31 January 2008

(S3O-2065) Air Routes

Air Routes

2. John Scott (Ayr) (Con): To ask the Scottish Government what contact it has had with Scottish airport operators and airlines regarding the development of new international air routes following the ending of the route development fund for direct flights to and from Scottish airports. (S3O-2065)

The Presiding Officer: I understand that the minister has damaged his back. I am sure that the Parliament will be understanding if he is not able to stand up.

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): It is all right—I am managing to stand so far, Presiding Officer.

We have regular contact with airport operators and airlines at ministerial and official levels on issues of mutual interest, including that of improving Scotland's international connectivity.

John Scott: In answer to a previous parliamentary question, the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change confirmed:

"The Scottish Executive's Route Development Fund has contributed substantially to the growth of direct international air routes to and from Scotland."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 17 July 2007; S3W-1844.]

In answer to another question, he stated:

"An evaluation of the economic benefits arising from the Route Development Fund (RDF) will be carried out".—
[Official Report, Written Answers, 20 July 2007; S3W-1845.]

Scotland's airports are key to growing our economy and establishing connectivity to our international markets. The routes that were previously created by the fund are also key routes for facilitating migrant workers' access to our economy—

The Presiding Officer: Could we have a question, please?

John Scott: They contribute to population growth and increased participation rates in the Scottish labour market. Given that the cabinet secretary has said—

The Presiding Officer: Question, please, Mr Scott.

John Scott: I am coming to it, sir. Given that the cabinet secretary has said that the route development fund is not to be reinstated, what measures is the minister prepared to take to support the continuing development of Prestwick airport, which is so vital to the Ayrshire economy?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes an interesting contribution. The development fund has been valuable, although it is worth noting that many of the Ryanair routes that are successfully operating out of Prestwick airport have not had support from it. The market is increasingly delivering without the interventions from ministers that there have been in the past.

We welcome engagement with airlines and airport operators to ensure that we are addressing the climate change agenda through more efficient aircraft and new modes of operating. That is an increasingly important part of our focus as well.

Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): The minister will recognise the potential of Wick airport for the development of new international air routes. Does he agree that, in addition to the prospect of increased business usage of the airport as replacement industry and commerce are established while Dounreay continues to decommission, the northern North Sea and west of Shetland oil sectors present future opportunities for flights between Wick and Bergen and Haugesund—I hope that I have pronounced that correctly—in Norway and for helicopter movements between the northernmost airport on the Scottish mainland and marine oil and gas installations?

Stewart Stevenson: One of my few air journeys was to Wick, and coincidentally I spent my honeymoon in the 1960s in Haugesund, so the member has managed to press all the right buttons for me.

Wick airport has a number of particular advantages. It supports an area that is lacking in mainstream rapid communication, so it is very important. As part of my work, I have looked at whether it might be a suitable area for developing new approach facilities with the Civil Aviation Authority, using global positioning systems technology. That would increase the accessibility of Wick and reduce the number of diversions. We will continue to pay close attention to the development of Wick airport.
Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): Perhaps the contortions that the minister undertook this morning in the transport debate have contributed to his bad back.

Andy Kerr (East Kilbride) (Lab): Or was it his honeymoon?

Des McNulty: That was a long time ago.

Before the Government took the decision on the ending of the route development fund, did it consult the international experts who the First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth were so keen to highlight would be involved in all decisions that contributed to Scotland's prosperity? If so, what did they say?

Stewart Stevenson: The member, who was a minister in the previous Administration, will be well aware that the change in the status of route development support derived from decisions by the European Union in 2005. It is now possible to provide support only if the airports at both ends of the route have fewer than 5 million passengers per annum. Furthermore, we can support only routes within the EU, and we cannot assist non-EU carriers. That restricts the fund to the extent that the market is a much more effective way of ensuring that Scotland's economy continues to be supported by the development of new routes—and that is what is happening successfully today.

The Presiding Officer: I hope that the number of supplementary questions has helped the minister to stand up and sit down enough to ease his back.

17 January 2008

(S3O-1893) Train Services (Europe)

Train Services (Europe)

8. Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will encourage the development of scheduled train services from Scotland to continental Europe via the recently improved Channel tunnel rail link. (S3O-1893)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): We will continue to work with the Department for Transport to achieve the best solutions for services between Scotland and England with connections to mainland Europe through the Channel tunnel rail link.

Charlie Gordon: I thank the minister for that answer, but of course I am interested in direct services from Scotland to the continent. The Eurostar trains that were intended for our daytime services via the Channel tunnel have been leased to the French, the new sleeper trains that were intended for our night services have been sold to the Canadians, and Eurostar has said that it has no plans for services north of London without a brand new high-speed rail line. In view of the fact that it has been about 12 years since Strathclyde Passenger Transport, under my chairmanship, unsuccessfully took court action against the United Kingdom Government on this matter, does the minister agree that it might be time to have a look at the First ScotRail franchise to see whether we can build ourselves some direct continental services for the future?

Stewart Stevenson: I know of Charlie Gordon's long-term engagement with this subject and I welcome his support for improving services from Scotland to other parts of Europe. However, the responsibility for cross-border services lies primarily with the Secretary of State for Scotland. We can and do give non-binding advice, and we are encouraging the secretary of state and the Westminster Government to examine what significant improvements can be made to ensure that Scotland has access to the Channel tunnel and improved connections across Europe.

Jamie Hepburn (Central Scotland) (SNP): Does the minister agree that decisions by John Prescott and the Labour Government have thus far prevented direct links from Scotland to Europe via the Channel tunnel? Will the Scottish Government continue to ensure that its welcome upgrades to the railway system in Scotland always take into account the potential for links to the wider European network and not just the UK network?

Stewart Stevenson: The member highlights the significant investments that we are making to improve the railway system in Scotland, thus addressing many of the difficulties that we have inherited. It is a shame that Charlie Gordon was not sufficiently persuasive when he talked to John Prescott, but I am certainly not going to overly criticise him for that.

(S3O-1871) A77 (Symington and Bogend Toll)

17th January 2008

A77 (Symington and Bogend Toll)

2. John Scott (Ayr) (Con): I wish the Presiding Officer every success.

To ask the Scottish Executive what discussions have taken place between ministers and Transport Scotland regarding the proposed upgrade of the A77 at Symington and Bogend toll. (S3O-1871)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Transport Scotland is in regular contact with ministers on transport issues, including the proposed upgrading work at Symington and Bogend toll.

John Scott: As the minister knows, the proposed scheme of improvements at Symington and Bogend toll—to a section of the A77 that has an horrendous safety record—was intended to commence in 2006 but has been pushed back for a number of reasons. The new proposed start date is 2010. The continuing delays on the project are of enormous concern to many of my constituents and to other people who regularly use the A77 between Kilmarnock and Monkton. Will the minister take the matter up with Transport Scotland, with a view to ensuring that everything possible is done to start the project at the earliest possible date, and to ensuring that if a local public inquiry is not required, work is commenced before the projected start date of 2010?

Stewart Stevenson: As the member knows, I visited the site of the difficulties with him some months ago to see for myself what is involved. The current state of affairs is that 16 letters of objection have been received, six of which are from statutory consultees. That raises the potential—but not the certainty—that there will be a public local inquiry. Should no public local inquiry be required, we are looking to bring forward construction by a year to 2009.

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