9 December 2010

(S3O-12243) A977 (Safety)

10. Elizabeth Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what progress has been made to improve road safety on the A977. (S3O-12243)

I note that the A977 does not intersect with the roads that have previously been mentioned.

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

The A977 is primarily a local road and is, therefore, the responsibility of those local authorities through whose area the route runs.

Elizabeth Smith: The minister will be aware that the A977 has experienced a significant increase in traffic—particularly in heavy goods vehicles—since the opening of the new Clackmannanshire bridge. What mitigation measures are being put in place to deal with the increase in volume of that heavy traffic and to limit its speed, so that there is improved road safety for the smaller communities on that route?

Stewart Stevenson: The previous transport minister, Tavish Scott, offered a contribution of £250,000 towards a package of works comprising a series of improvements to public transport, pedestrian and cycle facilities and signalised crossings, which were, at that time, expected to cost £1 million. It was made clear that that was the maximum contribution that the then Executive would make. It was noted that the council was being provided with substantially increased road funding and that funds were also then being provided to the regional transport partnerships.

(S3O-12282) A76 (Action Plan)

7. Elaine Murray (Dumfries) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what consideration it will give to the A76 five-point action plan that was launched in November 2010. (S3O-12282)

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

In the past three years, we have invested more than £11 million in managing and maintaining and improving safety on the A76 trunk road. That included spending £5 million on the major upgrading of the section at Glenarlie, which was completed in December 2008. Transport Scotland will work with the A76 corridor partnership on the proposals that are identified in the action plan, which are consistent with the Government's aims for the A76. Those aims were set out in the strategic transport projects review, which was published in November 2008.

Elaine Murray: The minister is referring to the former action plan. If there are significant changes in capital spend and projects are not going ahead, there is now an opportunity to review. Upgrades to the A76 are necessary to improve the safety of that trunk road and for the development of the local economy. Campaigners were very disappointed when the minister cancelled the improvement to the Ellisland stretch, on which many accidents have already happened. Will the minister meet representatives of Dumfries and Galloway Council and East Ayrshire Council who have worked hard on the project over many years—possibly on site so that he can see the problems on the road—to discuss how the new action plan can be progressed?

Stewart Stevenson: I always believe that working with local interests is far and away the best way in which to make progress on such issues. A review of the costs and benefits of the Ellisland scheme showed that it would not provide value for money. We now propose to investigate alternative improvement options for that section of the A76 that will deliver value for money.

Alasdair Morgan (South of Scotland) (SNP): I commend the plan to the minister. It is not just an unrealistic wish list, which is often what is produced in such cases; it is a modest and well-thought-out plan as to how the key problems on that important route should be addressed. I urge the minister to give it full consideration when capital becomes available.

Stewart Stevenson: We have worked up a range of plans across Scotland that await capital allocation. In response to Dr Murray, I said that I would be happy to meet local interests. If we can work up something that is affordable and which addresses the issues at Ellisland, we will be happy to see whether capital can be made available.

John Scott (Ayr) (Con): As the minister is aware, the delivery of vital safety works on the A77 at Bogend toll in my constituency—the A77, of course, intersects with the A76 at Kilmarnock—has been delayed for many years and the works are now scheduled to be completed during 2011-12. Can the minister provide an update on that project and give an assurance that every step possible is being taken to meet that completion date? If possible, will he give an estimate of when construction work will begin?

The Presiding Officer: That is about as tenuous as it gets.

Stewart Stevenson: Following the innovative approach to parliamentary questioning that has been taken by our friend, Mr Scott, I am happy to respond that I am pleased that we have those works in our programme. I will write to him with further information on that subject, which will come to hand shortly.

Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP): Clearly, this is A76 day.

A recent study demonstrated that signalling alone will not solve the congestion on the Bellfield interchange, which links the A76 with the A77 and the A71, which is a major access road for Kilmarnock. Will the minister ensure that Transport Scotland works with East Ayrshire Council to address that issue, which is a real constraint on local development and on the economy of Kilmarnock and Loudon?

Stewart Stevenson: A traffic simulation study has been undertaken in consultation with East Ayrshire Council and Strathclyde Police, and Transport Scotland has determined that there is no potential for directly increasing the capacity of the Bellfield interchange, within the existing infrastructure. Given the constraints of the existing footprint at Bellfield, a significant infrastructure upgrade will be required.

In September, we wrote to East Ayrshire Council recommending that the impact of future developments to be determined offered an opportunity to seek from developers a contribution towards upgrading the infrastructure. We will continue to work with East Ayrshire Council to bring improvements to the interchange.

George Foulkes (Lothians) (Lab): As a regular visitor to Ayrshire, I ask when the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change expects the New Cumnock bypass to be given the go-ahead. Also, will he confirm whether the officials who are advising him on the matter are the same ones who advised him on Sunday evening?

Stewart Stevenson: I prefer to rely on my roads officials rather than, perhaps, the difficult situations that we had on Sunday.

I am sure that it is always a pleasure for the member to visit Ayrshire, just as it is for us to have him there rather than here. We are, of course, keeping the situation at Cumnock under review.

25 November 2010

(S3O-12068) M8 Baillieston to Newhouse (Upgrade)

10. Ms Wendy Alexander (Paisley North) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive when it received the report on the local public inquiry into the M8 Baillieston to Newhouse upgrade. (S3O-12068)

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

The reporter's report on the public local inquiry into the M8 Baillieston to Newhouse upgrade was received by ministers in October 2008.

Ms Alexander: How can a Government that is apparently committed to speeding up the planning process possibly justify leaving a report on the most important motorway link in Scotland lying unattended to on a minister's desk for more than two years?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will be aware that it is a matter of general practice, when such reports are received, to address the issues raised within them and, in particular, on schemes of this kind, to work with local interests to ensure that any modifications to the scheme can proceed with minimum difficulty.

I am sure that the member will be delighted, as others are, by the huge support that is being given to the west of Scotland through the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement programme, the M74 project, the M80 project, Paisley corridor improvements, Dalmarnock station and, of course, the continuing support shown in the budget for the projects about which she asks.

Elaine Smith (Coatbridge and Chryston) (Lab): In terms of local interests, does the minister have any idea of the anger and frustration among my constituents about the delays to this vital road improvement project?

Stewart Stevenson:
We are making best progress on the matter. As I say, we are working with local interests and we expect to make an announcement soon.

18 November 2010

(S3O-12008) Planning Decisions (Impartiality)

6. Robin Harper (Lothians) (Green): To ask the Scottish Executive what degree of impartiality public sector planning officials are expected to show towards planning developments under consideration. (S3O-12008)

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

Chartered town planners, including those who hold membership of the Royal Town Planning Institute, are required to act with the impartiality that is demanded by their professional code of conduct. Town planners who are civil servants also observe the high standards of impartiality that are required by the civil service code.

Robin Harper: The minister will be aware that questions have been asked in the past about the wisdom of the Government chief planner's actions in relation to the billionaire Trump's development. Does the minister agree that Mr Mackinnon's apparent support for the already controversial proposal from Murray Estates for development on green-belt land near Edinburgh airport raises further questions?

Does he also agree that, if Government employees are allowed to express opinions on on-going planning matters, the transparency, independence and impartiality of the entire system will come into question? Does he further agree that it is urgent that a line now be drawn that will protect the planning system from any suspicion of outrageous bias and partiality?

Stewart Stevenson: It might be appropriate to remind the member of the question that he asked me in oral questions on 9 September:

"Will he meet me and representatives of those communities to discuss their concerns?"—[Official Report, 9 September 2010; c 28438.]

That related to an active planning application, so I invite him to consider his supplementary question today.

