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.

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