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26 June 2008

(S3O-3927) Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland

26th June 2008

Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland

3. Johann Lamont (Glasgow Pollok) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive when the Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland will be reconvened and what support will be put in place for it. (S3O-3927)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):





A meeting of the Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland took place on 17 June, when the appointments process for new members, the work programme and effective liaison with the Public Transport Users Committee for Scotland were discussed. The secretariat is provided by the Scottish Government.

Johann Lamont: It might have been appropriate for the minister to apologise for the impact on people with disabilities of his original decision to abolish MACS. He was so driven by a narrow agenda on public bodies that he disregarded his basic equality responsibilities. Will he reflect on the fact that it was fortunate that parliamentary scrutiny was needed, as MACS would otherwise have been dumped, regardless of the damage that that would have caused? One wonders what other decisions have been made without such scrutiny.

Given that experience, what action will the minister take to ensure that equality responsibilities are taken more seriously in other areas? For example, will he commit his Government to ensuring that no single outcome agreement is signed off unless evidence is provided that an equality impact assessment has been completed?

Stewart Stevenson: I am disappointed by the tone of that supplementary question. The Government takes its equality responsibilities extremely seriously. It also recognises the important role of Parliament in scrutinising what goes on in the Government. In response to the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee's debate, which was good tempered and well balanced, we sought urgently to re-establish MACS as an effective body. We will go beyond the commitment that was shown by the previous Administration by ensuring that—for the first time—members of MACS receive a fee for attendance. Previously, they were expected to attend for no fee.

We have delivered equality to members of that committee, who will be on the same basis as members of the Public Transport Users Committee. The Government steps up to and meets all its equality responsibilities.

Alison McInnes (North East Scotland) (LD): I thank the minister for responding to the concerns of the disabled community and of the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee by agreeing to maintain MACS. However, as the organisation was somewhat neglected in anticipation of its wind-up, it now needs nurturing and intensive care.

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): We need a question, please.

Alison McInnes: It is important that new members of MACS are appointed as quickly as possible. Will the minister assure me that he will make all possible progress on that? Has he considered a truncated process that uses nominations to PTUC? Further—

The Presiding Officer: Very briefly, please.

Alison McInnes: Will the minister ensure that secretarial provision is responsive and supportive?

Stewart Stevenson: I thank Alison McInnes for her constructive questions. We are talking to the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland about accelerating the process. We seek to establish whether people who expressed an interest in serving on PTUC can be redirected to MACS. I hope that we will make the progress that fulfils the commitment that I gave in my previous answer.

Cathy Peattie (Falkirk East) (Lab): I welcome the decision on MACS. Will the minister ensure that MACS reflects the diversity of disabled people and organisations throughout Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: During the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee's debate, I expressed the concern that not all disabilities could be fully reflected within the committee's boundaries. We had a constructive debate on that. I will ensure that we reflect all disabilities to the extent that we can. We will also ensure that MACS and PTUC work together closely. We will use opportunities in the framework of sub-committees for PTUC—if appropriate and in agreement with MACS—to reflect all appropriate disabilities.

19 June 2008

(S3O-3837) Redhouse Roundabout (Upgrading)

19th June 2008

Redhouse Roundabout (Upgrading)

8. Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what meetings it has had since May 2007 with the south east of Scotland transport partnership and Fife Council to discuss the possibility of upgrading the Redhouse roundabout and what meetings it has planned with them on this issue in the future. (S3O-3837)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Transport Scotland officials met Fife Council on 21 April 2008, when a range of transport planning issues was discussed, including the Redhouse roundabout. No meetings are planned with it on the issue in the future.

Claire Baker: The minister will be aware that congestion around the Redhouse roundabout in the morning and afternoon rush hours can make travelling a misery for people throughout the south-east Fife area. Does he agree that, along with the Leven to Thornton rail link, upgrading the Redhouse roundabout is a top priority for people in Fife? Will he outline potential funding sources for making the upgrade of the Redhouse roundabout a reality?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sure that the member is well aware of the strategic transport projects review, which is looking at many of our conurbations and the major transport corridors between them. We will be taking that review forward over the summer and we will report on it later this year. I understand that Fife Council is looking at the rail link between Levenmouth and Thornton as one of its strategic objectives and that it also has concerns about the Redhouse roundabout. We will, of course, take account of both those issues.

