28 May 2009

(S3O-7109) Compulsory Purchase Legislation

8. Cathy Jamieson (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it plans to review compulsory purchase legislation. (S3O-7109)

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

The Scottish Government has no plans to review compulsory purchase legislation.

Cathy Jamieson: I am disappointed to hear that. I hope that in his travels around Scotland the minister will come to Auchinleck and Dailly in my constituency, to see the derelict former commercial premises that blight those towns' main streets. The local councils tell me that compulsory purchase legislation does not enable them adequately to deal with the problem. Will the minister review his position on the matter?

Stewart Stevenson: I am aware of the difficulties in Auchinleck. The member and I have been in correspondence on the subject. We are considering the compulsory purchase order process, as distinct from the legislation, and we are considering how best to respond to stakeholder concerns about CPOs. If the member has specific suggestions about how I might engage with her on the issue, I will be happy to discuss them.

Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Can the minister confirm that the use of compulsory purchase legislation for a private business venture, such as the Trump development in Aberdeenshire, would be entirely wrong?

Stewart Stevenson: The planning process in relation to the Trump development continues and I do not want to comment on where it will go.

(S3O-7179) Opencast Coal Mining (Climate Change)

6. Robin Harper (Lothians) (Green): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it considers that an increase in opencast coal mining is compatible with its stated climate change targets and objectives. (S3O-7179)

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

Coal will continue to form an important part of the energy mix in Scotland for some years. However, it must go hand in hand with the development of clean coal technology. Such technologies, including carbon capture and storage, have the potential both to transform the way we generate power and also reduce emissions significantly.

Planning policies are in place to ensure that opencast coal mining sites are approved only if they are environmentally acceptable or provide local benefits, such as jobs or land improvements, that clearly outweigh the impacts. It is right that the main responsibility for decisions on opencast mines lies with local authorities, which are best placed to consider all the issues, whether environmental or economic.

Robin Harper: The minister has already conceded that last month's sweeping new planning circular leaves almost all planning applications for opencast coal sites in the hands of councils, which have huge vested interests, while ministers wash their hands entirely of responsibility. Since the Administration came to power, at least 10 new sites have been approved, which involve around 8 million tonnes of coal. Those scars on Scotland's landscape are the dirty face of so-called clean coal. They are the price that Scotland's communities pay when the Government supports new coal plants, whether notionally carbon-capture ready or not.

The Presiding Officer: Ask a question please, Mr Harper.

Robin Harper: Given the Scottish Government's commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, in what year does the minister expect the last opencast site to be approved?

Stewart Stevenson: I will courteously disagree with the member about the responsibilities of councils. I believe, as does the Government, that those who represent communities and who are connected closely to their concerns are very well placed to make the appropriate planning decisions. The issue of coal remaining part of the energy mix in Scotland is an important one. However, moving forward with carbon capture and storage mitigates the effects of the combustion of coal. It is a technology in which we could have the opportunity to lead the world. It will form an important part of the interim phase of power generation for years to come, before we go to wholly renewable green energy.

Aileen Campbell (South of Scotland) (SNP): The minister will be aware of the serious local concern in the Douglas area of South Lanarkshire at the prospect of a new opencast quarry at Mainshill. Will the minister confirm that the Scottish Government's decision not to call in that proposal means that the final decision on whether to proceed rests with South Lanarkshire Council and not with the Scottish ministers?

Stewart Stevenson: It is indeed the case that planning decisions are generally being left to councils, where that is appropriate. The issue that the member raises lies with South Lanarkshire Council, which I hope will give it the consideration that it merits and will come to an appropriate decision that reflects local needs and interests.

21 May 2009

(S3O-7040) Forth Replacement Crossing (Baseline Indicators)

6. Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive whether Transport Scotland plans to quantify baseline noise and air quality indicators at individual residences that are affected by the proposed Forth replacement crossing. (S3O-7040)

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

Yes. By using a model that is verified by some actual measurements, baseline levels at individual properties in the vicinity of the scheme will be predicted. The results of the noise and air assessments will be reported in an environmental statement later in 2009.

Margaret Smith: The minister is aware of residents' concerns about the impact of the new crossing on noise levels and air quality at Linn Mill, Clufflats, Echline and Dundas Home Farm.

