30 April 2009

(S3O-6711) Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route

Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route

8. Richard Baker (North East Scotland) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what funding mechanism it will use for construction of the Aberdeen western peripheral route. (S3O-6711)

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

The funding mechanism for the Aberdeen western peripheral route has still to be determined.

Richard Baker: We have been waiting for two years to hear what the funding mechanism will be. Contributions will be required from both local authorities at this time of frugility—to use the words of the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth. If the decision is to be made after the receipt of the planning inquiry report, how long after that will it be? Does the minister have an early view of the likelihood of the route being funded through the Scottish distant futures trust?

Stewart Stevenson: The member is perfectly correct to point to the planning system as being the next step in the progress of this project, which is of great importance to the north-east of Scotland. I note that the fact that the public-private partnership/private finance initiative approach to raising funds for projects has been discredited means that 100 projects in England are stalled because of an inability to raise funds.

The member can be absolutely assured that we are fully engaged in this subject. We are not taking the planning process for granted; we will have to consider to the outcome of the planning process. However, I should note that the reduction in the cost of steel and cement and the increased competition in the market means that there is every opportunity to get the best possible deal for the public purse on this project and many others. We are working to deliver that.

(S3O-6668) Road Network

Road Network

6. John Scott (Ayr) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what discussions have taken place between ministers and local authorities regarding the condition of the road network. (S3O-6668)

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

The condition of Scotland's local roads network has been raised in general discussion between ministers and local authorities during the past year.

I recognise the difficulties that Scotland's local authorities face in addressing local road problems, particularly in the current economic climate. Although it may not be possible in all cases for me to engage on an individual basis with each of Scotland's local authorities on their difficulties, I have asked my officials to respond positively to any request that is made by a local authority for a meeting to discuss the issue.

John Scott: The minister will be aware that a report from Audit Scotland in 2004 estimated that, at that time, £1.5 billion needed to be spent by Scottish councils to eliminate their road maintenance backlogs—around half of A, B and unclassified roads were in need of repair. Given the scale of the problem, which has built up over many years, and the severe pressures on local authority budgets, it is clear that, in order for real progress to be made on repairing Scotland's roads network, additional resources are required. Will the minister therefore tell Parliament what action he has taken—or will take—to help councils address the poor state of our non-trunk roads?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will be aware of the substantial financial support that is being given to councils and in his area and in other parts of Scotland. In the current year, East Ayrshire is receiving £253 million, North Ayrshire is receiving £305 million and South Ayrshire is receiving £230 million. It is for councils to make decisions in relation to their spending priorities. I reiterate the point that we have a fruitful and helpful relationship with local councils, which is why my officials and I stand ready to talk to councils and develop solutions.

Dave Thompson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): When will the first meeting of the Government and Highland Council transport working group take place?

Stewart Stevenson: A date is not yet set, although I have had face-to-face discussions with the leader of Highland Council, Michael Foxley. We are of one mind that it is important that the council, the Government and other interested bodies work together. I welcome that collaborative approach, which will depoliticise the situation and ensure that a proper course of action is determined by an objective assessment of needs and opportunities.

(S3O-6748) Transport Scotland

Transport Scotland

4. Karen Whitefield (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive when the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change last met Transport Scotland. (S3O-6748)

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

Transport Scotland is part of the Scottish Government and meetings with ministers occur regularly in the normal course of business.

Karen Whitefield: Is the minister aware that recently published research by the University of Glasgow and the University of Southampton shows that the electrification of the Glasgow to Edinburgh main line will reach capacity by 2022? The line provides huge added value to the Scottish economy through reduced travelling times between the two cities. What proposals is the minister considering to introduce high-speed ground transport between Glasgow and Edinburgh before capacity is overtaken?

Stewart Stevenson: The issue of capacity is complex. Part of our proposals involves the creation of four-line capacity from Winchburgh junction to the centre of Edinburgh, which will provide extra capacity. The opening of the Airdrie-Bathgate line will increase capacity between Glasgow and Edinburgh, taking the number of trains per hour to 13. We recognise the economic value of time, which the member mentions. We reckon that every minute off the Glasgow-Edinburgh journey time is worth £60 million. That is why we want to get journey times down from the current 52 minutes to around 35 minutes.

Shirley-Anne Somerville (Lothians) (SNP): The minister will be aware of the concerns among residents of South Queensferry regarding some of the details of the new Forth crossing. Will he ensure that Transport Scotland's officials meet the residents—especially those who will be directly affected by the scheme—as early as possible? Will he also ensure that they are given full access to information on the design of the approach roads and issues such as the park-and-ride facility and the Echline plaza? Will he ensure that those residents have as much access as possible to the people who will make the decisions before the final decisions are made?

