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10 September 2008

S3M-2496 Ferry Services [Closing Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 10 September 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:00]

... ... ...

Ferry Services

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-2496, in the name of Patrick Harvie, on the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee's 4th report 2008, on ferry services in Scotland.

14:51

... ... ...

16:44

Stewart Stevenson: First, I welcome the fact that the number of Liberal Democrats shadowing me has doubled. Obviously, I presented a challenge to the previous single shadow spokesperson. I wish Ms McInnes and Mr Tolson well in their roles and every success short of actual victory.

The committee's report is a substantial piece of work that deserves a substantial debate in Parliament, and all who have participated this afternoon have made a substantial contribution to that debate. In the time available, I will try to pick up as many as possible of the points that have been made in the debate. I apologise if I do not cover them all, but there were a substantial number. Members can talk to me afterwards if they wish to pursue anything.

It is important to pick up Patrick Harvie's point about faster ferries, which was raised in a number of contributions. With faster ferries, there is a tension with the climate change agenda and the cost of fuel. Cutting a single knot off a vessel's steaming time can save as much as 10 per cent of the fuel bill, with a corresponding reduction in the carbon impact. Yes, we want more efficient vessels, but not necessarily in a way that will compromise other agendas. We will have to consider the subject carefully. I do not take a particular view on that at this stage, but it is important to put it on the record to inform all our thinking as we proceed.

Des McNulty made much of the 40 per cent discount scheme, which might have been thought up by the Labour Party in the immediate run-up to the election. Certainly, no steps were put in place to implement it. I do not apologise in any way for the road equivalent tariff scheme being an economic scheme. Of course it has huge social benefits, but it is central to the Government's purpose to improve the economy of Scotland.

Rob Gibson put the air discount scheme into context when he said that it was an excellent scheme for getting people off the islands to spend their money elsewhere. The road equivalent tariff scheme is based on getting more people on to the islands to spend their money there. We will of course monitor pilot and non-pilot routes to establish whether RET has had an adverse impact on areas that are not included in the pilot. We will do that on a monthly basis, with quarterly reporting, too.

In the Scottish Parliament information centre briefing that was made available to all members it is calculated that the subsidy to CalMac over the period 1996 to 2006 was only two thirds of the increase in the subsidy that went to the northern isles ferry service. One could argue that there is a rebalancing implicit in some of the RET interventions.

Alex Johnstone talked about unbundling and showed his enthusiasm for breaking up the network. Gavin Brown was correct to point out the risks of going down to route level. The review that we are undertaking is the opportunity to test the arguments on both sides. I remain someone whose instincts are to keep a single network and to keep CalMac as a fundamental player in it. However, I will be driven by the evidence and I want the review to test the arguments. The door is not shut, but it is not my hand on the handle that is opening it to changes, because I am coming from another direction.

Alex Johnstone made some points about the increase in subsidies. That has been driven by successive Administrations' agendas to seek to improve ferry services and the quality of the journey. Generally, that has meant bigger vessels with more capability, which are more expensive to build and operate. It is not surprising, and neither should it be a matter for adverse comment, that costs have risen.

This minister—and, I am perfectly content to accept, other ministers—has sought to put the users' and the communities' interests at the heart of ferry policy over a significant period.

Alison McInnes raised the issue of integration. I am happy to say that Transport Scotland and the relevant transport providers are considering what can be done to improve integration. If this were a subject for which there was a simple intervention, previous ministers would have made such an intervention. Each minister can make a contribution. We are seeking to provide further integration.

I will illustrate some of the difficulties that exist. Can anyone find the one sign at Waverley station that tells people where to catch a bus? There is one, but it took me six months to find it. Of course, I do not have responsibility for Waverley station—Network Rail does. I think that I have got the matter sorted, by the way. That is an example of how detailed interventions can often be required.

I should have said that the road equivalent tariff is a key benefit to businesses as well as to individuals.

Jamie McGrigor made several remarks, one of which related to Colonsay, and, in his closing speech, David Stewart quoted Andrew McGregor of Colonsay. I gently point out that the introduction of the air service from Oban to Colonsay is a significant investment in the island's infrastructure and a significant financial contribution to Colonsay's future economic health. I say that not to take anything away from ferry issues, but to point out that Colonsay has not been wholly ignored or neglected.

I thank Jamie McGrigor for adumbrating his oral parliamentary question for tomorrow; I will rewrite my response to it when I remember what it is. I take on board his comments about livestock, which are important.

