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.

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