28 January 2010

(S3O-9282) Rail Projects (Funding)

11. Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what criteria it uses in deciding to fund some rail projects from borrowing via Network Rail's regulatory asset base. (S3O-9282)

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

To be eligible for regulatory asset base finance, the expenditure must relate to a project that will create assets that will be owned by Network Rail. Any decision on funding mechanisms is considered on a case-by-case basis and must demonstrate value for money in accordance with the requirements of the Scottish Government value-for-money guidance.

Charlie Gordon: Aside from the irony that the criteria apparently do not include rail projects that were approved via a full act of the Parliament, such as the Glasgow airport rail link, does the minister not see the inconsistency in his criteria, which lead, according to one of his recent parliamentary answers, to spending money that John Swinney claims we do not have on rail projects such as Glasgow crossrail, which I support but which will not stack up without the Glasgow airport rail link?

Stewart Stevenson: Perhaps I should make a couple of points in response to Mr Gordon's comments. In my initial answer, I said

"the expenditure must relate to a project that will create assets that will be owned by Network Rail".

In the case of GARL, it is clear that rebuilding a car park, providing a new nursery and relocating a fuel farm at the airport do not meet that test.

I simply point out that one important feature of regulatory asset base finance that we must recognise is that, like any source of finance, it is finite. Control period 4, which runs from 2009 to 2014, was agreed some time ago. We will of course continue to consider regulatory asset base finance when it is appropriate and delivers value for money.

Jeremy Purvis (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD): The Scottish Government ruled out using the regulatory asset base for the Borders railway and is instead using a private finance initiative variant—a capped profit return, wholly privately financed construction. Will that depend on revenue that is raised on the line? Will the minister give a categorical assurance that ticket pricing on the Borders railway will be no different from pricing in any other part of the network in Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson
: The Government expects to contribute to the revenue costs of trains that run on the Borders line, as we contribute to the great majority of lines throughout Scotland. I expect the cost per kilometre on the Borders railway to be substantially similar to that elsewhere in the network.

(S3O-9340) Rail Freight (Consultation)

10. Jamie Hepburn (Central Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government when Transport Scotland expects to publish the results of its developing rail freight in Scotland consultation. (S3O-9340)

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

Responses to the consultation will be published on Transport Scotland's website in March 2010.

Jamie Hepburn: The minister will be aware of the existing heavy freight traffic on the Cumbernauld to Falkirk Grahamston line. Given the plans to electrify that line, the long-standing hopes of local people to see an increased and improved passenger service, and the campaigns to create Abronhill and Grangemouth railway stations, will the minister guarantee that increasing freight traffic on the line will not impinge on any possibility of future improvements to passenger services?

Stewart Stevenson: We will be electrifying 350km of track in Scotland's rail network as we take forward our plans. That is an ambition for railway infrastructure development that has not been seen in my lifetime.

As we increase freight traffic on the Cumbernauld line, there will be issues about timetabling, but there is capacity on the line to allow us to continue to develop passenger services as well as freight. The slots are provided through the usual mechanisms involving Network Rail and all the rail companies in semi-annual discussions.

Dr Richard Simpson (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): Did the consultation include consideration of the disruption and disturbance due to noise and vibration, particularly in the night running of freight, which has started in the past few years and affected my constituents along the Stirling to Alloa and Kincardine line?

Stewart Stevenson: A wide range of issues was covered by the rail freight consultation. The member and I have discussed the issue of night running for freight, which is likely to continue to be an important part of the services that run on that line. The important things are that we protect communities from the effects of that, that mitigation is in place, and that we work with rail freight companies to ensure that appropriate and up-to-date wagons are used that cause little or no disruption. We will continue to do all that.

(S3O-9269) Haudagain Roundabout

8. Richard Baker (North East Scotland) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what its preferred option is for improvements at the Haudagain roundabout and when work on this will commence. (S3O-9269)

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

We will commence improvements to the Haudagain roundabout following completion of the Aberdeen western peripheral route. When the orders for the route have been approved by Parliament—assuming, of course, that they are—consideration of options will be finalised and a decision made on the preferred option.

Richard Baker
: If there is no prospect of work on the Haudagain roundabout starting before the end of this parliamentary session and given that Aberdeen City Council's development plans for the Middlefield area are contingent on its preferred option for improving the roundabout being selected, will the minister tell us when the final decision on the preferred option will be taken? I understand that the council expected a decision before Christmas.

Stewart Stevenson: Whether the AWPR proceeds is contingent on Parliament agreeing the orders that are before us. We will not make a decision until that process has been completed.

