25 June 2009

(S3O-7545) Transport Summit (Glasgow)

7. Sandra White (Glasgow) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government whether it will support a transport summit for Glasgow, bringing together various stakeholders to discuss the challenges and aspirations facing the city and its environs. (S3O-7545)

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

Transport Scotland, Strathclyde partnership for transport and Glasgow City Council are working closely together to develop a shared vision for transport in Glasgow and the west of Scotland. That includes delivery of the west of Scotland strategic rail enhancements, which were announced as part of the strategic transport project review outcomes. In addition, SPT has recently completed the west of Scotland conurbation public transport study and, with the council, is finalising its appraisal of the Clyde fastlink proposals. A joint delivery plan will be developed to allow all parties to take forward their public transport improvements throughout Glasgow and the west of Scotland.

Sandra White: The minister may be aware that much of the correspondence that I receive is connected with the gridlock in Glasgow city centre and that, over the recess, I will seek Glasgow residents' views on that issue. Will he meet me to discuss the detailed responses that I receive?

Stewart Stevenson: I am always happy to meet members, which always expands my information base and understanding. If Sandra White cares to contact my office, we can make the necessary arrangements.

(S3O-7511) Kintore Railway Station

6. Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive, given the approval of funding by the previous Administration for Laurencekirk railway station and its subsequent recent reopening, whether it will commit to provide funding for the reopening of Kintore station. (S3O-7511)

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

Transport Scotland has asked Network Rail to conduct a feasibility study into developing the Aberdeen to Inverness proposal that is included in the strategic transport projects review. As part of that study, Network Rail will examine the case for a new station at Kintore. The recommendations from the north east of Scotland transport partnership's study into the positioning of a possible station at Kintore will provide useful input to that work.

Mike Rumbles: The reopening of the station would be of tremendous benefit not only to Kintore residents but to people in surrounding areas, including my constituents only four miles away in Kemnay. Will the minister confirm that, if the studies that he has just mentioned come back with a positive business case, the Scottish Government will commit to provide the necessary funding?

Stewart Stevenson:
The prospect of a station at Kintore is important to a wide range of people, including the local constituency member. Mike Rumbles will observe that there are two specific references to Kintore in the strategic plan that Network Rail has published for 2009 to 2014 and should be absolutely satisfied that we are fully engaged on the matter. If he wishes to look at the strategic plan, he will find it at www.networkrail.co.uk/aspx/4355.aspx and the reference to Kintore is on page 6 of the "Route 25: Highlands" document.

Dr Richard Simpson (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): I thank the minister for coming to hear the views of my constituents at a recent meeting of COBRA—the campaign to open Blackford railway again. In light of the evidence that was presented to him on poor disabled access at Gleneagles, the dangerous access route to that station, the Ryder cup in 2014, the growth of Highland Spring and the problems at Dunblane down the line, has he had any opportunity to reconsider the possibility of reopening Blackford station?

Stewart Stevenson: It is not only Mr Purvis who is being innovative in questioning today.

I remain fully engaged in the subject. I took a great deal that is of considerable interest away from the annual general meeting of COBRA. Of course, we have not yet come to conclusions that I can share with the member.

(S3O-7498) A83

5. Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what plans it has to upgrade the A83. (S3O-7498)

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

Planned works for this year include the first phase of a route accident reduction plan. Work is also well under way on a major structural maintenance scheme south of East Kames. The strategic transport projects review recommended a series of route management initiatives on the A83 to maintain the route's physical condition and safety standards.

Jamie McGrigor:
Is the minister aware that, despite what he said, businesses and residents in Kintyre have concerns about the state of some sections of the A83, which is the key artery to their economy? So bad is the road that in some places people must drive in the middle to avoid the potholes at the sides. Will he step up his efforts to repair the whole road? If that means trunking the section between Kennacraig and Campbeltown, will he do so?

Stewart Stevenson:
The member is right to refer to Argyll and Bute Council's responsibilities for the A83 south of Kennacraig. It is for the council, with the increased resources that the Government has provided, to make decisions about that section. North of Kennacraig, the route is a trunk road. As I have said, we are considering the condition of that road and making the appropriate interventions.

(S3O-7565) Rail Services (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

1. Cathy Jamieson (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what action is being taken to improve rail services in the Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley parliamentary constituency. (S3O-7565)

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

Transport Scotland has initiated a review, in partnership with Network Rail and First ScotRail, of services from Glasgow to Dumfries and Carlisle, and Glasgow and Kilmarnock to Ayr, Girvan and Stranraer. The purpose of the review is to understand what opportunities exist to improve journey times, frequency and connectivity. It is planned that the review will be concluded in time for introduction from the December 2010 timetable.

