18 December 2008

(S3O-5298) Transport Links (Highlands)

18th December 2008

Transport Links (Highlands)

10. David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what progress it is making in improving transport links to the Highlands. (S3O-5298)

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

We have a fully committed programme of transport infrastructure investment to 2012, which includes investment in both the A82 and A9. That includes improvements on the A82 at Pulpit Rock between Tarbet and Ardlui, a new western bypass at Crianlarich and current design work to dual the Birnam to Luncarty section of the A9.

In addition, Transport Scotland's strategic transport projects review has recommended a package of surface transport schemes to be delivered over the next 20 years. Those include measures to improve road links on the A82 between Tarbet and Fort William, to reduce accident severity in the north and west Scotland, to upgrade the A9 from Dunblane to Inverness and to enhance the rail network between Aberdeen and Inverness and between Perth and Inverness. An early priority is Highland main line rail improvements, which have progressed to stage 3—option selection—of the Network Rail guide to railway investment projects process. Full information on those projects and on all interventions is available via Transport Scotland's website.

David Stewart: I thank the minister for his detailed reply. Does he share my view that it is crucial to complete the missing link in the trunk link route, which will enable traffic to bypass Inverness by connecting the A9 to the A82? Highland Council tells me that it cannot fund that project by itself. Will the minister provide an early Christmas boost to the Highlands and reconsider funding the completion of that project?

Stewart Stevenson: We have of course provided substantial boosts for the economy of Inverness from the dualling of the A96 to Nairn, the bypass of that city, the construction of a road between the A96 and the A9 to service the university of the Highlands and Islands and the creation of a railway station at Dalcross. We continue to talk to Highland Council and Highlands and Islands transport partnership about further connections to the A82, for which we have at last adopted the whole route action plan. The member can be absolutely assured that, as the economic case emerges that makes sense for us to prioritise particular interventions, we will look carefully at what we should do. We have delivered a package of interventions for Inverness and the area around it that is unparalleled in recent history.

(S3O-5337) Railway Stations

18th December 2008

Railway Stations

1. Michael Matheson (Falkirk West) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to increase the number of railway stations. (S3O-5337)

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

Two new railway stations are included in the Government's transport interventions announced on 10 December 2008. They are Dalcross and a station in the Gogar area. Development of interventions on the Aberdeen to Inverness line will give consideration to the option of a station at Kintore.

Michael Matheson: The minister will be aware that there are communities throughout Scotland that are well served by railway lines but not by stations on those lines. That is the case in the Bonnybridge area of my constituency, which has seen a rapid increase in its population in the past five years. How should Transport Scotland and Network Rail identify areas like Bonnybridge, where particular advantage could be gained from opening stations?

Stewart Stevenson: Transport Scotland and Network Rail work together and with ministers to consider the many opportunities for stations throughout Scotland. In many cases, it has been in the economic interests of developers to pay most of the cost of new stations. If there is a station in an area, then that increases substantially the ability to sell houses at higher prices. We would be happy to hear about any proposals in Bonnybridge and other areas of the member's constituency in order to ensure that we actively engage to determine whether they are of national or local importance and, if appropriate, to proceed accordingly.

Mary Mulligan (Linlithgow) (Lab): The minister is aware of the new station that has been proposed for Blackridge on the Airdrie to Bathgate rail link. However, the section 75 agreement that was to help fund the station has not been signed. Will the minister stand by promises that were made by the SNP in the 2007 election and commit here, today, to making up the shortfall and ensuring that the people of Blackridge get their station?

Stewart Stevenson: I am aware of some of the difficulties that the developers are having in sustaining the previous commitments from their bankers to support the section 75 agreement. My officials and the officials of West Lothian Council are discussing the issue. The early feedback is that a resolution may well be found. In any event, I am absolutely confident that Blackridge will be part of the new and exciting railway that is being developed.

Roseanna Cunningham (Perth) (SNP): The minister will be aware of how welcome the new early train service between Perth and Edinburgh has been. I have used it already, and quite splendid it is, too. I wonder if I might chance my arm a little further in respect of a slightly different part of my constituency, where there is a longstanding campaign to reopen the Blackford railway station. The minister may be aware of the campaign, which I fully support. Is there any real possibility that the station will reopen in the future?