I noticed that Liam McArthur wanted to compete with Alasdair Allan and got his blow in first; Liam McArthur has 18 inhabited islands, whereas poor Alasdair Allan has only 15, but ho-hum—there we are. Alyn Smith MEP's intervention, which he discussed with me beforehand, was helpful. Like him, I thought that it was time for the EU to put up or shut up. I hope that the issue will be laid to rest—it is important to do that. I confirm that my officials are talking to Orkney Islands Council.

I heard in the debate the longest advert for a private sector company that I have heard in my seven years in Parliament. It is clear that Pentland Ferries has a doughty advertising agency in Mary Scanlon.

I have travelled on many ferries throughout my life, several of which no longer operate, such as the service from Inverness to Eilean nam Muc; the Balblair service in the north of the Black Isle; the Kylesku free ferry, which has been replaced by a bridge; and the Connel ferry bridge, which was a railway bridge that was called a ferry.

Ferries are important to communities throughout Scotland. Being a part of the debate has been a privilege. I thank all who contributed to it. The Government has food for thought and I congratulate the committee.

16:52

S3M-2496 Ferry Services [Opening Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 10 September 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:00]

... ... ...

Ferry Services

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-2496, in the name of Patrick Harvie, on the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee's 4th report 2008, on ferry services in Scotland.

14:51

... ... ...

15:02

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): In responding to the outcome of the committee's inquiry, I was delighted to report that we are now pursuing our own comprehensive ferries review in Scotland, which will develop a long-term strategy for lifeline ferry services. Indeed, there is the urgency that the committee's convener looks for in our taking that forward. The review will, of course, be completed before there is a new contract. The evidence that was taken by the committee and the committee's recommendations—all valuable work—will be used to inform the review.

The review will include detailed consideration of funding, costs and affordability; procurement of lifeline ferry services; services and routes; fares; vessels; ports and harbours; accessibility; environmental issues; integration; lifeline air routes; and freight. It will also consider how lifeline ferry services should best be delivered, by which I mean that it will consider the correct split of responsibilities between the Scottish Government, local authorities, operators and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd. Of course, the review will also consider the issue of competition.

I have previously spoken out in support of CalMac and against the break-up of the ferry network. I remain supportive of the current structure. Nevertheless, I think that it is important to test whether the continued bundling of routes is the correct way forward. Therefore, the review will consider whether routes should be opened up to competition from commercial providers.

Arrangements are now being made to put in place a steering group for the review. We will invite representatives from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Highlands and Islands transport partnership, Strathclyde partnership for transport, Zetland transport partnership, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and others. The relevant councils, operators and other key stakeholders will also have the opportunity to participate in and contribute to the process.

On-board surveys on a number of ferry services—both private and those that are provided by us—have already started to capture initial data to inform the review. There will be a public consultation on the strategy next summer, and the review will conclude next autumn.

I met the boards of David MacBrayne Ltd and CalMac Ferries Ltd on 30 July. We had constructive discussions, and the board of David MacBrayne, which is responsible for CalMac and Northlink Ferries, looks forward to working with the Scottish Government to achieve early progress on adjusting timetables and frequency of services to better meet the needs of ferry users; improving communication and co-ordination between ferry, train and bus operators; promoting more effective consultation of ferry users by operators; improving accessibility of ferries and passenger facilities for those in our communities with mobility difficulties; and improving ferry operators' standards of service. The convener of the committee referred to many of those aspects in his speech.

I am delighted to say that we are responding to the agenda for speeding up some changes. In the short term, we have made a number of improvements to the current timetable for Clyde and Hebrides ferry services, resulting in CalMac recently announcing 13 changes to the timetable. As the convener requested, those changes are focused on achieving better integration with bus and rail services and improving connectivity for businesses.

However, one of the most important changes is a change to the Oban to Lismore service, which will allow school pupils to commute daily rather than having to live in hostels in Oban. Patrick Harvie also referred to that in his speech.

The winter timetable will also see CalMac carrying bicycles for free for the first time, which is a significant gesture in supporting green, sustainable travel and a welcome boost to that sector of the tourism market.

Those changes have all been made following consultation with the communities concerned and demonstrate the flexibility in the contract. We are able to make changes to the timetable and improve services to better meet the needs of ferry users.