I put it absolutely and unambiguously on the record that our chief planner is a gentleman of impeccable professionalism and unimpeachable character. He is respected within and beyond our borders. He has been invited to assist other jurisdictions precisely because of those qualities. We have the utmost respect for everything that he does.

(S3O-11994) High-speed Rail

5. Pauline McNeill (Glasgow Kelvin) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding high-speed rail. (S3O-11994)

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

I discussed high-speed rail directly with the Minister of State for Transport, Theresa Villiers MP, during a meeting on 4 November.

Pauline McNeill: I thank the minister for that up-to-date report.

The minister will be aware that the leaders of Glasgow City Council and the City of Edinburgh Council recently launched their campaigns for high-speed rail. I know that the minister is personally committed to the project, but has he been able to persuade the UK Government about the economic case? Has he persuaded it that building part of the network from Scotland makes economic sense, and that we should plan for that?

Stewart Stevenson: I believe that the inputs from many sources on the economic case, including from Glasgow and Edinburgh, supported by the analysis that was undertaken by Network Rail, are well understood. The challenge for all of us now is to ensure that the UK Government responds to that economic case, which adds huge value to proposals to create the HS2 line. We definitely see starting with the inclusion of Scotland as an economic proposition that is of great value.

Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central) (Lab): Will the minister say what initial thoughts he has about what could be done in Scotland using his powers to begin advance preparation and, at least, do some of the thinking about how we might connect Scotland to the rest of the UK, which might cut the length of time that we might have to wait for the high-speed rail line to come to Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: As members will be aware, Transport Scotland produced a report on that last year. It was part of the consultation that High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd conducted.

We are working with HS2 and we are observers and participants in a wide range of meetings on the subject. There is little doubt that the expertise that is necessary to take the planning of the project forward is captured within the company and we will continue to work with it to ensure that the appropriate work is done for Scotland.

11 November 2010

(S3O-11877) Grade-separated Junctions (Prioritisation)

4. Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will reconsider its priorities for the establishment of grade-separated junctions following the publication of figures showing that, between 1999 and 2009, there were no fatalities at the Broxden, Inveralmond and Keir roundabouts compared with four fatalities on the A90 at Laurencekirk. (S3O-11877)

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

The grade separation of the Broxden, Inveralmond and Keir roundabouts is primarily about improvements related to relieving congestion and reducing journey times on the A9. Those improvements also form part of a strategy for upgrading the A9 between Stirling and Perth where, tragically, 27 fatalities have occurred between 1999 and 2009.

Regarding Laurencekirk, following the upgrade of the main A90 junction in 2005, we have made further safety improvements this year and will continue to keep the situation under close review.

Mike Rumbles: Presiding Officer, you might wish to know that Mr Graham, father of Jamie Graham, one of those who tragically died at Laurencekirk, is in the public gallery.

In 2008, the minister told the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee that the need for a flyover on the A90 at Laurencekirk was

"on the radar, but ... we have to target our safety interventions where the need is greatest."—[Official Report, Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, 16 December 2008; c 1196.]

Does the minister genuinely believe that the need for safety improvements at those three locations where there have been no fatalities is greater than that at Laurencekirk where we have had four fatalities and many serious accidents, including that of Jamie Graham, whose life was lost?

Stewart Stevenson: The member is correct to quote me from 2008. We have, of course, made further investments in the three junctions at Laurencekirk with the precise aim of improving safety in that area. From 2005, there were four years without a fatality, showing that the previous improvements had made a difference. We believe that the improvements that we have made, on which we will conduct further safety investigations in the next few weeks, will make a similar difference.

Any fatality on our road network is a fatality too many. I extend my sympathy to Mr Graham, who is in the public gallery, and to all people who have lost their loved ones on Scotland's road network.

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con): Does the minister accept that although there have been no fatalities at the junction of the A90 and A937 since the junction improvements were instigated, the improvements were only ever likely to be temporary and the risk is still there? Further, has he considered my proposal for the inclusion of those junction improvements in the contracts for the Aberdeen western peripheral route?

Stewart Stevenson: I acknowledge that driving on Scotland's roads is not entirely risk free. That is why we focus on areas of particular concern and why we have taken the actions that we have with regard to the three junctions at Laurencekirk.

We will understand our financial situation next week when the cabinet secretary introduces budget proposals. I remind the chamber that our top priority in the strategic transport projects review for investment in our surface transport network was to act on safety concerns above economic and any other concerns. That will continue to be our priority after the budget.

28 October 2010

(S3O-11755) Gourock to Dunoon Ferry Service Tender

8. David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what the timetable is for the tendering of the Gourock to Dunoon ferry service. (S3O-11755)

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

Ministers are currently considering the tender and contract documents for the Gourock to Dunoon ferry service. When the documentation is finalised, the timetable for the remaining stages of the procurement process will be announced.

David Stewart: The minister will be well aware that in accordance with article 18 of the European Union procedural regulations, the Scottish Government was required to launch a public tender for the route before 2009. The subsequent public service contract should start before June 2011. Will the Government comply with that timetable? If not, is the minister aware that that will cause widespread disappointment in Argyll and Bute and beyond?

Stewart Stevenson: We are continuing to work with the European Commission on that very important service but, fundamentally, we seek to deliver for the people of the Cowal peninsula and Dunoon a service that carries both vehicles and passengers. Every part of our effort is directed at ensuring that we give it the best possible opportunity.

(S3O-11670) Inveramsay Bridge

2. Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will fulfil its commitment to replace the Inveramsay bridge during its current term of office. (S3O-11670)

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

The Government has made a commitment to deliver a new Inveramsay bridge as part of wider upgrades to the A96. Inveramsay has long been a serious hindrance to local people and acts as a block to development. Transport Scotland has now received the feasibility study into options to upgrade the bridge, which it is considering. In the light of that, I have asked Transport Scotland to complete its consideration of the options as soon as possible and to seek out opportunities to support the economic and social needs of communities along the A96, including Moray.

Mike Rumbles: Now that the minister has received the study, after three and a half years of inaction, will he outline in detail what funding he has allocated to the project to fulfil the Government's commitment to complete the project within this term of its office?

Stewart Stevenson: It is passing strange that Mr Rumbles chooses to raise this subject, given the previous inertia and lack of attention to the needs of the users of the A96 and, specifically, the Inveramsay bridge. It is only due to the actions of the Administration that is now in office, along with the active and committed engagement of the local member, that we are seeing the kind of progress that is taking place. Mr Rumbles really ought to look at the progress that is being made, at the benefits that we seek to deliver and, particularly in these difficult times, at the acceleration of work on this that I have asked to take place.

Nanette Milne (North East Scotland) (Con): The minister will be aware that I have been urging action on the Inveramsay bridge for a number of years. He will also be aware that the height restrictions that were recently imposed on the bridge are forcing vehicles over 14ft 6in to divert via Colpy, which is impacting adversely on the local agricultural community. That not only has an impact on the local economy but leads to increased vehicle emissions.

The Presiding Officer: Question, please.

Nanette Milne: Will the minister give serious priority to the Inveramsay bridge? When might work be expected to start?

Stewart Stevenson: We are giving the bridge priority. We recognise the issues for freight traffic due to the change in the way in which heights are measured and are actively engaged in that matter.

Maureen Watt (North East Scotland) (SNP): Does the minister agree that, after 10 years of Liberal Democrats being in government in this place and 30 years of them representing the Gordon constituency in Westminster, it is only now, under the Scottish National Party Government, that Inveramsay bridge has featured in any transport plan and that action is being taken to address one of the most notorious bottlenecks in the north-east of Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: Absolutely.

