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17 June 2010

S3M-6195 Glasgow's Subway

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 17 June 2010

[The Presiding Officer opened the meeting at 09:15]
... ... ...
Glasgow's Subway


The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-6195, in the name of Pauline McNeill, on securing the future of Glasgow's subway.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes Strathclyde Partnership for Transport's decision to go ahead with its modernisation plan; recognises the important role that the subway plays in Glasgow's transport infrastructure and its significance to Scotland, carrying an estimated 14 million passengers annually; notes that this will be the first major investment project for the service since the 1970s, and hopes that the proposals receive the support that they need to go ahead and that the modernisation keeps Glasgow moving into the future.

17:09
... ... ...
17:51

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

It is true that we are discussing the clockwork orange, but this one is a little less toxic than the cinematic version. It is clear that members throughout the chamber are deeply in love with this little toy train in Glasgow.

For Charlie Gordon's benefit, I say that, as a minister, I have travelled on Glasgow's subway on a number of occasions. Indeed, I travelled by train from Edinburgh to Glasgow Queen Street station and then by subway, wearing my dickey bow tie and full evening gear, to speak at a dinner in Glasgow, and I returned by the same method, without more than 60 or so Glaswegians attempting to make fun of my garb. That is less than the usual number, but people in Glasgow are gallus, engaging and very distinctive, and we can apply that description equally to the Glasgow underground.

Pauline McNeill referred to the record number of 69,000 people who used the underground during the last papal visit. I have seen that we are going to have to find parking for nearly 1,600 buses for the next one, and that is only the first indication of the issues that will engage Glasgow police, Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government during the months of preparation for the papal visit in September.

Pauline McNeill also talked about the modernisation of working practices, and it might be worth making the point to Robert Brown that no one drives the trains in the subway. The people who are at the front of the trains are there simply to open and close the doors. However, there are successful examples of improving and modernising working practices.

Pauline McNeill referred to a request from SPT for £6 million a year from the Government for 10 years to pay the interest on the money for the modernisation work. I should point out that, during our discussions, it emerged that the necessary funding would be £6 million a year for 30 years. However, we should not place too much emphasis on that as an inhibitor to making progress.

The issue of the operating hours of the subway was referred to by a number of members.

Sandra White referred to the need for a smart card system. I have talked to SPT about that. We are already using the international ITSO standard for the card for the bus concession scheme. We are extending its use, and it is being used in the smart card pilot on the ScotRail system between Edinburgh and Glasgow. I recently wrote to one of my opposite numbers at Westminster who is engaged with the subject of smart cards, and I suggested that the logical thing to do would be to adopt what is an international standard and a card that is capable of carrying a significant number of different services. For example, the card could be a library card for local authorities. Indeed, it could carry commercial services, as well as enable people to access and pay for public services. There is momentum behind that.

Patricia Ferguson quite astonished me, I have to say. She is wearing much better than I thought she was. I did not realise that she was old enough to remember the previous system. She is wearing her years well. I am afraid that, although I am pretty confident that I am substantially in advance of her in years, I came to the subway post its modernisation 30 years ago.

Patricia Ferguson: I point out to the minister that I did mention that I found the subway interesting as a child.

Stewart Stevenson: Indeed. No discourtesy of any kind was intended. Anything that I said was meant to be a compliment rather than a discourtesy. I ask the member to be absolutely confident about that.

Bob Doris talked about the tourist and conference market and made an interesting point. When most of us go to a strange city, we sniff out the local transport options, because we tend not to have taken a car with us. We tend to travel by public transport, whereas at home things might be different. Bob Doris said—I paraphrase—that the subway needs TLC. I wish that I had had an opportunity to walk through the tunnels at midnight. I hope that somebody is listening. You never know. There is probably a gap in my diary somewhere.

Pauline McNeill: It could be arranged.

Stewart Stevenson: Yes—I have a suspicion.

Bob Doris also mentioned governance issues at SPT. I will not say much about that. Whatever concerns we have about that, I think that we can successfully detach the subject of the subway from any governance issues that remain to be dealt with. We will, of course, keep an eye on them.

I am slightly cautious about alternative ownership options, because I am conscious that, in changing the ownership structure of our ferry companies, we incurred a substantial tax bill when we transferred assets from one company to another. My memory is that the bill was of the order of £11 million. Although there is something to be looked at there, we need to be cautious and ensure that we get value for money.

