17 September 2009

(S3O-7874) Offshore Europe 2011 (Transport Infrastructure)

8. Lewis Macdonald (Aberdeen Central) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what additional transport infrastructure will be in place before the next offshore Europe oil and gas conference and exhibition in 2011. (S3O-7874)

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

The Scottish Government is investing and will continue to invest across the transport network in Scotland. That includes investments in Aberdeenshire, such as the one that resulted in the recent revision of the rail timetable, which is delivering faster journeys between Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

I congratulate all who were involved in this year's offshore Europe conference on a highly successful event and look forward to welcoming the conference back to Scotland in 2011 and for many years to come.

Lewis Macdonald: Does the minister share my concern that the next offshore Europe conference has been cut short because Aberdeen's transport infrastructure will not be able to cope? If he shares that concern, will he publish a development timetable to guarantee completion of the Aberdeen western peripheral route in time for, if not the next offshore Europe conference, at least the one after that?

Stewart Stevenson: The member knows that we received the reporter's report on 30 June. There were more than 9,000 objections to the AWPR. It is necessary that we examine that report rigorously, otherwise we will be open to legal challenge and delays that would accrue from that.

However, we are absolutely committed to making the fastest possible progress on the matter.

(S3O-7791) A83 (Closure)

4. Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will provide an update on the consequences of the closure of the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful. (S3O-7791)

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

Following the recent landslide, considerable effort was made quickly to remove more than 1,000 tonnes of debris from the A83 and to clear the blocked culvert and ditches, so that the road could be reopened to traffic at the earliest opportunity. The road was reopened on 10 September, two days after the initial closure.

Jamie McGrigor: Does the minister recognise the anger and concern in my region that, less than two years after the previous landslide, the key artery into Argyll and Bute was again closed at exactly the same place? Does he understand the fear of people waiting at that traffic light below that mountain, where they are potentially in the path of a landslide? What specific action will the Scottish Government take to prevent future closures and tackle the long-term problem of potential landslides? Other European countries seem perfectly able to deal with that problem.

Stewart Stevenson: As the member is aware, the actions that were taken following the 2007 landslip were largely what led to the early closure of the road in advance of the recent slip, thus protecting public safety. I am very satisfied with the way that that happened and the readiness of Transport Scotland and its partners to respond quickly to clearing the road.

We intend that, in 2010, we will have in place a permanent solution to the problem at that part of the hill. The improvement scheme will involve building a new culvert under the road, strengthening the embankment below the road and installing new drainage above and below the road. We are conscious of the need to inspect the further landslip to ensure that our plans take account of the effect of that. We plan that construction will start in spring 2010.

10 September 2009

(S3O-7718) Environmentally Friendly Buses

9. Michael Matheson (Falkirk West) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what action is being taken to promote the use of more environmentally friendly buses. (S3O-7718)

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

The Scottish Government is keen to incentivise the use of environmentally friendly buses and we are currently considering changes to our bus policy to achieve that.

Michael Matheson: The minister will be aware that Scotland's biggest bus manufacturer, Alexander Dennis, is based in my constituency and employs some 1,000 workers. He will also know from my representations to him that Alexander Dennis is a world leader in hybrid bus technology. I welcome the consideration that the Government is giving to a scheme to promote the use of environmentally friendly buses, but can he tell us when he expects such a programme to be implemented? He will agree that such a programme will assist in ensuring that the Government's ambitious carbon reduction targets are met and that valuable employment is secured in my constituency.

Stewart Stevenson: The member may be interested to know that, within the past two hours, I have discussed that very subject with the Confederation of Passenger Transport. It forms part of our rebalancing of the bus service operators grant scheme to ensure that it has a more environmental focus. I absolutely respect the member's comments in relation to Alexander Dennis, in which he expressed a view that is widely held across the industry and in society. We are making best progress and hope to have something more material to say on the matter in the not-too-distant future.

(S3O-7721) Edinburgh Trams

7. Ian McKee (Lothians) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth has had with the City of Edinburgh Council in the last 12 months on the subject of the Edinburgh trams project. (S3O-7721)

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

The cabinet secretary and I have had no discussions with the City of Edinburgh Council on the trams project over the past 12 months.

Ian McKee: The tram chiefs have admitted that the project will fail to be completed on time and on budget, as the Scottish National Party Administration predicted. Does the minister agree that not a penny more of Government funding should be given to finance the project?

Stewart Stevenson: Members will recall that, early in the Government's life, the Conservative party, the Liberal Democrat party and the Labour Party voted to continue the trams project; we would have liberated the £500 million for other important transport projects throughout Scotland. I have made it clear on many occasions in the past that that is the limit of the Government's support. That was forced on us. We have £500 million available for the project. We have no more, and there will be no more.

Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD): I did not intend to ask a question about the trams project, but I am absolutely gobsmacked by what the minister has just said. Some £500 million of taxpayers' money—for which he is responsible—is tied up in the project. Given the difficulties that the project has had over the past year, and irrespective of the differences of opinion about whether it should have gone ahead, I am gobsmacked that he has not had any discussions on the matter with the council. Would it not have been useful to have done so?

Stewart Stevenson: The project is entirely a matter for the City of Edinburgh Council. My officials carefully monitor the payments that we make to it, which are related to the progress that is made. They will continue to do that with the professionalism with which I always see them conduct themselves. It is important that members understand that the project is a City of Edinburgh Council project and that it is for the council to complete it.

(S3O-7786) Forth Replacement Crossing

2. Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive what action it is taking to ensure a fair deal for members of the public seeking compensation payments for the impacts of the proposed Forth replacement crossing. (S3O-7786)

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

Provisions will be included in a forthcoming bill, which will set out proposals for compensation that arises from the construction and operation of the Forth replacement crossing. They will follow the provisions that have already been approved in legislation for other public works.

Margaret Smith: The minister will accept that it is a complex matter and that it is causing concern among constituents, particularly those who have received letters this week so that properties can be added to the book of reference.

I bring to the minister's attention the following issues: delays in the land manager getting back to residents; compensation information going only to certain residents; concern about the level of professional fees, which are covered by an out-of-date scale; home-loss payments that are less than equivalent payments in England; people's inability to secure lawyers who have relevant experience, because such lawyers are already in conflict-of-interest situations; concern that general advice is not covered; and professionals' unwillingness to act for people until the bill is introduced.

Will the minister meet me and other local representatives to discuss those matters and other concerns that have been raised by affected residents? Will he guarantee that all affected local residents, and not just the people who have registered with Transport Scotland, will be sent a copy of Transport Scotland's guidance on compensation?

Stewart Stevenson: The member raised a wide range of issues. It might be helpful if I say that I am able and happy to make myself available to meet her and representatives from her constituency—that can be arranged in the usual way, through my private office.

It is worth saying that the Forth replacement crossing is a complex project and that Transport Scotland and managers who are involved in the project have made substantial efforts. I think that newsletters have been sent right round many local communities. If there are ways in which we can improve our interaction with the community, I am very happy to assist the member and her constituents.

Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): I press the minister for more detail. Can he quantify the number of residents who it is anticipated will be directly affected by the Forth replacement crossing scheme and will potentially have grounds for seeking compensation from the Government as a consequence of the scheme's impact? How much has been set aside in financial contingency for home-loss payments? How much would need to be set aside if home-loss payments were to be paid at the level at which they are paid south of the border?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will recall that we have discussed home-loss payments in the Parliament. We do not have plans to revise the numbers. To raise payments to the levels that apply in England would require us to take substantial moneys out of the social housing budget—that is one reason why we will not do so.

Until the introduction of the Forth replacement crossing bill, we will continue to refine the design, so at this stage it would be inappropriate to speak of a specific number of residents. As we go forward with the design we are seeking to minimise the number of people who will be affected and, as I said to Mrs Smith, we will seek to communicate with a wide range of people, the majority of whom will not be directly affected.

Gavin Brown (Lothians) (Con): The minister's answer to Margaret Smith was helpful in general terms. On a specific issue, the compensation document has thus far been sent only to people who are on the Transport Scotland database. Given the document's complexity, will the minister give a commitment that it should go directly to every potentially affected household?

Stewart Stevenson: I will consider the suggestion, although in saying that I exercise caution, because the document is complex, as Mr Brown correctly said, and to send it to every resident of South Queensferry, for example, not only would be unnecessary in the context of administration but, more fundamentally, might alarm many people for whom the document will not have much relevance. However, I will discuss the subject further with my officials.

3 September 2009

(S3O-7605) Stromness Ferry Terminal

7. Liam McArthur (Orkney) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will work with Orkney Islands Council to find an acceptable alternative site for the Stromness ferry terminal lorry parking and marshalling area if a new school is built on the existing site. (S3O-7605)

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

As it is a council planning matter that could still be appealed to the Scottish ministers, it would not be appropriate for the Scottish Government to be involved yet, as any involvement could potentially compromise the appeals procedure.

Liam McArthur: I appreciate the constraints that the minister mentions. I confirm that my constituents are also looking forward to having a new grammar school and halls of residence in Kirkwall, as well as a new primary school in Stromness. However, in relation to the latter, is the minister aware of concerns about the potential knock-on consequences of siting the lorry park in front of the existing ferry terminal close to the centre of town? Should it be necessary, will he agree to work closely with OIC to explore what alternative options might be available to safeguard delivery of all three school projects while meeting the needs of ferry travellers and the local community in Stromness?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sure that the new school will be very much welcomed by people in Stromness and surrounding areas. I have a keen interest in ensuring that the ferry terminal continues to deliver on its part of the transport infrastructure. Within the limitations of the planning system I will ensure that we step up to the mark so that no unnecessary barriers to good decision making derive from this Government's activities and that we assist the council in a proper way at the appropriate time.

