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.

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