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.

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