I also make the very general point that there has been considerable discussion about the number of crossings over the Don and the approach to redevelopment, all of which have played their part in ensuring that we are equipped to make the decision after the Parliament has taken its view.

Brian Adam (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
: The minister might be aware of proposals for further substantial housing and business developments in the Grandholm and Danestone areas of Aberdeen. Will he ensure that the redeveloped Haudagain roundabout has the capacity to cope not just with current traffic levels but with the levels of traffic that are expected if the developments go ahead?

Stewart Stevenson: We have always said that we will take responsibility for raising the capacity at the Haudagain roundabout to meet the needs of the area after the introduction of the AWPR, which of course will take traffic off the existing A96 and A90 through Aberdeen. We will absolutely deliver on that promise.

Lewis Macdonald (Aberdeen Central) (Lab): Does the minister accept that his Government's target date for starting the AWPR is now the same as the previous Administration's target date for completion? In that context, will he agree today to bring forward moves to address the Haudagain pinch-point and get the work done in advance of work on the AWPR?

Stewart Stevenson: Mr Macdonald and I will continue to disagree about the state of preparedness that we inherited when we came into government in 2007. If targets of the nature that Mr Macdonald has referred to were indeed set, they were not matched by any plans that this Government inherited.

(S3O-9350) Rail Services and Infrastructure (Severe Weather)

7. Shirley-Anne Somerville (Lothians) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what reports have been received from Network Rail and First ScotRail regarding performance in the operation of train services and infrastructure during the recent period of severe weather. (S3O-9350)

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

During the period of severe weather, Transport Scotland received frequent, detailed reports on the operation of train services from both Network Rail and First ScotRail. Transport Scotland officials also met the directors of Network Rail and First ScotRail. The two companies have started a review of their performance during the severe weather conditions so that any lessons to be learned are captured.

Shirley-Anne Somerville: A great number of First ScotRail and Network Rail staff did everything they could to provide as good a service as possible to passengers under exceptionally difficult circumstances during the severe weather that we all experienced at the turn of the year. However, I am sure that the minister, like all MSPs, will have received a number of complaints from passengers who experienced significant travel problems including cancelled or severely disrupted services and fewer carriages on the services that did run. What is being done to ensure that we learn lessons from the process, particularly on the impact on commuters? What can be done in future to ensure that people can get to work as quickly as possible?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes a number of important points with which I agree. In particular, staff in all our transport modes made heroic efforts to keep services running but, in the face of the worst period of winter weather for a very long time, some disruption was inevitable.

It might be worth reporting that, between 22 December and 9 January, 88 per cent of trains operated. Yes, there were a significant number of cancellations, but a great deal of the network continued to operate. Truncations were an issue and we had overcrowded trains. At the height of the disruption, some 50 trains were out of action due to the effects of ice and snow or as a result of collision damage due to their hitting stags on the line.

Just today I met the new chair of Network Rail and discussed certain aspects of what we have to learn—indeed, the organisation is very keen to learn lessons. I have also had discussions with First ScotRail. The key area that we will focus on in early course is improving communication to ensure that, if any disruptions occur, travellers can make better plans based on a better informed understanding of what is happening. There are a lot of lessons to be learned—and we will learn them.

(S3O-9265) Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (Meetings)

5. Bill Aitken (Glasgow) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive when it last met Strathclyde partnership for transport and what issues were discussed. (S3O-9265)

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

Ministers and officials meet Strathclyde partnership for transport regularly to discuss transport issues across Glasgow and the west of Scotland. I most recently met SPT when I was pleased to launch the partnership's hybrid bus-based mobile travel advice centre outside the Scottish Parliament on 8 December.

Bill Aitken: SPT's decision to axe the short ferry crossing between Yoker and Renfrew is understandable in light of the dire financial conditions that the Labour Government has imposed on us all. Nonetheless, it saddens me that that popular service, which has been with us for more than 200 years, is falling by the wayside. That is also likely to cause considerable hardship to those who use the ferry to commute to work. Will the minister assure me that every possible avenue has been, or will be, explored with SPT prior to the final withdrawal of the route in two months' time?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes the good point that Labour's cuts are impacting on the commuting arrangements of many people who rely on the ferry.

Just before the board meeting at which the subject was discussed, SPT wrote to our director of transport to highlight some of the issues. We are continuing discussions with SPT, but I make the general point that SPT and councils throughout Scotland have seen increases in their funding that are substantially above the increase—or the absence of one—that the Scottish Government has. We will continue to discuss that matter in a positive way.

Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): Is it not the case that SPT's budget for next year, which was adduced as the reason for the cut in the ferry service, is at a standstill in cash terms and therefore has been cut in real terms, which is the responsibility—partially—of the Scottish Government?

Stewart Stevenson: SPT, like regional transport partnerships throughout Scotland, relies on subventions from local authorities. In the case of SPT, there is direct money from the Scottish Government but, in any event, we are putting record investment into transport throughout Scotland and local authorities are getting increased sums of money.

14 January 2010

(S3O-9070) Air Services (Barra)

5. Alasdair Allan (Western Isles) (SNP): A dh'fhaighneachd do Riaghaltas na h-Alba an daingnich e gum bi seirbheisean adhar Bharraigh seasmhach anns an fhad-├╣ine.

To ask the Scottish Government whether it can confirm the long-term future of air services to the isle of Barra. (S3O-9070)

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

We are strongly committed to maintaining Barra's lifeline air services in the long term.

Alasdair Allan: I thank the minister for his categorical reply. Can he further lay to rest press speculation that Loganair has let it be known that it is "not prepared to bid" for the Glasgow to Barra and Barra to Benbecula public service obligations when they are renegotiated in 2013? Can he confirm that the Government is actively considering at least the option of replacing the present aircraft?

Stewart Stevenson: We are aware of the report that suggested an inaccurate position in relation to Loganair's future plans for bidding for the renewal of the Barra contract. We understand that the report misrepresents the company's position.

Regarding the aircraft, it is clear that the Twin Otters that are currently operating on the service are reaching the end of their life. Viking Air of Canada is producing a Series 400 aircraft, and 40 orders are in place. A number of those aircraft will be available through leasing. We have asked Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd to consider whether it would be appropriate to take responsibility for ensuring that aircraft are available to any operator, whichever it may be, over the long term. In any case, we will ensure that that service is protected.

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): The minister will be well aware that the Barra service is a classic example of a crucial lifeline service that is kept alive by a public service obligation and the skills of the Twin Otter pilots in landing on the windswept beach, often in severe weather conditions. Does he recognise that the three-year contract for the service could impede operators bidding for the route in future? Will he undertake to hold a review with the aim of extending the contract period, which would give a huge boost to the community of Barra and places beyond?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes some points with which I am happy to associate myself. I understand that the three-year restriction is related to European rules. However, I will consider whether we could place a longer contract. The availability of aircraft is a key factor. As was the case with ferry provision for the northern isles, we need to ensure that we can provide long-term availability of aircraft. If we are not able to improve the length of the contract from three years, we wish at least to mitigate some of the adverse effects of such a short contract.

Liam McArthur (Orkney) (LD): Barra airport is part of the Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd network. Can the minister confirm whether airport car park charging features in the future of Barra's air services? If not, will he explain to my constituents why the already expensive costs of accessing lifeline air services are to be increased in some islands but not in others?

Stewart Stevenson: The member should be aware that we do not provide car parking at Barra airport, which is very small. Therefore, the issue of car parking charges is not being considered for Barra.

(S3O-9097) Permitted Development Rights (Domestic Microgeneration)

2. Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive when it expects to lay a statutory instrument relating to permitted development rights for domestic wind turbines and air-source heat pumps. (S3O-9097)

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

We intend to meet our statutory obligation under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. We will shortly consult on proposals to extend permitted development rights to micro wind turbines and air-source heat pump installation on domestic buildings.

Sarah Boyack: We have already lost one renewables company because of a lack of progress on planning. Does the minister accept that, given the new UK Government feed-in tariff, which starts in April, planning is now the biggest barrier? On what date will his statutory instrument be laid? I understand that he cannot meet the terms of the 2009 act in that respect. Will he provide us with some clarity on the issue?

Stewart Stevenson: I assure the member that the instrument will be laid in line with the statutory requirements of the 2009 act.

Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): Can the minister clarify, for people who might wish to use such devices, the installation costs and so on of domestic wind turbines, air-source heat pumps and solar thermal and solar voltaic schemes? Exactly what will people have to pay to carry out the intentions of the 2009 act?

Stewart Stevenson: Quite a wide range of costs might be incurred. A small roof-mounted wind turbine can cost as little as £1,500; at the other end of the scale, a 6kW system could cost in the range £18,000 to £25,000. A range of options exist between those extremes. Heat pumps typically cost £5,000 to £9,000. Both types of installation save significant amounts of money. Heat pumps can save between 30 and 70 per cent on existing bills.