7 October 2010

(S3O-11578) Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route

4. Richard Baker (North East Scotland) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive on what date it estimates that work is likely to commence on the construction of the Aberdeen western peripheral route. (S3O-11578)

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

As we have made clear on a number of occasions, the legal challenges submitted to the Court of Session have already caused significant delay to the construction of the Aberdeen western peripheral route. We remain totally committed to delivering the project and to its being completed as soon as possible, but we have no alternative but to wait for the outcome of the appeals before substantial progress can be made on that much-needed project.

Richard Baker: Does the minister agree that the delays to the commencement of construction of the western peripheral route have made it all the more important to address congestion in Aberdeen by not delaying other important transport improvements, including the improvements at the Haudagain roundabout? The minister has said that that work should not begin before the western peripheral route is completed. Why is that approach necessary?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will know that we have identified the nature of the intervention for the Haudagain roundabout and that we are continuing to make the necessary preparations. One of the issues in relation to the Haudagain roundabout is the fact that the major contribution to relieving congestion at that part of Aberdeen's road network will be the opening of the Aberdeen western peripheral route itself. For reasons of good use of public funds, we want to draw together a range of transport interventions in Aberdeen in a single funding package. To proceed in any other way would significantly increase the costs and create a range of difficulties in the current—and, indeed, any other—climate.

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con): I wrote to the minister on 1 February, asking whether he would consider including the A90/A937 junction redevelopment in the contracts for the AWPR. A reply from David Middleton contains the line:

"As the statutory procedures have still not been completed, it is too early to say whether or not any new elements could be included in the procurement process."

Eight months later, is it still "too early to say"?

Stewart Stevenson: We are seeking to bring together a range of transport interventions in one large package that will give us economies of scale. Subject to approval being granted, those will include the Balmedie-Tipperty intervention, a number of park-and-ride facilities, the Haudagain roundabout and the AWPR. However, as we have not yet moved to a position of financial close on a range of projects, we are in a position to achieve further economies of scale by looking at other opportunities.

(S3O-11644) High-speed Rail

2. Robert Brown (Glasgow) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive what action it is taking to support a high-speed rail link to Scotland. (S3O-11644)

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

The Scottish Government has pressed and will continue to press Scotland's case for inclusion in a United Kingdom high-speed rail network. We are actively engaging in discussions with the UK Government to that end.

Robert Brown:
Does the minister agree that the northern section of the high-speed rail link from Manchester to Glasgow and Edinburgh provides by far the best return on investment—the cost benefit ratio is around 7.6 to 1—because of the huge potential for modal shift from air to rail?

Can the minister enlighten us on the responsibilities that the Scottish Government has for supporting the project in Scotland? What steps has the Government taken, particularly since the debate in May, to scope the work at this end and to ensure that the option of starting the work from Glasgow, in parallel or association with the development from London, is firmly on the table?

Stewart Stevenson: I endorse absolutely what Robert Brown said in relation to the importance of the northern part of the HS2 network. Frankly, if the line does not come all the way to Scotland, the economic return and—fundamentally—the climate change impact that can be derived from getting people off planes and on to trains are much diminished. Of about 7 million journeys a year, just over 1 million are by train; most of the remaining journeys are by air. We have, of course, had input in the HS2 study. I will meet the UK Minister of State for Transport, Theresa Villiers, on 4 November, and this is one of the subjects that we will discuss.

Scottish ministers' powers are, strictly, to let the franchise for the ScotRail area; we are, of course, also responsible for investment in the infrastructure. We carry some responsibility, but we must work with colleagues south of the border to ensure a consistent and cohesive way forward. I share absolutely Robert Brown's aspirations.

23 September 2010

(S3O-11403) Road Improvements (A92)

7. Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what actions it has taken to improve the A92. (S3O-11403)

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

In the past three years, we have invested more than £1.8 million in maintenance and safety improvements on the A92 trunk road between Glenrothes and the Tay road bridge. This year, we plan to spend more than £1 million on this section of the A92.

Claire Baker: The minister may be aware of the increase in serious accidents on the A92 over the summer. He has previously received representation on the A92 from members and the Glenrothes area futures group but, in light of increasing concerns about the safety and suitability of the A92, will he agree to meet me and other interested parties to discuss a way forward?

Stewart Stevenson: I acknowledge the loss that the two families experienced in August on the A92 and extend my sympathies to them. Investigations by the police and Transport Scotland's operators into the circumstances of such accidents will inform what we do.

I am always happy to meet members who have an interest in road safety, and if Claire Baker cares to contact my office we can make the appropriate arrangements.

Ted Brocklebank (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): Will the minister say anything further about the Scottish Conservative proposal, first mooted by my distinguished colleague Lord James Douglas-Hamilton more than a decade ago, to upgrade the A92 to dual carriageway status as far as the Melville Gates junction?

Stewart Stevenson: The member has heard from me on this issue before. We have completed the strategic transport projects review. The necessity is to address safety issues—my exchange with Ms Baker has addressed some of those issues—and the next step is to maximise the use of the road system. We are investing a great deal in trying to improve road safety in a variety of ways, working with drivers and trainers and looking at parts of the road network where investment will improve road safety.

Tricia Marwick (Central Fife) (SNP): The minister is well aware that, in 1999, the incoming Labour Executive did away with the Conservative plans for dualling the A92. I thank him for the money that has been invested in that road in the past couple of years. However, he is well aware—because I have written to him about a constituent in the past few weeks—that despite the money, people lack confidence about the safety of the junctions at Cadham and Balfarg. I would be grateful if he met me to discuss the matter further, as I mentioned in my letter to him.

Stewart Stevenson: I note what Tricia Marwick says about Cadham and Balfarg. We continue to engage on and consider the issues at a range of junctions. On the existing dual carriageway section, we are taking steps to close some central crossings. We are improving the A92 in response to the various incidents.

I am always happy to meet Ms Marwick to discuss the issue and I extend to her a similar invitation to that which I extended to Claire Baker.

(S3O-11418) Rail Freight (South-west Scotland)

3. Cathy Jamieson (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it plans to improve freight rail services in south-west Scotland. (S3O-11418)

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

Although the mode of transport for freight is a commercial decision for freight companies and their customers, the Government is committed to encouraging the transfer of freight to rail from less sustainable modes. We recently completed a widespread consultation with the rail freight industry to help us shape options for future rail freight opportunities across Scotland. That will feed into our next high-level output specification for Network Rail for the period beyond 2014. In the meantime, to enable companies to transport freight by rail or water rather than by road without financial penalty, we continue to offer support through freight mode shift grant schemes.

Cathy Jamieson: I thank the minister for the answer and, in particular, welcome his support for moving freight from road to rail. In that context, is he aware of the Ailsa Horizons proposal for a freight facility at Grangestone industrial estate in Girvan? Does he agree that such a development would not only boost the local economy but work towards the Scottish Government's goal of ensuring that freight is removed from the road and put on to the railways?

Stewart Stevenson: I am always very happy when I hear of companies that want to bring forward new proposals. In my visits around the country and my interactions with groups such as the Freight Transport Association, I have strongly made the point that we could do with more good-quality applications. I will certainly consider any such applications in a supportive way and with a view to seeing what support we can give.

16 September 2010

(S3O-11335) Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Programme

2. Jamie Hepburn (Central Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what advantages there will be for central Scotland as a result of the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement programme. (S3O-11335)

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

The Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement programme will greatly improve the rail network in central Scotland, bringing real and lasting benefits to rail passengers and substantially improving connectivity between Glasgow, Edinburgh and central Scotland communities. EGIP will enable a significant step change in the availability of routes and journey times between Scotland's two major cities, from today's six or seven services each hour, with a fastest journey time of around 50 minutes, to 13 services each hour, with a fastest journey time of around 35 minutes.