Bill Aitken had his schoolboy reminiscences as well, and talked about mathematics, which is a subject that is relatively close to my heart.

Robert Brown made the important point that the Government has a role in facilitating SPT's access to capital while not creating an unnecessary burden on central Government. That is exactly the kind of engagement that we are having with the subway. It might often just be a question of guarantors or the visibility of Government engagement—we will see.

Gil Paterson loves our subway. I hope that he loves other people as well. Patrick Harvie correctly pointed to the distinctiveness of the Glasgow subway, which creates its charm. Charlie Gordon pointed to the thrawn nature of the Glaswegians who would not give up the name that they treasured. Fibre optic technology is, of course, important. Christopher Harvie bravely navigated away from the subject several times but always came back. I admire that utterly.

It is too early for the Government to give a commitment to support the project financially, but I assure members that we will continue to work closely with SPT to ensure that all the options have been explored on financing, on the technical issues and on the best way in which to deliver and manage Glasgow's subway, so that it can continue for a long time to come to provide a vital transport service to Glasgow, the west of Scotland and people from further afield.

Meeting closed at 17:59.

9 June 2010

S3M-6227 Hill Tracks (Scottish Uplands)

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 9 June 2010

[The Presiding Officer opened the meeting at 14:00]
... ... ..
Hill Tracks (Scottish Uplands)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-6227, in the name of Peter Peacock, on hill tracks in the Scottish uplands. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with concern the number of engineered hill tracks appearing in the Scottish uplands, particularly in the Highlands; notes that such tracks can be constructed without planning consent when justified as being for agricultural, forestry or repair purposes; further notes the growing number of concerns from hill walkers, ramblers and mountaineers and members of the wider public about the intrusion of these tracks into the natural landscape and the impact on otherwise wild land; considers that, given the importance of the Scottish uplands for current and future generations, this warrants greater scrutiny of proposals for such tracks within the planning system; recognises the legitimate rights of farmers and crofters to continue to construct tracks for their purposes on what will generally be lower-lying land than considered to be a problem in this context; notes that Heriot-Watt University reported on these issues in March 2007, and would welcome the urgent mapping of tracks by reviewing current knowledge of track location and control provisions and consideration of future possibilities for greater control of developing hill tracks and the criteria under which any greater controls might operate.

17:02
... ... ...
17:36

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

I join other members in thanking Peter Peacock for bringing the important issue of hill tracks in the Scottish uplands to Parliament. Several members have said that the issue has been around for a few years. It may be worth making the point that, as long ago as 1984, a study by Watson demonstrated that there were 1,151km of new vehicle tracks in the Grampians alone between 1960 and 1982.

The achievement of the appropriate balance between aesthetics, environmental impacts and the economic needs of those who live and work in our remote and upland areas has run through the debate. It is right that those things should be focused on. Sarah Boyack in particular rightly left open the option of dealing with the issue in a range of ways. Some of us thought that Arthur's Seat lies in her constituency, although we are open to correction if we have not properly understood where the boundaries are. The topic can be relevant even in areas in the centres of our cities. We should not think that we are talking simply about the top of the Cairngorms, west Sutherland or our remote areas.

Peter Peacock rightly referred to the substantial alliance of interests—the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, the John Muir Trust, Ramblers Scotland and others—that value our open country. Of course, a balance must be struck even there. The proportion of Scotland that is now within reach of vehicular transport is much greater than it used to be. That is a benefit for those who exercise access rights in our countryside, but it potentially comes at a cost, of course.

Peter Peacock said that there is ambiguity in the current arrangements. That is absolutely correct. The issue is not simply a planning and permitted development rights issue. It is not particularly well known that, by law, most hill tracks should be subject to environmental impact assessments.

One thing that the Government is seeking to do is to engage with the owners of land where such tracks have been constructed to ensure that they have a better understanding of the legal requirements. Confusingly, depending on the use to which land is put, two separate regimes apply—the effect is similar, but the regimes are different. In essence, any track of over 1km requires an environmental impact assessment. It is fair to say that that is neither as widely known about nor as widely implemented as it should be. That is why we are looking for that engagement.

