19 March 2009

(S3O-6288) Postbus Services

Postbus Services

7. Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will make representations to the Royal Mail regarding its decision to withdraw five postbus services from the north and west Highlands. (S3O-6288)

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

At a recent meeting with Royal Mail Group, the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism took the opportunity to express the Scottish Government's concerns about the withdrawal of the Highland postbus services. The provision of local bus services is, of course, a matter for commercial bus operators and local authorities. However, the Scottish Government would urge partners to work together to ensure that those vital services continue.

Jamie Stone: I put on the record my gratitude to Jim Mather for saying what he said to the Royal Mail.

Will the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change instruct his officials to point out to the Royal Mail the absolute undesirability of discontinuing those services and the potential, in respect of tourism, of not only retaining the services but building on them in the future, for tourists and for our pensioners, who desperately need the postbus so that they can access vital services?

Stewart Stevenson: I associate myself with Mr Stone's remarks and concur with them.

The whole future of Royal Mail is being debated. I note that 130 Labour members of the United Kingdom Parliament have indicated their opposition to the UK Government's plans. In that context, I hope that the UK Government takes a much more supportive attitude to the Royal Mail that enables it to support, through postbus services and otherwise, the needs of rural and urban Scotland.

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): I ask Peter Peacock to be brief.

Peter Peacock (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): Can the minister confirm that the Scottish Government has powers under transport policies to offer support to the Post Office's network of postbuses? Is he considering doing that in this instance?

The Presiding Officer: I ask the minister to be equally brief, if possible.

Stewart Stevenson: We are supporting local authorities by appointing someone from the Scottish Government to work directly with them on bus services. I hope that that will be one means by which we have greater and more effective engagement with local authorities and bus service providers such as the Royal Mail.

(S3O-6319) Clyde Tunnel (Maintenance)

Clyde Tunnel (Maintenance)

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow Kelvin) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what plans it has to contribute towards the maintenance of the Clyde tunnel in Glasgow. (S3O-6319)

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

I have no plans to contribute to the on-going maintenance of the Clyde tunnel. The tunnel is part of the local road network. Therefore, responsibility for its management and maintenance rests with Glasgow City Council.

Pauline McNeill: Surely the minister must recognise that the Clyde tunnel is an integral part of the road network, not only for Glasgow but for the west of Scotland, and that Glasgow City Council bears the £700,000 operational cost entirely on its own and also provided the £12 million that was recently needed to protect the tunnel from fire and to meet fire regulations.

Does the minister agree that it is about time that Glasgow City Council got some assistance through the creation of a distinct funding mechanism, such as exists for the Tay and Forth bridges? It is not appropriate to treat the Clyde tunnel like any other road. Surely he could at least consider contributing to the costs of the further modernisation that the Clyde tunnel needs, which includes the installation of important emergency communications systems and replacement of the lighting system, at a cost of £5 million.

Stewart Stevenson: The Clyde tunnel is, of course, part of the road infrastructure in Glasgow, and we are making substantial investments in road infrastructure in Glasgow. At long last, the M74 is progressing—that will affect the traffic flows in Glasgow. I am always happy to discuss matters with the council if it feels that that is appropriate.

12 March 2009

(S3O-6179) Young Drivers (Rural Areas)

Young Drivers (Rural Areas)

3. Alison McInnes (North East Scotland) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive what action it is taking to improve road safety among young drivers in rural areas. (S3O-6179)

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

Through Road Safety Scotland, the Scottish Government is taking action to raise awareness among young people of their vulnerability on the roads and to encourage responsible driving attitudes. The Scottish road safety framework, which is to be published later this year, will include measures to address young driver safety.

Alison McInnes: The Government's research in "Rural Road Safety: Drivers and Driving", which was published in December, noted that

"younger respondents reported that there was a gap in the process of learning to drive, with the focus more on manoeuvring the car and learning how to pass the test than on learning the types of skills necessary for driving on rural roads."

It was concluded that a strengthened pass plus scheme would have merit. Will the minister commit to supporting the development and roll-out of a pass plus squared scheme that is targeted at young rural drivers?

Stewart Stevenson: There is much in what the member says. I share concerns about the development of the necessary skills for driving on rural roads, particularly at night. We are working with the United Kingdom Government, through the Driving Standards Agency, on driver training.

The pass plus scheme has been piloted throughout Scotland and has provided modest advantages. We will certainly consider it as part of the future of driver training, particularly once we see what the DSA proposes.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): What discussions has the minister had with local authorities to encourage them to use their powers to lower speeds on dangerous single-track roads?

Stewart Stevenson: I have not discussed single-track roads, but I agree with Rhoda Grant that many drivers who are unfamiliar with such roads do not realise their particular dangers. When a driver approaches a corner that they cannot see round on a single-track road, it is different from approaching such a corner on a dual-track road.

I discuss road safety regularly with local authorities. Rhoda Grant makes a good point, and I will add the matter to the list of issues that I discuss with appropriate councils.

Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): The minister talked about the pass plus scheme. Has he considered discussing with the police, insurance companies and the Institute of Advanced Motorists the inclusion of advanced driving tests in his proposals? Young drivers in Caithness and other areas in the north have approached me to suggest that, and we think that that well-known means of improving driving would be a great enhancement for them.

Stewart Stevenson: I declare an interest as a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. The IAM is one source of additional driver training, and I support all such sources—the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, for example, is also keenly engaged in the issue. The Institute of Advanced Motorists is represented on our road safety strategy group, and I am sure that, when we publish the road safety strategy, it will reflect the additional and voluntary training that bodies such as ROSPA and the IAM can provide.

5 March 2009

(S3O-6066) Water Testing (Church and Community Halls)

Water Testing (Church and Community Halls)

1. Elizabeth Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what advice it has given to local authorities regarding water testing in church and community halls. (S3O-6066)

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

General guidance on the strengthened legislative framework for private water supplies was issued to local authorities in 2006. It contains nothing specific about church and community halls, but supplies to such places should be treated in the same way as other large private supplies.

Elizabeth Smith: I thank the minister for his encouraging answer. I have no doubt that he is aware that many rural church and community halls throughout Scotland with private water sources will face annual water testing by local authorities, which will add to their limited budgets a considerable burden that many of them cannot afford. Will he investigate the situation and consider what support the Scottish Government and local authorities can give Scotland's church and community halls?

Stewart Stevenson: The charge for such testing is, of course, capped. I understand that reaching the cap of £600-plus is relatively uncommon. The rates for such properties are significantly reduced in return for their providing their own water, but I am conscious of the issue and of its importance to churches and community associations. Elizabeth Smith recently wrote to me about a community association in her region and I will reply to her in early course.

(S3O-6082) Bus Services

Bus Services

Rhona Brankin (Midlothian) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what plans it has to give communities a greater say in the provision of local bus services. (S3O-6082)

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

As part of our work on the bus action plan, the Scottish Government has encouraged the establishment of bus forums by local authorities. Bus forums are a way in which bus users can voice their concerns about local bus services directly to bus operators and local authorities. In "Buses for Scotland—Progress Through Partnership: A Guide for Local Authorities, Regional Transport Partnerships and Bus Operators", we have provided best practice guidance on how to establish bus forums.

Rhona Brankin: I thank the minister for that reply, although I think that my constituents will find it rather disappointing; in particular, I refer to the thousands of bus users in Gorebridge, Newtongrange, Rosewell and Eskbank, who have been told by First that more than 700 bus journeys between Midlothian and Edinburgh will be withdrawn in April. Does the minister share my concern that such cuts can be made without consultation of the affected communities? Does he agree that such service reductions do nothing to promote the use of public transport? Will he be brave enough to stand up to Brian Souter by backing my colleague Charlie Gordon's proposals for bus re-regulation? Will he put the interests of Scotland's bus passengers before the SNP's coffers?

Stewart Stevenson: I realise that the member arrived in time to participate only from question 5 onwards. If she had listened to some of the earlier answers, she would know that the Government is engaged in a wide range of issues of interest to people throughout Scotland.

Like Rhona Brankin, I find it disappointing to hear of a reduction in bus services in any part of Scotland. There is a wide range of ways in which local authorities, who are primarily involved in overseeing local services, can support the interests of the people for whom they work. The creation of statutory partnerships is one approach that is yet to be used. We are anxious to promote and support any action that is taken in that regard and to work with local authorities that want to introduce such partnerships to ensure that we get the benefits of that work without the heavy-handed regulation of everything that happens regarding buses.

Partnerships are the best way in which to proceed. I had the great pleasure of being in Dundee recently to launch a punctuality improvement partnership, which I believe will deliver significant benefits. I say that in the context of Dundee City Council being a council in which I have no political interest.

The Presiding Officer: Briefly please, minister.

Stewart Stevenson: We are heavily promoting the range of options that we inherited from our predecessor Administration to ensure that the bus services that are required throughout Scotland are actually delivered.

(S3O-6064) National Planning Framework (Consultation)

National Planning Framework (Consultation)

12. Mary Scanlon (Highlands and Islands) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it considers that the consultation carried out on the national planning framework for Scotland 2 was adequate. (S3O-6064)

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

We believe that a very full consultation was carried out. We complied fully with the commitments in the statutory participation statement, which was the first of its kind in Scotland. Planning Aid for Scotland commented:

"the methods used to raise awareness and seek comments have been wide-ranging and have incorporated a variety of consultation methods including targeted engagement, a website, a helpline, seminars, events and leaflets."

Mary Scanlon: I thank the minister for that most helpful answer. Although the development at Tornagrain on the A96 is not designated as a national project, it is mentioned in paragraph 272 of the NPF 2 document. Given its inclusion, some of my constituents are concerned that the development has been approved. Will the minister clarify that planning permission has still to be granted for the Tornagrain development and that a local consultation on the application will take place in the normal manner?

Stewart Stevenson: Yes.

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