Tricia Marwick (Central Fife) (SNP): Is the minister aware that, although the Redhouse roundabout upgrade is important, the number 1 transport priority in Fife is the reopening of the Leven to Thornton railway, and that Fife Council has already allocated £2 million to help it to go ahead? I ask the minister to bear in mind Fife's transport priorities when he or his officials meet SEStran and Fife Council officials.

Stewart Stevenson: I congratulate the administration in Fife Council, of which the Scottish National Party is part, on putting a significant sum of money aside for the rail link for the first time. That is a welcome move towards enabling the project to get serious consideration from this Government.

(S3O-3783) BEAR Scotland (Meetings)

19th June 2008

BEAR Scotland (Meetings)

7. John Lamont (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive when it will next meet representatives from BEAR Scotland. (S3O-3783)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Staff from Transport Scotland have regular meetings with BEAR Scotland. The next meetings will be next week, on 24 and 25 June.

John Lamont: I again draw to the minister's attention a serious problem that is affecting the A7 in my constituency. Due to a landslip, there have been traffic lights a few miles south of Hawick for a year and a half. The A7 is a major trunk route through the Borders and many of my constituents are concerned by the apparent lack of progress at the site and the inconvenience caused by the lights. Many drivers are simply ignoring the lights, which is causing a serious safety issue. When the minister next meets BEAR Scotland, will he ask it to accelerate the work to repair that important route through the Borders?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will be aware that landslips present significant challenges to the road network and the rail network in Scotland. Increased numbers of landslips are one of the impacts of climate change that we are already seeing.

As I said in answer to an earlier question, it is my intention that we do not have traffic lights on rural trunk roads. As the member said, we have had traffic lights at Branxholme for a year and a half. We are, of course, looking at the ground conditions as well as at what requires to be done in relation to the road itself. I believe that we are making reasonable progress, and the member can be assured that we will discuss the matter with BEAR whenever we meet it.

(S3O-3780) A96 (Inveramsay Bridge)

19th June 2008

A96 (Inveramsay Bridge)

5. Nanette Milne (North East Scotland) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what proposals there are to improve the flow of traffic at the Inveramsay bridge, near Inverurie, on the A96. (S3O-3780)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Transport Scotland's strategic transport projects review is examining the longer term needs of Scotland's national strategic transport network. That includes consideration of the A96 as part of the transport corridor between Aberdeen and Inverness.

Nanette Milne: I thank the minister for his response, although it is what I expected.

When I raised the issue of the Inveramsay bridge with the previous Liberal Democrat-Labour Scottish Executive, Transport Scotland's response was that the traffic delays were insignificant. However, when I recently met representatives of the local farming community, it was made clear to me that concern is growing about the bridge's impact on the north-east's economy. Given the increasing numbers of people who commute to Aberdeen along the A96, there is now a real sense of urgency that action must be taken to address that bottleneck. Does the minister agree that this is a real problem? Will the Scottish National Party Government undertake to find a solution to it within the current parliamentary session?

Stewart Stevenson: I have heard much of what the member has mentioned from a number of sources. I have asked Transport Scotland to consider the removal of all traffic lights on all our trunk roads in rural areas throughout Scotland. That is why some work is being done on the A82.

The A96 at Inveramsay bridge has traffic lights. I have had engineers visit the site and make preliminary assessments of possible solutions. That is being actively pursued by the constituency member for Gordon, and I am in regular discussion with him on the subject.

12 June 2008

(S3O-3755) Proposed Climate Change Bill

12th June 2008

Proposed Climate Change Bill

15. Cathy Peattie (Falkirk East) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what consideration it has given to the inclusion in the climate change bill of measures to support the reduction of emissions through reform of planning and building standards for new and existing domestic and non-domestic buildings to facilitate energy conservation and renewable generation, and through the creation of new incentives to make such improvements possible through grants and reductions in local taxation. (S3O-3755)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):





Improving the energy efficiency of buildings and encouraging microgeneration where appropriate—whether through changes to planning, building standards, incentives or other measures—will be important in helping to meet the 80 per cent emissions reduction target that will be set by the proposed Scottish climate change bill.