At a recent meeting with Transport Scotland, I was told that there would be no on-the-ground baseline figures and that all baseline figures—which are crucial to discussions about mitigation and compensation—would be produced as a result of purely desk-bound calculations. Does the minister share my concerns about that? Will he instruct Transport Scotland to undertake on-the-ground monitoring of current noise and air quality indicators at the affected locations?

Stewart Stevenson: I said in my original answer that the model will be verified by measurements on the ground. We shall use contour plots, with a base year of 2005, for nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter, which are key. In addition, we will provide contour plots for NO2 and PM10 to show the difference in pollutant concentration for 2017 and 2032 with and without the proposed scheme. That substantial piece of research should give a high degree of confidence that we understand and are able to mitigate any effects on individual properties.

(S3O-7024) National Concessionary Travel Scheme (Extension)

1. Cathy Peattie (Falkirk East) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will extend the national concessionary travel scheme to include demand-responsive community transport schemes such as Dial-a-Journey in Forth valley, which is used by older and disabled people who are eligible for the scheme but cannot use scheduled services. (S3O-7024)

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

The Scotland-wide free bus travel scheme for older and disabled people already includes demand-responsive community transport services that are registered local services. The scheme has been the subject of a review since last July. The review is now complete and the resulting report and recommendations will be published this month.

Cathy Peattie: Why are private bus operators trusted to operate concessionary transport schemes when community transport organisations are not? A number of disabled and older people throughout the country cannot access travel schemes. Will the minister please look again at the discrimination that those people face daily?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes a perfectly fair point about the need to provide access to affordable public transport for people with a range of disabilities that prevent their having ready access to standard service buses. We provide substantial support for a wide range of demand-responsive transport, which comes in many shapes and sizes. Some forms fall within the present scheme, whereas others are outside it. We have commissioned additional work on the demands of the transport sector to which Cathy Peattie refers. That work will be available to us later.

Ian McKee (Lothians) (SNP): What are the differences between the concessionary travel schemes north and south of the border? Does any reciprocity between them exist?

Stewart Stevenson: The scheme in England is operated locally. Unlike the Scottish scheme, it does not provide national coverage. It has been examined recently and several revisions to it have been made—for example, it now excludes, for the first time, bus services on which the majority of seats are booked. We are not minded to follow such a restriction on the successful scheme in Scotland.

14 May 2009

(S3O-6921) Airports (Marketing Support)

18. David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what plans it has to provide marketing support for airports to develop further air routes to Europe and beyond. (S3O-6921)

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

EC guidelines 2005/C 312/01 mean that we have no plans to provide marketing support to airports for the development of new international air services.

David Stewart: The minister is well aware that the Scottish route development fund, set up by the previous Administration in 2002, was a great success. More than £7 million was spent, and 52 routes went ahead. There were great successes such as the Glasgow to Dubai route.

Notwithstanding his earlier reply, does the minister share my view that a new route development fund—which could incentivise lower-emitting aircraft—would be a huge boost to tourism, inward investment and the indigenous business community in Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: I would be absolutely delighted if the European Commission were to change the rules to permit such a scheme. Were that to happen, we would of course consider it very seriously.

7 May 2009

(S3O-6798) Southern General Hospital (Clyde Fastlink)

7. Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it is considering funding part of the Clyde fastlink project to enable it to serve the Southern general hospital. (S3O-6798)

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

As part of project 24 of the strategic transport projects review, which relates to west of Scotland strategic rail enhancements, we aim to increase public transport access to key public services. We are working with partners such as Strathclyde partnership for transport and Glasgow City Council on considering a range of options, including the possible development of a metro or light rapid transit network across Glasgow.

In addition, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is committed to funding a package of public and active transport measures, including the provision of new infrastructure, as part of the on-going planning and development arrangements associated with the Southern general hospital project.

Charlie Gordon: Can I take it then that the health budget could supplement Stewart Stevenson's transport budget for the project?

Stewart Stevenson: The next important step is the appraisal of the Clyde fastlink proposal that is currently being undertaken by Glasgow City Council. I understand that there will be a report on that in the summer of 2009, which will inform the way forward. That report will be a necessary precursor to any discussions that will follow.

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