(S3O-7640) High-speed Rail Link

3. Gil Paterson (West of Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what representations it will make to the United Kingdom Government on the proposed high-speed rail link connecting central Scotland to London. (S3O-7640)

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

Our high-level Scottish stakeholder group, which was announced in June, is well on the way to developing a robust business case for high-speed rail links between Scotland and London. It will submit its report in October. The group has maintained regular contact with High Speed Two throughout its work and will submit its report to HS2. That will be used to press the case for Scotland and will feed into HS2's work in advance of its report to the Department for Transport at the end of the year. I will meet Sir David Rowlands, chairman of HS2, in the near future.

Gil Paterson: Scotland was promised a direct link to and through the Channel tunnel, but that promise was not kept. It is vital that any development of high-speed rail infrastructure includes Scotland. Will the minister do his very best to encourage the UK Government not to do the same again and ignore Scotland's travelling public and commerce?

Stewart Stevenson: Our not getting a link to the Channel tunnel was indeed a lost opportunity. I welcome the work that Network Rail published recently, which shows that the addition of Scotland to a high-speed rail network would improve the rate of return on investment. Andrew Adonis, who is Secretary of State for Transport in the Westminster Administration, shares my enthusiasm on the issue. However, I note that Theresa Villiers, speaking on "Beyond Westminster" on Saturday morning, said:

"if there's a Conservative government elected we will build a high-speed rail connection between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. That's our commitment."

There are real dangers when some of the potential players in future decision making do not understand the importance of Scotland.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): Does the minister accept that the increasingly acknowledged environmental case for high-speed rail services is contingent on the impact on aviation? If we grow both modes, emissions will go up, not down. If short-haul flights are replaced by long-haul ones, emissions will go up, not down. Does the minister accept that we must have a substantial reduction in aviation if high-speed rail services are to be justified in environmental terms, and will he raise that issue with the UK Government?

Stewart Stevenson: It is clear that one environmental benefit that would derive from reducing the journey time from London to Glasgow to two hours and 16 minutes and from London to Edinburgh to two hours and nine minutes—as the Network Rail study suggests is possible—would be wholesale transfer of journeys from aircraft to rail. I do not think that we would ever see an expansion of long-haul flying that would offset that. That issue will certainly form an important part of the discussions between the Administration here and the Westminster Administration.

Alasdair Morgan (South of Scotland) (SNP): The minister will be aware that, even if the trains get to Edinburgh and Glasgow, Network Rail has left its options open as to exactly where they will terminate. Does the minister agree that, for reasons of public connectivity, it is essential that the trains terminate at, near or under existing stations, and that it is perfectly possible for high-speed trains to run the last couple of miles on conventional tracks, as the French have done with the Gare de Lyon, for example?

Stewart Stevenson: We see the value of central city termini for high-speed rail, as we do for other important connections. That is why we welcome the Network Rail study, which shows that the line should go straight to the centre of London in the south and to the centre of our cities in the north, and that it should not go by an international connection point at Heathrow, which we think would not best serve the need for high-speed connections to the south.

(S3O-7652) Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009

2. Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it has a timetable for implementation of the measures contained in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. (S3O-7652)

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

The Scottish Government intends to lay the commencement order to the 2009 act in October. The majority of provisions in the act will commence in that month.

Sarah Boyack: What timetable does the minister have for implementing the provisions on council tax and business rate discounts that we agreed to in the act? What discussions has he had with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on implementation? Finally, does he agree with the suggestion that a stakeholder working party should be set up to ensure that all the key players are pulled together and to iron out the details? Such a move was suggested by his officials in discussions before stage 3. Even if he does not want to say yes to the idea today, will the minister agree to look favourably on and consider it?

Stewart Stevenson: The provisions for council tax and business rate reductions related to improvements in buildings are clearly important parts of the armoury in taking forward the climate change agenda. We are still in the early days of working up those proposals, but the member can absolutely rest assured that we will do so in partnership with councils and stakeholders more widely. After all, the proposals will affect industries' ability to supply to householders and building owners and operators the equipment that will qualify for the rate reductions. It is important that we bring together all the stakeholders to take forward these important proposals.

Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): Will the minister agree to publish information that compares the carbon footprint of recycling with that of incineration and tell us how it will inform the secondary legislation on decarbonised heat and energy production that will be made under the 2009 act?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes an important point. Clearly, when we recycle things that we no longer require, we can recover much of what is in them. Incineration is a way of capturing energy. It is important that we understand the role that each of those methods can play in reducing our carbon footprint.

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