29 October 2009

(S3O-8212) Ferry Services (Orkney)

7. Liam McArthur (Orkney) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive what discussions ministers have had with Orkney Islands Council about the funding for the next generation of vessels for Orkney's internal ferry services. (S3O-8212)

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

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth first met councillors on 28 February 2008 and again on 26 August 2009, and he hopes to meet the convener of the council shortly to discuss the council's most up-to-date proposals for taking forward the ferry replacement project.

Liam McArthur: As the minister knows, those are lifeline ferry services that help to sustain some of the most fragile communities in the country. Is he aware that there are now serious concerns in Orkney about the lack of progress in the discussions with the Government during the past two years? Does he acknowledge that in that time, the point at which certain vessels will need to be removed from some of the more exposed routes has grown ever closer? Does he realise that expecting the smallest council in the country to bear the full cost of that investment is simply not tenable?

Stewart Stevenson: The member may recall—although he may not be old enough—that in the 1980s, the responsibility and the funding streams for supporting ferries in the Orkney islands were transferred to the council. Nonetheless, despite the fact that responsibility for the provision of services clearly lies with Orkney Islands Council, we will continue to engage with the council to ascertain the best way for it to use the resources that it has available and the assistance that we can provide to help to solve the problem, which I acknowledge exists.

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): I reinforce Liam McArthur's point, and stress that European Council directive 98/18/EC will not, although it allows retrofitting of Orkney's internal ferry fleet, prevent the inevitable need to replace all nine vessels in the fleet. Orkney Islands Council has already contributed a quarter of a million pounds for the programme. Will the minister make a commitment today to replace the fleet and save the first-class lifeline inter-island service in Orkney?

Stewart Stevenson: I am certainly not able to make that type of commitment today. I return to my point about the transfer of assets and funding streams to Orkney Islands Council that took place—by agreement with the council—in the 1980s. It is against that backdrop, which makes it clear that responsibility lies with Orkney Islands Council, that we will continue with discussions—which have so far been fruitful—to establish an appropriate way forward that reflects the need to replace all the vessels in the not-too-distant future.

Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): Can the Scottish Government explain whether it is possible to consider the need to replace not only the Orkney ferries, but those in Shetland and in other places? Is there any potential for those lifeline service vessels to be built in Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: We very much wish to see vessels being built in Scotland. The member will be aware that we currently have a vessel for the Islay service on order from a shipyard in Gdansk. When we were progressing that procurement, I specifically contacted Scottish interests to ensure that they were making every effort to see whether they could bid, but—alas and alack—they did not wish to do so at that stage. We will continue to engage with shipyards in Scotland that can build ferries for our services, and ensure that they are in a position to bid when vessels are being sought in the future.

(S3O-8187) Bus Services (Strathclyde Partnership for Transport)

5. James Kelly (Glasgow Rutherglen) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what discussions it has had with the Strathclyde partnership for transport on protecting socially necessary bus services. (S3O-8187)

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

The Scottish Government has had no discussions with SPT on protecting socially necessary bus services.

James Kelly: The minister will be aware that many communities throughout Scotland are facing swingeing cuts in bus services. That will have an adverse effect on areas such as Cambuslang and Rutherglen in my constituency, where there are high numbers of pensioners. What support will the Scottish Government provide to local councils and SPT in order to protect bus services and promote transport in communities throughout Scotland in these difficult times?

Stewart Stevenson: We have provided substantial support to local authorities across the board. By relieving local authorities of many of the constraints of ring fencing, which accounted for around 25 per cent of their expenditure, we have given them the flexibility to address the priorities of their own populations.

In the area that is covered by SPT, the subsidy for bus services works out at around £3 per head of population, as against a range throughout Scotland that goes up as high as £23 per head of population. We have appointed a senior bus development adviser, who is, I believe, already making progress in assisting local councils and regional transport partnerships to make effective use of the powers and moneys that are available to them.

(S3O-8198) Transport Projects (Ministerial Responsibility)

3. Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it considers that ministers are responsible for oversight of the procurement and delivery of major transport projects in its capital programme. (S3O-8198)

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

Responsibility for managing the delivery of that programme has been assigned to Transport Scotland and others. Scottish ministers exercise appropriate oversight.

