10 December 2009

(S3O-8775) Bus Services

10. Patricia Ferguson (Glasgow Maryhill) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what action it plans in order to safeguard bus services across Scotland. (S3O-8775)

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

We are taking forward a number of initiatives with local government partners and bus operators to maintain and improve bus services, including quality partnerships, punctuality improvement partnerships and the appointment of a senior bus development adviser.

Patricia Ferguson: Does the minister agree that it is unacceptable that bus routes that provide many communities with their only convenient access to local services such as hospitals are being withdrawn? If he does agree with me, what specific action will his Government take to ensure that that practice does not continue?

Stewart Stevenson: I agree that we have an issue with a number of bus routes, which is one of the reasons why we have appointed the senior bus development adviser to help local councils to discharge their responsibilities in that regard. We are also promoting statutory bus partnerships; I welcome Glasgow City Council's progress on that. We will work with councils across Scotland to ensure that we have the best possible bus services everywhere.

(S3O-8779) M8 (Traffic Volume)

8. Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive, further to the answer to question S3O-8422 by Stewart Stevenson on 12 November 2009, whether it will provide full details of all available traffic volume projections for the M8 motorway between the south side of the Kingston bridge and Glasgow airport, expressed in proportion to design capacity. (S3O-8779)

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

We do not hold the information requested as traffic forecasts are calculated on a specific project-by-project basis.

Charlie Gordon: I thank the minister for his answer, although I have to say that I am very disappointed by it. All roads authorities should be monitoring traffic volumes against design capacity now and in future.

Given that the stretch of road in question has the highest proportion of vehicles carrying manufactured goods for export of any stretch of road in Scotland, will he consider monitoring capacity issues on it—and, indeed, on all Scotland's trunk roads and motorways—and reporting the outcomes to Parliament?

Stewart Stevenson: We carry out very substantial monitoring of the road network. For example, I can tell the chamber that between junctions 23 and 24 on the M8, the afternoon westbound peak is 4,000 vehicles and the eastbound peak is 3,300. As I say, we certainly measure what goes on on our road network, but capacity is a different matter. As engineering knowledge develops, capacity changes. Instead of being able to supply instantaneously an answer for each part of our road network, we tend to consider such matters when we are required to do so.

(S3O-8843) Sustainable Development Commission Annual Review (Transport)

7. Alasdair Morgan (South of Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what conclusions it has drawn from the annual review of the Sustainable Development Commission Scotland as it relates to transport. (S3O-8843)

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

Sustainable development is at the heart of our commitment to sustainable economic growth. We welcome the Sustainable Development Commission's report and its positive assessment of much of the work that we are doing. We will consider carefully all its specific recommendations, including those on transport policy.

Alasdair Morgan: The commission refers to strategies to discourage driving, such as pricing and fuel taxes. Does the minister agree that in rural areas there will always be a greater proportion of unavoidable vehicle journeys? Is he therefore committed to ensuring that the measures that are adopted to discourage driving in urban areas do not adversely affect rural areas?

Stewart Stevenson: Yes. Much of Scotland is clearly rural in character; indeed, as the area that I represent is in the mainland council area with the highest proportion of people living in a rural setting, I certainly understand the member's point. We also understand the tension between trying to reduce the number of very short journeys that are undertaken in urban settings and appreciating the social and economic necessity of journeys that are undertaken in rural areas.

3 December 2009

(S3O-8706) Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route

6. Lewis Macdonald (Aberdeen Central) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what annual provision will be required to meet the costs of the Aberdeen western peripheral route over the next 30 years, if it is procured under the non-profit-distributing model. (S3O-8706)

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

Subject to confirmation of the final layout of the road following a decision on the public local inquiry process, we will review the cost estimate and establish estimated annual payments to be made over a fixed period, which is yet to be decided.

Lewis Macdonald: I am sure that the minister will recognise that, if the project is delivered even at the figures that were estimated some years ago, the annual payments to be made, perhaps over a 30-year period, will be in the region of £16 million to £21 million.

Does the minister recall John Swinney's address to the David Hume Institute in April this year? In that speech, Mr Swinney criticised previous Administrations for making

"vast 30-year financial commitments of growing scale and growing impact in the full knowledge that the growth years of public spending were coming to an end."

Does the minister recall that Mr Swinney described that type of 30-year payment scheme as

"the summit of financial irresponsibility"?

That contrasts with the recent statements from Transport Scotland and the minister's and Mr Swinney's colleague Brian Adam in relation to the procurement of the Aberdeen western peripheral route over a 30-year period.

Does the minister, in the light of his plans for the AWPR, support the view of Mr Swinney or of Mr Adam? Does he have any evidence of private sector partners that are willing to provide the money up front to make the non-profit-distributing model work?

Stewart Stevenson: The NPD model and the plan for it to be used in the AWPR are not new: they were published in our infrastructure investment plan in 2008. When I answered Nicol Stephen's written question S3W-24477 on 10 June, I confirmed that there had been no change on that. The NPD model is entirely different from the private finance initiative model in that it caps the commitments that we have to make. We will, of course, consider exactly how we take the project forward, but there is considerable investor interest in the progression of NPD projects by the Government.

(S3O-8673) Carbon Emissions

5. Mike Pringle (Edinburgh South) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it plans to sign up to the 10:10 campaign pledge to reduce its carbon emissions by 10 per cent in 2010. (S3O-8673)

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

Although we have not specifically signed up to the 10:10 campaign, we have firm plans in hand to go well beyond that short-term goal in tackling the emissions that are associated with our operations.

The Scottish Government already has in place a commitment, which has been agreed with the Carbon Trust, to reduce by at least 20 per cent by 2014 the carbon emissions that arise from the way in which we operate our 18 largest buildings, and to adopt even more sustainable travel practices. Delivery against that target is underpinned by a series of specific, planned projects. We are in the process of agreeing with the Carbon Trust an extension of that commitment to a further 64 buildings, and we are undertaking a review of the Scottish Government's travel plan.

Mike Pringle: I thank the minister for his answer, but I am slightly concerned. As he may be aware, Labour MPs recently voted down an Opposition day motion, tabled by the Liberal Democrats, that called on the Westminster Government to sign up to the 10:10 campaign. The motion was supported by all the Scottish National Party MPs. The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 has been hailed as world beating. Why is the Scottish Government not prepared to lead the way again in reducing its own carbon footprint by signing up to the 10:10 campaign? Is it just another case of the SNP saying one thing in Opposition at Westminster but doing another thing in Government in Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: It would be helpful if the member had listened to my original answer, in which I delineated a number of the significant changes that we are making. Indeed, I am being decanted out of my office in Victoria Quay so that changes that are part of that programme can be made—we are seeking through the upgrade of lighting in that building alone to deliver a 33 per cent reduction in emissions. A review of the Scottish Government's travel plan will inject fresh impetus in our targets and reduce our emissions from business travel.

We are doing a great deal to live up to the commitments that we all made when we passed the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009—on this subject, we are ahead of the game.

26 November 2009

(S3O-8555) Public Transport (Scottish Borders)

8. John Lamont (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what it is doing to support public transport in the Scottish Borders. (S3O-8555)

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

The Scottish Government encourages all local authorities to promote public transport. Scottish Government funding for bus services across Scotland is considerable. This year, that included more than £63 million for bus service operators grant and £182 million for concessionary travel. We are also providing record levels of funding to local authorities. The latest figures show that councils spent some £51 million supporting local bus services in 2007-08. That substantial outlay is intended to help the industry to drive down fare costs and to deliver other benefits.