Cathy Jamieson: I look forward to hearing more about the review. However, is the minister aware of local concern about the proposed timetable changes on the Stranraer to Ayr line, which will disadvantage my constituents who commute from Girvan to Glasgow? In effect, the changes will increase their working day by some 50 minutes. In the light of our commitment to tackling climate change, does the minister agree that it would be unfortunate if the timetabling changes led to an increase in car use rather than an increase in train passenger journeys?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will know that I am a train enthusiast. I try to use train services as regularly as I can and I wish others to do the same. We are implementing some interim timetable changes. We have the prospect of ferry services at Stranraer moving up the loch, and that will have an impact by changing the nature of the railway services to the south. I encourage the member to continue to interact with me, as the minister, to ensure that I fully understand her constituents' concerns. The review is a key instrument through which we will understand needs and respond to them.

Jeremy Purvis (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD): Does the minister agree that Cathy Jamieson's constituents in Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley will have much better rail services when they can travel by rail direct to the Borders? When will finance be in place for the Borders rail project so that constituents from the Borders, and from coast to coast, will be able to travel by rail?

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): It is a good job that it is the last day of term.

Stewart Stevenson: Mr Purvis's ingenuity always astounds and gains admiration from members in the chamber.

The project remains on timetable—I say that as we are talking about timetables—and we have had engagement with interested parties that shows that we are making the progress that we need to make on matters of finance.

Alasdair Morgan (South of Scotland) (SNP): Will the minister take on board the concerns of people in Stranraer and Wigtownshire that the proposed interim changes to the trains that serve Girvan and go on to Stranraer will provide a worse service than the already poor service that they get at present? Trains are infrequent and irregular, and journey times are long and likely to be extended. That is not the way in which to encourage more traffic on to the trains, and it is happening at a time when the services are likely to lose those passengers who go by boat.

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes a perfectly fair point. That is precisely why we are doing the work to consider the requirements. At present, a number of the services that go to Stranraer have single-figure carryings. Indeed, looking at the numbers in front of me, I see that in a number of cases there has been a single passenger. There is clearly plenty of opportunity to improve patronage, and we will certainly take every opportunity to do so as we work through our timetable revisions.

18 June 2009

(S3O-7413) Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route

7. Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will announce the findings of the public local inquiry into the Aberdeen western peripheral route before the summer recess. (S3O-7413)

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

When the report is available from the reporters in the summer, it may contain findings and recommendations. We remain confident that the first traffic will travel on the Aberdeen western peripheral route in 2012, as previously announced.

Mike Rumbles: The Scottish Government has said that it will bring the Aberdeen western peripheral route back to Parliament for a final decision. We now know that that cannot happen until September at the earliest. The minister said that travel on the route would begin by 2012. Does he still believe that that will happen? More important, how will he fund the route?

Stewart Stevenson: The relevant Scottish statutory instrument will come in the earliest possible order and will of course be dealt with under the proper parliamentary processes.

As I have told the member before, we will fund the route with money.

(S3O-7409) Cycling (2020 Target)

5. Alison McInnes (North East Scotland) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive what investment it will make in the current financial year towards achieving the target of having 10 per cent of all journeys made by bicycle by 2020. (S3O-7409)

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

The 10 per cent target in the "Cycling Action Plan for Scotland" is proposed as part of the consultation process. Scottish Government investment in cycling this year will be in the region of £18 million. If they wish, local authorities can add to that total from their own budgets.

Alison McInnes: European-style targets deserve European levels of funding. According to recent research by Spokes, funding for cycling has fallen even further behind since the Scottish National Party took over. Is the minister prepared to act on the suggestion, which Spokes made in its recent letter to John Swinney, that an additional allocation of £5 million, funded from underspends, should be made to Sustrans in the current financial year? Is the minister serious about achieving the 2020 target, or is that another slice of pie in the sky from the SNP?

Stewart Stevenson: I was happy to support bike week yesterday, and I am sure that other members will wish to do likewise. The support that the Government has given to cycling, through local authority funding, which is increasing and which now represents a greater share of Government spending than previously, and through direct subventions, is contributing to a significant increase in the proportion of journeys that are made by cycle. For example, in Moray 8 per cent of children cycle to school, which is eight times the national average. We know that we can achieve significant improvements within the existing spending framework. I hope that other council areas will tak tent of what has been achieved in Moray and follow its lead.

(S3O-7463) Nuclear Material (Transportation)

1. Aileen Campbell (South of Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what structures are in place to monitor the transportation of nuclear material in Scotland. (S3O-7463)

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

The transportation of irradiated or spent nuclear fuel is governed by internationally agreed standards that are recommended by the International Atomic Energy Agency and are in accordance with the Nuclear Industries Security Regulations 2003. Those regulations are administered and enforced by the office for civil nuclear security.

