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27 September 2007

Statement: Edinburgh Airport Rail Links

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): The next item of business is a statement by Stewart Stevenson on rail links to Edinburgh airport. The minister will take questions at the end of the statement; therefore, there should be no interventions.

15:00

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Our vision for rail services between Edinburgh and Glasgow in 10 years is for services that are faster, more frequent, more reliable and more attractive than those we have today, but we can also deliver other real improvements much more quickly.

We will deliver a rail network that will link easily to the airports at Edinburgh, Glasgow and Prestwick, and which will also provide access to both city centres from points between and fast end-to-end journeys between the cities. The journey time between our two great cities will be reduced to about 35 minutes, which will give us the options of running six trains an hour and opening up direct connections between Edinburgh Park and Glasgow. It is our aim to deliver a scheme that will connect the rail network to Edinburgh airport for less than a third of the cost of the risky Edinburgh airport rail link proposal. We will deliver a new station at Gogar earlier than Audit Scotland believed EARL could be delivered.

Today's statement builds on the high-level output statement that we made in July and tells how we intend to enhance the rail network in order to deliver a number of our manifesto commitments for rail. It also, of course, addresses our work on the governance of the EARL project. Over the summer, we considered the future of EARL. I will remind members what the EARL project proposed: It proposed tunnelling under a live operational runway, diverting a river and tunnelling underneath it and constructing a sub-surface railway. Projects of such complexity and risk profile demand clear and co-ordinated governance, but Audit Scotland told us that the project does not have that.

We know that Network Rail will not take on the tunnel project, we know that the BAA Limited will not take on the tunnel project, and we know that the gradient of the slope out of the tunnel is such that it cannot be climbed quickly by any train in Scotland's fleet. Some have paid Transport Scotland the compliment of suggesting that it should take responsibility that Network Rail will not take by finding a contractor and managing the project. However, that would be hugely distracting from Transport Scotland's core mission, and it would transfer the very substantial and uncapped risks to the public purse. There is simply no sensible way for the Edinburgh airport rail link to proceed in its original form.

However, we still need good public transport access to the airport in order to encourage fewer people to drive there. We must provide such access more imaginatively and less riskily. We will provide a rail connection to the airport at a fraction of the cost of EARL and without the high risk and disbenefits that came with EARL. We will improve, not worsen the reliability and journey times of rail travel across Scotland, as was likely to be the case with the diversion of existing services through a steep tunnel under the airport. Our vision will provide improved connectivity not only at the airport, but throughout the rail network.

We propose a simple, straightforward and integrated solution that will build on the existing rail routes that surround the airport. We plan to add an airport station at Gogar on the Fife railway line, which will provide an interchange with Edinburgh's trams and rail access to the airport. The tram is already planned to stop at Edinburgh Park, which will provide rail travellers from Stirling, Dunblane and the new Airdrie to Bathgate route with an easy interchange to the airport. The new station at Gogar will allow passengers from Fife and further north to access the airport easily and quickly, with no need to travel into the city centre, as they do now. It will also allow faster access to the fast-growing west Edinburgh business area. With up to 30,000 jobs being created in that area over the coming decades, such provision is vital.

Our proposed connection with the trams demonstrates the Government's ability to look forward and leverage the provision of £500 million in financial support that we have agreed for the City of Edinburgh Council's tram project.

We intend also to build a rail link between the Fife railways and the Edinburgh to Glasgow routes—the Dalmeny chord—that will allow Edinburgh and Glasgow trains to stop at the new airport station. The station will be a transport hub that will provide as much connectivity as the previous proposal for an airport station, but with the inclusion of a link to the tram too, and without the time penalty of a tunnel. Our proposal will be on a similar timescale to EARL, but without the risks. Rail passengers from most of the country will be able to access the airport via one easy interchange using up to six trams per hour.

Our proposals are not just about airport links, important though those are. The new airport station and the Dalmeny chord will cost about one third of the estimated cost of EARL. We plan to invest the savings from EARL—and more—in improving rail services for the many thousands of other rail passengers who travel into Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Transport Scotland has worked with Network Rail and First ScotRail to identify the options that could be progressed to improve rail links between Edinburgh and Glasgow. I have considered the options that are set out in the study and have decided that the best approach for passengers and taxpayers is to make a step change in the existing routes by providing an electrified railway between Edinburgh and Glasgow and many places beyond. That will deliver faster and more reliable services that will cost less to operate and produce lower carbon emissions.