We are already making progress. For example, we have tripled the support for community and microgeneration, bringing the funding to £13.5 million for this year and the next two years. Since its launch in 1999, we have invested more than £4 million in our interest-free, revolving loan fund to enable small and medium-sized enterprises to invest in energy efficiency technologies. Half of that investment has been made since the change of Government. On 4 June, we launched the energy saving Scotland one-stop-shop advice network, which is funded by the Scottish Government and managed by the Energy Saving Trust.

On future legislation, we have consulted on proposals to grant permitted development rights to microgeneration equipment on domestic buildings, and we intend to produce an amendment to the general permitted development order after the summer recess. We also intend to consult publicly, in the coming months, on energy efficiency measures in housing and non-domestic buildings. Should measures come forward that require primary legislation, the proposed climate change bill may provide a suitable vehicle.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I call Alex Johnstone.

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con) rose—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: My apologies, Mr Johnstone. The minister’s answer was so long that I forgot that there was still a supplementary question to come.

Cathy Peattie: Thank you, Presiding Officer.

Does the minister agree that the first steps in dealing with climate change involve convincing local people of the need to do so? Will he consider how the proposed climate change bill can address that? Furthermore, would not improvement grants be a good start in demonstrating the Scottish Government’s commitment to tackling the issues around climate change?

Stewart Stevenson: I will make this answer brief. Local people and individuals in general are key to moving the agenda forward. I hope that we will be able to persuade as many of them as possible to respond to the needs of climate change.

Alex Johnstone: What scope is there likely to be in the climate change bill, through emissions trading or other mechanisms, to generate resource to underpin the Government’s objectives?

Stewart Stevenson: Emissions trading operates at the margins, essentially. It enables us to smooth bumps and dips as we move forward to achieve our climate change objectives. We are working with the United Kingdom Government and the European Union to ensure that we have appropriate trading regimes in place.

(S3O-3680) Public Transport (Support)

12th June 2008

Public Transport (Support)

14. John Lamont (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what action it is taking to support public transport, in light of recent fuel price rises. (S3O-3680)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):





We are investing significantly to improve Scotland’s public transport, including rail and tram services, travel information and bus services.

John Lamont: Does the minister agree that, following the massive increases in fuel prices in recent months, the time has come for a thorough and urgent review of the bus service operators grant, in an effort better to serve our hard-pressed bus companies, such as Munro’s of Jedburgh? Does he also agree that, in the light of the intense pressure that operators presently face, this is definitely not the time to attach strings to any rebates, whether related to vehicle type, energy efficiency or other criteria?

Stewart Stevenson: The very real difficulty that the member has in focusing on the bus service operators grant is that it accounts for less than 10 per cent of the increase in fuel costs that bus operators are experiencing. Where does the other 90 per cent come from? It comes entirely from the increase in fuel prices and the United Kingdom Government’s failure to respond to the constructive suggestion that my parliamentary colleagues at Westminster have made for a fuel duty regulator, which would cap the price of fuel and enable bus operators to be supported in an appropriate way through a mechanism that levelled out such increases. I suggest that the member direct his attention towards that issue and to ensuring that his parliamentary colleagues at Westminster support, in committee, the proposals for a fuel duty regulator.

(S3O-3685) Scottish Water (Review)

12th June 2008

Scottish Water (Review)

12. David McLetchie (Edinburgh Pentlands) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive when it intends to complete its review of Scottish Water and report to the Parliament on its conclusions. (S3O-3685)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):





I refer the member to the answer that I gave in response to parliamentary question S3W-11146 on 17 April 2008, in which I stated:

"Following the Parliamentary motion of 21 February 2008, we are keeping under review the structure and operations of Scottish Water as part of our regular work on the water industry in Scotland."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 17 April 2008; S3W-11146.]

David McLetchie: I am well aware of the answer that the minister gave to that question. However, I want to refresh his memory with respect to the content of the parliamentary motion that was passed on 21 February 2008. That motion stated that a number of matters were to be kept under review by the Scottish Government, including alternative models for Scottish Water, such as mutualisation, and that the Scottish Government was

"to report back to the Parliament in due course."