We are also committed to developing rail services, including the £235 million to £295 million Borders rail project, which will improve public transport provision for a range of communities.

John Lamont: As we have already heard, in my constituency in the Scottish Borders dozens of local bus routes will be lost to remote and rural communities unless financial support continues to be provided to the bus companies concerned. Although the minister says that considerable funding is available, the council has made it clear that it does not receive sufficient funding from the Scottish Government to help support the services in question. Does the minister acknowledge the importance of those routes? What support, in addition to that which he has already outlined, will he provide to Scottish Borders Council?

Stewart Stevenson: The Scottish Borders Council, like councils across Scotland, has seen an above-inflation increase in funding; across Scotland, the average increase is 2.9 per cent. We are providing the funds for councils to support bus services across Scotland. It is their responsibility to do so, and they are best placed to understand local needs and to provide a local response.

Jeremy Purvis (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD): Given that we are talking about a Borders community, there is a clear comparison between the fragile nature of the sustainability of the services in rural parts of the Scottish Borders and the situation immediately south of the border in England. Can the minister confirm that the pence-per-mile support that the Scottish Government provides for such services is identical to the level of support that is received by local authorities immediately south of the border?

Stewart Stevenson: The key fact that I draw the member's attention to is that, per capita, the average support that is given to bus services in Scotland is substantially higher than the average support that is given to bus services in England. I think that we give terrific support to Scottish bus services.

(S3O-8605) Bus Services

6. Karen Whitefield (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what steps it is taking to maintain and improve bus services in the light of recent decisions by bus companies to withdraw commercial services from many communities. (S3O-8605)

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

The Scottish Government is committed to promoting the use of bus services in Scotland. We are taking forward a number of initiatives with local government partners and bus operators to maintain and improve bus services.

Karen Whitefield: I am grateful to the minister for the Government's commitment to bus services in Scotland. Is he aware that a recent package of bus service cuts by a major commercial bus operator in the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport area resulted in the need for a subsidy to maintain minimum socially necessary services that was equivalent to 6 per cent of SPT's annual subsidy budget? What steps will the Scottish Government take to ensure that bus services are maintained? Specifically, what assistance can the minister give to Strathclyde Partnership for Transport?

Stewart Stevenson: Despite the £500 million cut in the funding available to Scotland—which, as the cabinet secretary said in his statement this morning, would have meant a £170 million cut for local authorities—funding for local authorities will rise by 2.9 per cent compared with last year. It is of course for local authorities to determine how they spend their money, but in the light of that significant increase and the higher proportion of the Scottish Government's overall budget that is now available to them, I hope that local authorities will take the appropriate action.

Christine Grahame (South of Scotland) (SNP): Is the minister aware that some bus operators are cutting services in the Borders and Penicuik because of loss of revenue due to the Edinburgh tram works? Does he share my concern that Borders buses are excluded from Edinburgh bus station on the same basis, with the result that passengers and drivers are literally left out in the cold at Waterloo Place, where they lack security and facilities? Does he agree that that should not continue?

Stewart Stevenson: I was not aware until now that such bus services are excluded from Edinburgh bus station. I plan to meet the leader of City of Edinburgh Council in the very near future to discuss a range of issues of mutual interest. I will also seek to raise that issue at that time.

Patricia Ferguson (Glasgow Maryhill) (Lab): In view of the apparent inability of commercial operators to provide stable bus networks in my constituency—and, given Ms Grahame's question, in regions throughout Scotland—will the Scottish Government consider granting powers to public transport authorities to resume directly operated bus services?

Stewart Stevenson: An interesting power that has not yet been exercised—which Glasgow City Council is pursuing—is statutory bus partnerships. In support of that, we have recently published guidance and advice that will be helpful to authorities that wish to take that route, which is available. The appointment of a senior bus development officer is already making a difference to the capability to support bus services across Scotland. I think that, in the first instance, those two ways forward are likely to deliver early and most useful successes.

(S3O-8647) Public Transport (Forth Estuary)

5. Jim Tolson (Dunfermline West) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive what work has been carried out by Transport Scotland on its public transport strategy in and around the Forth. (S3O-8647)

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

The strategic transport projects review recommendations that were announced on 10 December 2008 included a number of interventions relating to public transport enhancements in and around the Forth. Since then, the Scottish Government has engaged with interested stakeholders on the development of a public transport strategy to consider opportunities for taking forward those interventions in support of the Forth replacement crossing.

Jim Tolson:
The minister stated in his letter to me dated 24 September that

"Transport Scotland is currently developing a strategy for public transport in and around the Forth",

which I understand will include looking at the proposed park-and-choose schemes at Halbeath and Rosyth. When will the results of that study be made available?

Stewart Stevenson:
Intervention 8 in the STPR refers to park-and-choose facilities at Halbeath and at Pitreavie near Rosyth. I recently met Councillor Russell Imrie and colleagues from the south east of Scotland transport partnership to discuss a wide range of issues relating to public transport interventions around the Forth replacement crossing. We will continue to work with SEStran and others to ensure that such interventions complement the Forth replacement crossing project, the bill for which was recently published.

(S3O-8627) ScotRail Services (Stranraer)

1. Alasdair Morgan (South of Scotland) (SNP): ... ... ...

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with ScotRail regarding rail services to and from Stranraer. (S3O-8627)

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

Transport Scotland is part of the Scottish Government and meets regularly with Network Rail and ScotRail in the normal course of business to discuss a range of matters, including development of rail services.

Alasdair Morgan: I am relieved to hear that. The minister will be aware that rail fares to Stranraer are disproportionately more expensive than fares to other stations on the line closer to Glasgow. A 60 per cent increase in mileage compared with the Girvan journey costs more than 100 per cent more in rail fares. Does the minister agree that that very much discourages rail passenger traffic to Stranraer? Will he undertake to raise those issues with Transport Scotland and ScotRail the next time he meets them?

Stewart Stevenson: It is the case, of course, that there are different rail fares and different rates per track kilometre across Scotland. Some of the differences are sufficiently large to merit further investigation. Some 58,000 people travel to Stranraer each year, particularly to connect with ferry services. The service is therefore an integral part of our overall transport infrastructure. I will certainly pursue that with the rail company and Transport Scotland.

19 November 2009

(S3O-8498) Waverley Line

5. Rhona Brankin (Midlothian) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will update the Parliament on progress on the reopening of the Waverley railway line. (S3O-8498)

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

Construction will commence in 2010 with the first of the ancillary works, and we expect that a contract for the construction of the railway work will be delivered in autumn 2011. This Administration is committed to delivering a railway service to Midlothian and the Scottish Borders, and commencing the ancillary works will commit the Scottish Government to

"construct the whole of the railway"

under the terms of the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Act 2006.

Rhona Brankin: Perhaps the minister should be more cautious about how he answers in future. He should possibly answer with greater care, to quote what he said earlier.

The answer finally confirms that the SNP Government has ditched its commitment, by saying that it is going to sign the contract by 2011. Is that not a slap in the face to my constituents in Gorebridge, Newtongrange, Eskbank and Shawfair, who want the same benefits of a passenger rail service as other communities in Scotland enjoy? The minister's answer is a clear change from what has been said in the past about when the contract will be signed.