We know that emissions from transport have been moving in the wrong direction, so it is key that our transport decisions address that. Our vision is of an electrified network of rail routes between Edinburgh and Glasgow stretching up as far as Dunblane, Alloa and Cumbernauld. That will provide a rail network that is carbon-proofed for the future and which will provide a sustainable, attractive and reliable alternative to the car.

With investment over 10 years, we anticipate providing sufficient capacity to support frequency of service between Edinburgh and Glasgow of up to six trains per hour. We aim to provide an attractive mix of express services and intermediate calls that link with Edinburgh airport via a short tram ride. The express services will reduce journey times to around 35 minutes between the two cities. The additional capacity will ease the commute for people who access the city centres from intermediate stations and from Stirling and Dunblane.

The extra capacity will also allow trains from Glasgow to stop at Edinburgh Park, which will support businesses and make an impression on the growing levels of traffic in the west of Edinburgh. We will also create a considerable step change in the number of services from Glasgow Central station to Edinburgh. We will improve the connections from the south and west of Glasgow and from Prestwick and Glasgow airport through to Edinburgh.

This will, of course, be a long-term investment, which will be implemented through a staged programme. We will build on the line-speed improvements that Network Rail plans to deliver in the coming year and on the programme of improvements to station facilities and customer information that the franchise is already delivering. Passengers who live or work to the south of Glasgow will see improvements over the next two to three years, with an extra 300 seats each hour from Glasgow Central to Edinburgh. From December 2010, the opening of the new Airdrie to Bathgate route will provide four more rail services each hour between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Around the same time as we expect the tram to come on stream—with rail interchanges at Haymarket, Edinburgh Park and the new airport station at Gogar—we expect to have electrified services on the Cumbernauld route, the completion of the Airdrie to Bathgate link, more frequent and faster services via Glasgow Central station and an improved interchange station at Bellgrove. All that should be delivered in time for hosting the Commonwealth Games—if our bid is successful, as I hope it will be—which will make it easier for people from all over Scotland to access the games.

We will deliver the service improvements through the rail franchise, and we look to Network Rail to reflect the infrastructure investment in its forthcoming strategic business plan.

I am convinced that we need to start investing now in electrification and capacity to meet our needs for the next 10 to 15 years, and I want to keep under review whether further improvements beyond that will be justified. Transport Scotland will continue its multimodal assessment of transport investment needs throughout Scotland. Longer-term options, such as an even faster rail route, will be fed back into the overall strategic transport projects review alongside other road, bus and rail options, including improved rail connections across Glasgow and further improvements to services from Inverness and Aberdeen and between.

Today I have set out an ambitious, credible and deliverable alternative to EARL. We believe that our programme for investment in rail will provide a major boost to the wealth of Scotland and its long term sustainability. The investment will use tried and tested technology and rolling stock, and will still provide easily accessible rail connections to Edinburgh airport. It will also complement rather than compete with the tram.

In summary, we shall take forward a comprehensive improvement to central Scotland's rail services. We will provide a station at Gogar, which will provide an effective interchange from rail to Edinburgh airport, and we will provide a significant improvement in the connections between Edinburgh and Glasgow from today's five or six services each hour, with a fastest journey time of 50 minutes, up to 13 services each hour with a fastest journey time of around 35 minutes.

Those are strong proposals for the future of Scotland and I urge Parliament to give them full support.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The minister will now take questions on the issues that have been raised in his statement. I intend to allow 10 minutes for questions of clarification only. After that, I will move to the next item of business. It would be helpful if members who wish to ask a question for clarification were to press their request-to-speak buttons now.

Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central) (Lab): Will the minister clarify whether there will be any requirement for new land to implement the options that he suggests; where the land is; whether it is in the ownership of Scottish ministers; and whether there will be a requirement for any demolition of buildings along the routes?

Secondly, will he clarify what the capacity implications will be for Edinburgh Waverley and Haymarket stations? Will extra investment be required and will that be the same investment as was supported in the SNP's manifesto?

Stewart Stevenson: It is likely that new land will be needed at Gogar, although the exact site has not yet been determined—it might be north or south of the road, as we have two options to consider. There is potential for demolition associated with the Dalmeny chord.