Jamie McGrigor suggested that nature heals scars. As Maureen Watt said—the point was acknowledged by Sarah Boyack—the higher up into the hills we go, the harder the healing process. We are talking about land that is essentially sub-arctic territory, which is fragile indeed. The scars of many years back will remain for a long time into the future. We need to ensure that we protect that landscape.

Like other members, Alison McInnes spoke about national park powers. It is fair to say that no direct reference is made in the national parks legislation to the subject of debate, but that does not exclude in any sense whatever the designation of land in our national parks as scenic areas. Designation gives us the ability to achieve the protection that we seek by bringing land back inside the planning system. In the short term, designation is an option for national park areas. I am not promoting that approach as a substitute for a more systematic look at the issue, but it means that things can be done in the short term.

As ever, Christopher Harvie—well, truly eccentric. I suspect that the stone that he found on top of the hill was, in geological terms, precisely that—an eccentric brought from one place to another by the actions of the last ice age. Of course, I was not there; I did not see his stone.

Murdo Fraser made the point that hill roads are obtrusive. I find it passing strange that he continues to have concerns about a project that will reduce the number of pylons between Beauly and Denny and replace the existing pylons with those that are designed to be more unobtrusive—

Murdo Fraser: They will be higher.

Stewart Stevenson: —albeit that they will, of course, be higher. Colour, placing and design are important in the process. That opens up the general point about the need to achieve balance.

Sarah Boyack suggested that a voluntary code of conduct could be of some interest. It is one of a range of ways in which we might seek to improve the situation.

I turn to what the Government is going to do. We are working on permitted development rights. In light of the considerable correspondence and discussion that Ms Boyack and I have had on extending them to microgeneration, I know that she is in principle in favour of them. They are intrinsically a good intervention in the planning system. We are looking at a range of ways in which to regularise, systematise and simplify the operation of permitted development rights in relation to hill tracks. We also want to ensure a wider understanding of the need for environmental impact assessments and a consistent way of applying them to sites of special scientific interest, Natura sites and our remote areas in general. There are also issues in relation to scheduled ancient monuments on our hills, in which Historic Scotland would be involved. Finally, Scottish Natural Heritage is about to make further efforts to promote guidance to land managers and contractors. We expect to bring forward our next thoughts on the subject immediately after the summer recess. We are working on that.

Again, I thank Peter Peacock for giving the chamber the opportunity to debate in a quite consensual and informed way a very important subject for people right across Scotland.

Meeting closed at 17:44.

S3M-6476 Active Travel [Closing Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 9 June 2010

[The Presiding Officer opened the meeting at 14:00]
... ... ...
Active Travel

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-6476, in the name of Patrick Harvie, on the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee's report on its inquiry into active travel.

15:15
... ... ...
16:41

Stewart Stevenson:

Four Fishermen's Friends in, we come to the end of a very engaging and interesting debate. As Patrick Harvie pointed out, the inquiry was the first committee inquiry into active travel, and, as such, it is very much welcome. He picked up a theme that we heard in a number of contributions to the debate, which is that safety and the perception of safety—in other words, the perception of a lack of safety—are clear inhibitors to people moving on to cycling from other modes of travel. That is certainly something of which we will tak tent.

Patrick Harvie also talked about active travel not being a high enough priority in local authorities, so central Government should dictate to them what they should do. Actually, I think that there is quite an effective relationship with local authorities. We must foster that and ensure that good experience is shared around the local authority system, because local delivery is crucial to what will work.

Charlie Gordon developed further the barriers to people going into cycling. I have temporarily forgotten who suggested that seeing the minister in Lycra was not necessarily an outcome to be greatly desired, but I agree with whoever said that. Frankly, when I cycle—I do more walking than cycling—I do not tend to wear Lycra. There are many other ways. I am of the old bicycle-clip brigade, which is my standard uniform. I am quite content with that.

Charlie Gordon also talked about leadership and the minister's personal travel. I am happy to tell him that I have already used the train and the bus today, and I will be walking to the station at the end of today's parliamentary business. I am slightly puzzled by Jim Tolson's suggestion that he gets an hour's exercise between here and Waverley. He must be doing it more often than me. [Interruption.] Ah! I have had the explanation. Apparently, Dunfermline is getting the benefit of his delicate little feet as well. Would that we all took the approach that Jim Tolson does.