Stewart Stevenson: The member is correct: there has been a change. I hope that she welcomes it, as people in the Borders and in her constituency undoubtedly will do. Our drawing forward of capital spending has enabled us to make a start to the project earlier than was previously announced. Our transport ambitions for Glasgow, for the Borders, for the north of Scotland and for roads in the Aberdeen area show that the Government is delivering throughout Scotland. That includes improvements to the railways to Inverness and Aberdeen, and terrific improvements throughout.

The only threat to the programmes would be the diversion of money from another scheme in Scotland back to the Glasgow airport rail link. I invite members on the Labour benches to consider that carefully.

(S3O-8496) Concessionary Travel

4. Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it remains committed to the provision of concessionary travel. (S3O-8496)

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

Yes. We remain committed to the provision of concessionary travel through the Scotland-wide free bus travel scheme for older and disabled people and the national concessionary travel scheme for young people.

Claire Baker: Is the minister aware of concerns in Fife that the SNP-led Fife Council is to end the flat rate concessionary rail ticket, which is a policy that brings clear health and wellbeing benefits to our more vulnerable constituents? Will he join me and my Labour colleagues in condemning the move? Will he intervene to ensure that a key benefit that is enjoyed by people throughout the region is not taken away?

Stewart Stevenson: Everyone is free to respond to the consultation that Fife Council is undertaking. The matter is of course one for the council, which, like councils throughout Scotland, has seen an increased share of the overall public funding that is provided by central Government. It is also important to bear it in mind that, by continuing to support the scheme for older and disabled people and extending it to disabled ex-servicepeople, we are showing substantial support for social travel and travel for people throughout Scotland.

Liam McArthur (Orkney) (LD): Does the minister recognise the disappointment in my constituency at the Government's decision not to include either community transport or ferries in the concessionary travel scheme? Will he acknowledge that, for many of my constituents, ferries perform the same role that buses perform in Fife and elsewhere in mainland Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson:
The member will be aware that free ferry journeys are already provided to island dwellers. Of course, it is the local councils in the northern isles, including the council in the member's constituency, that are responsible for the internal ferry services and, if they wish to offer concessions to the inhabitants of the Orkney islands, they are free to do so.

(S3O-8502) Car and Van Ownership (Glasgow)

3. Margaret Curran (Glasgow Baillieston) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what percentage of people in Glasgow owns one car or van only. (S3O-8502)

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

The Scottish household survey estimates that 38.1 per cent of households in the Glasgow City Council area had access to only one car or van in 2007-08.

Margaret Curran: The Scottish household survey also said that 50 per cent of households in the 15 per cent most deprived areas do not have a car, whereas the figure is 25 per cent for the rest of Scotland, so people in Glasgow are particularly reliant on public transport for work and leisure. Is it fair to conclude that the decision to cancel the Glasgow airport rail link project will have a disproportionate effect on disadvantaged people, particularly in the east end of Glasgow? In light of that, does the Scottish Government believe that there is a case to reinstate GARL and that reinstating it would address the transport needs of people in the east end?

Stewart Stevenson: Perhaps the member should read some previous parliamentary answers with greater care. For example, she will discover that, 20 years after the establishment of GARL, according to the figures provided by Strathclyde Passenger Transport in 2006, the difference in car traffic to the airport on the M8 would be a mere 17 cars per peak hour. In addition, no more than 3 per cent of passengers going to Glasgow airport were expected to use the railway system to the airport.

We have decided to make £1 billion of rail investment between Edinburgh and Glasgow, £200 million investment in new rolling stock to the west of Glasgow, complete the Airdrie to Bathgate line and improve services on all the other connections into Glasgow. Aggregate spending in public investment on railways alone is approaching £2 billion, which is in addition to the improvements to the M74 and M80 roads in Glasgow. Members will see other improvements, such as the two additional platforms being put into Glasgow Central station. Glasgow luxuriates in the beneficence of this Government.

12 November 2009

(S3O-8385) Ferry Service (Gourock to Dunoon)

7. Stuart McMillan (West of Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take following the European Commissioner for Competition's decision concerning the ferry service between Gourock and Dunoon. (S3O-8385)

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

We welcome the findings of the European Commission's investigation into Scotland's ferry services. Those conclusions will allow us to secure the future of the Gourock to Dunoon ferry service. I will meet local stakeholders in Dunoon next Monday to explain to them the implications of that decision and to discuss the way forward for the ferry service.

Stuart McMillan: As the minister knows, I have a longstanding interest in shipbuilding; I have raised with him in the past the issue of the age of the vessels on the service between Gourock and Dunoon. The MV Jupiter is 35 years old and the MV Saturn is 31 years old. Will the minister open dialogue with shipbuilders in Scotland to give them the opportunity to tender for any new builds that the route undoubtedly needs?

Stewart Stevenson: We have already asked Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd to investigate the provision of a vessel for any new operator there may be. Under the European Commission's ruling, the new operator would not be required to use that vessel, but by ensuring that an appropriate vessel is available, we hope to have the widest range of interest. I have spoken to the managing director of Ferguson Shipbuilders regarding the previous tender for the Islay vessel. At that time, the yard did not feel able to tender. The only other yard in the United Kingdom that is interested in such vessels is Appledore in the south-west of England. However, I am keen that Scottish companies should have the maximum opportunity to build new vessels for our ferry services.

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): Does the minister share my view that there is demonstrable public support for an unrestricted passenger and vehicle service between the town centres of Gourock and Dunoon? Can he confirm that Government policy is consistent with European Union regulations, which stipulate that the successful tendering company should provide vessels without frequency restrictions and compatible with the Dunoon linkspan?

Stewart Stevenson:
We intend to go to tender on the basis of an unrestricted service frequency. One of the bonus findings of the European Commission's investigations was that the restrictions are no longer required. We will be able to subsidise only the passenger element of the service. We are seeking to ensure that any vessel that is brought to the route is compatible with the linkspan at Dunoon, which we are anxious to see come into service.

5 November 2009

(S3O-8299) Concessionary Travel Schemes

6. John Park (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive how it is supporting concessionary travel schemes. (S3O-8299)

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

The Scottish Government provides free bus travel to everyone over the age of 60 and to eligible disabled people who live in Scotland. We have previously announced that we intend to include Her Majesty's service personnel and veterans under the age of 60 who have been seriously injured in service. The Scottish Government also provides discounted bus and rail travel to young people living in Scotland who are aged 16 to 18.

John Park:
A recent newspaper report suggests that Fife Council is likely to scrap the flat-rate concessionary 50p rail tickets. I am sure that the minister will acknowledge that Fife has been at the forefront of pushing out the boundaries on concessionary travel—it was the first local authority to provide free bus travel for all pensioners. Given the wider health and wellbeing aspects of the policy, will the minister contact Fife Council as a matter of urgency and consider what support can be sourced from the Scottish Government so that the policy can continue?

Stewart Stevenson: We have regular discussions with councils throughout Scotland. The member will be aware that, under this Government, the proportion of the budget that is allocated to councils has risen since the final Labour budget at the end of the previous session of Parliament. It is for local authorities to decide how to spend the money that is available to them, but of course we will continue to have meaningful discussions on supporting people's transport needs in Fife and elsewhere in Scotland.

Ian McKee (Lothians) (SNP): Are there plans to adopt the model of concessionary travel in England, where it applies only to local bus services?