The winter timetable will also see the introduction of the road equivalent tariff pilot. RET has been a long-standing objective of the Scottish National Party. We understand the genuine concerns from our remote and fragile communities about the affordability of ferry fares and the impact that those fares have on island economies. The SNP's manifesto contained a commitment to

"Commission a study into Road Equivalent Tariff (RET), reporting on options for improved connection to our Northern Isles and Western Isles by end of 2007."

Our manifesto also said:

"As part of this we will undertake a pilot project on RET to the Western Isles which will include support for freight and tourist journeys."

We are delivering on that manifesto commitment.

The RET pilot study, along with the ferries review, will consider the scope for rationalising fares and will also consider how fares adjustments can provide greater support for particularly vulnerable island communities.

I understand that the committee took the ferry from Rosyth to Zeebrugge during its investigations. The Scottish Government is working very closely with Forth Ports and others to identify an alternative commercial operator for the Rosyth to Zeebrugge route. We will continue to do everything possible to secure a successful outcome. There have been constructive discussions so far with potential operators. Those discussions are continuing as we look to find a commercial solution.

We are conscious of the importance of the Rosyth to Zeebrugge ferry route for freight and for passengers. We need a replacement ferry service that can satisfy the substantial freight and passenger markets that clearly exist. We appreciate the importance of providing early assurance to the freight, passenger and tourism markets. We are looking to secure a Rosyth to Zeebrugge service that is commercially viable and capable of growth and of enduring. We continue to work with the European Commission to seek a successful conclusion to its investigation into ferries in Scotland in general.

On the Clyde services, we are setting up tri-partite discussions with Argyll and Bute Council and Inverclyde Council to discuss how to deliver a town centre to town centre service between Gourock and Dunoon for passengers and vehicles that best meets the needs of the two communities. We continue to engage with the European Commission on the Gourock to Dunoon service to ensure that future services are compatible with European law.

The subject of services from Lochboisdale has been actively discussed of late, but any proposal that might exist for a standalone Lochboisdale to Mallaig service will require a dedicated vessel, which can only be acquired through an open and transparent procurement process. Typically, such processes can take a year or more to complete. It is important that I add that we will in no way consider solutions that would damage the accessibility of the mainland from Barra. The views of the people of Barra will be a very important consideration as we move forward on the issue.

With regard to the Mull of Kintyre, the assessment of the proposed ferry service between Campbeltown and Ballycastle under the Scottish transport appraisal guidance is nearly complete. Officials are working with the appointed consultants to ensure that the resulting report is available in time for them to put advice to me by the end of the month, and a similar process is happening in Northern Ireland. We value our communities, which is why successive Governments have continued to support vital lifeline ferry services.

I hope that it is clear from that update that the Government is taking a clear lead on ferry provision in Scotland. We are taking forward the committee's recommendations without delay. I thank members for the opportunity to debate this important subject, and I look forward to hearing members' contributions.

15:11

4 September 2008

S3M-2011 Planning Law (Enforcement)

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 4 September 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:00]

... ... ...

Planning Law (Enforcement)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-2011, in the name of Iain Smith, on the enforcement of planning legislation. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with concern the difficulties faced by planning authorities, such as Fife Council, in attempting to deal with breaches of planning legislation through enforcement and stop notices; considers that development without the appropriate planning approval undermines the rule of law and the planning process and that the present planning legislation does not provide a sufficient safeguard against unlawful development; believes that appeals against enforcement or stop notices should not be permitted on the grounds that planning permission for the development would have been granted or that a planning application for the development has been submitted; further believes that there should be a presumption against approval for any development that has been carried out without the appropriate planning approvals, and desires further debate on these proposals.

17:06

... ... ...

17:30

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I thank Iain Smith for providing us with the opportunity to debate this issue which, although it has not attracted the greatest participation or, indeed, the largest audience, is important to people throughout Scotland and which the Parliament engaged with in a broadly consensual way when we introduced the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006.

I will be unable to make any direct reference to the couple of examples that Iain Smith used in his speech. One of them, in particular, is still an active case and, as a minister, I cannot therefore make any remarks about it. Any remarks that I make will not be connected to the examples that were put before us, but I will use the kind of cases that Iain Smith discussed to illustrate the general points.

We are looking at regimes for licensing taxi offices, and there will be a taxi summit later this year. That will be part of helping to control that particular type of business, outwith the planning system.

