26 February 2009

(S3O-6044) Strategic Transport Projects Review

Strategic Transport Projects Review

1. Dave Thompson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government how many projects were removed by ministers from the recommendations of the strategic transport projects review prior to publication. (S3O-6044)

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

None. Ministers considered the recommendations from the strategic transport projects review following the completion of the detailed appraisal.

Dave Thompson: In view of the importance that completion of the Inverness trunk link route has for the city, is the minister willing to facilitate the establishment of an independent stakeholder group to explore the transport and development issues affecting the Caledonian canal and its relationship to the west of the city at Tomnahurich and Muirton, with particular regard to ensuring the free flow of traffic over the canal.

Stewart Stevenson: It is clear that partnership working will be an important part of delivering the trunk link route. I visited Tomnahurich on Monday and saw the circumstances of the western part of the connection. The British Waterways Board, for which I am responsible in Scotland, has to be a key partner, as does the council, which, when the Scottish National Party was part of the administration, provided the financial cover to allow the project to move forward.

The approach that the member has asked me about worked very effectively on the A96 and is one that I intend to explore as being likely to be the most effective way of drawing everyone together in common purpose to build on the investments that we are making in the north for Inverness through the TLR.

Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): If the minister is saying that no projects were removed by ministers, how many were added? If none was added, does that mean that the minister took what the civil servants gave him hook, line and sinker?

Stewart Stevenson: The important point about the strategic transport projects review is that it comes in two parts. The first and fundamentally more important part is the setting of a framework from which one can derive the projects that will be undertaken over a couple of decades. That is the point at which ministers were most involved. By setting that framework with political involvement and the involvement of wider stakeholders, we depoliticised the choice of projects and made it an analytical process, which ministers reviewed and participated in. The process will endure and continue, and I hope that members will recognise that the three priorities for roads—safety, maximising the use of the network and making sure that we support economic development as funds become available—provide a way that commends itself not only to the Government but to members right across the chamber.

12 February 2009

(S3O-5919) Freight (Far North Line)

Freight (Far North Line)

1. Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive what proposals it has to move freight on to the far north line. (S3O-5919)

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

The Scottish Government offers a number of freight facilities grant schemes to encourage a shift from road to rail. However, the mode of transport for freight is a commercial decision for the freight service provider and the customer.

Jamie Stone: As I drive home on a Thursday night, I find myself having to overtake an endless line of Tesco lorries as I travel between Edinburgh and the far north. Why cannot Tesco put those loads on to trains in the way that Safeway did in the good old days, when goods travelled by rail to Georgemas junction? What are the constraints on the minister that prevent him from making that happen?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will be aware of my recent visit to Inverness, during which I cracked a bottle of champagne over the front end of the new Tesco train that the company will use in that part of the Highlands. In the past, freight travelled to the far north by rail, but recent takeovers have resulted in changes to the distribution network of the supermarkets in question.

I have made it clear to the supermarkets that the Government can make money available to them to help them fund delivery by rail of containers to the far north. If any member can facilitate further discussions on the matter, I would be happy to assist them. Cognisant of my climate change responsibilities, I hope that the member will consider using the train and not the car for his journeys to Tain.

Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): Can the minister be more specific about the powers that are available to him to ensure that all multiple stores along the route to which Jamie Stone referred furnish their stocks via the rail network? I am thinking of powers that the Parliament has agreed to, including planning powers, and the fact that 95 per cent of those stores are within a mile of the railway line.

Stewart Stevenson: I do not believe that we have such powers. That said, we have the power of persuasion and the capability to offer financial support. The powers that are available to us are applicable in certain limited circumstances and include designating parts of the road network as unavailable to lorries. However, I doubt whether those powers could be applied in this case. I am always happy to look at innovative ways of ensuring that we get freight traffic off the roads. We want fewer lorries on the roads north of Inverness than the 400 vehicles to which I have heard Mr Stone refer.

Mary Scanlon (Highlands and Islands) (Con): I look forward to the day when we follow Asda lorries up the A9 on our way north.

It takes three hours and 40 minutes to travel by rail from Inverness to Caithness. What plans does the Government have to reduce that journey time?

Stewart Stevenson: In terms of the railway network across Scotland and, in particular, rail journeys north of Inverness, the main and early intervention that can be made is to revise signalling arrangements. The signalling north of Inverness is reaching the end of its life. We may follow the example of the Cambrian line south of the border, which was an early adopter of the European signalling system. If we were to follow that route, it would help not only to refettle the infrastructure but to reduce journey times. Although we have yet to make the decision, that would be our likely approach.

(S3O-5953) Transport Infrastructure (Linlithgow)

Transport Infrastructure (Linlithgow)

2. Mary Mulligan (Linlithgow) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what improvements have been made to transport infrastructure in the Linlithgow constituency since May 2007. (S3O-5953)

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

I am pleased to state that work will commence this month on the Airdrie to Bathgate line. Improvements will also be undertaken to passenger facilities along the entire length of the route. Additionally, under the access for all small schemes programme, work is taking place to install two smart help points and the react navigation system at Linlithgow station. Of course, there is the on-going maintenance of the trunk roads in the Linlithgow constituency, which is covered by Transport Scotland's maintenance contracts.

Mary Mulligan: The minister is aware of my consistent support for a station at Blackridge on the new Airdrie to Bathgate line. He is also aware that the housing company that was to contribute to the funding of the new station by way of a section 75 consent has gone into receivership. The Labour-Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive committed £300 million to the Airdrie to Bathgate line. Will the minister commit the funds that are necessary to ensure that Blackridge station is built, as a number of Scottish National Party MSPs have promised, or will this become another broken SNP promise?

Stewart Stevenson: Mary Mulligan has heard from this minister on many occasions his absolute commitment to the delivery of Blackridge station. We now have to deal with the administrator on the technical and legal issues that relate to the land for the station. On finance, we have identified efficiencies elsewhere in the delivery of the line. As a result, it is likely that financial inhibitions will not cause us any problems.

Mary Mulligan and all members in the chamber should be absolutely assured that I am committed to the delivery of that station. I am working very hard to ensure that, in the face of difficult circumstances, we shall deliver it.

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