Des McNulty: What discussions have taken place with TIE Ltd and the City of Edinburgh Council to ensure that the Edinburgh trams project is procured and delivered on time?

Stewart Stevenson: It is for the City of Edinburgh Council to ensure that the project is delivered on time. Obviously, officials of the Scottish Government, which is responsible for providing up to £500 million in finance for the project, meet regularly with TIE officials to discuss the progress that is being made. Payment is made against achievement that is demonstrated. Of course, I have met the chief executive in recent times, but it is a matter for the City of Edinburgh Council.

Alison McInnes (North East Scotland) (LD): What specific actions has the minister taken since June this year to progress the Aberdeen western peripheral route, which is vital to the economic wellbeing of north-east Scotland? Can he advise Parliament when he will conclude his consideration of the reporters' findings in the public local inquiry?

Stewart Stevenson: We expect to conclude our consideration of the reporters' findings and recommendations this calendar year. The report is, of course, substantial, and reflects the concerns of more than 9,000 objectors. It is important that we ensure that we have a robust decision-making process that does not lead us into interminable court actions, as happened with the M74, which would compromise our ability to deliver this vital project at the earliest possible date.

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con): Will the minister assure us that he will try to tighten up the management of contracts, particularly in relation to the significant number that now appear to be running well over budget and which have necessitated the significant pruning of the capital budget in recent weeks and over time? Will he guarantee that he will keep an eye on the costs that are involved in the projects and ensure that his involvement in the process will mean that such pruning is not necessary in the future?

Stewart Stevenson: It might be as well to remind the member that our budget issues derive from the reduction in the funds that are available to this Government to spend. There is a catalogue of successful projects that I expect projects that are in course to mirror, such as the project that delivered the upper Forth crossing—the Clackmannanshire bridge—slightly ahead of time and on budget, and the successful project on the rail network to improve the platforms and facilities for trains at Edinburgh Waverley, which came in under budget and on time.

The arrangements that we have made for major projects such as the M80 and the M74 ensure that we will be able to control the costs. We will pursue that approach with all the major projects with which we engage.

8 October 2009

(S3O-8100) New Railway Stations

13. Jamie Hepburn (Central Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what support exists for the creation of new railway stations not identified in the strategic transport projects review. (S3O-8100)

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

We will consider proposals for new stations on the rail network where the surrounding population, workplace or visitor need is sufficient to generate a high level of demand and if they contribute to the Scottish Government's policy of improving overall journey times. The fact that a proposal might not have been taken forward by the Scottish Government as part of the strategic transport projects review does not preclude regional transport partnerships and local authorities from considering the value of local interventions.

Jamie Hepburn: I thank the minister for that reassuring answer. He will be aware of my calls to open stations at Abronhill in Cumbernauld and Grangemouth and Michael Matheson's calls for a station at Bonnybridge. I realise that the minister might not be able to commit to supporting those projects here and now—although he is welcome to do so—but is he able to assure me that he and Transport Scotland will keep an open mind on those requests?

Stewart Stevenson: We will certainly keep an open mind in that respect. However, as the current control period for regulatory asset-based funding for rail projects runs from 2009 to 2014, it is likely that any significant additions to our plans for the rail network will take place in the next control period, which will run from 2014 to 2019.

Cathy Peattie (Falkirk East) (Lab): As the minister will recall, he kindly agreed to meet Grangemouth transport forum in June. Among the presentations made by the forum, which brings together the community council and businesses in Grangemouth, was a discussion on Grangemouth's rail links as part of the STPR and the national planning framework, from which emerged the possibility of a spin-off in the form of a Grangemouth railway station. Does the minister recognise the importance to the Scottish economy of reconsidering the proposals in NPF 2 with regard to the Grangemouth transport hub? If so, will he agree to look at them again?

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the member for bringing Grangemouth transport forum to meet me. The meeting was very useful, particularly because so many strands of the local community, including business, trade unions and the local council, were represented.

