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25 November 2010

(S3O-12068) M8 Baillieston to Newhouse (Upgrade)

10. Ms Wendy Alexander (Paisley North) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive when it received the report on the local public inquiry into the M8 Baillieston to Newhouse upgrade. (S3O-12068)

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

The reporter's report on the public local inquiry into the M8 Baillieston to Newhouse upgrade was received by ministers in October 2008.

Ms Alexander: How can a Government that is apparently committed to speeding up the planning process possibly justify leaving a report on the most important motorway link in Scotland lying unattended to on a minister's desk for more than two years?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will be aware that it is a matter of general practice, when such reports are received, to address the issues raised within them and, in particular, on schemes of this kind, to work with local interests to ensure that any modifications to the scheme can proceed with minimum difficulty.

I am sure that the member will be delighted, as others are, by the huge support that is being given to the west of Scotland through the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement programme, the M74 project, the M80 project, Paisley corridor improvements, Dalmarnock station and, of course, the continuing support shown in the budget for the projects about which she asks.

Elaine Smith (Coatbridge and Chryston) (Lab): In terms of local interests, does the minister have any idea of the anger and frustration among my constituents about the delays to this vital road improvement project?

Stewart Stevenson:
We are making best progress on the matter. As I say, we are working with local interests and we expect to make an announcement soon.

18 November 2010

(S3O-12008) Planning Decisions (Impartiality)

6. Robin Harper (Lothians) (Green): To ask the Scottish Executive what degree of impartiality public sector planning officials are expected to show towards planning developments under consideration. (S3O-12008)

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

Chartered town planners, including those who hold membership of the Royal Town Planning Institute, are required to act with the impartiality that is demanded by their professional code of conduct. Town planners who are civil servants also observe the high standards of impartiality that are required by the civil service code.

Robin Harper: The minister will be aware that questions have been asked in the past about the wisdom of the Government chief planner's actions in relation to the billionaire Trump's development. Does the minister agree that Mr Mackinnon's apparent support for the already controversial proposal from Murray Estates for development on green-belt land near Edinburgh airport raises further questions?

Does he also agree that, if Government employees are allowed to express opinions on on-going planning matters, the transparency, independence and impartiality of the entire system will come into question? Does he further agree that it is urgent that a line now be drawn that will protect the planning system from any suspicion of outrageous bias and partiality?

Stewart Stevenson: It might be appropriate to remind the member of the question that he asked me in oral questions on 9 September:

"Will he meet me and representatives of those communities to discuss their concerns?"—[Official Report, 9 September 2010; c 28438.]

That related to an active planning application, so I invite him to consider his supplementary question today.

I put it absolutely and unambiguously on the record that our chief planner is a gentleman of impeccable professionalism and unimpeachable character. He is respected within and beyond our borders. He has been invited to assist other jurisdictions precisely because of those qualities. We have the utmost respect for everything that he does.

(S3O-11994) High-speed Rail

5. Pauline McNeill (Glasgow Kelvin) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding high-speed rail. (S3O-11994)

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

I discussed high-speed rail directly with the Minister of State for Transport, Theresa Villiers MP, during a meeting on 4 November.

Pauline McNeill: I thank the minister for that up-to-date report.

The minister will be aware that the leaders of Glasgow City Council and the City of Edinburgh Council recently launched their campaigns for high-speed rail. I know that the minister is personally committed to the project, but has he been able to persuade the UK Government about the economic case? Has he persuaded it that building part of the network from Scotland makes economic sense, and that we should plan for that?

Stewart Stevenson: I believe that the inputs from many sources on the economic case, including from Glasgow and Edinburgh, supported by the analysis that was undertaken by Network Rail, are well understood. The challenge for all of us now is to ensure that the UK Government responds to that economic case, which adds huge value to proposals to create the HS2 line. We definitely see starting with the inclusion of Scotland as an economic proposition that is of great value.

Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central) (Lab): Will the minister say what initial thoughts he has about what could be done in Scotland using his powers to begin advance preparation and, at least, do some of the thinking about how we might connect Scotland to the rest of the UK, which might cut the length of time that we might have to wait for the high-speed rail line to come to Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: As members will be aware, Transport Scotland produced a report on that last year. It was part of the consultation that High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd conducted.

We are working with HS2 and we are observers and participants in a wide range of meetings on the subject. There is little doubt that the expertise that is necessary to take the planning of the project forward is captured within the company and we will continue to work with it to ensure that the appropriate work is done for Scotland.

11 November 2010

(S3O-11877) Grade-separated Junctions (Prioritisation)

4. Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will reconsider its priorities for the establishment of grade-separated junctions following the publication of figures showing that, between 1999 and 2009, there were no fatalities at the Broxden, Inveralmond and Keir roundabouts compared with four fatalities on the A90 at Laurencekirk. (S3O-11877)

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

The grade separation of the Broxden, Inveralmond and Keir roundabouts is primarily about improvements related to relieving congestion and reducing journey times on the A9. Those improvements also form part of a strategy for upgrading the A9 between Stirling and Perth where, tragically, 27 fatalities have occurred between 1999 and 2009.

Regarding Laurencekirk, following the upgrade of the main A90 junction in 2005, we have made further safety improvements this year and will continue to keep the situation under close review.

Mike Rumbles: Presiding Officer, you might wish to know that Mr Graham, father of Jamie Graham, one of those who tragically died at Laurencekirk, is in the public gallery.

In 2008, the minister told the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee that the need for a flyover on the A90 at Laurencekirk was

"on the radar, but ... we have to target our safety interventions where the need is greatest."—[Official Report, Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, 16 December 2008; c 1196.]

Does the minister genuinely believe that the need for safety improvements at those three locations where there have been no fatalities is greater than that at Laurencekirk where we have had four fatalities and many serious accidents, including that of Jamie Graham, whose life was lost?

Stewart Stevenson: The member is correct to quote me from 2008. We have, of course, made further investments in the three junctions at Laurencekirk with the precise aim of improving safety in that area. From 2005, there were four years without a fatality, showing that the previous improvements had made a difference. We believe that the improvements that we have made, on which we will conduct further safety investigations in the next few weeks, will make a similar difference.

Any fatality on our road network is a fatality too many. I extend my sympathy to Mr Graham, who is in the public gallery, and to all people who have lost their loved ones on Scotland's road network.

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con): Does the minister accept that although there have been no fatalities at the junction of the A90 and A937 since the junction improvements were instigated, the improvements were only ever likely to be temporary and the risk is still there? Further, has he considered my proposal for the inclusion of those junction improvements in the contracts for the Aberdeen western peripheral route?

Stewart Stevenson: I acknowledge that driving on Scotland's roads is not entirely risk free. That is why we focus on areas of particular concern and why we have taken the actions that we have with regard to the three junctions at Laurencekirk.

We will understand our financial situation next week when the cabinet secretary introduces budget proposals. I remind the chamber that our top priority in the strategic transport projects review for investment in our surface transport network was to act on safety concerns above economic and any other concerns. That will continue to be our priority after the budget.

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