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.

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