Aileen Campbell: The concerns of constituents in my region about nuclear convoys passing up and down the M74 have been reinforced by the recent screening in Lanark of the documentary "Deadly Cargo". Does the minister share my disappointment that the Calman commission saw no need to devolve further powers over nuclear materials to the Scottish Parliament? Does he agree that, far from frustrating United Kingdom Government plans for nuclear power stations and a new generation of Trident, the Scottish Government's opposition to those plans represents the views of the overwhelming majority of those who live close to the M74 and of people across Scotland who want our country to be nuclear free?

Stewart Stevenson: We clearly share the view that Scotland and, indeed, the world would be a safer place without nuclear weapons. We of course seek to manage the risks associated with those weapons while they are here. It is disappointing that the Calman commission did not include discussion about the wider issue of independence, which would give us the powers to engage with the nuclear issue directly, but the member should be assured that we will do everything within our powers and work with others to protect the safety of people as long as we, of necessity, have the convoys on our roads.

11 June 2009

(S3O-7372) Rail Freight (Environmental Impact)

Rail Freight (Environmental Impact)

13. Michael Matheson (Falkirk West) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what assessment has been made of the environmental impact of increasing the use of rail freight. (S3O-7372)

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

Recent assessments that were undertaken to develop the Scottish Government's freight grant schemes demonstrated that transferring freight from road to rail has significant environmental benefits.

Michael Matheson: The minister will, from this morning's debate, be aware of my concern about the level of vibration that my constituents in the Larbert area are experiencing as a result of heavy coal-train freight. During the debate, the minister said that further monitoring of noise and vibration on the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway might be required, but it was not made clear whether the Larbert area, which is affected by the problem, would be included. I am keen to ensure that my constituents' problems are not overlooked. Will the minister ensure that further monitoring on the SAK line includes the Larbert area?

Stewart Stevenson: Bruce Crawford, the member for Stirling, has contacted me in that regard. We are considering the appropriate way forward and whether councils or the Government should undertake the work. We acknowledge that our having the appropriate information is key to understanding the response that is needed.

(S3O-7302) Transport (Fife)

Transport (Fife)

8. Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive when ministers last met Fife Council to discuss transport priorities and what in particular was discussed. (S3O-7302)

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

Transport matters were raised as part of a general discussion when the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth signed off Fife Council's first single outcome agreement in August 2008.

Claire Baker: I record my thanks to the minister for being helpful regarding the campaign for dualling the A92 around Glenrothes. He has met me and members of the Glenrothes Area Futures Group, and we now have proposals for some minor upgrades at two local junctions. I was disappointed, however, to receive a letter from the minister that seems to close the door firmly on dualling the A92 around Glenrothes. Will the minister confirm that? If so, will he outline when the next opportunity for consideration of that transport scheme will be?

Stewart Stevenson: There are many ways in which road improvements can be undertaken. It was identified in the consideration that came through the strategic transport projects review that the benefits of the proposal that was discussed regarding the A92 were largely local. I am certainly open to continuing to engage with the regional transport partnership and the local council, which I believe continues to consider the issue.

Ted Brocklebank (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): The minister will be well aware that the Parbroath junction—where the A92 crosses the A913, between Cupar and Newburgh—is one of the most dangerous intersections on the A92, but is the only major intersection on that road, between Kirkcaldy and Dundee, that does not have a roundabout. Does the minister agree that a roundabout is required as a matter of urgency in order to cut down the number of accidents at that well-known accident black spot?

Stewart Stevenson: I may have driven through the Parbroath junction for the first time in 1963, so I am very familiar with it. There have been many improvements to it, and I think that the staggering of the junction has improved safety. If there are remaining issues around the Parbroath junction, that is, of course, something that Transport Scotland would seek to address.

(S3O-7378) Energy Efficiency

Energy Efficiency

5. Alasdair Morgan (South of Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to promote energy efficiency. (S3O-7378)

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

The Scottish Government is developing a range of measures to promote energy efficiency. They will be covered in our energy efficiency action plan, which will be published later this year as a key part of the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill.

We are already taking action to help reduce energy consumption across all sectors, including through our funding of the Energy Saving Trust, the Carbon Trust, the energy assistance package and the home insulation scheme.

Alasdair Morgan: Last week, the Scotch Whisky Association launched its environmental strategy, in which energy efficiency plays a large part. However, it was disappointing to hear that the association is finding it frustratingly difficult to deal with Network Rail in attempting to move transportation from road to rail. Similar comments have been made by people in the road haulage industry, who are themselves quite keen to move to rail for longer hauls. What can the minister do to make Network Rail more responsive to such concerns—within his lifetime?