Jamie Hepburn: One of the lines that is to be electrified is the Cumbernauld line. Does the minister agree that its electrification can allow for and should lead to an increased frequency of passenger services on that line as well as direct services between Glasgow and Edinburgh, so that people who use Cumbernauld, Greenfaulds, Gartcosh and Stepps stations no longer have to travel to Glasgow or Falkirk to change for services to Edinburgh? Would not such initiatives lead to a vastly improved rail service for people in central Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes an important point. At present, services to Cumbernauld are performing below their capability. With the electrification of the line through Cumbernauld, there will be an opportunity to consider what interventions could maximise use of the new and existing infrastructure.

Cathie Craigie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (Lab): I welcome the electrification of the Cumbernauld line. I am sure that, when it is complete, it will bring many benefits to commuters using trains from Cumbernauld. I wish to ask the minister about the effects that the plans might have on Croy station. I am sure that the minister is aware that Croy is an important hub on the Glasgow to Edinburgh line, and I wish to ensure that Croy enjoys the same number of services, if not more. What plans does the minister have to ensure that the people of Croy are consulted on any proposals that Network Rail might have to make changes at Croy station?

Stewart Stevenson: Croy station is a very important part of the commuter and social infrastructure of the west of Scotland. I have used it on a number of occasions, and I have seen how busy it is. We have not yet developed the timetables that will come into play on the completion of EGIP, but the member should be assured that there will be no diminution in the service that is delivered to Croy. We will engage with the community to ensure that the proposals that we put into Network Rail's planning system reflect the needs of the community of Croy and the surrounding area.

9 September 2010

(S3O-11291) Opencast Mining

13. Robin Harper (Lothians) (Green): To ask the Scottish Executive what limits, if any, it is considering imposing on further development of opencast mining. (S3O-11291)

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

Scottish planning policy fully sets out the Scottish Government's planning policies on surface coal mining. No further limits on development are being considered in relation to opencast mining.

Robin Harper: In 2009, the Scottish ministers issued a new planning circular that removed a key safeguard for local communities that are threatened by opencast mining in their areas. Between 2007 and 2009, permission was granted for an increase of one third in the tonnage of coal that companies could extract by opencast mining. The minister is aware of the concerns that communities throughout Scotland—from Mainshill in Ayrshire to the Airfield site on the border between East Lothian and Midlothian—have about the new opencast plans. Will he meet me and representatives of those communities to discuss their concerns?

Stewart Stevenson: In view of the role that I may play in any planning decision, including the ones to which Robin Harper referred, I will be unable to meet on the terms that he suggests. However, I offer a meeting with my officials, who can discuss the details of our policy and practice. That should be of assistance to him.

(S3O-11208) Road Equivalent Tariff Pilot (Extension)

10. Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether its decision to extend the road equivalent tariff pilot until 2012 was based on an independent evaluation. (S3O-11208)

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

The Government is committed to supporting lifeline ferry services and promoting economic growth in all our remote and island communities. We are piloting the road equivalent tariff approach to setting fares in Scotland because we believe that it is the best way to deliver cheaper fares for islanders, tourists and businesses. The RET pilot has been focused on the Western Isles, but we want it to pave the way for fair ferry fares for everyone.

The recent announcement extending the RET pilot for a further year will allow CalMac Ferries to publish its fares for 2011 so that businesses can plan ahead. The final evaluation of the pilot will be completed in 2011. The decision on whether to roll out RET to other routes will be taken next year, once the results of the evaluation are available and have been considered by ministers.

Charlie Gordon: Let me quote from the independent report, "Road Equivalent Tariff Study: Interim evaluation" of March 2010, which was commissioned by the minister from Halcrow Fox. The evaluation states on page 73:

"It is generally too early to say whether RET has resulted in lowering the cost of living and reducing costs for local businesses."

It goes on to mention a "final evaluation"—that was to be in December this year, the minister originally told the Parliament. Why is the minister rushing to judgment, before the final evaluation, so as to sustain 40 per cent fares cuts in the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree—and good luck to them—whereas the fares for most other island communities have increased by nearly 10 per cent on his watch? Is his ferry story not just crude electioneering?

Stewart Stevenson: The selection of the Western Isles for the RET pilot was based on economic and social factors. [Laughter.] There has been a 19 per cent drop in the population of the Western Isles in the past 20 years, which is not by any means a matter of levity for the people who live there. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Order.

Stewart Stevenson: The Western Isles has an average wage some £50 to £70 per week lower than that in the northern isles. The RET pilot was a clear intervention to support a part of Scotland that requires our support.

As Charlie Gordon indicated, the Halcrow report said that it was too early to come to a final conclusion. That is precisely why we have extended the pilot for a further year. It is clear that traffic has increased on the back of the RET pilot, but the economic impact is not clear. We want to see that it delivers economic value to the communities. I am confident that we will see that, but we have to do the evaluation at the right time.

Liam McArthur (Orkney) (LD): The minister will be aware of the anger in my constituency at his decision to extend the pilot for a further 12 months. When the decision was made, he and his colleagues in the Western Isles were at pains to highlight the unsurprising success of the cheap ferry fares scheme. It is also not surprising when consultants inform the Government that further work needs to be done.

Does the minister accept that, however long he runs the pilot in the Western Isles, it will tell him nothing about the impact that RET would have on routes to, from and within Orkney? Will he confirm whether any consideration was given to extending the pilot to any routes in the north isles or, indeed, the other Argyll islands?

Stewart Stevenson: It is clear that patronage has risen on the NorthLink routes over the past year. That is a welcome sign of the value that is placed on the ferry links to the northern isles. It is important to realise that, last year, in an attempt to raise further revenue in the face of rising fuel costs, we increased fares on the CalMac Ferries network by 2 per cent but did not apply that increase to the fares for the northern isles in recognition of the fact that the long ferry routes are of a different character. Were we to apply our formula for RET to the northern isles, it would substantially increase fares on certain routes to Orkney and Shetland.

(S3O-11243) Kintore Station (Reopening)

9. Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive whether funding will be allocated in the next 12 months for the reopening of Kintore station. (S3O-11243)

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

We have already allocated funding, through our support for Network Rail, for work to be done in developing options for improving services on the Aberdeen to Inverness route. Specifically, the work will consider the potential for and layout of new stations at Kintore and Dalcross and changes at Inveramsay bridge, as well as frequency improvements and journey time reductions.

Mike Rumbles: I take that as a no to my first question, so I will try a second question. The minister must be aware of the feasibility study that the north east of Scotland transport partnership has already carried out, which indicates that a single-platform station could be established for £6 million. Does the minister agree that that represents good value for money? Will he give a commitment today finally to come up with the necessary funding to reopen Kintore station for the benefit of the people of the north-east?

Stewart Stevenson: The member really should listen to what I say. We have already allocated funding. More fundamentally, we are not limiting our ambition at this stage to a single-platform station at Kintore. Until the design work is complete, we do not yet know whether there will be a new passing loop at that part of the network, which would require a double platform at Kintore if such a station were to be opened. That is precisely why a systematic end-to-end look at the requirements of that vital part of the rail network in the north is required, and it is why we have already provided funding to take forward the issue of a station at Kintore.