As the member knows, Waverley currently has 24 paths an hour, which will shortly rise to 28 paths an hour, based on the work that is being undertaken there. The programme that I have outlined is consistent with that capacity, but as Sarah Boyack knows, we want to consider more ways of increasing capacity at Waverley, given its strategic position in the centre of our capital city.

Christine Grahame (South of Scotland) (SNP): As someone who was on the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill Committee, I commend the minister on his sensible and prudent announcement. There was a myth promulgated by the Liberal Democrats—that the cancellation of the EARL project would impact negatively on the proposed Borders railway. I ask the minister to clarify that it would do exactly the opposite and that if we were to proceed with EARL, it would impact negatively on the funding for that very important line.

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the member for her congratulations and accept them with a glad heart. I assure the member that cancelling EARL will have no implications of any kind for the Borders rail link. As she will know, due diligence—which is aimed at transferring the authorised undertaker role from the partnership to Transport Scotland—continues and will conclude shortly.

Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD): As the constituency member for Edinburgh West, I welcome the minister's surprising commitment to the central importance of the tram—even prior to the final business case being made.

The minister claims that BAA will not take on the tunnel project. Will he say whether he has met BAA and whether it supports the original EARL scheme and is content about the tunnelling option, and whether he has received a letter from BAA that says so? What impact will his alternative EARL project have on modal shift?

Stewart Stevenson: Margaret Smith should know that we accepted the will of Parliament and what all parties, apart from the SNP, voted for on 27 June. The trams are therefore properly integrated into the plans that I have put forward today.

I confirm that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth met BAA and that it will not take responsibility for the tunnel.

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con): The minister made it clear in broad-brush terms that considerable gains could be achieved on both cost and timescale by pursuing the project that he has outlined today as an alternative to the EARL project. Can he better quantify the likely cash savings and timescale reductions?

Stewart Stevenson: Our preliminary estimates suggest that rather than the £600 million or so budget for the existing EARL project, we are looking at a budget of about £200 million. Our intention is to reinvest the money that will be liberated by that saving in supporting transport right across the centre of Scotland. That, of course, will augment the work on improving journey times to Inverness, to Aberdeen and to Fife, so we are looking not only at the central belt. Rather than focus the expenditure only on EARL, our approach will help us to spread the benefits across Scotland for the benefit of far more people.

Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): I thank the minister for an advance copy of his statement—there was a shortage of copies among Labour members, but my colleagues were able to follow the statement in Tuesday's edition of The Scotsman.

It is two years to the day since I won the Cathcart by-election for Labour. I trust that the minister will come to appreciate the fearful symmetry in that before the afternoon is out.

I will ask him three brief questions. In June, Parliament instructed the Scottish Government to sort out the governance issues within EARL. Has it done so? If not, why not? If it has, why ignore the will of Parliament, if EARL has now been strengthened? Will the minister tell us the estimated capital cost of each individual item in his statement? In March, when Parliament enacted the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill, it conferred on EARL's promoters deemed planning permission and the right of compulsory purchase of land for 10 years. Will he seek to repeal the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Act 2007?

Stewart Stevenson: I belatedly congratulate Charlie Gordon on becoming the member for Cathcart, although the history of that by-election is not something that I had imagined he would bring to the attention of Parliament.

Parliament asked us to address issues of governance—we have done so and we have established that the very real difficulties that were identified by the Auditor General could not be resolved. We have spoken to the stakeholders, as I said, and it is perfectly clear that the difficulties are not resolvable and that it is not safe to proceed with the EARL proposal as it is. Charlie Gordon referred to the passage of the EARL bill in March. Its passage merely enabled the project—it did not require it. It is perfectly proper that a new Administration should look at it again. We have.

The EARL project is not safe. Our proposals will deliver more for more people in Scotland and will do so more cost effectively and without risk to the public purse.

Shirley-Anne Somerville (Lothians) (SNP): A major factor in the development of any public transport project must be the encouragement of the maximum number of people out of their cars. Can the minister detail how his proposals will increase the number of people who use Scotland's trains? As his proposals are directed at improving not only the links to Edinburgh airport but the wider rail network, can he tell us how many commuters and leisure travellers from across Scotland will benefit from today's announcement?