Chris Harvie made some comments about supermarkets. I will use that as an excuse to illustrate our determination to respond to breaches of conditions when it is our responsibility to do so. There was a supermarket in Dundee that—as was well publicised in the local press at the time—was intent on opening before some very significant conditions were fulfilled. We became aware of that on a Friday morning, and at 2 o'clock the same day we were in court, successfully securing an interim interdict. The supermarket appealed on Saturday morning but lost the appeal. The company was unable to open that supermarket for a significant period of time as a result of our intervention and we were able to gain the remedies that we needed to ensure that the public interest was protected. Of course, it is my officials who do the work; the minister merely consents to it happening. I hope that that is the kind of response that we will see across Scotland, and that our actions will help to ensure that that happens.

Elaine Murray and Alex Johnstone made clear that the presumption to refuse would lead us into dangerous territory. Like them, we would like to see the 2006 act—over which we all laboured long and hard—settle down.

Elaine Murray asked why it is taking so long. My answer is that the secondary legislation is quite complex, Alex Johnstone's suggestion that planning is really very simple notwithstanding—in principle that is true, but in practice it is anything but. We are undertaking serious consultation processes on the matter, but we are not far off being in a position to bring almost everything forward.

We recognise that the lack of human resources in local authorities is a constraint. On a number of occasions we have engaged with the industry and planners and we are looking for ways forward, although it is clear that that will not remedy the situation in the very short term because we cannot magic more human resources out of nowhere.

There are people who abuse the system. I think that the new provisions will make a significant difference to how those people are treated. The 2006 act expands and enhances the range of powers that are available to planning authorities. The introduction of fixed-penalty notices will provide an alternative to the lengthy process of seeking a prosecution if a developer fails to comply with an enforcement notice.

I assure members that it is our intention that the financial penalties will be significant enough to change behaviours. We have heard concerns in the consultation about the proposed level of fines. We continue to consider our response.

Temporary stop notices have been mentioned. They will enable immediate intervention and provide part of the remedy that today's debate has touched on. It is clear from the consultation that there has to be one exception: a temporary stop notice is not the appropriate intervention when it applies to someone's sole residence. That creates an issue when the sole residence is a caravan, but we have to strike a balance and we will bring forward further material on the subject later.

We are in full agreement on appeals against enforcement notices on the ground that planning permission ought to be granted. Mr Smith should note that provision was made in the 2006 act to repeal that ground for appeal. The provision will be implemented in due course.

At first glance, some of the proposals that have been made look attractive, but I think that it is appropriate to wait for things to settle down.

It has been suggested that most of the instances that we are talking about are accidental misunderstandings rather than deliberate actions. The deliberate will pay much higher prices in future. There is an element of unfairness in the present system, because people can bypass its requirements. The changes will mean that if someone applies for planning permission after they have completed a development, they will still have to go through all the same processes. Development without permission will no longer be a potential shortcut to achieving planning consent. That is appropriate.

We must also ensure that the use of powers remains at the discretion of planning authorities. We are clear in the Government that local decision making should lead on local issues, and planning is predominantly a local issue. I am confident that planning authorities will have the tools to provide fair, effective and efficient enforcement of the planning system. In doing so, they will help us to create a modernised planning system that will be trusted by everyone who is affected by planning and development and which will support the development of our communities and economy throughout Scotland.

Meeting closed at 17:37.

3 September 2008

S3M-2148 A92 (Upgrading)

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 3 September 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

... ... ...

A92 (Upgrading)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-2148, in the name of Ted Brocklebank, on the upgrading of the A92. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament supports the campaign to dual the A92 from Glenrothes to the Melville Lodge roundabout in north east Fife and as a priority to upgrade the Parbroath junction, which is the only major intersection between Kirkcaldy and Dundee without a roundabout; commends the efforts of local people campaigning to upgrade the section between Preston roundabout and Balfarg junction, and notes that in terms of accidents the A92 is one of the most dangerous roads in Scotland with over 600 accidents in the last five years.

17:02

... ... ...

17:31

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I thank Ted Brocklebank for lodging the motion and giving members the opportunity to debate the A92.

Although I had no personal contact with John MacDougall, I join others in respecting the contribution that he made to political life in a different tradition from my own. I have heard from others that, as an individual and as a campaigner for the people whom he represented, he was a doughty man. Mesothelioma—the terrible disease that John suffered from—has been an issue close to my heart and one on which I have contributed in previous sessions.

There are always difficulties when we talk about numbers, and we have heard several different figures this evening. I most closely recognised the numbers that Iain Smith used, which came from the Scottish Parliament information centre briefing. We heard a reference to 600 accidents on the A92; I should stress that that reference covers the road all the way to Stonehaven, including the part of the road that is not a trunk road, north of the bridge.