Nanette Milne (North East Scotland) (Con): The minister and Mr Rumbles know that I have been campaigning for the reopening of Kintore station for a number of years, and I have held some positive meetings with the minister and local people on the issue in the past. Given that the reopening of Laurencekirk station has resulted in a number of passengers using the station that has greatly exceeded the provisional estimates—by about 80 per cent, I think—what revision of the appraisal system has taken place? What impact, if any, could that have on project funding for station developments such as that at Kintore?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes the very good point that estimates have consistently underestimated patronage at new stations. In future, we will be using a new, Great Britain-wide model, which is being tested as we speak. We have already taken steps on the line, by extending to Inverurie services that previously stopped at Dyce. We have started to build the patronage that would be necessary for a station at Kintore.

There is no minister in recent times with the enthusiasm for the railway network that this minister has. That is why we have already allocated funding to consider this important issue.

(S3O-11279) Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd

3. Jackson Carlaw (West of Scotland) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what consideration it has given to reforming the structure of Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd. (S3O-11279)

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

These issues are being considered as part of the on-going Scottish ferries review. The review document currently out for consultation makes it clear that the board of Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd has been considering whether alternative structural or financing routes could deliver its desired investment programme more efficiently and effectively and in a way that is more affordable to the public purse.

Jackson Carlaw: I am grateful to the minister for his response, which is perhaps somewhat less exciting than the reports that we have been reading in the media. I take it from his response that a mutualised solution is something that the Government might be prepared to consider, along with the board. If that is sauce for the goose of the maritime industry, is it not also sauce for the gander of Scottish Water?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will be absolutely aware of our commitment to make Scottish Water even more successful in future, to build on the huge success that has delivered an average household water bill that is lower than that provided by the private companies south of the border. The company is demonstrating true entrepreneurship in the commercial sector where competition is available, and it is providing huge help to its customers. All that shows that enterprise is not lacking in the public sector. I give Scottish Water unreserved support in its future development.

Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): In considering any changes to CMAL, will the minister bear in mind its role as a provider of vessels to CalMac and the fact that it is essential that CalMac continues to operate, not least as an operator of last resort for isolated communities?

Stewart Stevenson: CMAL has in the past provided vessels for services outside Scotland, specifically in Northern Ireland. However, the member makes an entirely valid point. We need to ensure that we support communities that have lifeline services on which they depend. One of the benefits of having centralised control of the assets that we use in our ferry network is the ability to move resources around when circumstances require.

24 June 2010

(S3O-11068) Air Conditioning Systems (Inspection and Maintenance)

4. Dr Richard Simpson (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what discussions it has had with local authorities and other bodies regarding the inspection and maintenance of air conditioning systems. (S3O-11068)

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

Article 9 of the European Union directive on the energy performance of buildings was introduced in Scotland in January 2009. The directive requires inspection, but not maintenance, of air conditioning systems. Prior to its implementation, officials held several informal meetings with local authority building standards managers. In addition, the Scottish Government engaged with professional bodies that considered that their members could undertake air conditioning inspection work. Currently, we have a protocol with five such bodies for inspection work.

Dr Simpson: The minister will be aware of the fact that commercial properties are responsible for 20 per cent of the United Kingdom's energy consumption and carbon emissions. The EU directive requires inspection prior to 4 January 2011. Air conditioning specialists in my constituency tell me that the rate of inspections is currently less than 5 per cent, due to underfunded and overloaded trading standards officers. Full compliance with the directive would achieve an estimated 930,000 metric tonnes of carbon savings over the next 10 years. Does the minister agree that we need to up our rates of inspection and maintenance? Will he undertake to discuss with trading standards officials the ways in which we can increase the number of inspections of air conditioning units or to explore whether other bodies could also be used to carry out inspections?

Stewart Stevenson: The member should be aware that the directive applies to systems with an output of in excess of 250,000kWh. There are 50 such installations throughout Scotland. I have no reason to believe that inspection of those installations will not be completed by 4 January 2011.

17 June 2010

(S3O-11014) International Flights (Costs)

5. Stewart Maxwell (West of Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the costs of international flights from Glasgow compared with those from London. (S3O-11014)

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

The cost of international flights from Glasgow compared with the cost of such flights from London is driven by a combination of competitive pressure and demand.

Stewart Maxwell: The minister might be aware of the research that I undertook recently, which showed that a family of four flying from Glasgow to Florida this summer will pay £1,000 more than a family flying from London, despite the fact that the return flight from London takes an hour longer than the Glasgow flight. The travel companies have stated that the reason for the extra cost from Glasgow is the greater loads per plane that travel from London compared to from Glasgow. Does he agree that, if it were £1,000 cheaper to fly from Glasgow than from London, the load figures would be the exact opposite of what they are now and that perhaps the fact that it is £1,000 cheaper to fly from London skews the load figures and causes Scottish families to travel to London to get their holiday flight?

I urge the minister to stand up for Scottish families. What will he do to tackle the situation and stop my constituents in the West of Scotland and all Scottish travellers being ripped off by some travel companies?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes a range of interesting and valid points. I have recently met the managing director of Glasgow airport and I assure the member and others that she is working hard to gain additional services and is using pricing as part of the mechanism for doing that. I have also met business interests that are looking to develop a Scotland-based airline. One of the key issues is that airlines find it easier to provide cheap, cost-effective services from their home base. We are at a significant disadvantage in that regard. We will continue to work with the interests that are working to deliver an airline for Scotland.

Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): Does the minister agree that one way in which Mr Maxwell's concerns could be assuaged would be through the development of additional direct international flights serving Scottish airports, which could be achieved by reinstating an amended version of the air route development fund? That has long been sought by Labour and is supported in the Confederation of British Industry Scotland manifesto, which was published this week.

Stewart Stevenson: The member will be aware of the rules governing the use of air route development funding. We cannot support routes to catchment areas of more than 5 million. However, the European Union is reconsidering the rules and we are optimistic that the controlling regime will enable the reintroduction of a scheme of some kind to support airlines. That is something that we will watch and respond to.

10 June 2010

(S3O-10865) Petrol Prices (Rural Areas)

12. Peter Peacock (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what representations it has made to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury regarding petrol prices in rural areas. (S3O-10865)

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

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth is writing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to raise a number of issues, including rural fuel prices, which the Scottish Government wishes to see addressed in the UK emergency budget. I hope that the correspondence receives a more favourable response than our letters to the previous UK Government, which consistently rejected any attempt to address the high fuel prices in rural areas.

Peter Peacock: Does the minister share my belief that there is ambiguity in the UK coalition document on its commitment to a pilot discount scheme for petrol prices in rural areas? Has it made that commitment or is it simply going to investigate such a pilot scheme, as seems to be the case? There is, of course, a big difference between the two. If there is to be a pilot scheme, will he support my call for the Highlands and Islands to be a pilot area?

Stewart Stevenson: It is flattering to be expected to respond on behalf of the UK Government. In its manifesto, the Conservative party discussed a fair fuel stabiliser, under which fuel duty would be cut when oil prices rise and vice versa when they fall. In their manifesto, the Liberal Democrats set out that they would introduce a rural fuel discount scheme that would allow a reduced rate of fuel duty to be paid in remote and rural areas. In contacting and pressuring the new Government, we will hold the members of the coalition to account.

That said, the most recent letter from the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer of 9 April argued that a differential rate of fuel duty in rural areas would offer increased opportunities for fraud, false accounting and smuggling. It also argued that lower duty would increase retailers' margins, not retail prices. The enthusiasm for the measure on the member's party's benches seems to be not particularly marked.

Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): Will the Scottish Government agree to instruct its enterprise officials to prepare a detailed analysis of how the very high price of motor fuel impacts on the cost of goods and vital services in the most remote areas of Scotland? The detail of such an analysis would reinforce the argument that action must be taken to address the very high cost of motor fuel in areas such as Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.