By putting Grangemouth docks into the national planning framework, we signalled the need to improve transport connections to the town. However, among the potential difficulties of adding passenger traffic to the proposals is the fairly certain need for a chord to be built from the current line into Grangemouth and on to the eastbound Edinburgh line in an area where the gradients are challenging. However, we are continuing to consider such matters, and I would be very interested to see any low-cost options that might be proposed.

(S3O-8127) Borders Railway

11. Rhona Brankin (Midlothian) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will provide an update on the progress of the project to reopen the Waverley railway line linking Midlothian and the Borders with Edinburgh. (S3O-8127)

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

Good progress continues with the necessary procurement development for the main works, which will benefit from the acceleration of the utilities and advance works. Recent market testing has revealed that contractors and financial investment organisations still continue to express a strong interest in the project.

All land and property required to construct the works have been successfully acquired, and design works and ground and structural surveys have also been completed. Preparatory work to allow major utilities and advance works to be undertaken over the next two years is well under way, with utilities diversion works due to start before the end of the current financial year.

Rhona Brankin: At the moment, my constituents in Midlothian, where most of the new stations on the Waverley line will be situated, do not have access to a local railway service and many are concerned by the Scottish Government's recent silence on the subject. Given the recent scrapping of the Glasgow airport rail link just months after he said that he remained committed to the project, can the minister unequivocally tell the chamber that the Waverley line will reopen as promised in 2013? Will he provide members with an updated cost projection for the project?

Stewart Stevenson: Yes. Unchanged.

(S3O-8074) Dalmarnock Station (Commonwealth Games)

9. Robert Brown (Glasgow) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it supports the redevelopment of Dalmarnock station as a key public transport hub for the 2014 Commonwealth games. (S3O-8074)

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


Robert Brown: I congratulate the transport minister on the commendable brevity and clarity of his reply, although I remind him that the last time he gave such a brief answer was shortly before the cancellation of the Glasgow airport rail link project.

Will the minister clarify Transport Scotland's involvement in the project? Can he confirm the planned completion date? Will the design and development work—the guide to railway investment projects 31 process—be completed by the end of the financial year, as required by Network Rail, in order to ensure that the thing is done before the 2014 Commonwealth games?

Stewart Stevenson: The project is an important one for the 2014 games. It involves Transport Scotland, the transport directorate, Glasgow City Council and Clyde Gateway and it is led by Strathclyde partnership for transport. Network Rail and First ScotRail have also been playing their part in the emerging thinking. We are certainly confident that the project, which is focused on a station that is in key need of investment, will deliver well in time for the Commonwealth games. Of course, by taking the action that we have taken on GARL, we have protected projects throughout Scotland from the effects of the cuts from Westminster.

(S3O-8121) Active Travel (Funding)

1. Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): To ask the Scottish Executive how the draft budget for 2010-11 will support the aim of achieving a significant increase in walking and cycling compared with other transport modes. (S3O-8121)

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

In 2010-11, the draft budget will continue to support local authorities, Sustrans, Cycling Scotland, Living Streets and other delivery bodies to increase the numbers of people cycling and walking. For example, we will continue working in partnership with the seven smarter choices, smarter places communities in Scotland, which aim to increase active travel.

Patrick Harvie: For the past two years in a row, the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee has agreed unanimously on the need for a substantial increase in funding if more journeys in Scotland are to be undertaken by active means—walking and cycling—for climate change, health and a host of other reasons. However, we continually see reductions in funding for those modes of transport and the Government pouring money into road building projects. How is it to be remotely credible that the Government wants a substantial increase in cycling journeys—for example, under the cycling action plan—when, this year again, there is an overall reduction in the funding for active travel?

Stewart Stevenson: An interesting thing was illustrated when I was in Elgin on Sunday participating—to some limited extent—in a mass cycle ride to raise money for the Grampian Society for the Blind. Moray Council gets no more money than any other council but delivers four times as much cycling as others do. That illustrates that a change of approach may be required of Government, councils and many others to deliver improvements. Of course, we need to provide the funding—we have increased the active travel budget from £33 million to £35.7 million—but money alone is not enough: we need to think smarter and spend smarter.