Stewart Stevenson: Uisge-beatha is of course an important part of extending my lifetime, and I am therefore pleased to have heard about the efforts that have been made by the whisky industry. We have had some notable successes. Our investments at the Needlefield depot in Inverness have led to 400 lorries a week coming off the A9, which contributes to enhanced safety and environmental benefits. That is part of what we want to do.

We recognise the challenge that lies in delivering further schemes—particularly in relation to our understanding of gauge constraints in the network. I understand that there are some shortcomings in the Network Rail database, and that is one of a number of things that we will talk to the company about. We will work closely with Network Rail, as we have a high aspiration to get more freight on to our railways and off our roads.

(S3O-7314) A9 (Improvements)

A9 (Improvements)

4. Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what budgetary provision it will make for improvements to the A9 over the next five years. (S3O-7314)

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

The current three-year budget settlement does not extend beyond 2010-11. The planned improvements to the A9 are set out in the Scottish motorway and trunk road programme and published on Transport Scotland's website.

Rhoda Grant: The minister is building overtaking lanes instead of stretches of dual carriageway—overtaking lanes that will have to be dug up when dual carriageways are built. That is a clear indication that the minister has no timescale for dualling the A9, and no money and no plans to do so. The Press and Journal reported that, when asked how long it would be before the A9 was dualled, the minister said, "I will be alive." Methuselah springs to mind, but—

The Presiding Officer: Question, please.

Rhoda Grant: In the interests of getting a clearer timescale, will the minister tell the chamber how long he expects to live?

Stewart Stevenson: I realise that I have created a hostage to my future good health in the somewhat off-the-cuff remark that I made that the A9 will be dualled within my lifetime, of which I am absolutely certain. I am, of course, equally certain that dualling the A9 would not have been done within my lifetime if it had been left to any previous transport minister. We are continuing to improve the A9 and to improve safety. Interestingly, the W2+1 sections that we are creating have a substantially better safety record than dual carriageways in some parts of the network.

We are extending the dual carriageway at Crubenmore. I was delighted to be at Carrbridge last week to open a £2.7 million upgrade and, at Bankfoot, there are £2.7 million of junction improvements. The strategic transport projects review has £1 billion of investment for Inverness and the north. That is unprecedented in anybody's lifetime.

Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): In light of concerns about safety on the A9, will the minister look at the Wellbeck Estate proposal for small-scale improvements at Berriedale that have the support of the freight transport companies in the far north? In addition, will he consider providing a route around Thurso's town centre to Scrabster harbour in preparation for the likely increase in container traffic?

Stewart Stevenson: I think that the member is aware that I have visited Berriedale. I am very aware of the issues in that regard. A number of options are available to us, and they are being considered.

Scrabster is a key port that faces the prospect of real economic success with the terrific expansion that we expect to see involving tidal power in the Pentland firth. I will engage further with the authorities at Scrabster as is necessary in the coming months and years.

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): There are a number of welcome improvement works to the A9, such as the upgrade of Bankfoot junction, although they were all inherited from the previous Administration. When will this Government bring forward new initiatives to improve the A9, in addition to those that are simply a hangover from the Labour/Liberal Democrat Executive?

Stewart Stevenson: Yes.

Murdo Fraser: When?

3 June 2009

(S3O-7262) Kessock Bridge (Congestion)

7. Peter Peacock (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what considerations it has given to traffic congestion on the Kessock bridge. (S3O-7262)

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

A traffic model assessment is being carried out to investigate options for improving peak period traffic flows at the junction at the south end of the Kessock bridge. Preliminary designs are now being prepared, although any improvements at the location will be subject to available funding and competing priorities across the trunk road network.

Peter Peacock: I am grateful for the information that the minister was able to give. As he knows, in such matters, the procedures before anything is actually built can be very long. What plans does he have to advance any statutory procedures that are required as a result of the outcomes of the studies that he mentioned?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will be aware that I was in Inverness on Monday. While there, I drove through the junction, albeit at an off-peak time when the problems were not particularly manifest. However, I am well aware of the issues for people in Inverness and the Black Isle. We must complete the designs before establishing what planning process may be appropriate if we have to provide an engineering remedy. The member will be aware of the Administration's reforms of the planning system and its eagerness to ensure that decisions are made quickly and appropriately. The measures that we are discussing will be no exception.

Dave Thompson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): Much of the congestion in Inverness is caused by the lack of a bypass. The minister said earlier this week that a working group on an Inverness bypass might meet fairly soon. Does he have a date for that meeting yet?

Stewart Stevenson: The next meeting of officials will be later this month. That is a preparatory step before we involve the political decision makers. The relationship between the leader of Highland Council and the Scottish Government ministers is good—we share a sense of common purpose. We will make progress on the joint interests of local and central Government in a spirit of partnership. I expect a meeting to take place in the not-too-distant future, once we have completed the work at official level.

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