29 January 2009

(S3O-5709) A9 (Dualling)

A9 (Dualling)

3. Peter Peacock (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what progress has been made since May 2007 on dualling the A9 north of the Drumochter pass. (S3O-5709)

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

We announced our plans to upgrade the A9 to Inverness in December 2008. We are currently well advanced in our preparations for extending the dual carriageway at Crubenmore.

Peter Peacock: I note what the minister says. People are genuinely perplexed that, against the background of a stated commitment to dual the entire length of the A9, among the first projects on the A9 that the minister has approved is not the dualling of the sections at Moy and Carrbridge but the upgrading of them to three-lane overtaking sections. Will the minister go back to his office this afternoon and instruct the immediate upgrading of the design of the Moy and Carrbridge sections to dual carriageway in line with the promises that were made before the election?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will be perplexed because he is clearly not engaged in the issue. Many of the initiatives that we are taking forward with best speed and energy are constrained by the decisions of the previous Administration. If, however, we are in a position of actually having a budget—well, I leave the rest to the listeners.

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): Can the minister explain why we are spending money on two-plus-one lanes at Moy and Carrbridge that will have to be superseded, dug up and tarmacked over again when they become dual carriageways? Surely, if the Government is serious about having dual carriageways on those sections and is not just going through the motions, it will admit that those two-plus-one lanes are an extravagance and that the money should be used for dualling those sections now.

Stewart Stevenson: The key interventions that we are making at the moment are driven by safety.

I do not think that any family that does not suffer loss as a result of those interventions will regard them as an extravagance.

The intervention to dual the A9, which we are fully committed to, is an economic intervention, which we will come to as the funds are available. However, we want to get the maximum bang for our safety buck in the meantime. There is clear evidence that when we put in W2+1s—three lanes—at appropriate places there are significant safety benefits. I am utterly determined to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads and to ensure that families do not suffer the grief and losses that result from too many accidents on them.

(S3O-5716) Island Air Routes (Service Levels)

Island Air Routes (Service Levels)

13. Alasdair Allan (Western Isles) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what steps it has taken to monitor the changeover from British Airways to Flybe on island air routes to ensure that service levels have been maintained. (S3O-5716)

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

We have monitored service levels on a regular basis, including charges and other arrangements such as the air discount scheme, since Loganair's franchise with Flybe started on 26 October 2008.

Alasdair Allan: I am aware that both Loganair and the Government have gone to considerable lengths to maintain the level of service that was provided by the previous operator. Is the minister willing to take up concerns that constituents have expressed to me anecdotally, for example that a return flight from Stornoway to Edinburgh, which cost £85 last year using the discount scheme, might now cost £160?

Stewart Stevenson: I am certainly willing to engage on subjects of that character. I will make a few points that might illuminate the subject. First, for aviation, the cost of fuel has been fluctuating dramatically, which I know has been part of the difficulty. Of course, Flybe has a different economic model from that of British Airways and, in essence, operates on the basis of trying to maximise revenue depending on the loading on its aircraft. The example that the member gives is one of which I tak tent. I am happy to engage with him further to ensure that we have the right services at the right price for people throughout Loganair's franchise area.

Liam McArthur (Orkney) (LD): I welcome the minister's response and echo Alasdair Allan's concerns. I encourage the minister to engage with Flybe on the availability, ahead of time, of connecting flights into Scotland, which he will appreciate are incredibly important, not least in allowing tourism businesses to plan ahead and secure business. The evidence in my constituency is that the lack of availability of such flights is seriously hampering businesses in the current difficult economic circumstances.

Stewart Stevenson: I am certainly willing to assist on that subject. Flybe is now the biggest regional airline in these islands and it has significant services throughout Europe. The member might also be referring to interlining to other operators. If there are difficulties with that, I would be happy for Mr McArthur to draw the details to my attention.

The legal position on the route development fund has changed entirely. We are now following a different strategy, but we are continuing to ensure that we develop our air services, particularly for international connections.

(S3O-5698) M80 (Stepps to Haggs Project)

M80 (Stepps to Haggs Project)

10. Tom McCabe (Hamilton South) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive to what extent the M80 Stepps to Haggs project will improve journey times, reliability and safety. (S3O-5698)

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

On current traffic predictions, the project will cut journey times as soon as it is opened by up to 15 minutes, which will increase to 20 minutes by 2025. Upgrading to motorway standard will improve safety through the provision of hard shoulders, which provide a refuge for vehicles in the event of incidents, and junctions with flyovers, which will replace those that are currently controlled by traffic signals.