Charlie Gordon also talked about infrastructure, and there is a very important point in that. I spoke yesterday to a conference for disabled people about getting access to our systems. A survey that has just been completed has discovered that there are 35,000 barriers across Scotland to allowing people in wheelchairs and with other disabilities to make use of our network on foot or by wheels. We face a formidable challenge in that regard that has existed for a long time and which every Administration has a duty to do something about.

Alex Johnstone said that walking and cycling are of interest to a great many people. He unwisely referenced Norman Tebbit. I was pleased to hear that Alex Johnstone used to cycle 3 miles to school. I will speak to his wife, Linda, to ensure that he returns to that so that we see less of Alex Johnstone in future. He knows what I mean.

Alison McInnes made the valid point that active travel is best when there is a purpose to it rather than when it is simply a recreation. In other words, it is best when it is embedded in normal life and behaviour. That is a good point. She mentioned the Gorbals Healthy Living Network, which spoke to the committee, and told us that the Scottish Association for Mental Health said that exercise is a huge contributor to ensuring good mental health. I echo that.

Let me nail a few points on investment. There was reference to the extra money that Tavish Scott provided. That was correct, but the money was a one-off £10 million that came when the yellow bus pilot did not proceed and the money was diverted into cycling. I absolutely support that, but I would say that, under this Government, the budgets for cycling have risen from £10.78 million in 2008-09 to £11.53 million in 2009-10, and by 16 per cent in the current year to £13.35 million. Yes, more could be done, but we should not pretend that we have neglected this area of policy.

Patrick Harvie: I am grateful to the minister for giving way to me a second time on that point. I do not think that any of us imagines that, if the Government suddenly provided even a six or eight-fold increase, that would be the most sensible way forward. We need to increase investment in the area at a reasonable pace. However, does he accept in general or in principle that a sustained increase in investment substantially beyond the low level that we have at present is the only way in which long-term progress will be made?

Stewart Stevenson: I think that a 16 per cent increase in the current year gives the answer to that question.

Aileen Campbell, like others, talked about rail rolling stock. In the refettling of the 158 fleet on the rail network, we have improved bicycle accommodation, although it is still more limited than it was in the days of the guard's van—that is true. We will certainly take every opportunity to look at that.

Rob Gibson mentioned safer routes to school and the issue of right turns. He was correct to do so.

Jim Tolson confused or conflated efficient and effective. Effective is doing the right things. Efficient is doing things right. They are not in conflict. They both have to be done.

I belatedly welcome Jackson Carlaw to his new brief. Some Tory spokesmen have set high standards. Bill Aitken once said of me—it was in October 2006—that Stewart Stevenson is a very special person. I look forward to hearing that sort of thing again. He went on to say, "He can trace his ancestry all the way back to his mother." Presiding Officer, I am sure that that falls within parliamentary language, but only just.

In closing, and to preserve what remains of my voice for the next debate, when I will appear for the Government again, I remind everybody that cycling is fun and healthy. It is an activity that is virtually free for those who have access to a bike. Walking is fun. It is a social activity, as we heard, because we can chat to people. We can meet people in the street and chat to them as well. Learning to cycle safely can help young people to become confident, independent teenagers and adults. Designing our communities to make walking and cycling safe and easy leads to increased visibility of cyclists and pedestrians and helps to drive the dynamic. That is why the publication of "Cycling by Design" today is so important.

Finally, I reiterate the Scottish Government's commitment to active travel in all its various forms in the present difficult economic climate. Unlike Jim Tolson, I do not yet know what money will be available to us next year. I thank members for a well-informed and welcome debate, to which we will listen very carefully indeed.

16:50

S3M-6476 Active Travel [Opening Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 9 June 2010

[The Presiding Officer opened the meeting at 14:00]
... ... ..
Active Travel

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-6476, in the name of Patrick Harvie, on the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee's report on its inquiry into active travel.

15:15
... ... ...
15:27

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

Patrick Harvie opened his speech by referring to the health benefits of his rather speedier-than-expected journey to the chamber.

As you might already have guessed, Presiding Officer, if I am seen to be masticating before you, it is not because I am eating, but because I am chewing a Fisherman's Friend. I hope that the smell of menthol does not unduly distract members from this important debate.

