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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.

(S3O-10519) Access for All Small Schemes Fund

6. Shirley-Anne Somerville (Lothians) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what representations it has made to the United Kingdom Government regarding proposed cuts to the access for all small schemes fund. (S3O-10519)

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

I wrote to Chris Mole, then Under Secretary of State for Transport, on 13 April 2010 expressing my disappointment at the budget reduction, and urged him to reconsider the decision.

Shirley-Anne Somerville: I thank the minister for that answer. He will already know that the access for all small schemes fund has made a small but very significant contribution to increasing access to our rail network for some of the most vulnerable in our society. From hand rails and variable height ticket counters to access ramps and sign language information, a lot of good progress has been made using that fund. However, much still needs to be done. May I therefore ask the minister to make further representations to the new UK Government to ensure that this decision, made in the death throes of the Labour Government is reversed as soon as possible?

Stewart Stevenson: The access for all small schemes fund for 2010-11, which is provided by the Department for Transport at UK level, was originally set in October 2009 at £7.9 million. We received the information that it was being reduced to £3.9 million and the consequence was that our share fell from £796,000 to £390,000. As the member said, some of the most vulnerable people in our society are supported by this modest amount of money. It seems passing strange that a party whose rhetoric was committed to social justice should choose to make this small financial cut that will have a big impact. I will most certainly approach the new minister to see whether there can be a change of heart.

5 May 2010

(S3O-10380) Roads (M74)

5. Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it plans to rule out delaying the completion of the M74 junction 5 Raith scheme until 2013-14. (S3O-10380)

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

We are considering the benefits of combining the M74 Raith junction scheme with the M8 Baillieston to Newhouse scheme and the M8, M73 and M74 network improvement schemes as a single contract to be funded by a non-profit-distributing model. The M74 Raith programme would be tied to the M8, a decision on which will be made shortly.

Charlie Gordon: If the Raith interchange scheme is put back on to the same timescale as the M8 Baillieston to Newhouse scheme, thus delaying it a year, what additional costs will fall on the Raith scheme? Can the minister guarantee that both schemes or the combined scheme will be ready in time for the 2014 Commonwealth games in Glasgow?

Stewart Stevenson: By consolidating many items of work into a single non-profit-distributing model, we are able to achieve economies of scale and reduce and manage the costs in an appropriate way. We have reached the point where we have all but completed the planning issues that are associated with that. We expect to make the remaining orders. We are making the best possible speed in bringing forward a long-awaited project.

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