Shirley-Anne Somerville (Lothians) (SNP): What impact has the climate challenge fund had on encouraging modal shift? I draw the minister's attention to the awards of £283,000 given to Greener Leith's active Leith project, £182,000 to recyke-a-bike in Stirling and £47,000 to biketown Huntly to name a few. What effect do funds like those, which are not included in the active travel budget, have on the Government's wish to increase the number of people who cycle in Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: Ms Somerville is correct to point to the benefits and impacts that derive from Government expenditure that is outside the active travel budget. The climate challenge fund draws together interests beyond Government in the decision-making process and ensures that the funds are targeted where they will be most effective. The progress that has been made so far is commendable indeed.

Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): I took the point about Moray that the minister made in his response to Patrick Harvie. It is unfortunate that the cuts in Moray include cuts to the active travel co-ordinators who have driven the increase in cycling so effectively.

I know that the minister has a high regard for the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Adonis, who announced last week that he would make £40 million available for, I think, up to eight cycling transport hubs at major stations. That will implement ideas that have been very well developed in Holland, where there are cycle parks at major stations so that people are encouraged to cycle to them. If there are budget consequentials from that announcement, I encourage the minister to consider an equivalent approach in Scotland—particularly in Scotland's major cities.

Stewart Stevenson: I get on very well with Andrew Adonis and respect much of the activity that he undertakes. He is certainly on the case.

On Scotland's stations, Attadale station has fewer than 100 passengers a year and, in common with every other station in Scotland, parking space for cycles—a Sheffield rack. Therefore, in some ways, we may be ahead of what is happening south of the border. Perhaps they are playing catch-up.

1 October 2009

(S3O-7975) Abnormal Loads

6. Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what its policy is on the transportation of abnormal loads. (S3O-7975)

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

The movement of abnormal loads across the United Kingdom is a matter reserved to the UK Government. Responsibility for authorising the movement of abnormal loads rests with the UK Department for Transport, and the Highways Agency acts on its behalf.

Transport Scotland co-ordinates the movement of abnormal loads within Scotland in liaison with local road and bridge authorities and the police, taking into account any potential for damage and disruption to the network. Thereafter, Transport Scotland advises the Highways Agency, which approves or rejects any proposed movement.

Margaret Mitchell: I thank the minister for that response and note what he says, but I wonder whether he is aware of recent concerns expressed by hauliers about the variation in charging policy adopted by Scottish police forces for escorting abnormal loads, with charges of up to £600 reported for police escorting one load. Clearly, such costs impact adversely on hauliers, contractors and projects such as the extension of the M74. As such, will the minister look into this situation and attempt to restore the common-sense approach that was adopted by all the parties involved following a Scottish Parliament members' business debate on the subject in 2003?

Stewart Stevenson: I will certainly look further at the issue that Mrs Mitchell raises. We have some 250, or thereabouts, applications for escorting abnormal loads each year in Scotland. There is no particular sign from the figures for 2007, 2008 and 2009—so far—that there is either a reduction or an increase in the number of abnormal loads; the number seems to be fairly constant. I am certainly happy to look at the matter that the member raises, but I draw it to her attention that I may be limited in the response that I am ultimately able to formulate.

Michael Matheson (Falkirk West) (SNP): What consideration is given to the moving of abnormal loads from the roads to alternative modes of transport, such as rail? The minister will be aware of the serious problem that has been experienced in the Larbert area of my constituency. Does he agree that, where abnormal loads are being moved by rail, as they are in Larbert, the rail operators should be looking to use rolling stock that minimises the associated noise and vibration?

Stewart Stevenson: We are certainly very enthusiastic about maximising the transfer of goods from our roads to our railways. We have a limited supply of rolling stock that has a flat-bed base of 720mm, which allows bigger and taller pieces of equipment to travel by rail. There are moves to increase the amount of rolling stock that can carry larger loads. We strongly support such moves, which will be welcomed by Michael Matheson's constituents and road users across Scotland.

(S3O-7970) Strategic Transport Projects Review

3. Nanette Milne (North East Scotland) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what progress has been made in taking forward transport projects under the strategic transport projects review. (S3O-7970)

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

I have previously highlighted our priorities. First, the Forth replacement crossing, the tendering process for which is under way; the bill will be brought to Parliament in November. Secondly, the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvements programme is being taken forward for delivery. The first phase of the programme, new hourly fast services between Glasgow and Edinburgh, is to be introduced to the December 2009 timetable. In addition, the planning application is to be lodged later this month for the new railway station at Gogar. Finally, Network Rail is working hard on the development of our plans for the Highland main line and the Aberdeen to Inverness line.