Stewart Stevenson: Roseanna Cunningham can be assured that her arm remains entirely safe in my hands. I have already agreed to meet one of the local councillors, who is part of the campaign to open Blackford railway station again—COBRA. I expect that meeting to take place shortly. Part of our consideration will be whether reopening the station is a matter of local or national benefit, but in any event I am engaged in that interesting proposal.

(S3O-5266) Scottish Water (Meetings)

18th December 2008

Scottish Water (Meetings)

2. Bill Butler (Glasgow Anniesland) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive when it next plans to meet the chief executive of Scottish Water and what will be discussed. (S3O-5266)

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

Regular meetings are held between officials and the chief executive of Scottish Water on a full range of issues that concern the business. Ministers last met the chief executive with the chair and board of Scottish Water in October. They plan to meet the chair and chief executive in March 2009 to discuss the draft business plan for 2010-14.

Bill Butler: During the discussions in October, I hope that the minister expressed his Government's and Parliament's sincere thanks to Scottish Water's staff for their hard work since 2002, which has achieved savings of £1 billion through efficiency savings and reduced operating costs. I also hope that he will acknowledge that the on-going dispute over Scottish Water's imposition of a 15-month pay deal is having a detrimental effect on its staff's financial situation and morale. Given that over the same period the remuneration of Scottish Water's various executive directors has risen substantially, from an average of £108,000 per annum to an average of £172,000 per annum, does the minister agree that Scottish Water's staff should be fairly rewarded for their dedication with a just pay settlement rather than the arbitrary imposition of what amounts to a wage cut?

Stewart Stevenson: Bill Butler may be interested to know that my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth met and had productive discussions with the Scottish Water unions yesterday. I associate myself with Mr Butler's tribute to the staff of Scottish Water, who have been a significant part of its success since 2002.

The rules and processes by which the remuneration of senior people in Scottish Water are set stem entirely from decisions by a previous Administration.

Jeremy Purvis (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD): In the light of what the minister says, will he please refer to the Official Report of the Finance Committee meeting in which the Scottish Government's deputy head of finance confirmed that the new contract for the new chief executive of Scottish Water is substantially different from that of his predecessor and that it is indeed a deviation—that the Scottish National Party Government put in place—from the senior executive pay policy? Which minister signed off the new contract with the current chief executive's new pay?

Stewart Stevenson: Jeremy Purvis will be aware that the previous Administration set down policies and practices for remuneration of senior members of Scottish Water in the light of the substantial difficulties in retaining the necessary expertise to manage that company. The new chief executive's remuneration was set in that context.

Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): Will the minister confirm that it remains the Scottish Government's policy to ensure that Scottish Water remains firmly in the public sector and continues to progress and rival in its work the most effective working of water companies elsewhere in the United Kingdom?

Stewart Stevenson: Yes.

(S3O-5310) Road Works (Impact on Small Businesses)

18th December 2008

Road Works (Impact on Small Businesses)

5. Alison McInnes (North East Scotland) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive what assessment it has made of the financial impact on small businesses of roadworks. (S3O-5310)

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

Although the Scottish Government is aware of the risk that road works will have a financial impact on small businesses and seeks, in collaboration with them, to minimise the impact, no formal assessment has been carried out.

Alison McInnes: Darren Williams of Tyre and Auto Care Services in Keith estimates that recent road works have resulted in £23,000 loss of income. Mr Williams has said that his business could not have withstood that loss of earnings had the works been undertaken in his first two or three years of trading. Will the Scottish Government investigate the possibility of compensating small businesses that are seriously affected by road works and may already be feeling the pinch of the economic downturn?

Stewart Stevenson: I am aware of the case to which Alison McInnes refers, as the local member has discussed it with me. We have sought to work with the business in question to minimise the effects on it and some other businesses in Keith. Unfortunately, when the road was lifted, substantial difficulties were encountered in services, the nature of which was not known at the time. I believe that the difficulties are now largely resolved. We will learn any lessons that it is appropriate to learn from that business's experience.