Tom McCabe: The upgrade will undoubtedly be an important addition to the road network, but equally important is the upgrade to the Raith interchange in Lanarkshire, where fatalities have occurred and where business traffic is curtailed daily. Will the Scottish Government consider bringing forward that project to assist the road network in Scotland further?

Stewart Stevenson: I recognise the importance of the issue. We will certainly give consideration to it within the constraints that we have. I am happy to interact with the member further if he wants to talk to me in greater detail.

(S3O-5680) Glasgow Crossrail Project

Glasgow Crossrail Project

7. Bill Butler (Glasgow Anniesland) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what progress was made in respect of the Glasgow crossrail project at the meeting on 7 January 2009 between Scottish Government officials and the Strathclyde partnership for transport. (S3O-5680)

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

Following the meeting on 7 January 2009, it was agreed that a workshop will be held in February, which will be attended by Transport Scotland, Strathclyde partnership for transport, Network Rail and Glasgow City Council, at which the development of the west of Scotland rail enhancement proposal will be discussed.

Bill Butler: I thank the minister for his mature response.

I welcome the minister's agreement to the meeting with SPT and to the workshop in February. He knows that the project has passed the Government's Scottish transport appraisal guidance system. Does he agree, particularly given these challenging economic times, that SPT's proposed Glasgow crossrail scheme provides value for money, would greatly enhance the connectivity of Scotland's rail network and would go a long way towards resolving capacity restraints at Glasgow stations? If so, will the Government work constructively with SPT to ensure that Glasgow crossrail—or, as the minister put it in the transport priorities debate this morning, crossrail plus—sees the light of day?

Stewart Stevenson: Of course, the oldest minister in Government will always provide a mature response, if only by virtue of his age.

The question is a serious one, which the member treats in an appropriate way. The issue of capacity is central to determining the nature of the intervention that we should make in Glasgow, to allow connections from one end of Scotland to the other via Glasgow and to support the expansion of the rail network into and from Glasgow. We have commissioned an extra piece of work from the Jacobs Consultancy, which will be a large feature on the table in the discussion that we will have in February with the range of bodies that I mentioned.

A longer-term issue is the genuine difficulty with capacity at the two existing major stations in Glasgow, Glasgow Central and Glasgow Queen Street. It is imperative that we take account of the long-term needs of railway expansion when coming to a decision. However, I am entirely happy to accept that we need to move as speedily as possible in these difficult times. I look forward to Mr Butler supporting the budget as it moves through Parliament in the next couple of weeks.

(S3O-5733) ScotRail (Ticket Pricing)

ScotRail (Ticket Pricing)

5. Michael Matheson (Falkirk West) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government when it last met representatives of ScotRail to discuss ticket pricing. (S3O-5733)

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

Transport Scotland officials last met ScotRail representatives to discuss ticket pricing in the context of their franchise agreement obligations on 22 January 2009.

Michael Matheson: I want to bring to the minister's attention concerns that my constituents have expressed about ScotRail's ticket pricing. A cheap day return ticket from Falkirk Grahamston to Edinburgh is the same price as a cheap day return ticket from Dunblane, Bridge of Allan or Stirling, despite the fact that Falkirk Grahamston is considerably further along the line towards Edinburgh. Will the minister ensure that there is greater transparency in respect of how ScotRail sets its pricing structure and that there is greater equity in how it decides what prices should be from given stations?

Stewart Stevenson: I understand the member's point. Broadly speaking, the price per mile is in the 18p to 20p range across the network, although there are variations. Many areas are aggregated together as one destination, which has many advantages for travellers and ScotRail. That said, the pricing structure is largely constrained by the contract that we inherited. We will certainly look at an appropriate pricing structure when we next let the franchise.

22 January 2009

(S3O-5602) Strategic Transport Projects Review

Strategic Transport Projects Review

3. Mary Scanlon (Highlands and Islands) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive for what reasons the Elgin bypass and the trunk link road in Inverness were not deemed to be priorities for inclusion in the strategic transport projects review. (S3O-5602)

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

We have included a link between the A9 and the A96 in the STPR as it delivers national benefits and has a positive investment return. In their present form, proposals for connecting the A82 to the A9 and for a bypass at Elgin provide poor investment returns.

The Government continues to engage the appropriate councils and Highlands and Islands transport partnership on roads issues in Inverness and Elgin. If a positive business case for alternative proposals can be produced, we shall discuss which body should assume responsibility for progressing any project that might follow.