Stewart Stevenson: The member asks a range of questions. The key point is that Transport Scotland is engaging directly with many of the parties involved in South Queensferry, and that will continue. We want to ensure that, as we finalise the design of the approach roads prior to introducing the necessary consents that will take the project forward, we have addressed all the concerns. It is not our intention to proceed with the proposed park-and-ride facility on the south side as part of the overall programme.

23 April 2009

(S3O-6584) Road Safety

Road Safety

6. Alison McInnes (North East Scotland) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive when it will publish its 10-year road safety strategy. (S3O-6584)

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

I will announce the date of publication within the next few weeks.

Alison McInnes: When the minister came to office he stated that road safety was a priority, but it seems to me that the Scottish National Party is in a different time zone from the rest of us—it has taken two years to produce the road safety strategy.

The tally of fatalities on rural roads is disproportionate—accidents on rural roads account for 62 per cent of fatalities, even though they carry only 42 per cent of the traffic. Does the minister support the Department for Transport's view that speed limits on rural roads must be reviewed? If so, will he advise how and when that will be done?

Stewart Stevenson: The framework for speed limits is, of course, created by the DFT, not by us. A review of speed limits on roads that councils are responsible for is under way. We are working closely with DFT colleagues and have provided input to the consultation on driver licensing and on speed limits. We will continue with such work, because the member makes a perfectly good point—night time and rurality are particular vectors of risk that we need to understand and respond to.

(S3O-6594) National Concessionary Travel Scheme

National Concessionary Travel Scheme

3. Jim Tolson (Dunfermline West) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive whether consideration was given to the recognition of bus passes across the United Kingdom in its review of the national concessionary travel scheme. (S3O-6594)

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

The review of the Scotland-wide free bus travel scheme for older and disabled people is almost complete and we expect the report of the review to be published early in May. It would not be appropriate to pre-empt the report and its wider considerations at this time.

Jim Tolson: I welcome the minister's statement that mutual recognition of bus passes throughout the UK has been considered by the Government's review of the concessionary travel scheme, which is due to report back imminently. Can he confirm that the stakeholders who were consulted during the consultation process included various user groups? Mutual recognition of bus passes throughout the UK would be of great benefit to people such as my constituent, Graham Chandler, whose parents, who reside in England, plan frequent trips to Scotland to assist their son with child care.

Stewart Stevenson: It is clear that an extension of the free bus travel scheme and the reciprocity that would have to be part of that could deliver benefits. Indeed, I have been in correspondence with members of the Northern Ireland Assembly on the subject, in which they have a shared interest.

However, the schemes in the different jurisdictions are very different. The one in England is essentially a local, off-peak scheme. It is relatively new and some difficulties are still being experienced. The member will need to wait just a little bit longer for our final determination on the subject.

Ian McKee (Lothians) (SNP): Does the Government have plans to follow the Labour Government at Westminster by withdrawing many travel concessions from those who are entitled to them?

Stewart Stevenson: I think that I have said on a previous occasion that we intend to augment the free bus travel scheme by extending it to cover disabled ex-servicemen. It is certainly not our intention to impose restrictions or to reduce the concessions that have been made available in the past.

(S3O-6657) Road Safety

Road Safety

1. Stuart McMillan (West of Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what action it has taken to improve road safety. (S3O-6657)

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

The Scottish Government will shortly publish a new road safety framework for Scotland for the period to 2020. We provide £1.3 billion for infrastructure funding to Transport Scotland to ensure a safe strategic road network and we fund significant educational initiatives through Road Safety Scotland.

Stuart McMillan: As I highlighted in this morning's debate, when I undertook my survey in Inverkip, which achieved a response rate of 41 per cent, some 81 per cent of respondents said that they want action to be taken on the A78 junction at Inverkip. I welcome the fact that Transport Scotland will now undertake a survey, but I ask the minister to accept my invitation to come to Inverkip to see for himself the dangerous and potentially life-threatening junction. Will he agree to meet members of the Inverkip and Wemyss Bay community council to hear their concerns and to discuss the matter further?

Stewart Stevenson: As I said in the previous debate, the member's engagement with local communities on the issue is impressive. I will certainly seek to make time available in my diary to visit Inverkip to see the junction for myself and to meet members of the community council.

Robert Brown (Glasgow) (LD): It is understandable that blind and partially sighted people, as well as other disabled people, have concerns about the development of shared-surface schemes in some of our towns and cities. Will the Scottish Executive consider a moratorium on new shared-surface schemes until the completion of research, either by taking part in the Department for Transport's research or by conducting its own research on the issue?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes a fair point. When I met representatives of blind and partially sighted people some time ago, I was given a clear exposition of the real difficulties that can arise when we share space. The history of such schemes, particularly in the Netherlands, is generally good, but I think that we have cultural as well as engineering issues to consider. I will not make the commitment that the member asked for at this moment, but he can be assured that I am aware of, and we are engaging on, the issue.