(S3O-5327) Public Transport (Local Authorities)

18th December 2008

Public Transport (Local Authorities)

6. Angela Constance (Livingston) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive how it will work with local authorities to improve public transport. (S3O-5327)

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

The Scottish Government encourages local authorities to promote public transport, as reflected in the single outcome agreements. As part of the bus action plan, we encourage local authorities and bus operators to work together to improve bus services throughout Scotland. That will include appointing a senior bus development adviser to promote the improvement of bus services, spreading good practice and highlighting the importance of a good bus network. We will also publish a national strategy on bus park and ride to encourage modal shift from the private car to more sustainable public transport.

Angela Constance: I receive many complaints about the quality and reliability of bus services in my constituency. Although local authorities can work with the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency to monitor commercial services, follow-up action is possible only after the traffic commissioner for Scotland has deliberated. Does the minister agree that the system is ineffective in coercing improvements?

Stewart Stevenson: There has been a substantial change in VOSA's engagement with the bus industry and it has taken some significant actions.

I want quality and reliability, which Angela Constance has described as not being delivered to the required standard within her constituency. Quality partnerships have played a role in improving bus services throughout Scotland. Statutory quality partnerships, which give greater powers to local authorities to direct or control, can also be used. We seek to simplify the legal processes that are associated with their creation, which will I am sure be of substantial assistance.

(S3O-5263) Transport Projects (Fife)

18th December 2008

Transport Projects (Fife)

8. Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what plans it has for new transport projects in Fife. (S3O-5263)

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

Transport Scotland's strategic transport projects review has recommended a package of surface transport schemes to be delivered over the next 20 years. In addition to the Forth replacement crossing securing cross-Forth travel between Fife and the Lothians remaining on schedule to open in 2016, the recommendations of the STPR include a wide range of improvements, such as improvements to the A92 through route management and targeted investment; the development of park-and-ride/park-and-choose sites on the A92; rail enhancements through more frequent and faster train services between Edinburgh, Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy; a direct double-track rail link between Halbeath and Inverkeithing to maintain the 60-minute commutable labour market around Edinburgh and improve access to the port of Rosyth; and the provision of light rapid transit connections between Fife and Edinburgh, connecting the communities in Fife with the business and commercial opportunities in Edinburgh and West Lothian.

Claire Baker: Will the minister confirm whether the Leven to Thornton rail link was considered for inclusion in the strategic transport projects review? If it was, why was the link not included in the Government's final proposals? Will the minister pledge to find central funding for the link, regardless of its omission from the STPR?

Stewart Stevenson: Many projects will be progressed that have not been deemed to be of strategic national importance. The Levenmouth railway project, which is a potentially very important intervention for an area in some economic distress, is currently being pursued by the south east of Scotland transport partnership. I look forward to hearing more about the outcome of SEStran's deliberations as those become available.

(S3O-5265) Waverley Railway

18th December 2008

Waverley Railway

9. Rhona Brankin (Midlothian) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what progress has been made in relation to the project to reopen the Waverley line between Edinburgh, Midlothian and the Scottish Borders. (S3O-5265)

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

We have recently allocated further capital to accelerate a package of advanced works, including taking forward the diversion of key utility services along the route. The purchase of all necessary land is well under way and is expected to be effectively complete around April 2009. Good progress continues with the necessary procurement development for the main works, which will benefit from the acceleration of the advanced works. Contractors and financial investment organisations continue to express a strong interest in the project.

Rhona Brankin: As the minister is aware, the Waverley line will bring great social, environmental and economic benefits to Midlothian and the Borders, including some 360 full-time jobs in the construction of the line and 550 full-time jobs when the line is completed. Can the minister give us some more detail on what funding method will be used for the Scottish Government's contribution to the project? Can he put a figure on the Government's contribution? In addition, given the current economic uncertainty, what discussions have he or Transport Scotland officials had with developers about their financial contribution to the project?

Stewart Stevenson: The railway line will be built, financed and maintained by a not-for-profit company using a design, build, finance and maintenance contract under the non-profit-distributing procurement model. We have previously stated that the costs will be in the range £230 million to £295 million.

Like the member, I very much welcome the 360 or so jobs that will be created during construction and the more than 500 jobs that will result thereafter. Clearly, the contribution of developers is a significant part of the project. We should remember that developer contributions are expected over the life of the project. Discussions with prospective developers have taken place and will continue as the project moves forward.

