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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.


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