7 January 2010

(S3O-9889) Aviation Industry (State Aid)

9. Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will assist Scotland's aviation industry through measures that are compliant with European rules on state aid. (S3O-9889)

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

The Scottish Government would consider assisting the aviation industry, where assistance was appropriate and compliant with state aid rules.

Charlie Gordon: In light of the recent loss of the Glasgow to Lahore link, the recent demise of flyglobespan, which has just been mentioned, and the difficulties that face Glasgow international airport, not least as a result of the cancellation of the Glasgow airport rail link, will the minister speedily develop an action plan to help our aviation and tourism industries?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will be aware that I share his disappointment at the withdrawal of the Glasgow to Lahore flight. Of course, that is one of the routes that the European Commission's rules ensure that we would be unable to support; it falls outside the European rules on state aid.

I engage regularly with airport operators and airlines and will continue to do so, to ensure that the best range and quality of services are available to travellers from Scotland.

(S3O-9051) Aberdeen Airport (Globespan)

5. Maureen Watt (North East Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what impact it anticipates the collapse of flyglobespan will have on passenger numbers at Aberdeen airport. (S3O-9051)

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

Flyglobespan carried an estimated 100,000 passengers on services out of Aberdeen last year.

Maureen Watt: Given that Aberdeen airport has lost a number of routes over the past year, does the minister believe that if control over air passenger duty were to be devolved, that could be used to stimulate new routes from Scottish airports, which would reduce the need for connecting flights within the United Kingdom and help to offset the economic impact of situations such as the collapse of flyglobespan? Does the minister share my disappointment at the UK Government's apparent hostility to devolving that power and its omission from the white paper on devolving further powers—despite that forming part of the Calman commission's recommendations?

Stewart Stevenson: When there is a substantial political consensus in the Scottish Parliament that this place would be well placed to use air passenger duty as one of the levers to support passenger numbers from Scottish airports, it is disappointing that there is no process for giving us the power to do so. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth and Government in general have engaged with the UK Government on a number of the Calman commission's proposals. It is time for action.

Lewis Macdonald (Aberdeen Central) (Lab): If the minister wants to stimulate new direct routes into airports such as Aberdeen airport, does he acknowledge that he already has at hand the means to do so?

Stewart Stevenson: I think that the member is referring to the route development fund, on which there has been discussion. It might be worth reminding him that we have limited opportunities to support, given that European rules prevent us from supporting routes that go anywhere outside the European Union and prevent us, in essence, from supporting destination airports with more than 5 million passengers per year. That, in essence, removes from consideration all the important routes that people want to fly.

(S3O-9000) Bus Services

3. Hugh Henry (Paisley South) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what steps it is taking to protect bus services across Scotland. (S3O-9000)

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

The Scottish Government remains committed to promoting the use of 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. Those include statutory quality partnerships, punctuality improvement partnerships and the appointment of a senior bus development adviser.

Hugh Henry: Notwithstanding the minister's reply, there are still concerns in many parts of Scotland about the quality, consistency and reliability of bus services. Many of my constituents who live in Paisley, Johnstone and Elderslie depend on regular, affordable bus services. I am aware from local operators of challenges in preserving current service levels. Will the minister guarantee to my constituents that he will take steps to ensure that services are protected, without excessive fare increases?

Stewart Stevenson: I guarantee that I will work with the local authorities and with Strathclyde partnership for transport, which is responsible for bus services in the member's constituency. I note with great interest and substantial enthusiasm the plans by Glasgow City Council to introduce a statutory quality bus partnership. That is one of the ways in which councils are increasingly engaging with bus companies to address the concerns that the member has expressed.

Christine Grahame (South of Scotland) (SNP): Many bus services ought to begin and end at a bus station. As the minister is aware, buses on services between Edinburgh and the Borders have been excluded from Edinburgh bus station, apparently due to continuing tram-work disruptions. Travellers and staff are consigned to Waterloo Place, without any facilities, often after long journeys and in very inclement weather, which at least raises questions of health and safety. Is there a role for the minister in remedying that situation, perhaps through new regulations?

Stewart Stevenson: I agree that bus stations, which provide a range of facilities, form an important part of the bus infrastructure. I understand that the companies that provide many of the services that are currently not going to Edinburgh's bus station made their own elective choice to terminate at locations such as Waterloo Place while there is disruption from the tram works. I hope that bus companies will review the needs of passengers and ensure that services stop in appropriate places. I continue to engage with local government, which exercises responsibilities for buses, in that regard as in others.

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