The figures that I have suggest that, from New Inn to the south end of the Tay bridge, four people have been killed and 27 have been seriously injured in the past five years. None of the arguments that we might have about figures is intended to relieve us of the obligation to consider the important issue of safety on the A92, but we need to ensure that the numbers are in perspective.

I know that Ted Brocklebank has been engaged in the issue before. In 2006, he raised the issues of road signs and street lighting at Parbroath. Since the work that he promoted has been done, there has been a single accident with a slight injury in 18 months. If I may link that to some of Iain Smith's comments, that illustrates that we can, with relatively simple and quick interventions, make some significant improvements.

Ted Brocklebank: I do not want to cavil too much over exact figures, but from checking with Fife Constabulary this afternoon my understanding is that there have been significant accidents—although no fatalities—at the Parbroath junction in each of the past five years.

Stewart Stevenson: We could have a debate about that, but I do not want to fall out with members on the subject of numbers. The accident record, both serious and fatal, appears to be declining. If there are different numbers, I will be happy to engage on them with members after the debate.

Rather than get unduly hung up on that issue, let us turn to the substance of the matter. I have met Tricia Marwick and I hope to meet Claire Baker shortly—I understand that we have been able to rearrange that meeting fairly quickly. The first priority of our approach to road transport is to maintain and operate safely our strategic networks. Our second priority is to make use of existing capacity and our third is to proceed with targeted new infrastructure developments. Giving safety considerations primacy when we make our investment decisions represents a sensible and prudent approach to the allocation of scarce resources.

Across the piece, the road might be safe or it might be dangerous but, as with many roads, there are localised areas where safety is an issue and where the architecture or the design of the road contributes to the problems that lead to accidents. Two thirds of accidents are caused primarily by drivers, but that is a result of their interacting with the architecture of our roads.

We know that many organisations are involved in improving road safety. Our strategic road safety plan sets out how the Scottish Government works with the police, local authorities and organisations such as Road Safety Scotland further to improve safety on Scotland's roads. I pay tribute to all their efforts.

The statistics that were published last month revealed that 282 people were killed on Scotland's roads last year—that is the lowest figure since recording started, and it compares with a figure of 308 for the previous year, but it is still too high. For the relatives, friends and families of the victim, every such death is a 100 per cent tragedy, and neither for me nor, I believe, for anyone who is present this evening is it simply a statistic.

A number of changes have been made in the Glenrothes area. The geometry of the Balfarg junction has been improved, as have facilities for pedestrians, and anti-skid surfacing has been put in place. The A92 route action management plan reported in 2004, and centre hatching, red surfacing, bollards and improved signs have been put in place along the whole length of the route. Resurfacing and central island hardening are planned at the Redhouse roundabout during this financial year. Such measures, along with a range of smaller-scale improvements, play an important role in improving road safety without detracting from longer-term aspirations to deliver more significant interventions.

We believe that strategic transport links are critical to the achievement of the Government's central purpose. We fully recognise the kingdom of Fife's contribution to the economy of Scotland and the need for the people who live there to have every opportunity to gain from the improvement efforts that are made there.

The strategic transport projects review, which is about not just roads but all means of surface transport, will be concluded shortly, so I have no rabbits to pull out of the hat tonight. We have engaged in the drafting of the summary report and an announcement will be made in the not-too-distant future. Lord James Douglas-Hamilton was involved in the process; indeed, I think that all former ministers have had something to say on the matter. The accident count appears to be coming down.

Tricia Marwick asked whether I would consider reviewing the Balfarg and Cadham junctions. I am certainly prepared to have Transport Scotland assess whether some quick improvements could be made at those points. In a measured speech, Iain Smith highlighted the speed limit in Freuchie, where I acknowledge that there are difficult junctions, and mentioned the possibility of additional roundabouts. We will take all that on board.

Fife makes a significant contribution to the country's economy. That will be reflected in the opening later this year of the upper Forth crossing and it is reflected, too, in our commitment to provide a Forth replacement crossing, without which Fife would undoubtedly suffer severe economic impact. I have listened carefully to what has been said in the debate and will take away a great deal of it as food for thought. We will continue to make the upgrades that we are able to make as quickly as we can. The strategic transport projects review covers the ten years from 2012 to 2022, but there are some measures that we can take in the meantime.

Meeting closed at 17:39.

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