Stewart Stevenson: Jamie Stone is absolutely right to focus on the need for objective information to underpin the argument. We will, of course, ensure that we have that information as we pursue this vital interest for many rural areas in Scotland with the new UK Government.

(S3O-10866) Rail Freight (Grangemouth)

13. Cathy Peattie (Falkirk East) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what discussions it has had with Transport Scotland regarding the consultation on developing rail freight policy in Scotland, and in particular, the timetable for action to develop the Grangemouth freight hub. (S3O-10866)

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

Transport Scotland's on-going work to develop a framework for rail freight policy is carried out in the name of Scottish ministers. I am, of course, kept informed of progress. Transport Scotland, on behalf of Scottish ministers, takes part in discussions, which are led by Falkirk Council, on the Grangemouth freight hub national development. The next meeting will be held in two weeks. Progress in taking forward the Grangemouth freight hub is reported through updates to the national planning framework action programme, which is available on the Scottish Government's website.

Cathy Peattie: Does the minister agree that, given the huge benefits for our climate change programme of taking traffic off our roads, we should give the highest possible priority to ensuring the integration of infrastructure in road, rail and sea freight? Would that present further opportunities for low-carbon gains, such as the reintroduction of a passenger service at Grangemouth railway station? I would be grateful if that suggestion could be discussed. In combination with a rail freight service to Grangemouth, it could facilitate development of Grangemouth station.

Stewart Stevenson: I share the member's enthusiasm for taking heavy goods vehicle traffic off the roads and transferring it to rail and sea freight. Grangemouth is a key part of the freight infrastructure and is a link between the road and rail networks, in particular. As investment is driven down to Grangemouth through the use of freight, opportunities in relation to passenger traffic will be created. We continue to monitor the position.

(S3O-10921) Microgeneration (Corporate Residential Properties)

9. Mike Pringle (Edinburgh South) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will take action to promote the use of microgeneration technology in corporate residential properties such as care homes. (S3O-10921)

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

Section 71 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 requires the Scottish ministers to make provision for permitted development rights for microgeneration in non-domestic buildings by 1 April 2011.

Mike Pringle: New-build corporate residential properties often include microgenerative measures in their construction. That technology not only helps supply power to the properties concerned, but has the potential to allow them to sell power back to the National Grid through the clean energy cashback scheme, to help with upkeep and running costs. However, existing corporate residential properties do not benefit from any assistance that the Scottish Government offers homeowners in installing microgenerative technology. Instead, they often have to rely on commercial loans which, in the words of Friends of the Earth, make

"the rates of return much less attractive".

That has led Friends of the Earth to warn that the green energy cashback scheme will "not be effective".

Does the minister agree that existing corporate residential properties have the potential to be a huge part of the renewables sector? Will he commit to examining that matter further to improve corporate access to the clean energy cashback scheme?

Stewart Stevenson: The property sector, in both its commercial and domestic parts, is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, the Government is undertaking a range of interventions to ensure that we address that issue. In particular, for both commercial and domestic properties, reductions in rates are available when investments are made in a range of energy efficiency or energy-generating investments in buildings. We will continue to look for opportunities. I have listened very carefully to what the member has said.

Lewis Macdonald (Aberdeen Central) (Lab): The minister will recognise the importance of managing demand in order to reduce costs and carbon emissions in residential homes, as well as of promoting microgeneration. Will ministers consider supporting measures to improve the efficiency of boilers and heating systems in properties of that kind?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will know of our interest in the subject of boilers in the domestic circumstance. We are very interested in ensuring that people understand their energy usage. We are working with energy companies. Intelligent metering is coming along and, of course, there are interesting examples in other countries of giving people access to information from other, similar properties that have intelligent meters, thus enabling them to realise what they can do better. Those are all subjects that we will continue to monitor. We will continue to work with the power industry and property owners.

(S3O-10845) Clyde Fastlink

8. Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive how much funding it will contribute to the Clyde fastlink project, broken down by amount, financial year and location. (S3O-10845)

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

The amount and duration of the Scottish Government's financial contribution to the Clyde fastlink project will be determined by the outcome of on-going discussions into the business case and accompanying details of the project, which are being developed by Strathclyde partnership for transport and Glasgow City Council. The Scottish ministers have indicated that they are willing to contribute to an initial phase of the project, which will provide improved connections between the city centre, the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre and the new Southern general hospital.

Charlie Gordon:
I thank the minister for that answer, but I find it disappointing. It is the latest of several similar answers on the subject. Given that the Scottish Government started hinting at financial support for Clyde fastlink only when it cancelled the Glasgow airport rail link, is not it the Government's real view of fastlink that it is a tactical smokescreen, rather than a key transport project?

Stewart Stevenson: I hope that the member will forgive me, but I am certain that I referred to fastlink considerably earlier than he suggests. We follow with keen interest the work of SPT and Glasgow City Council on the subject and we look forward to continuing to engage in that important project.

(S3O-10908) Railway Stations (West of Scotland)

7. Stuart McMillan (West of Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what financial assistance it provides to improve railway stations in the west of Scotland. (S3O-10908)

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

The Scottish Government provides direct funding for major rail projects, including the west of Scotland rail improvement programme, which has added a new platform at Glasgow Central and is extending platforms for longer trains at stations in Inverclyde and Ayrshire. The Scottish Government also provides support to Strathclyde partnership for transport to enable improvements to be delivered at many rail stations across the west of Scotland, for example at the Partick station interchange.

That complements the improvements that were secured from ScotRail through the franchise agreement with the Scottish ministers. ScotRail is continuing to progress a programme of station improvements that is worth more than £12 million and which includes installation of escalators at Queen Street station, closed-circuit television, upgraded passenger information systems, help points, toilets, regeneration of station buildings, platform shelters, seating and cycle storage facilities.

Stuart McMillan:
I have met representatives of groups that are involved in the adopt a station scheme, and have been impressed by their suggestions to reinvigorate and return to their former glory older and more traditional stations in the west of Scotland. Will the minister give an assurance that any public investment via the scheme will guarantee that the historic and architectural significance of the stations will be of paramount importance and that current branding can be adapted using traditional livery styles, thus guaranteeing the traditional appearance while promoting the current organisational branding?

Stewart Stevenson: Scotland's railway infrastructure is a substantial and fine heritage, much of which dates back well over 100 years. In any developments, we would wish to protect the integrity of our historic stations. The adopt a station scheme is successful and is one of a range of interventions to breathe new life into stations throughout Scotland.

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): I call Jeremy Purvis, but ask him to bear in mind that the question is about the west of Scotland.

Jeremy Purvis (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD): Indeed, Presiding Officer. I am grateful.

Does the minister agree that railway stations in the west of Scotland will be improved immeasurably if their passengers can access, without necessarily changing, the Borders and Midlothian through the Borders railway? Passengers in the west of Scotland will be as keen as I am to bring forward the proposed financial closure of the Borders railway project from autumn 2011 to before the next Scottish Parliament elections in the spring of 2011. Can the minister give good cheer to those passengers in the west of Scotland who want to access the Borders by rail sooner?

The Presiding Officer: He cannot really, because the question was about railway stations in the west of Scotland and I do not think that the Borders railway will have any of those.

Stewart Stevenson: I am sure that railway stations in the west of Scotland will provide good cheer to those who will enjoy the services that will be introduced for the Borders when the railway opens there.

(S3O-10861) West Lothian Council (Transport)

3. Mary Mulligan (Linlithgow) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive when it last met representatives of West Lothian Council to discuss transport issues. (S3O-10861)

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

The Scottish Government's senior bus development adviser met representatives of West Lothian Council on 28 April 2010 to discuss various aspects of the provision of local bus services in West Lothian.