Stewart Stevenson:
One key attribute of the Scottish system is that transport is available throughout the day and right across Scotland. I congratulate my predecessors on introducing such a scheme. We share the commitment to the scheme and we have extended it. We certainly do not intend to copy what happens south of the border.

(S3O-8343) Rail Services (Ayrshire)

3. John Scott (Ayr) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what recent discussions it has had with Transport Scotland, Network Rail and train operating companies about the development of rail services in Ayrshire. (S3O-8343)

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

Transport Scotland, on behalf of the Scottish ministers, regularly meets Network Rail and ScotRail in the normal course of business to discuss a range of matters including the development of rail services.

John Scott:
As the minister knows, the Ayr to Glasgow line is one of the busiest rail routes in Scotland. Despite that, it is not possible to purchase a flexipass on the route, even though such an option would greatly benefit the large number of my constituents from Ayr, Prestwick and Troon who commute regularly by rail. Will the minister encourage the relevant rail authorities to put in place the necessary measures, including improved revenue protection procedures, to ensure that flexipasses can be introduced on the Ayr to Glasgow rail route?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes an important point. He will be aware of the order for class 380 trains, which will form an important part of the development of services to the west of Glasgow. The introduction of those trains, which will be the most modern in Scotland, will increase capacity, increase speed and substantially increase comfort.

I am entirely comfortable with engaging with First ScotRail on the subject of the flexipass. Revenue protection is important to the operation of our railway, and the ScotRail franchise is the only one on the Great Britain network that mandates that every train must have a second person whose responsibilities largely revolve around that matter.

Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): Will the minister consider developing direct rail services between Ayrshire and destinations beyond Glasgow, such as Edinburgh and Aberdeen?

Stewart Stevenson: I welcome Mr Gordon to his position as my opposite number on the Labour benches. As he knows, we are both rail enthusiasts so, naturally, I will within the constraints of the funding available to me take every opportunity to develop services wherever significant demand exists in Scotland.

29 October 2009

(S3O-8212) Ferry Services (Orkney)

7. Liam McArthur (Orkney) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive what discussions ministers have had with Orkney Islands Council about the funding for the next generation of vessels for Orkney's internal ferry services. (S3O-8212)

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

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth first met councillors on 28 February 2008 and again on 26 August 2009, and he hopes to meet the convener of the council shortly to discuss the council's most up-to-date proposals for taking forward the ferry replacement project.

Liam McArthur: As the minister knows, those are lifeline ferry services that help to sustain some of the most fragile communities in the country. Is he aware that there are now serious concerns in Orkney about the lack of progress in the discussions with the Government during the past two years? Does he acknowledge that in that time, the point at which certain vessels will need to be removed from some of the more exposed routes has grown ever closer? Does he realise that expecting the smallest council in the country to bear the full cost of that investment is simply not tenable?

Stewart Stevenson: The member may recall—although he may not be old enough—that in the 1980s, the responsibility and the funding streams for supporting ferries in the Orkney islands were transferred to the council. Nonetheless, despite the fact that responsibility for the provision of services clearly lies with Orkney Islands Council, we will continue to engage with the council to ascertain the best way for it to use the resources that it has available and the assistance that we can provide to help to solve the problem, which I acknowledge exists.

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): I reinforce Liam McArthur's point, and stress that European Council directive 98/18/EC will not, although it allows retrofitting of Orkney's internal ferry fleet, prevent the inevitable need to replace all nine vessels in the fleet. Orkney Islands Council has already contributed a quarter of a million pounds for the programme. Will the minister make a commitment today to replace the fleet and save the first-class lifeline inter-island service in Orkney?

Stewart Stevenson: I am certainly not able to make that type of commitment today. I return to my point about the transfer of assets and funding streams to Orkney Islands Council that took place—by agreement with the council—in the 1980s. It is against that backdrop, which makes it clear that responsibility lies with Orkney Islands Council, that we will continue with discussions—which have so far been fruitful—to establish an appropriate way forward that reflects the need to replace all the vessels in the not-too-distant future.

Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): Can the Scottish Government explain whether it is possible to consider the need to replace not only the Orkney ferries, but those in Shetland and in other places? Is there any potential for those lifeline service vessels to be built in Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: We very much wish to see vessels being built in Scotland. The member will be aware that we currently have a vessel for the Islay service on order from a shipyard in Gdansk. When we were progressing that procurement, I specifically contacted Scottish interests to ensure that they were making every effort to see whether they could bid, but—alas and alack—they did not wish to do so at that stage. We will continue to engage with shipyards in Scotland that can build ferries for our services, and ensure that they are in a position to bid when vessels are being sought in the future.

(S3O-8187) Bus Services (Strathclyde Partnership for Transport)

5. James Kelly (Glasgow Rutherglen) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what discussions it has had with the Strathclyde partnership for transport on protecting socially necessary bus services. (S3O-8187)

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

The Scottish Government has had no discussions with SPT on protecting socially necessary bus services.

James Kelly: The minister will be aware that many communities throughout Scotland are facing swingeing cuts in bus services. That will have an adverse effect on areas such as Cambuslang and Rutherglen in my constituency, where there are high numbers of pensioners. What support will the Scottish Government provide to local councils and SPT in order to protect bus services and promote transport in communities throughout Scotland in these difficult times?

Stewart Stevenson: We have provided substantial support to local authorities across the board. By relieving local authorities of many of the constraints of ring fencing, which accounted for around 25 per cent of their expenditure, we have given them the flexibility to address the priorities of their own populations.

In the area that is covered by SPT, the subsidy for bus services works out at around £3 per head of population, as against a range throughout Scotland that goes up as high as £23 per head of population. We have appointed a senior bus development adviser, who is, I believe, already making progress in assisting local councils and regional transport partnerships to make effective use of the powers and moneys that are available to them.

(S3O-8198) Transport Projects (Ministerial Responsibility)

3. Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it considers that ministers are responsible for oversight of the procurement and delivery of major transport projects in its capital programme. (S3O-8198)

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

Responsibility for managing the delivery of that programme has been assigned to Transport Scotland and others. Scottish ministers exercise appropriate oversight.

Des McNulty: What discussions have taken place with TIE Ltd and the City of Edinburgh Council to ensure that the Edinburgh trams project is procured and delivered on time?

Stewart Stevenson: It is for the City of Edinburgh Council to ensure that the project is delivered on time. Obviously, officials of the Scottish Government, which is responsible for providing up to £500 million in finance for the project, meet regularly with TIE officials to discuss the progress that is being made. Payment is made against achievement that is demonstrated. Of course, I have met the chief executive in recent times, but it is a matter for the City of Edinburgh Council.

Alison McInnes (North East Scotland) (LD): What specific actions has the minister taken since June this year to progress the Aberdeen western peripheral route, which is vital to the economic wellbeing of north-east Scotland? Can he advise Parliament when he will conclude his consideration of the reporters' findings in the public local inquiry?

Stewart Stevenson: We expect to conclude our consideration of the reporters' findings and recommendations this calendar year. The report is, of course, substantial, and reflects the concerns of more than 9,000 objectors. It is important that we ensure that we have a robust decision-making process that does not lead us into interminable court actions, as happened with the M74, which would compromise our ability to deliver this vital project at the earliest possible date.