Jeremy Purvis (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD): I have written to the minister about a business in my constituency that still awaits Transport Scotland's view on how much of the business's land will be required for the construction of the line and whether its land will be required for access during the construction of the line. When the people in that business read the Official Report, are they expected to be happy that they will need to wait another five months for that information to be provided, especially given the current economic climate?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will be aware of the legal environment surrounding compulsory purchase orders and voluntary purchases of land. He should welcome the fact that we have now set a date—April 2009—on which we expect the land acquisition to be complete. That is very rapid and satisfactory progress. I hope that Transport Scotland continues to have meaningful discussions with the business to which the member referred.

4 December 2008

(S3O-5096) Strategic Transport Projects Review

4th December 2008

Strategic Transport Projects Review

4. Irene Oldfather (Cunninghame South) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it has determined a date on which the findings of the strategic transport projects review will be announced. (S3O-5096)

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

Ministers have considered the emerging findings and there will be an announcement on the outcome of the review to Parliament on 10 December.

Irene Oldfather: I draw to the minister's attention a letter that I have received from the chief executive of North Ayrshire Council. It advises me that the council, its partners and the business community believe that upgrading the A737 is the single most important piece of investment to improve confidence in the economy of North Ayrshire. Will the minister assure me that the concerns of my local community will be taken into consideration in deciding the priorities and announcing the review's findings?

Stewart Stevenson: It would not be appropriate for me to anticipate the detail of next week's announcement, but I can say that three key factors will be applied. The first is to ensure the maximum efficient use of transport infrastructure; the second is to support the economy; and the third is to ensure that we have a safe network that is fit for purpose.

(S3O-5055) Edinburgh Trams Project (Discussions)

4th December 2008

Edinburgh Trams Project (Discussions)

8. David McLetchie (Edinburgh Pentlands) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what recent discussions it has had with the City of Edinburgh Council and TIE Ltd regarding the Edinburgh trams project. (S3O-5055)

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

Recent discussions have taken place with the City of Edinburgh Council regarding the administration of the Scottish Government's £500 million contribution and with TIE Ltd regarding the design for a tram-train interchange at Gogar. Preliminary discussions have taken place between the Scottish Government and the City of Edinburgh Council concerning additional means of funding the development of the Edinburgh waterfront area. In addition, preliminary discussions have been held regarding Transport and Works (Scotland) Act 2007 powers for further tram development.

David McLetchie: I thank the minister for that answer. Will the discussions on the additional means of funding the waterfront development refer to additional public funding for that, which would therefore be a back-door, additional contribution by the minister's Government to the funding of the trams project?

Stewart Stevenson: It is clear that we have capped our contribution to the trams project at £500 million. Any moneys that are left over after phase 1A may be applied to phase 1B. We have made no change to our commitments on public funding from this Government.

(S3O-5058) Glasgow Prestwick International Airport (Discussions)

4th December 2008

Glasgow Prestwick International Airport (Discussions)

7. John Scott (Ayr) (Con): To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the management of Glasgow Prestwick international airport following the publication of the airport's development master plan. (S3O-5058)

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

The Scottish Government has had no discussions with the management of Glasgow Prestwick international airport since publication of the airport's draft master plan on 29 October.

John Scott: I thank the minister for that reply. As he will know, Prestwick airport, which makes a huge contribution to the economy of Ayrshire and Scotland, forecasts that its annual passenger numbers are set to double over the next 10 years to 5.7 million. A key element identified in the master plan is the need to increase rail capacity on the Ayr to Glasgow line, and in particular the need to increase the current service frequency of two services an hour, especially at peak times. Will the minister support that position? Will he enter into discussions with Prestwick airport, First ScotRail and other relevant agencies to secure that increase in service?

Stewart Stevenson: Surface transport to our airports is an important part of the provision that we in Government must make. I shall be supporting Prestwick airport myself when I fly out on Sunday on its direct flight to PoznaƄ for the climate change leaders side event that will take place on Monday and Tuesday. I recognise, both personally and as a minister, the importance of Prestwick airport and its being connected to the rest of Scotland.

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