Given the Government’s excellent record to date in making ministerial statements to Parliament in response to parliamentary motions, will the minister assure us that "in due course" means before the end of the year?

Stewart Stevenson: We are keeping things under review as we promised and as the motion requires us to do. I particularly thank the member for giving me the opportunity to fulfil the promise to report before the summer by reporting to Parliament here and now that we have been keeping things under review and that we continue to have the top-performing water company in these islands.

(S3O-3679) A82 (Upgrading)

12th June 2008

A82 (Upgrading)

4. Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will provide an update on progress towards upgrading the A82. (S3O-3679)

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I call Stewart Stevenson.

I think the minister will have heard what I have just said.

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):





The minister did hear. I am sorry.

Transport Scotland is currently taking forward some £16 million of improvement schemes from the A82 route action plan to improve safety and speed up journey times for local communities, tourists and businesses. That includes improvement work at Pulpit rock and a bypass for Crianlarich, which we aim to deliver within the current programme to 2012.

Other improvement schemes that are recommended in the route action plan are being considered for future investment as part of Transport Scotland’s strategic transport projects review, which will deliver its findings to ministers in the summer of 2008.

I apologise to you, Presiding Officer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Thank you.

Jamie McGrigor: Presiding Officer I, too, humbly apologise for my lateness.

The number of road accidents on the A82 since 2007 amounts to no less than 143 injury accidents, including eight fatalities. That is a dreadful record that makes it one of the most dangerous trunk roads in Scotland. In the light of that, does the minister believe that the Government is giving enough priority to upgrading the A82? What hope can he give to the long-suffering tourists and commuters who depend on that vital route, and what will he do to bring down the accident rate?

Stewart Stevenson: Jamie McGrigor is aware, as I am, of the vigorous campaign that is being waged to ensure that we get appropriate investment in the A82. I have met the campaigners and discussed many of the issues that are associated with the A82. I am no happier than the member about the accident record and the number of fatalities on the road. It is one of a series of difficult challenges that we have inherited as a Government. We are currently investing in the A82 and, as part of the strategic transport projects review, considering what further investments we wish to make.

Ian McKee (Lothians) (SNP): Has the decision by Parliament last year to invest £0.5 billion in an Edinburgh tram line had any effect on the amount of finance that is available for other transport infrastructure investment in Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: Dr McKee makes a fair point. However, I make it absolutely clear that I regard that decision as being of the past, although it clearly influences room for investment today. I am sure that people will take account of it when they examine the Government’s performance and that of Parliament as a whole.

(S3O-3766) A87 and A887 (Motorcycle Traffic)

12th June 2008

A87 and A887 (Motorcycle Traffic)

7. John Farquhar Munro (Ross, Skye and Inverness West) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it is aware of the heavy motorcycle traffic on the A87 and A887 over the summer months and what assessment it has made of the impact of the poor condition of these roads on motorcycle safety. (S3O-3766)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

I am aware from the automatic traffic count data for the A87 that there is a significant increase in the number of motorcyclists using this route during the tourist season. No data exists for the A887. The number of reported injury accidents involving motorcyclists on the A87 has, however, reduced in each of the three years between 2005 and 2007. There were no reported injury accidents involving motorcyclists on the A887 during the period.

John Farquhar Munro: I hope that the statistics can be improved on this year. I am afraid that, because of the current condition of the surface of the A87, we are leaving ourselves open to serious injury claims because of that section of road. When can we expect to see even minor improvement to the road’s surface?

Stewart Stevenson: Although it has been 40 years since I was on a motorcycle—my wife no longer allows me such pleasures—

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con): Steady now. We do not want to go there.

Stewart Stevenson: We have to have some fun.

I am aware of the effect that poor surfaces can have on safety and motorcyclists’ ability to use roads. We will be looking at the A87 in the context of the strategic projects review and will be keeping the situation under constant review. If John Farquhar Munro is especially concerned about specific parts of the road, I will be grateful if he draws them to my attention so that I can take specific action.


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