2 April 2009

(S3O-6480) Buildings' Energy Performance (Measurement)

Buildings' Energy Performance (Measurement)

14. Robin Harper (Lothians) (Green): To ask the Scottish Executive what its position is on the most efficient way to obtain and register accurate measurements of the energy performance of buildings. (S3O-6480)

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

For calculating energy use in buildings based on standardised occupancy patterns for different building types, the Government uses as its calculation tools the standard assessment procedure 2005 for dwellings and the simplified building energy model for non-domestic buildings. The tools calculate only the energy loads that are directly associated with the building—that is, lighting, heating and cooling—and do not take account of process loads or the use of domestic appliances.

We welcome the UK Government's announcement of the roll-out of smart meters to all domestic customers by the end of 2020. Indications are that it will take around two years to design and establish the full details of the roll-out, after which there will be a 10-year roll-out period.

Robin Harper: This is a highly technical and complicated issue. Will the minister meet me and my advisers so that we can bring to his attention a paper that points the way to methods of measurement that are far more efficient, quicker and easier to apply than current methods. I apologise for not sending him the paper in advance of my asking this question.

Stewart Stevenson: I am always prepared to listen to good ideas, wherever they come from, and I will be happy to sit down with Mr Harper and see what he has come up with.

Gavin Brown (Lothians) (Con): A recent Audit Scotland report entitled "Improving energy efficiency" has stated:

"In 90 per cent of councils, energy management teams or officers are in place, compared to only 59 per cent of NHS bodies and 36 per cent of central government bodies."

Why is the central Government figure so low?

Stewart Stevenson: We in central Government have taken considerable steps to reduce the cost of, and to green, the energy that we use. For example, we are looking at replacing the heating system in St Andrew's house and are carrying out similar activities elsewhere in our estate. We are actively engaged in stepping up to the mark on this important issue.

(S3O-6518) Glasgow Crossrail

Glasgow Crossrail

6. Cathie Craigie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will approve the Glasgow crossrail project. (S3O-6518)

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

Improving cross-Glasgow connections is an important part of the west of Scotland rail enhancements recommended by the strategic transport projects review.

Transport Scotland is working in partnership to develop a delivery plan for the package. That work will examine the interactions of the crossrail proposal with the proposed wider strategic enhancements.

Cathie Craigie: I am sure that the minister will be aware that my constituents in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth would benefit greatly from any cross-Glasgow improvements. Will the minister give me an assurance that the crucial need for cross-Glasgow connectivity is still paramount in his considerations? Will he give timescales for implementation of the enhancements proposed in the SPTR, including the light metro system?

Stewart Stevenson: I certainly agree with the member's observation about the importance of providing Cumbernauld—and many other communities—with cross-Glasgow access.

We had an initial meeting with Strathclyde Passenger Transport, Network Rail, First ScotRail and Glasgow City Council on 7 January. A steering group has been established to progress work, which we hope will be completed around the middle of this year.

The difficulty is the constraints in particular parts of the network south of Glasgow central station, where the longer-term needs—the commitment is already made to improve railway services to the south-west of Glasgow—make it very difficult to consider short-term issues without tackling the long-term ones. Nonetheless, the steering group will show us the way to make progress. There is substantial collaboration and co-operation among all the bodies with an interest, and I remain optimistic that we will deliver a plan in early course.

(S3O-6525) Highland Council (Transport)

Highland Council (Transport)

5. Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what plans it has to assist Highland Council to find long-term alternative transport options in light of the recent decision by the Royal Mail to withdraw five post-bus routes in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross-shire. (S3O-6525)

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

I have written to, and the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism has met, Royal Mail to urge it to work with Highland Council to find a way to continue those vital rural bus services. The Scottish Government is already providing local government in Scotland with record levels of funding over the period 2008 to 2011. It is the responsibility of each local authority to allocate its total financial resources on the basis of local needs and priorities, which include the subsidy of local bus services.

Rhoda Grant: The minister has said in previous answers to similar questions that he will put in place someone to advise Highland Council on rural transport options and funding. No matter how worthy the person might be, would not the money for that post be better spent on front-line services? Decisions on post buses were taken after budget settlements were made. If the post has to be funded from Highland Council's pot of money, it will mean cuts in other areas. Will the minister provide the finance?

Stewart Stevenson: The advice provided by the person who will be appointed will be for all councils in Scotland. That is on top of the funding per capita for buses that the Scottish Government provides, which is more than 20 per cent higher than that in Wales and in England outside London. Our support for buses is very substantial.