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con): Will the minister assure us that he will try to tighten up the management of contracts, particularly in relation to the significant number that now appear to be running well over budget and which have necessitated the significant pruning of the capital budget in recent weeks and over time? Will he guarantee that he will keep an eye on the costs that are involved in the projects and ensure that his involvement in the process will mean that such pruning is not necessary in the future?

Stewart Stevenson: It might be as well to remind the member that our budget issues derive from the reduction in the funds that are available to this Government to spend. There is a catalogue of successful projects that I expect projects that are in course to mirror, such as the project that delivered the upper Forth crossing—the Clackmannanshire bridge—slightly ahead of time and on budget, and the successful project on the rail network to improve the platforms and facilities for trains at Edinburgh Waverley, which came in under budget and on time.

The arrangements that we have made for major projects such as the M80 and the M74 ensure that we will be able to control the costs. We will pursue that approach with all the major projects with which we engage.

8 October 2009

(S3O-8100) New Railway Stations

13. Jamie Hepburn (Central Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what support exists for the creation of new railway stations not identified in the strategic transport projects review. (S3O-8100)

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

We will consider proposals for new stations on the rail network where the surrounding population, workplace or visitor need is sufficient to generate a high level of demand and if they contribute to the Scottish Government's policy of improving overall journey times. The fact that a proposal might not have been taken forward by the Scottish Government as part of the strategic transport projects review does not preclude regional transport partnerships and local authorities from considering the value of local interventions.

Jamie Hepburn: I thank the minister for that reassuring answer. He will be aware of my calls to open stations at Abronhill in Cumbernauld and Grangemouth and Michael Matheson's calls for a station at Bonnybridge. I realise that the minister might not be able to commit to supporting those projects here and now—although he is welcome to do so—but is he able to assure me that he and Transport Scotland will keep an open mind on those requests?

Stewart Stevenson: We will certainly keep an open mind in that respect. However, as the current control period for regulatory asset-based funding for rail projects runs from 2009 to 2014, it is likely that any significant additions to our plans for the rail network will take place in the next control period, which will run from 2014 to 2019.

Cathy Peattie (Falkirk East) (Lab): As the minister will recall, he kindly agreed to meet Grangemouth transport forum in June. Among the presentations made by the forum, which brings together the community council and businesses in Grangemouth, was a discussion on Grangemouth's rail links as part of the STPR and the national planning framework, from which emerged the possibility of a spin-off in the form of a Grangemouth railway station. Does the minister recognise the importance to the Scottish economy of reconsidering the proposals in NPF 2 with regard to the Grangemouth transport hub? If so, will he agree to look at them again?

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the member for bringing Grangemouth transport forum to meet me. The meeting was very useful, particularly because so many strands of the local community, including business, trade unions and the local council, were represented.

By putting Grangemouth docks into the national planning framework, we signalled the need to improve transport connections to the town. However, among the potential difficulties of adding passenger traffic to the proposals is the fairly certain need for a chord to be built from the current line into Grangemouth and on to the eastbound Edinburgh line in an area where the gradients are challenging. However, we are continuing to consider such matters, and I would be very interested to see any low-cost options that might be proposed.

(S3O-8127) Borders Railway

11. Rhona Brankin (Midlothian) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will provide an update on the progress of the project to reopen the Waverley railway line linking Midlothian and the Borders with Edinburgh. (S3O-8127)

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

Good progress continues with the necessary procurement development for the main works, which will benefit from the acceleration of the utilities and advance works. Recent market testing has revealed that contractors and financial investment organisations still continue to express a strong interest in the project.

All land and property required to construct the works have been successfully acquired, and design works and ground and structural surveys have also been completed. Preparatory work to allow major utilities and advance works to be undertaken over the next two years is well under way, with utilities diversion works due to start before the end of the current financial year.

Rhona Brankin: At the moment, my constituents in Midlothian, where most of the new stations on the Waverley line will be situated, do not have access to a local railway service and many are concerned by the Scottish Government's recent silence on the subject. Given the recent scrapping of the Glasgow airport rail link just months after he said that he remained committed to the project, can the minister unequivocally tell the chamber that the Waverley line will reopen as promised in 2013? Will he provide members with an updated cost projection for the project?

Stewart Stevenson: Yes. Unchanged.

(S3O-8074) Dalmarnock Station (Commonwealth Games)

9. Robert Brown (Glasgow) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it supports the redevelopment of Dalmarnock station as a key public transport hub for the 2014 Commonwealth games. (S3O-8074)

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


Robert Brown: I congratulate the transport minister on the commendable brevity and clarity of his reply, although I remind him that the last time he gave such a brief answer was shortly before the cancellation of the Glasgow airport rail link project.

Will the minister clarify Transport Scotland's involvement in the project? Can he confirm the planned completion date? Will the design and development work—the guide to railway investment projects 31 process—be completed by the end of the financial year, as required by Network Rail, in order to ensure that the thing is done before the 2014 Commonwealth games?

Stewart Stevenson: The project is an important one for the 2014 games. It involves Transport Scotland, the transport directorate, Glasgow City Council and Clyde Gateway and it is led by Strathclyde partnership for transport. Network Rail and First ScotRail have also been playing their part in the emerging thinking. We are certainly confident that the project, which is focused on a station that is in key need of investment, will deliver well in time for the Commonwealth games. Of course, by taking the action that we have taken on GARL, we have protected projects throughout Scotland from the effects of the cuts from Westminster.

(S3O-8121) Active Travel (Funding)

1. Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): To ask the Scottish Executive how the draft budget for 2010-11 will support the aim of achieving a significant increase in walking and cycling compared with other transport modes. (S3O-8121)

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

In 2010-11, the draft budget will continue to support local authorities, Sustrans, Cycling Scotland, Living Streets and other delivery bodies to increase the numbers of people cycling and walking. For example, we will continue working in partnership with the seven smarter choices, smarter places communities in Scotland, which aim to increase active travel.

Patrick Harvie: For the past two years in a row, the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee has agreed unanimously on the need for a substantial increase in funding if more journeys in Scotland are to be undertaken by active means—walking and cycling—for climate change, health and a host of other reasons. However, we continually see reductions in funding for those modes of transport and the Government pouring money into road building projects. How is it to be remotely credible that the Government wants a substantial increase in cycling journeys—for example, under the cycling action plan—when, this year again, there is an overall reduction in the funding for active travel?

Stewart Stevenson: An interesting thing was illustrated when I was in Elgin on Sunday participating—to some limited extent—in a mass cycle ride to raise money for the Grampian Society for the Blind. Moray Council gets no more money than any other council but delivers four times as much cycling as others do. That illustrates that a change of approach may be required of Government, councils and many others to deliver improvements. Of course, we need to provide the funding—we have increased the active travel budget from £33 million to £35.7 million—but money alone is not enough: we need to think smarter and spend smarter.

Shirley-Anne Somerville (Lothians) (SNP): What impact has the climate challenge fund had on encouraging modal shift? I draw the minister's attention to the awards of £283,000 given to Greener Leith's active Leith project, £182,000 to recyke-a-bike in Stirling and £47,000 to biketown Huntly to name a few. What effect do funds like those, which are not included in the active travel budget, have on the Government's wish to increase the number of people who cycle in Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: Ms Somerville is correct to point to the benefits and impacts that derive from Government expenditure that is outside the active travel budget. The climate challenge fund draws together interests beyond Government in the decision-making process and ensures that the funds are targeted where they will be most effective. The progress that has been made so far is commendable indeed.

Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): I took the point about Moray that the minister made in his response to Patrick Harvie. It is unfortunate that the cuts in Moray include cuts to the active travel co-ordinators who have driven the increase in cycling so effectively.

I know that the minister has a high regard for the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Adonis, who announced last week that he would make £40 million available for, I think, up to eight cycling transport hubs at major stations. That will implement ideas that have been very well developed in Holland, where there are cycle parks at major stations so that people are encouraged to cycle to them. If there are budget consequentials from that announcement, I encourage the minister to consider an equivalent approach in Scotland—particularly in Scotland's major cities.

Stewart Stevenson: I get on very well with Andrew Adonis and respect much of the activity that he undertakes. He is certainly on the case.

On Scotland's stations, Attadale station has fewer than 100 passengers a year and, in common with every other station in Scotland, parking space for cycles—a Sheffield rack. Therefore, in some ways, we may be ahead of what is happening south of the border. Perhaps they are playing catch-up.

1 October 2009

(S3O-7975) Abnormal Loads

6. Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what its policy is on the transportation of abnormal loads. (S3O-7975)

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

The movement of abnormal loads across the United Kingdom is a matter reserved to the UK Government. Responsibility for authorising the movement of abnormal loads rests with the UK Department for Transport, and the Highways Agency acts on its behalf.

Transport Scotland co-ordinates the movement of abnormal loads within Scotland in liaison with local road and bridge authorities and the police, taking into account any potential for damage and disruption to the network. Thereafter, Transport Scotland advises the Highways Agency, which approves or rejects any proposed movement.

Margaret Mitchell: I thank the minister for that response and note what he says, but I wonder whether he is aware of recent concerns expressed by hauliers about the variation in charging policy adopted by Scottish police forces for escorting abnormal loads, with charges of up to £600 reported for police escorting one load. Clearly, such costs impact adversely on hauliers, contractors and projects such as the extension of the M74. As such, will the minister look into this situation and attempt to restore the common-sense approach that was adopted by all the parties involved following a Scottish Parliament members' business debate on the subject in 2003?

Stewart Stevenson: I will certainly look further at the issue that Mrs Mitchell raises. We have some 250, or thereabouts, applications for escorting abnormal loads each year in Scotland. There is no particular sign from the figures for 2007, 2008 and 2009—so far—that there is either a reduction or an increase in the number of abnormal loads; the number seems to be fairly constant. I am certainly happy to look at the matter that the member raises, but I draw it to her attention that I may be limited in the response that I am ultimately able to formulate.

Michael Matheson (Falkirk West) (SNP): What consideration is given to the moving of abnormal loads from the roads to alternative modes of transport, such as rail? The minister will be aware of the serious problem that has been experienced in the Larbert area of my constituency. Does he agree that, where abnormal loads are being moved by rail, as they are in Larbert, the rail operators should be looking to use rolling stock that minimises the associated noise and vibration?

Stewart Stevenson: We are certainly very enthusiastic about maximising the transfer of goods from our roads to our railways. We have a limited supply of rolling stock that has a flat-bed base of 720mm, which allows bigger and taller pieces of equipment to travel by rail. There are moves to increase the amount of rolling stock that can carry larger loads. We strongly support such moves, which will be welcomed by Michael Matheson's constituents and road users across Scotland.

(S3O-7970) Strategic Transport Projects Review

3. Nanette Milne (North East Scotland) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what progress has been made in taking forward transport projects under the strategic transport projects review. (S3O-7970)

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

I have previously highlighted our priorities. First, the Forth replacement crossing, the tendering process for which is under way; the bill will be brought to Parliament in November. Secondly, the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvements programme is being taken forward for delivery. The first phase of the programme, new hourly fast services between Glasgow and Edinburgh, is to be introduced to the December 2009 timetable. In addition, the planning application is to be lodged later this month for the new railway station at Gogar. Finally, Network Rail is working hard on the development of our plans for the Highland main line and the Aberdeen to Inverness line.

As planned, we are continuing to work with partners and stakeholders to take forward the development and design of the other 25 recommendations. Alongside planning for the future under the STPR, Transport Scotland continues to drive forward the current programme, which will see over £2.5 billion invested in Scotland's strategic transport networks over the three years, supporting the economy through efficient movement of goods and people.

Nanette Milne: I thank the minister for his detailed answer, which was as I expected. However, although the First Minister and the SNP Government made specific pledges to voters in the north-east to dual the A96, the only project in Aberdeenshire listed in the STPR was the replacement of the Inveramsay bridge at Pitcaple. Will the minister tell me whether he expects a timescale for that work to be in place within the current parliamentary session?

Stewart Stevenson: We are also proceeding with work on the A90 between Balmedie and Tipperty, the Aberdeen western peripheral route and a wide range of important projects in the north-east.

The Inveramsay bridge project is part of a policy position that we took shortly after coming into office: we did not wish to have on our rural trunk roads traffic lights that impede traffic. We have done some preliminary work on possible routes that would be associated with the Inveramsay bridge. We are continuing to make the progress that is necessary and we are looking to secure the funding for that and for a range of other interventions in the next review period.

Shirley-Anne Somerville (Lothians) (SNP): Some of the most expensive decisions that ministers have to take relate to large-scale capital infrastructure projects, such as those included in the STPR. I therefore ask the minister to explain how continuing with projects that are already projected to be dramatically over budget, even before they begin, such as the Glasgow airport rail link, would impact on delivering other projects, including those in the STPR. Will he detail the impact of continuing with the Glasgow airport rail link, the budget for which has grown from an initial estimate of £160 million in 2006 to an approximate £400 million to date?

Stewart Stevenson: The Scotsman reported that the

"tramway system was a standing joke in the country".

However, that was on 16 January 1929. Problems with Edinburgh's trams are not something with which we are entirely unfamiliar. However, that particular remark in The Scotsman was made as a precursor to celebrating the achievement of the trams manager, Stuart Pilcher, in rescuing Edinburgh from some disastrous decisions. I hope that Richard Jeffrey will do the same in Edinburgh today.

GARL is one of the projects that we had to look at very carefully indeed and we concluded that, in the present economic climate, we could not proceed with it. That is disappointing. It is always disappointing to have to withdraw a project from our programme, but it is an inevitable consequence of the Labour Westminster Government's cuts.

Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Shirley-Anne Somerville made a misleading remark in her question by saying that the price of the GARL project was of the order of £400 million. The minister clarified that position in a recent answer to my colleague Charlie Gordon. Could he perhaps respond to Ms Somerville, putting her right on the actual cost of the GARL project?

The Presiding Officer: Mr McNulty now has his point on the record. I think that he well knows that it is not a point of order.

Stewart Stevenson rose—

The Presiding Officer: I will take a supplementary question from Malcolm Chisholm. If the minister wants to respond to Des McNulty's point in his answer he can do so.

Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab): I know that the minister is a supporter of trams, so will he give full support to the City of Edinburgh Council in its difficult negotiations with Bilfinger Berger to secure the lowest possible price for the tram project? Will he try to restrain his party colleagues on the council and in this chamber, whose wild speculations encourage that company to inflate its demands by the day?