Mary Scanlon: A positive business case was made by HITRANS, which identified significant economic benefits from an Elgin bypass. The First Minister, ministers Richard Lochhead and Fergus Ewing, and local Scottish National Party MSPs all promised the Elgin bypass and the Inverness trunk link road. Will the transport minister admit that those promises were not costed? Will he apologise to the people of Moray and Highland, who were misled?

Stewart Stevenson: The local member, Richard Lochhead, has been assiduous in pursuing the issues associated with the Elgin bypass. He has facilitated a meeting with local interests that will take place shortly; it will be the third meeting that he has had on the subject.

In May 2007, a Scottish transport appraisal guidance report from Moray Council on the Elgin bypass highlighted poor value for money. Similarly, in May 2008, HITRANS and Highlands and Islands Enterprise found that there was a poor case for a bypass. One of the reasons for that, which is unique to Elgin, is that a high proportion of the people travelling to Elgin are not travelling through Elgin but are going there because it is a significant economic centre.

I am confident that we can work with local interests to develop new proposals that can, hopefully, give a return for the investment that would have to be made from the public purse.

Dave Thompson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): Following the welcome confirmation from the Highland Council budget leader, Liberal David Alston, that there is £119 million of council capital and developer contributions in the council's budget for 2009 to 2015, will the minister confirm that there is now no obstacle to the council pressing ahead immediately with the western section of the Inverness trunk link road?

Stewart Stevenson: I very much welcome the endorsement by the new administration in Highland Council of the provision that was made by the previous, SNP administration for the finance for the link road. We have made our substantial contribution to that project by making the link between the A9 and the A96 a national priority. I hope that the Liberal members of Highland Council do not use their policy of cutting infrastructure investment by £800 million a year as an excuse for not making progress.

Alison McInnes (North East Scotland) (LD): I refer to the transport minister's comments to Mary Scanlon. Surely he is not suggesting that local authorities have become responsible for the shortcomings in the trunk road network.

Stewart Stevenson: Traffic in Elgin is divided into through traffic and local traffic—40 per cent of the traffic that goes to Elgin is local traffic. There is a substantial local traffic issue. That is precisely why there is constructive engagement between officials, HITRANS and the council. It is why I welcome the active, energetic support of the local member to ensure that all the complexities of the issue are brought to the fore and form part of the decision making going forward.

Peter Peacock (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): Will the minister confirm that the strategic transport projects review was approved by the Cabinet? Will he further concede, as a matter of principle, that a new line is required for trunk roads through Inverness and around Elgin?

Stewart Stevenson: We are providing a new trunk road at Inverness linking the A96 and the A9, we are making substantial investments in dualling the A96 to the east to Nairn, and we are making substantial investments in the railway to Inverness. In the national projects that it identifies, the STPR makes a once-in-a-lifetime contribution to Inverness.

Further projects will have local significance, and we will continue to work energetically with local interests to ensure that we understand the costs, who has to pay them and the timetable on which the projects can be progressed. We welcome the financial provision from Highland Council for the remaining part that would link the A82 to the A9. I hope that the council sustains its previous commitment on that.

(S3O-5585) National Concessionary Travel Scheme

National Concessionary Travel Scheme

5. Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will admit community transport operators and people on the lower rate of disability living allowance to the national concessionary travel scheme. (S3O-5585)

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

The Scotland-wide free bus travel scheme for older and disabled people already includes community transport services, which are locally registered services. The review of the scheme is nearing completion and has been considering how the scheme could be improved.

Des McNulty: I hope that the minister is aware of the views of the providers and users of community transport in Buckie, along with the views of similar people throughout Scotland who support Charlie Gordon's proposed bill on bus regulation, and the views of people in disability groups, especially those that represent people with learning and mental health disabilities. Why, when the minister provided such strong support for the inclusion of community transport and people on the lower rate of disability living allowance when he was in opposition, is he not prepared to take the issue forward in government?

Stewart Stevenson: On 15 December, I met some of the charities that are involved in the issue to hear their case. I am fully engaged in the matter. Considerable complexities are involved. I have asked for a special study on the community transport services aspect of the question. I expect to move forward shortly with the broad review that we are undertaking. We expect to publish the review report in the next couple of months.

15 January 2009

(S3O-5547) Transport Developments

15th January 2009

Transport Developments

3. Dave Thompson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive whether the strategic transport projects review is the only means by which it will progress transport developments. (S3O-5547)

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

I have set out the 29 strategic transport investment priorities for the next 20 years, which will inform our decisions about future spending beyond the current programme. The STPR has identified the projects that should be owned and promoted by the Government, and it has been clear on where other delivery partners, such as local authorities and regional transport partnerships, are best placed to lead.