The member would have to be accountable to the 31 other councils that would be denied the opportunity to have the advice and encouragement that would improve their bus services if we diverted the modest amount of money involved in providing an individual who will promote bus services with councils. I intend to proceed on the basis that was previously advised.

(S3O-6494) BAA Airports Ltd (Competition Commission Report)

BAA Airports Ltd
(Competition Commission Report)

3. Jamie Hepburn (Central Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what it considers the implications to be for transport policy, tourism and the economy of the recommendations in the Competition Commission's report in relation to the future of BAA airports in Scotland. (S3O-6494)

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

Competition in the airport sector can drive investment, innovation and the further development of Scotland's direct international air links, which can make Scotland more accessible for inbound tourists and improve business connectivity, thereby contributing to sustainable growth in the Scottish economy.

Jamie Hepburn: The minister will recall that I have written to him on the issue on a number of occasions. Does he share my concern that every opportunity to ensure that local authorities and other parts of the public sector that have an interest in having at least an equity share in any BAA airport that is sold should be explored? Does he agree that their having such a stake might allow for the greater pursuance of strategic transport, tourism, environmental and economic objectives?

Stewart Stevenson: The member may be aware, as others are, that the top-performing Scottish airport in the Which? survey of user satisfaction—Inverness airport—is publicly owned. I take the opportunity to congratulate the staff and management there for that highly significant achievement.

It is clear, therefore, that it is possible to have well-performing public airports. If local authorities are in a position to come to the view that they should take an equity share in any particular airport that is sold off by BAA in Scotland, we will watch the outcomes with interest and hope that they take the opportunity to emulate the top-notch performance at Inverness airport.

Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): What is the minister's view on the planned 12 per cent reduction in the number of flights from Glasgow airport this summer? Is he alive to the danger of asset stripping prior to any sale of Glasgow airport?

Stewart Stevenson: I suspect that the reduction in the number of flights is more a reflection of the difficult economic circumstances in which we find ourselves. If BAA were to decide that Glasgow airport is to be sold, I am sure that it would be in its interest to ensure that flight numbers are maintained to maximise its return. If the member feels that there are issues that I can respond to directly, I would be happy to interact with him further.

(S3O-6491) Marine Renewables Devices (Infrastructure)

Marine Renewables Devices (Infrastructure)

1. Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what plans there are to build the port and transport infrastructure that is needed to launch marine renewables devices in Scottish waters. (S3O-6491)

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

Ports in Scotland have a major role to play by providing strategic transport infrastructure, thus contributing strongly to the Government's core purpose of increasing sustainable economic growth. The ports sector in Scotland is diverse and adaptable. It is well placed to pursue commercial opportunities in partnership with the expanding marine renewables sector.

The recently reconvened forum for renewable energy development in Scotland's marine energy group is considering the marine renewables industry's port and transport needs. The identified needs will be set out in the Scottish Government's renewables action plan, which is to be published later this year.

Rob Gibson: I thank the minister for that reply and for sharing my view on the need for urgency in the drive to install clean energy machinery. Will he identify the Scottish, United Kingdom and European Union funding streams that ports such as Scrabster, Scapa Flow and those in the Cromarty Firth can access to speed up what the minister and I both wish to see, which is the development of tidal and wave devices in the Pentland firth and so on?

Stewart Stevenson: It is indeed important that we maximise access to all sorts of funding sources for our harbours, and that funds are available from all. That is particularly the case in light of the substantially higher than expected interest from developers, as a result of the Crown Estate's recent round 1 leasing programme for the area. We will keep a very close eye on funding from all possible sources.

Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): One possible funding source is the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which has very deep pockets. I am thinking of the on-going work to decommission Dounreay. Can the minister give an assurance that, when he comes to consider the potential of harbours including Scrabster and Wick, he will co-ordinate closely with the NDA with a view to getting as much money as possible from the authority for those two harbours?

Stewart Stevenson: I am always a very good friend of anyone with deep pockets. The NDA is certainly a key player in the far north of Scotland, where it plays a very important role. I would be very happy to discuss with the NDA any role that it could play in the development of harbour and wider transport infrastructure.

Lewis Macdonald (Aberdeen Central) (Lab): The minister will be aware that the best tidal energy resource in Scotland is to be found in the central part of the Pentland Firth, which is—as he will also be aware—an international shipping channel. Will he ensure that steps are taken to reduce the risk of conflicts between tidal energy development and the safety of those at sea? Will he work with the Crown Estate and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to ensure that the issues are given the highest priority?

Stewart Stevenson: Mr Macdonald is entirely correct to point to the potential for conflict and to identify by his reference to the MCA the need for different jurisdictions to work closely together to ensure that their respective responsibilities are focused on the same direction. He can be assured that we will do that.

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