Stewart Stevenson: Our proposals will benefit approximately two thirds of people in Scotland, which is a large number. I share Shirley-Anne Somerville's concern about getting people out of cars. The $200 barrel of oil will be with us some time in the next 10 or 15 years or so—it is coming. As the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change, I am interested in the benefits to carbon emissions reduction of electrifying so much of our rail network, which I announced earlier. People will shift out of cars and on to trains because of the frequency and speed of trains, so we are dramatically increasing their frequency and speed between our two major cities and beyond. In addition, the rolling stock will be more up to date, which will make it a quieter and better neighbour.

As well as supporting the surface transport needs of Edinburgh airport, we are creating a package of services that will undoubtedly be more attractive to more people. As I said in my statement, they will address, in particular, issues that affect west Edinburgh, where the rapidly growing numbers of offices and office workers will require the provision of high-quality and effective surface transport in the public sector.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): I welcome the many references to climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions.

Following the previous question, can the minister clarify the meaning of that part of his statement where he said that

"we still need good public transport access to the airport in order to encourage fewer people to drive there."?

The minister will be well aware that the most significant carbon emissions do not result from surface trips to the airport, but from the trips that happen after we get to the airport. Are we looking at a form of transport that will increase the numbers who access the airport, or are we looking at an alternative? If it is the latter, by how much will road traffic trips to the airport be reduced and when?

Stewart Stevenson: Edinburgh airport has one of the highest proportions of people who go by car to an airport to travel by air. Our proposals are focused on making the public transport options far more attractive; they are not, in any direct sense, about increasing the numbers who go to Edinburgh airport. However, I say to Patrick Harvie that air travel is an important part of our overall economy, so we must address carbon emissions from air travel. We, with the United Kingdom Government, seek to have air travel included in European targets on emissions—we support the UK Government on that.

We also support moves that would ensure that airlines use fuel more efficiently. I have heard encouraging ideas on that; for example, Virgin Atlantic did a pilot in which aircraft were towed out to the take-off point, which achieved a reduction of 5 tonnes of fuel per flight. Many things can be done to reduce carbon emissions and the Government will continue to work with partners to ensure that we address the carbon dioxide agenda.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I call Iain Smith and I apologise to the seven members whom I have been unable to call.

Iain Smith (North East Fife) (LD): One of the things that the minister could do to reduce carbon emissions would be to have trains stop at the place where people want to go. What is it that this Government has got in for the people of Fife that it will deny us a direct link to Edinburgh airport? Furthermore, I do not think that the minister answered Bill Butler's question, although it is important for him to do so. The minister was instructed by Parliament to resolve the governance issues relating to EARL and he has said today that he could not resolve them. What were the problems that could not be resolved? Why is the Government not competent to resolve them?

Stewart Stevenson: Mr Smith may be slightly unwise in his approach to the statement. The governance problems existed when his party was in office. We have addressed the issues and come forward with a credible, affordable and lower-risk solution that addresses requirements. [Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order.

Stewart Stevenson: I say to Iain Smith that claims were made that the EARL scheme would provide people across Scotland with access to Edinburgh airport by means of 62 stations. I have good news for him: the number has just risen.

26 September 2007

S3M-459 Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S3M-459, in the name of Mike Rumbles, on the Aberdeen western peripheral route.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with concern the pledge given in writing by the First Minister on 15 June 2007 to abide by the findings of the public inquiry into the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) and ensure that the project is not financed by PPP/PFI funding; further notes with concern reports that the Scottish Government will make no statement on its intended method of financing the AWPR until after the public inquiry is completed; expresses its concern at the year's delay for the estimated completion of the project that was announced in June 2007 by the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change; recognises the importance of the AWPR to the economy of the north east, and believes that clarification should be given as a matter of urgency on how the project will be financed.

17:15

... ... ...

17:56

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I thank members for their generous help in identifying the issues that I should address. I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight on the issues raised by the motion. However, I start by reiterating what I said to Parliament on 27 June:

"The Aberdeen western peripheral route is vital to the north-east and we are committed to its delivery."—[Official Report, 27 June 2007; c 1131.]

I am delighted that support remains broad based in Parliament and elsewhere, with the exception of the principled and consistent objections from Patrick Harvie. I understand where he is coming from. Richard Baker significantly understated the benefit of the road. It has a cost benefit ratio of in excess of 5:1. The benefit is well in excess of £1 billion, which is why the Government and others recognise the critical importance of the road to the north-east.