Mary Mulligan:
When I spoke to West Lothian Council officials recently, they were unable to confirm what Scottish National Party councillors in Falkirk were telling local hauliers, which was that the Scottish Government was about to provide finance for the Avon gorge crossing to be started and completed. Will the minister confirm that that is the case? If not, when is he likely to make such an announcement?

Stewart Stevenson: I recognise that Falkirk Council and West Lothian Council have for quite a long time been carrying out very substantial work on this matter. The priorities of the current roads programme in the strategic transport projects review are clear and we will consider the A801 upgrade and other measures promoting access to Grangemouth in particular as we consider future spending reviews.

3 June 2010

(S3O-10748) Ferry Services (Review)

6. Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive when it will report to the Parliament on the outcome of its review of ferry services. (S3O-10748)

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

The consultation document is currently going through the cabinet clearance process. After that, there will be a 12-week public consultation during the summer. A draft Scottish ferries plan will then be prepared. Because additional environmental information needs to be included, the draft plan will then undergo a further six-week consultation. The plan will then be finalised and presented to the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee. Thereafter it will be published and launched on a date that is still to be agreed.

Charlie Gordon: Given that, according to previous ministerial answers, ferry fares in communities that are not covered by the road equivalent tariff pilot have increased by 9.8 per cent since 2008, will the minister guarantee that options to reduce fares for those communities will figure in the review?

Stewart Stevenson: As far as I can ascertain, there has been no substantive review of ferry policy and practice that covers the whole system for more than 100 years. I assure Charlie Gordon that every aspect of ferry provision will be considered. Issues such as appropriate fare levels and whether ferries are the right transport solution in certain circumstances or whether other options exist will form part of our consideration.

Liam McArthur (Orkney) (LD): I echo the sentiments that Charlie Gordon expressed in his question. The minister will be aware of the concern among people in my constituency about the effective removal of the lifeline ferry services to and from the constituency at the end of April. Will the minister give a commitment that the ferries plan will contain a protocol for any future diversion of lifeline ferry services for whatever purpose, a definition of an emergency and an agreed process of consultation on that protocol?

Stewart Stevenson: As Liam McArthur is aware, services continued across the Pentland Firth when we had to divert the Hamnavoe to rescue citizens from throughout the British isles and beyond from Norway. The Pentland Ferries operation continued, and had the capacity to support all requirements for travel across the Pentland Firth.

That operation, of course, took place at a time when demand was comparatively low. We would always wish to engage as far as possible with anyone who is affected by sudden changes in plans. However, it is worth pointing out that weather is the predominant factor that affects ferry services. On that occasion, it was clear that there was a substantial benefit to people who were in distress in another country, and it was entirely appropriate that we did what we did. I congratulate Andrew Banks on supporting the needs of the people in Orkney.

27 May 2010

(S3O-10699) Rail Services (Aberdeenshire)

8. Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive, further to the announcement that 64,000 passenger journeys have been made from the reopened Laurencekirk station, a 78 per cent increase on the original estimate of 36,000, when it will bring forward the necessary funding to reopen Kintore station. (S3O-10699)

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

Consideration of the business case for a station at Kintore will take place when the technical feasibility of a station has been established. That is currently being considered through the study of proposed improvements to the Aberdeen to Inverness line.

Mike Rumbles: The minister will recognise that there was widespread delight in Laurencekirk when a previous transport minister announced funding to reopen the station there in 2006. As he begins his final year in government, will Stewart Stevenson create a similar lasting legacy for Kintore from his time as transport minister?

Stewart Stevenson: I look forward to being around to see many of the projects that the Scottish National Party Government will initiate delivered in its second term. Railway stations are a complex subject. It is important that we understand the technical feasibility of proposals. At Kintore, we have a choice between having a station that serves the current single-track line and one that can serve a dualled line. It is important that we do the technical work before coming to the conclusions that, hopefully, will lead to a station at Kintore, as the member anticipates.

Maureen Watt (North East Scotland) (SNP): When does the minister expect the Department for Transport's new passenger numbers model for anticipating usage levels at proposed new stations to be completed? Does he believe that it will make the business case for a station at Kintore more robust?

Stewart Stevenson: The model that we use in Scotland, which we share with the Department for Transport, has consistently underestimated the patronage that has resulted from the opening of new stations. Work between us and the Department for Transport is continuing. I expect that later this year we will be in a position to explore whether that delivers the expected results.

(S3O-10678) Congestion (Inverness)

7. Mary Scanlon (Highlands and Islands) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what is being done to alleviate road traffic congestion in the Inverness area. (S3O-10678)

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

We support Highland Council's ambitious plans for growth in Inverness and the surrounding area, and we are working in partnership with it to take forward the strategic transport projects review joint action plan for continued investment. In addition, Highland Council's current single outcome agreement includes provisions relating to green travel planning and the need to increase both public transport provision and use, and active travel.

Mary Scanlon: The main reasons for congestion in Inverness are the need for a bypass and long queues on the Kessock bridge. Could the minister give an update on progress on the Inverness bypass? How can congestion on the Kessock bridge be alleviated, given that Highland Council's plans do not include provision for a park-and-ride facility at Tore and the council cannot guarantee that such provision will be included in future plans?

Stewart Stevenson: Quite properly, the member identifies that responsibilities in this area are shared between Transport Scotland and Highland Council. There have been a number of meetings. Highland Council has a stakeholder group involving the council, British Waterways, Historic Scotland and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency especially to consider the difficult issue of how to cross the canal and complete the link between the A82 and the A9. The group's most recent meeting took place on 11 May. I will next speak to Highland Council's leader about the subject on 16 June.

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): From Mary Scanlon's question, the minister will be aware that there is acute traffic congestion in Inverness at peak times on the Kessock bridge. That will graduate to traffic gridlock in 2012, when the Kessock bridge is resurfaced, effectively losing half its capacity. Will the minister support a mitigation package, including permanent park and ride, expansion of the Kessock roundabout and a temporary ferry service between North and South Kessock, to boost business and tourism and to aid the local community?

Stewart Stevenson: One reason why we rescheduled the resurfacing of the Kessock bridge to 2012 was that we recognised the substantial difficulties that could be created when that essential work is done. We are considering a range of options, especially traffic signal control at the roundabout on the approach to the Kessock bridge from the south. We are giving consideration to all the member's suggestions and are alive to the issue.

(S3O-10707) Road Safety

3. Aileen Campbell (South of Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to encourage road safety behaviour among young people. (S3O-10707)

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

"Scotland's road safety framework to 2020", which was launched in June 2009, sets out our road safety commitments for all, including young people. They include continued funding for Road Safety Scotland to develop new innovative road safety education resources; a commitment to influence young people's attitudes to road safety and future driving behaviour before they get behind the wheel; and support for the implementation of the safe road user award qualification. We also intend shortly to undertake a national debate with young drivers, their parents and guardians and representative groups to explore young driver issues and concerns.

Aileen Campbell: Is the minister aware of the plans by South Lanarkshire Council to reduce the school crossing patrols in Lanark at St Mary's and Lanark primary schools? Does he agree that safe crossings near school are an important part of instilling good road safety practices among children and young people, and that such council decisions should be taken only after full consultation, ensuring that the safety of children is not put at risk?

Stewart Stevenson: I had not previously been aware of but have had my attention drawn to the campaign that the children at St Mary's primary school have initiated. I very much welcome the engagement of those most directly affected by the withdrawal of lollipop ladies and gentlemen. It is of course a matter for the local authority, but I take a close interest in the issue as the legislative framework is created by the Government. I wish the pupils at St Mary's primary school every success.