As planned, we are continuing to work with partners and stakeholders to take forward the development and design of the other 25 recommendations. Alongside planning for the future under the STPR, Transport Scotland continues to drive forward the current programme, which will see over £2.5 billion invested in Scotland's strategic transport networks over the three years, supporting the economy through efficient movement of goods and people.

Nanette Milne: I thank the minister for his detailed answer, which was as I expected. However, although the First Minister and the SNP Government made specific pledges to voters in the north-east to dual the A96, the only project in Aberdeenshire listed in the STPR was the replacement of the Inveramsay bridge at Pitcaple. Will the minister tell me whether he expects a timescale for that work to be in place within the current parliamentary session?

Stewart Stevenson: We are also proceeding with work on the A90 between Balmedie and Tipperty, the Aberdeen western peripheral route and a wide range of important projects in the north-east.

The Inveramsay bridge project is part of a policy position that we took shortly after coming into office: we did not wish to have on our rural trunk roads traffic lights that impede traffic. We have done some preliminary work on possible routes that would be associated with the Inveramsay bridge. We are continuing to make the progress that is necessary and we are looking to secure the funding for that and for a range of other interventions in the next review period.

Shirley-Anne Somerville (Lothians) (SNP): Some of the most expensive decisions that ministers have to take relate to large-scale capital infrastructure projects, such as those included in the STPR. I therefore ask the minister to explain how continuing with projects that are already projected to be dramatically over budget, even before they begin, such as the Glasgow airport rail link, would impact on delivering other projects, including those in the STPR. Will he detail the impact of continuing with the Glasgow airport rail link, the budget for which has grown from an initial estimate of £160 million in 2006 to an approximate £400 million to date?

Stewart Stevenson: The Scotsman reported that the

"tramway system was a standing joke in the country".

However, that was on 16 January 1929. Problems with Edinburgh's trams are not something with which we are entirely unfamiliar. However, that particular remark in The Scotsman was made as a precursor to celebrating the achievement of the trams manager, Stuart Pilcher, in rescuing Edinburgh from some disastrous decisions. I hope that Richard Jeffrey will do the same in Edinburgh today.

GARL is one of the projects that we had to look at very carefully indeed and we concluded that, in the present economic climate, we could not proceed with it. That is disappointing. It is always disappointing to have to withdraw a project from our programme, but it is an inevitable consequence of the Labour Westminster Government's cuts.

Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Shirley-Anne Somerville made a misleading remark in her question by saying that the price of the GARL project was of the order of £400 million. The minister clarified that position in a recent answer to my colleague Charlie Gordon. Could he perhaps respond to Ms Somerville, putting her right on the actual cost of the GARL project?

The Presiding Officer: Mr McNulty now has his point on the record. I think that he well knows that it is not a point of order.

Stewart Stevenson rose—

The Presiding Officer: I will take a supplementary question from Malcolm Chisholm. If the minister wants to respond to Des McNulty's point in his answer he can do so.

Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab): I know that the minister is a supporter of trams, so will he give full support to the City of Edinburgh Council in its difficult negotiations with Bilfinger Berger to secure the lowest possible price for the tram project? Will he try to restrain his party colleagues on the council and in this chamber, whose wild speculations encourage that company to inflate its demands by the day?

Stewart Stevenson: It may be as well to remind members of the decision that was taken in the Parliament at the end of June 2007, when only the 47 members of the Scottish National Party opposed continuing with the Edinburgh trams. Where we are today is an inevitable consequence of that particular decision. I do, of course, now wish the project every possible success and I personally look forward to travelling on the first tram, if that is possible and if I am invited.

On GARL pricing, it is as well to remember that we have removed from our future plans only the branch line to the airport. The other improvements to Paisley, which make up the bulk of the expenditure improvements from Glasgow Central to the west, remain in the programme, are being actively progressed and will deliver significant benefits to people to the west of Glasgow.

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