Lewis Macdonald: On 30 June 2007, Alex Salmond told the Aberdeen Evening Express:

"I can tell you that the bypass will definitely be built, subject to the public inquiry."

In light of what the minister has said about the SNP's commitment to the road, what does that qualifying phrase

"subject to the public inquiry"

really mean?

Stewart Stevenson: I will come back to planning issues a wee bit later.

I agreed with almost everything that Lewis Macdonald said. It made absolute sense. I only disagree with some of his conclusions.

On the subject of the timetable, it is bizarre to imagine that, when I inquired early in this Administration about where the project stood, I should have masochistically decided to postpone a project of such value to my constituents and to the constituents of other members. That is not what happened. I simply announced where the project was when I found it.

Mike Rumbles: That announcement came after Alex Salmond wrote to my constituent and to the Road Sense campaign. The minister took that decision once Alex Salmond had told him that the project could not proceed, so he should not give us that story.

Stewart Stevenson: I took no decision. I announced how the project was when I found it on taking office. I give the assurance that funding issues will not delay the project further. That is the important point.

We are making progress and have published draft compulsory purchase orders to take the project forward. There were 8,000 responses to the previous orders and there may be more to the new ones. That means a PLI, which will inevitably take time—time that should have been provided for in the schedule.

The inquiry will examine objections to the draft orders, hear evidence for and against the proposals and report to ministers. It is important that ministers carefully consider the implications of the inquiry's findings, which will be central to the way forward. Members know that it would not be proper for me to make any comment on the detail of planning decisions that will come before the Government.

I turn now to the funding vehicle for the scheme, which is at the core of Mr Rumbles's discontent. The previous Administration suggested PFI. In opposition and now in government, we have consistently stated that we want to examine a mechanism to deliver better, more efficient infrastructure for taxpayers than PFI can deliver. We have now started work on the Scottish futures trust initiative. At its core, it retains the essence of long-term funding and long-term repayment but at significantly lower interest rate costs. We will consult on the trust when we are ready to do so and publish information at that time. However, I can tell members that its purpose is to reduce the cost of borrowing and increase affordability so that, every year, we will have more money available for Scotland's priorities.

On PFI, it is passing strange that—of all people—it should be a member of the Liberal Democrats who lodges such a motion. I will gently read a few quotations to Mr Rumbles.

"Bonds are a perfectly good way of raising funds for capital investment. It does not have to be done through PFI."—[Official Report, House of Commons, 23 May 2007; Vol 460, c 1372.]

Those are the words of Norman Lamb, a Liberal MP.

Bob Russell, another Liberal Democrat MP, said of PFI contracts:

"They tend to end up costing the public purse more—mortgaging future generations with huge debts".—[Official Report, House of Commons, 25 July 2006; Vol 449, c 830.]

Matthew Taylor, speaking at the Lib Dems' conference when he was shadow chancellor, said:

"Liberal democrats oppose this dogma".

We will have no more of that dogma from Mr Rumbles.

Mike Rumbles: Has Stewart Stevenson heard of devolution?

Stewart Stevenson: I have heard of devolution and that is why we will do things differently. If Mr Rumbles disagrees with his Liberal colleagues, he should be honest about it—as I have been about the timetable that I inherited from a Liberal minister.

Mike Rumbles rose—

Stewart Stevenson: I have no more time.

Mr Rumbles suggests that we need to decide now on funding; actually, we have to decide about funding at the point at which we need it, and we will do that. The local inquiry is the important thing that we have to get through. It will consider the proposed routes and the compulsory purchase orders; it will not be about the funding mechanism.

We need a robust procurement strategy and good management of the project, but it is important that we keep our options open to deliver best value. In the meantime, we are trying to bring forward as much work as we can. On the northern section, we have people on the ground working on the project. We are making the acquisitions that will pave the way to support this vital road for Aberdeen. We are proceeding with the planning process. We are clearly underlining our commitment to getting on with the project practically and undogmatically.

The benefits that the scheme will bring to Aberdeen and the north-east are considerable. It will represent a highly significant and important investment in the area by the Scottish Government. Decisions on procurement of such a large investment will be taken at the appropriate time. We continue to take steps to ensure that the project delivers best value for the Scottish taxpayer.

Meeting closed at 18.04.

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