Karen Gillon (Clydesdale) (Lab): Will the minister outline what exactly that legislative framework is, on what basis school crossing patrols should be in place and whether there are criteria for the development of such crossings?

Stewart Stevenson: This is an area in which there is a crossover between reserved and devolved powers, which creates some difficulties. I have made some minor changes to the environment. If there are specific proposals that people feel we should pursue, I will be happy to engage on the issue. At the moment, we are not actively considering any changes.

20 May 2010

(S3O-10556) A9 (Berriedale)

8. Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive what action will be taken to improve the inclines and hairpin bend on the A9 at Berriedale. (S3O-10556)

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

A review of improvement options for that section of the A9 is being carried out by Scotland TranServ, the trunk road operating company. That review and an analysis of accident figures at the location does not support the introduction of any mitigation measures. Transport Scotland will, however, continue to monitor and evaluate the road safety performance of the A9 at Berriedale braes.

Jamie Stone: There was an accident at the hairpin bend that involved a coachful of children from Orkney; the coach very nearly penetrated the safety barrier. The minister will have seen the images, so he will know that they are the stuff of nightmares. Will the minister instruct his officials to look at the problem as a matter of absolute priority and will he agree to accompany me to see the truly terribly problem for himself?

Stewart Stevenson: Like Jamie Stone, I very much welcome the fact that the recent accident was not more serious. We understand from the police that road conditions were not likely to have been a contributory factor. My officials are looking at the damage that was inflicted on the safety barrier and will consider what the appropriate response is.

When I can, I am always happy to visit areas that members' constituents are concerned about. I ask the member to make appropriate contact so that my office can look at that.

(S3O-10561) Roads (Argyll and Bute)

3. Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Thank you, old Etonian—I mean, Presiding Officer.

To ask the Scottish Executive what measures it is taking to improve the Argyll and Bute road network. (S3O-10561)

The Presiding Officer: Yes, I too attended that school.

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

Members may wish to know that I went to Bell Baxter high school, which was the local school in Cupar.

More than £3 million has already been invested by the Government in the trunk road network in Argyll and Bute in financial year 2009-10. That investment has resulted in a number of initiatives, including road resurfacing on the A83 and work to mitigate the risk of future landslides in the area. We also plan to invest a further £6 million in a range of trunk road structural maintenance and safety improvements that will support safety and economic objectives and aspirations for the area.

Jamie McGrigor: Despite that, the headline in today's edition of The Oban Times & West Highland Times states "Argyll and Bute has the worst roads in Scotland". The annual road conditions survey shows Argyll and Bute Council as 32nd out of the 32 councils and suggests that councils' road budgets would need to rise by £45 million just to keep the roads in their present condition. Argyll and Bute Council's transport spokesman Councillor Duncan MacIntyre said:

"The council needs £100 million ... just to get the roads up to an acceptable standard."

Quite apart from the discomfort and danger suffered by local people, the tourism industry is suffering, especially in areas such as the Isle of Mull where the local joke—

The Presiding Officer: A question, please.

Jamie McGrigor: Presiding Officer, my question is this. Will the Scottish Government accept that Argyll and Bute is a special case and do something about it?

Stewart Stevenson: Argyll and Bute is a very special place. Indeed, it is the only place in Scotland where, in 1956, I suffered sunstroke.

Apart from that, I draw the member's attention to the 1.9 per cent increase in funding that Argyll and Bute Council has received for the current year. Councillor Duncan MacIntyre is an extremely able and competent councillor who, as a member of Highlands and Islands transport partnership—HITRANS—will, I am sure, be able to discharge his local government responsibilities for improving the roads in Argyll and Bute. We have provided the resources; he must take the action.

(S3O-10610) Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route

1. Nigel Don (North East Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government whether the reported legal action by objectors might cause delay to the completion of the Aberdeen western peripheral route. (S3O-10610)

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

It is likely that the actions of the objectors will cause significant delay to the construction of the Aberdeen western peripheral route. However, until we consider the terms of each challenge it is difficult to be precise about the impact on the project timetable.

Nigel Don: Is the minister aware that much of Road Sense's case appears already to have been taken by the Aberdeen Greenbelt Alliance to the Bern convention secretariat and comprehensively dismissed? Does the minister agree that, in view of the substantial costs that are associated with any delay to the project, the objectors should bear the costs of any further appeal?

Stewart Stevenson: It is worth making the point that we have yet to be served with the court papers that are associated with the appeal, so we have not yet had the opportunity to examine in any detail the basis of it. We are aware of the Bern convention activity but, of course, in view of the legal issues that surround the matter, I am somewhat constrained in what I can say.

Richard Baker (North East Scotland) (Lab): Notwithstanding the legal action, will the minister tell us when he expects to invite companies to tender for contracts for constructing the route and when he will be able to tell us in more detail what funds the Scottish Government and the two local authorities will allocate to the project?

Stewart Stevenson: Richard Baker will be aware that the two local authorities have committed to providing 9.5 per cent of the funding each, thus leaving the Scottish Government to provide 81 per cent of the funding for the AWPR and 100 per cent of the funding for the fast-link route. We have stated on our website for some considerable time, and I indicated on 10 June last year in answer to question S3W-24477 from Nicol Stephen, that we are considering a non-profit-distributing trust as the funding vehicle.

The timetable will, to some extent, be governed by the legal challenge. However, now that the appeal period is over, we are considering taking our next steps in very early course, subject to what we see in the court papers when they are served upon us.

It may be worth reminding members that we split consideration of the AWPR into separate chunks so that a legal challenge may or may not affect the whole route. We deliberately did that to protect the scheme's integrity should it be subject to legal challenge. However, until we see the challenges, we cannot be certain whether we have succeeded.

13 May 2010

(S3O-10453) Bus Services

14. Rhona Brankin (Midlothian) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what steps it is taking to support bus services across Scotland. (S3O-10453)

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

The Scottish Government is committed to bus services in Scotland. We are taking forward a number of initiatives with local government partners and bus operators to maintain and improve bus services, including statutory quality partnerships, punctuality improvement partnerships and the appointment of a senior bus development adviser.

The Scottish Government reached an agreement earlier this year with the Confederation of Passenger Transport on funding levels for concessionary travel and the bus service operators grant, which will give budget certainty and stability to the bus industry. This funding amounts to more than £240 million in the current financial year.

Rhona Brankin: The minister will be aware that Lothian Buses is the biggest publicly owned bus operator in the United Kingdom. As the company does not have a private shareholder that is seeking to maximise profits, the travelling public in Edinburgh and the Lothians benefit from low fares and one of the most modern bus fleets in the UK. Does he therefore share my concern that City of Edinburgh Council, the largest shareholder in Lothian Buses, has removed from the board a number of directors who are committed to the firm remaining independent and in public ownership? Does he agree that it would be hugely detrimental to staff and passengers if Lothian Buses were sold off to a private operator?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will be aware that this minister is a regular user of Lothian Buses services—the number 22 is rarely without my presence.

Ross Finnie (West of Scotland) (LD): Do you spend all day on the buses?

Stewart Stevenson: I think that some Liberal members think that I am being too liberal with my time on the buses but, believe me, it is highly enjoyable.

On a serious point, it is clear that Lothian Buses is a successful company. Among other companies, it is benefiting from the certainty that we provided not only in the current financial year but for three years to come and from our stepping up of the bus service operators grant by 10 per cent to protect services and ensure that the public get the services that they require.

We shall watch with interest the development of Lothian Buses. I am sure that its future will be as successful as its recent past.

Stewart Stevenson
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