Thanks to the historic concordat between the Scottish Government and local authorities across the range of services, local authorities now have far more space to get on with the job of delivery. They have the ability and the responsibility to focus effort and resources on local priorities and needs within the overall purpose of delivering the national outcomes and purpose.

Dave Thompson: Will the minister give an assurance that he will work with Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, British Waterways, Historic Scotland and Highlands and Islands strategic transport partnership to progress the western section of the Inverness bypass trunk link route? Will he particularly give an assurance to the Liberal Democrat led Highland Council, which, despite allocating £119.25 million to that project over the next six years in its capital programme, is misleading the public by claiming that it cannot go ahead?

Stewart Stevenson: I will of course work with all the interested bodies. Like the member, I have noted that Highland Council has made substantial financial provision. We have already assisted by taking responsibility for the A9 to A96 part of the network—that will be of considerable assistance—and, as the responsible minister, I will work with the British Waterways board and HITRANS. The only remaining risk appears to be that the local Liberals could decide that they will unilaterally start to implement the £800 million cuts that the Liberals wish to make each year in our infrastructure budget.

Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): The A9 north of Inverness exercises my attention, and it was disappointing that the recent announcement did not include significant investment for that stretch of road. Will the minister agree to meet the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and European Commission representatives to establish what additional funds may be available to bring forward some much-cherished projects, such as the improvements on the A9 at Berridale?

Stewart Stevenson: I will be happy to sit down and discuss with major stakeholders such as the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority—I know how important its activity is to the economy of the A9 area north of Inverness. As other information that I have put out makes clear, we are not simply supporting trunk roads; we are supporting other roads, and we will continue to work with the appropriate bodies on the development of proposals that are outwith the STPR. I am happy to give that assurance.

8 January 2009

(S3O-5349) A9

8th January 2009


4. Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive when it will complete the dualling of the A9 from Perth to Inverness as set out in the strategic transport projects review. (S3O-5349)

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

We have a fully committed programme of transport infrastructure investment to 2012 that targets improvements to the A9. Dualling the A9 is a Government commitment. We are delighted that for the first time the project is included in a national transport strategy in Scotland. Furthermore, design work to dual the Birnam to Luncarty station section of the road is progressing currently.

The strategic transport projects review now provides a robust framework of schemes, the delivery of which will be prioritised in each spending review. A timetable for undertaking further work on the A9 upgrade from Perth to Inverness will be developed as part of the prioritisation process. That will be set in the context of overall affordability and our commitments to other STPR proposals.

Murdo Fraser: I am surprised that the minister is being so equivocal on the question of the completion date. On 11 December, that fine paper The Press and Journal reported that

"a source close to First Minister Alex Salmond",

no less, revealed that the dualling of the A9

"will be completed by 2020"—

no ifs, no buts, no qualifications and no suggestions that that is dependent on what the Treasury may or may not say about Forth bridge funding. Will the minister indicate clearly whether the road will be dualled by 2020—yes or no—and if not, why not?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will be aware that previous Governments of which his colleagues were part and Governments made up of other parties failed to make the kind of commitment that this Government is making to the A9. The substantial investment that is being made has been widely welcomed in the whole of the Highlands and at the southern end of the A9. The member should have absolutely no doubt about the Government's commitment to the A9 and about the fact that we will not wait until 2020 to make appropriate progress on the road. We are making such progress now and will continue to do so.

Dave Thompson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): What is the Government's estimate of the total investment in transport infrastructure in the Highlands that is contained in the STPR? How does that compare with the investment that was made by previous Scottish and United Kingdom Governments in the 20 years prior to the STPR?

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the member for giving me the opportunity to reinforce some aspects of my previous answer. I do not have with me the entire list of interventions, but I have one or two of them, which amount to £4.2 billion—a very substantial investment that has already been widely welcomed and is unprecedented in modern times, if we compare it with the interventions of all previous Administrations.

Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): We have had no dates from the minister, so I ask him to give some dates in response to this question. When will the Government implement a programme of road widening on the A82 at selected locations between Tarbet and Inverarnan and between Corran ferry and Fort William?

Stewart Stevenson: We are aware of the issues relating to the A82. As I said in answer to a question from John Scott in December, there were 13 deaths on the road in 2007. For that reason, we are treating as a matter of urgency the issue of improvements that are geared towards creating greater safety on the A82. I note that constraints on the A82, such as traffic lights, have been in place for 20 years or more, so it is welcome in the west of Scotland that, at last, this Government is engaging to provide in early course the improvements that are necessary to improve safety on one of Scotland's more dangerous roads.

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