotland is undertaking? Will the minister confirm that before the recess there will be a debate on the issue, following which members will have the opportunity to vote on whether the trams and EARL projects go ahead? Stewart Stevenson: I am surprised that the member has not twigged that there will be a debate—it has been a theme—before the recess. I return to the subject of the Auditor General's independence. He has brought forward work so that we as ministers can make our determinations about value for money. He will inform us whether there is a robust process that has been gone through effectively in the calculation of estimates and whether there are management processes to carry the projects forward. That is his role, and he will report to Parliament on those matters. Based on that work and on other considerations, as ministers, we must assess whether certain projects deliver value for money. We will report to Parliament as we have promised.

31 May 2007

(S3O-33) Roads (Haudagain Roundabout)

31st May 2007

Roads (Haudagain Roundabout)

2. Richard Baker (North East Scotland) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive when it will make improvements at the Haudagain roundabout in Aberdeen to reduce traffic congestion. (S3O-33)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The north-east Scotland transport partnership is working with Transport Scotland and Aberdeen City Council on a second, more detailed, appraisal through Scottish transport appraisal guidance—STAG—to identify improvements to the A90 and A96 Haudagain junction. The work is closely linked to the regeneration of Middlefield and will include in-depth economic and environmental assessment of options. The aim is to produce a full business case, to enable Transport Scotland—the trunk roads authority—to make a decision on implementation. We expect the appraisal to be complete by the autumn.

Richard Baker: I am sure that the minister is aware that I and other members pressed his predecessor on the urgent need for improvements at the Haudagain roundabout. The proposals for improvements to reduce the severe congestion in the area are welcome, but does he agree that we need a timetable for their implementation? Might further options for improvement be considered? Given that time is crucial, when can we expect the improvements to be in place?

Stewart Stevenson: The second STAG appraisal is going on and disruption of that activity might lead to further delays, which the member's question makes clear he is anxious to avoid. The Haudagain roundabout in Aberdeen is important and represents a major constriction on traffic flows in the city, so we are anxious to make best speed in resolving the problem. We must address the issue well in advance of the coming into operation of the Aberdeen western peripheral route.

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