Stewart Stevenson: It may be as well to remind members of the decision that was taken in the Parliament at the end of June 2007, when only the 47 members of the Scottish National Party opposed continuing with the Edinburgh trams. Where we are today is an inevitable consequence of that particular decision. I do, of course, now wish the project every possible success and I personally look forward to travelling on the first tram, if that is possible and if I am invited.

On GARL pricing, it is as well to remember that we have removed from our future plans only the branch line to the airport. The other improvements to Paisley, which make up the bulk of the expenditure improvements from Glasgow Central to the west, remain in the programme, are being actively progressed and will deliver significant benefits to people to the west of Glasgow.

17 September 2009

(S3O-7874) Offshore Europe 2011 (Transport Infrastructure)

8. Lewis Macdonald (Aberdeen Central) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what additional transport infrastructure will be in place before the next offshore Europe oil and gas conference and exhibition in 2011. (S3O-7874)

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

The Scottish Government is investing and will continue to invest across the transport network in Scotland. That includes investments in Aberdeenshire, such as the one that resulted in the recent revision of the rail timetable, which is delivering faster journeys between Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

I congratulate all who were involved in this year's offshore Europe conference on a highly successful event and look forward to welcoming the conference back to Scotland in 2011 and for many years to come.

Lewis Macdonald: Does the minister share my concern that the next offshore Europe conference has been cut short because Aberdeen's transport infrastructure will not be able to cope? If he shares that concern, will he publish a development timetable to guarantee completion of the Aberdeen western peripheral route in time for, if not the next offshore Europe conference, at least the one after that?

Stewart Stevenson: The member knows that we received the reporter's report on 30 June. There were more than 9,000 objections to the AWPR. It is necessary that we examine that report rigorously, otherwise we will be open to legal challenge and delays that would accrue from that.

However, we are absolutely committed to making the fastest possible progress on the matter.

(S3O-7791) A83 (Closure)

4. Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will provide an update on the consequences of the closure of the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful. (S3O-7791)

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

Following the recent landslide, considerable effort was made quickly to remove more than 1,000 tonnes of debris from the A83 and to clear the blocked culvert and ditches, so that the road could be reopened to traffic at the earliest opportunity. The road was reopened on 10 September, two days after the initial closure.

Jamie McGrigor: Does the minister recognise the anger and concern in my region that, less than two years after the previous landslide, the key artery into Argyll and Bute was again closed at exactly the same place? Does he understand the fear of people waiting at that traffic light below that mountain, where they are potentially in the path of a landslide? What specific action will the Scottish Government take to prevent future closures and tackle the long-term problem of potential landslides? Other European countries seem perfectly able to deal with that problem.

Stewart Stevenson: As the member is aware, the actions that were taken following the 2007 landslip were largely what led to the early closure of the road in advance of the recent slip, thus protecting public safety. I am very satisfied with the way that that happened and the readiness of Transport Scotland and its partners to respond quickly to clearing the road.

We intend that, in 2010, we will have in place a permanent solution to the problem at that part of the hill. The improvement scheme will involve building a new culvert under the road, strengthening the embankment below the road and installing new drainage above and below the road. We are conscious of the need to inspect the further landslip to ensure that our plans take account of the effect of that. We plan that construction will start in spring 2010.

10 September 2009

(S3O-7718) Environmentally Friendly Buses

9. Michael Matheson (Falkirk West) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what action is being taken to promote the use of more environmentally friendly buses. (S3O-7718)

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

The Scottish Government is keen to incentivise the use of environmentally friendly buses and we are currently considering changes to our bus policy to achieve that.

Michael Matheson: The minister will be aware that Scotland's biggest bus manufacturer, Alexander Dennis, is based in my constituency and employs some 1,000 workers. He will also know from my representations to him that Alexander Dennis is a world leader in hybrid bus technology. I welcome the consideration that the Government is giving to a scheme to promote the use of environmentally friendly buses, but can he tell us when he expects such a programme to be implemented? He will agree that such a programme will assist in ensuring that the Government's ambitious carbon reduction targets are met and that valuable employment is secured in my constituency.

Stewart Stevenson: The member may be interested to know that, within the past two hours, I have discussed that very subject with the Confederation of Passenger Transport. It forms part of our rebalancing of the bus service operators grant scheme to ensure that it has a more environmental focus. I absolutely respect the member's comments in relation to Alexander Dennis, in which he expressed a view that is widely held across the industry and in society. We are making best progress and hope to have something more material to say on the matter in the not-too-distant future.

(S3O-7721) Edinburgh Trams

7. Ian McKee (Lothians) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth has had with the City of Edinburgh Council in the last 12 months on the subject of the Edinburgh trams project. (S3O-7721)

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

The cabinet secretary and I have had no discussions with the City of Edinburgh Council on the trams project over the past 12 months.

Ian McKee: The tram chiefs have admitted that the project will fail to be completed on time and on budget, as the Scottish National Party Administration predicted. Does the minister agree that not a penny more of Government funding should be given to finance the project?

Stewart Stevenson: Members will recall that, early in the Government's life, the Conservative party, the Liberal Democrat party and the Labour Party voted to continue the trams project; we would have liberated the £500 million for other important transport projects throughout Scotland. I have made it clear on many occasions in the past that that is the limit of the Government's support. That was forced on us. We have £500 million available for the project. We have no more, and there will be no more.

Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD): I did not intend to ask a question about the trams project, but I am absolutely gobsmacked by what the minister has just said. Some £500 million of taxpayers' money—for which he is responsible—is tied up in the project. Given the difficulties that the project has had over the past year, and irrespective of the differences of opinion about whether it should have gone ahead, I am gobsmacked that he has not had any discussions on the matter with the council. Would it not have been useful to have done so?

Stewart Stevenson: The project is entirely a matter for the City of Edinburgh Council. My officials carefully monitor the payments that we make to it, which are related to the progress that is made. They will continue to do that with the professionalism with which I always see them conduct themselves. It is important that members understand that the project is a City of Edinburgh Council project and that it is for the council to complete it.

(S3O-7786) Forth Replacement Crossing

2. Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive what action it is taking to ensure a fair deal for members of the public seeking compensation payments for the impacts of the proposed Forth replacement crossing. (S3O-7786)

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

Provisions will be included in a forthcoming bill, which will set out proposals for compensation that arises from the construction and operation of the Forth replacement crossing. They will follow the provisions that have already been approved in legislation for other public works.

Margaret Smith: The minister will accept that it is a complex matter and that it is causing concern among constituents, particularly those who have received letters this week so that properties can be added to the book of reference.

I bring to the minister's attention the following issues: delays in the land manager getting back to residents; compensation information going only to certain residents; concern about the level of professional fees, which are covered by an out-of-date scale; home-loss payments that are less than equivalent payments in England; people's inability to secure lawyers who have relevant experience, because such lawyers are already in conflict-of-interest situations; concern that general advice is not covered; and professionals' unwillingness to act for people until the bill is introduced.

Will the minister meet me and other local representatives to discuss those matters and other concerns that have been raised by affected residents? Will he guarantee that all affected local residents, and not just the people who have registered with Transport Scotland, will be sent a copy of Transport Scotland's guidance on compensation?

Stewart Stevenson: The member raised a wide range of issues. It might be helpful if I say that I am able and happy to make myself available to meet her and representatives from her constituency—that can be arranged in the usual way, through my private office.

It is worth saying that the Forth replacement crossing is a complex project and that Transport Scotland and managers who are involved in the project have made substantial efforts. I think that newsletters have been sent right round many local communities. If there are ways in which we can improve our interaction with the community, I am very happy to assist the member and her constituents.

Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): I press the minister for more detail. Can he quantify the number of residents who it is anticipated will be directly affected by the Forth replacement crossing scheme and will potentially have grounds for seeking compensation from the Government as a consequence of the scheme's impact? How much has been set aside in financial contingency for home-loss payments? How much would need to be set aside if home-loss payments were to be paid at the level at which they are paid south of the border?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will recall that we have discussed home-loss payments in the Parliament. We do not have plans to revise the numbers. To raise payments to the levels that apply in England would require us to take substantial moneys out of the social housing budget—that is one reason why we will not do so.

Until the introduction of the Forth replacement crossing bill, we will continue to refine the design, so at this stage it would be inappropriate to speak of a specific number of residents. As we go forward with the design we are seeking to minimise the number of people who will be affected and, as I said to Mrs Smith, we will seek to communicate with a wide range of people, the majority of whom will not be directly affected.

Gavin Brown (Lothians) (Con): The minister's answer to Margaret Smith was helpful in general terms. On a specific issue, the compensation document has thus far been sent only to people who are on the Transport Scotland database. Given the document's complexity, will the minister give a commitment that it should go directly to every potentially affected household?

Stewart Stevenson: I will consider the suggestion, although in saying that I exercise caution, because the document is complex, as Mr Brown correctly said, and to send it to every resident of South Queensferry, for example, not only would be unnecessary in the context of administration but, more fundamentally, might alarm many people for whom the document will not have much relevance. However, I will discuss the subject further with my officials.

3 September 2009

(S3O-7605) Stromness Ferry Terminal

7. Liam McArthur (Orkney) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will work with Orkney Islands Council to find an acceptable alternative site for the Stromness ferry terminal lorry parking and marshalling area if a new school is built on the existing site. (S3O-7605)

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

As it is a council planning matter that could still be appealed to the Scottish ministers, it would not be appropriate for the Scottish Government to be involved yet, as any involvement could potentially compromise the appeals procedure.

Liam McArthur: I appreciate the constraints that the minister mentions. I confirm that my constituents are also looking forward to having a new grammar school and halls of residence in Kirkwall, as well as a new primary school in Stromness. However, in relation to the latter, is the minister aware of concerns about the potential knock-on consequences of siting the lorry park in front of the existing ferry terminal close to the centre of town? Should it be necessary, will he agree to work closely with OIC to explore what alternative options might be available to safeguard delivery of all three school projects while meeting the needs of ferry travellers and the local community in Stromness?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sure that the new school will be very much welcomed by people in Stromness and surrounding areas. I have a keen interest in ensuring that the ferry terminal continues to deliver on its part of the transport infrastructure. Within the limitations of the planning system I will ensure that we step up to the mark so that no unnecessary barriers to good decision making derive from this Government's activities and that we assist the council in a proper way at the appropriate time.

(S3O-7640) High-speed Rail Link

3. Gil Paterson (West of Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what representations it will make to the United Kingdom Government on the proposed high-speed rail link connecting central Scotland to London. (S3O-7640)

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

Our high-level Scottish stakeholder group, which was announced in June, is well on the way to developing a robust business case for high-speed rail links between Scotland and London. It will submit its report in October. The group has maintained regular contact with High Speed Two throughout its work and will submit its report to HS2. That will be used to press the case for Scotland and will feed into HS2's work in advance of its report to the Department for Transport at the end of the year. I will meet Sir David Rowlands, chairman of HS2, in the near future.

Gil Paterson: Scotland was promised a direct link to and through the Channel tunnel, but that promise was not kept. It is vital that any development of high-speed rail infrastructure includes Scotland. Will the minister do his very best to encourage the UK Government not to do the same again and ignore Scotland's travelling public and commerce?

Stewart Stevenson: Our not getting a link to the Channel tunnel was indeed a lost opportunity. I welcome the work that Network Rail published recently, which shows that the addition of Scotland to a high-speed rail network would improve the rate of return on investment. Andrew Adonis, who is Secretary of State for Transport in the Westminster Administration, shares my enthusiasm on the issue. However, I note that Theresa Villiers, speaking on "Beyond Westminster" on Saturday morning, said:

"if there's a Conservative government elected we will build a high-speed rail connection between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. That's our commitment."

There are real dangers when some of the potential players in future decision making do not understand the importance of Scotland.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): Does the minister accept that the increasingly acknowledged environmental case for high-speed rail services is contingent on the impact on aviation? If we grow both modes, emissions will go up, not down. If short-haul flights are replaced by long-haul ones, emissions will go up, not down. Does the minister accept that we must have a substantial reduction in aviation if high-speed rail services are to be justified in environmental terms, and will he raise that issue with the UK Government?

Stewart Stevenson: It is clear that one environmental benefit that would derive from reducing the journey time from London to Glasgow to two hours and 16 minutes and from London to Edinburgh to two hours and nine minutes—as the Network Rail study suggests is possible—would be wholesale transfer of journeys from aircraft to rail. I do not think that we would ever see an expansion of long-haul flying that would offset that. That issue will certainly form an important part of the discussions between the Administration here and the Westminster Administration.

Alasdair Morgan (South of Scotland) (SNP): The minister will be aware that, even if the trains get to Edinburgh and Glasgow, Network Rail has left its options open as to exactly where they will terminate. Does the minister agree that, for reasons of public connectivity, it is essential that the trains terminate at, near or under existing stations, and that it is perfectly possible for high-speed trains to run the last couple of miles on conventional tracks, as the French have done with the Gare de Lyon, for example?

Stewart Stevenson: We see the value of central city termini for high-speed rail, as we do for other important connections. That is why we welcome the Network Rail study, which shows that the line should go straight to the centre of London in the south and to the centre of our cities in the north, and that it should not go by an international connection point at Heathrow, which we think would not best serve the need for high-speed connections to the south.

(S3O-7652) Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009

2. Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it has a timetable for implementation of the measures contained in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. (S3O-7652)

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

The Scottish Government intends to lay the commencement order to the 2009 act in October. The majority of provisions in the act will commence in that month.

Sarah Boyack: What timetable does the minister have for implementing the provisions on council tax and business rate discounts that we agreed to in the act? What discussions has he had with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on implementation? Finally, does he agree with the suggestion that a stakeholder working party should be set up to ensure that all the key players are pulled together and to iron out the details? Such a move was suggested by his officials in discussions before stage 3. Even if he does not want to say yes to the idea today, will the minister agree to look favourably on and consider it?

Stewart Stevenson: The provisions for council tax and business rate reductions related to improvements in buildings are clearly important parts of the armoury in taking forward the climate change agenda. We are still in the early days of working up those proposals, but the member can absolutely rest assured that we will do so in partnership with councils and stakeholders more widely. After all, the proposals will affect industries' ability to supply to householders and building owners and operators the equipment that will qualify for the rate reductions. It is important that we bring together all the stakeholders to take forward these important proposals.

Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): Will the minister agree to publish information that compares the carbon footprint of recycling with that of incineration and tell us how it will inform the secondary legislation on decarbonised heat and energy production that will be made under the 2009 act?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes an important point. Clearly, when we recycle things that we no longer require, we can recover much of what is in them. Incineration is a way of capturing energy. It is important that we understand the role that each of those methods can play in reducing our carbon footprint.

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