I welcome this afternoon's debate on active travel. It comes at a significant time because we are about to publish the first-ever cycling action plan for Scotland. The debate is a welcome and timely final check on the contents of that plan. We will, of course, listen carefully to what is said today and consider it in finalising the plan. To adumbrate what our plan will contain, I say that it will set out an ambitious vision, it will present continuing investment in the national cycle network and it will see the Government looking to work in partnership on cycle networks throughout the country. It continues our partnership working on road safety for cyclists, which the convener of the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee mentioned in his opening remarks. It will seek to facilitate the co-ordinating role of Government in working with local authorities because, at the end of the day, if there is no local commitment to action, it is unlikely that there will be successful local delivery. We will also seek and identify opportunities to include active travel in planning guidance, and we will continue to invest in community cycling initiatives. I will return to a number of those themes later in my speech.

As members will know, the Scottish Government has been working in partnership with all stakeholders to identify ways in which we can encourage more people to walk, cycle and use public transport instead of private vehicles more often, particularly for shorter trips. The ambitious targets that the Parliament adopted on climate change a year ago, and our vision for bikes to achieve a 10 per cent modal share by 2020, mean that the making of short trips by bike or on foot—by walking or, in the convener's case, running—should be encouraged.

Let us be clear about the scale of the task: if we were to switch a third of all journeys of less than 5km that are made by car to bikes, we would achieve the 10 per cent vision in the cycling action plan for Scotland. If we switched to bike half of all the journeys of less than 3km that are made by car, we would achieve an 11 per cent modal share for cycling. However, if that is the approach that is taken, it is clear that delivery on those numbers would not happen overnight. We must work in partnership to change travel behaviours for the greater good of Scotland.

Jeremy Purvis (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD): I intervene if for no other reason than to allow the minister to do some more masticating.

The minister referred to modal shift, but does he recognise that in some areas mixed-use travel is necessary? In my constituency, we need to allow people to use public transport for part of the journey and to be able to cycle along the cycle routes in the Borders. When I have put that to bus companies, they have said that from an engineering point of view, it is difficult to put bike racks on buses. What is the Government doing with the wider public sector to ensure that when contracts for bus services are put out to tender, part of the process involves consideration of the use of bike racks and other means that would make it easier for people to use public transport in combination with the cycle routes in which we are investing?

Stewart Stevenson: Jeremy Purvis has touched on an important issue. It is worth saying that the Traveline Scotland website provides information about bus services that already have the capability to carry cycles, and about how cyclists can access that capacity—which is, in fairness, relatively limited both in its geographical spread and in the amount of space that is provided. From memory, I think that such provision is largely available in the Highlands rather than in the Borders.

Jeremy Purvis asked what role the Government can play. Our role has been to encourage and persuade. Support for mixed-use travel increases bus companies' opportunities to cater for commuters, to support tourist traffic and to access new revenue streams. There is good practice that shows that it is possible to provide for cycles, either in a basic way by allowing bikes to be put in the hold of buses, or by providing specific facilities on board buses. I have seen such capability only this week.

We will work in partnership on that issue and more generally to change travel behaviours for the greater good of Scotland. We need to provide communities and individuals with the right information to help them to decide to use active travel for shorter journeys, or as part of the mixed-mode journeys to which Jeremy Purvis referred.

As part of our national performance framework, we have outcomes and targets that will help local authorities to meet their single outcome agreement targets, which will enable Scotland to achieve economic sustainable growth and health and environmental benefits across the country. It is vital that local authorities play their part in delivering change. I am pleased that throughout the development of policies on active travel—such as smarter choices, smarter places and the soon-to-be-published cycling action plan for Scotland—the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has been a supportive partner.

I want to expand on the policy areas in which the Scottish Government agrees with the committee's recommendations. We will, of course, ensure that the committee receives an advance copy of the CAPS document ahead of publication.

At the inquiry into active travel, I gave assurances that the committee's recommendations—and those from this debate—would be considered for inclusion in the final plan. I believe that we will succeed in meeting that commitment and I will expand on the recommendations that the Scottish Government will take forward.

First, on cycle training, the committee asked for a carefully co-ordinated and managed scheme with national standards. That will be taken forward and managed centrally by Cycling Scotland, in partnership with key delivery agencies such as Road Safety Scotland and the active schools network. The new approach will integrate the three levels of cycle training and will offer cycle training for children starting in primary 3 through to second year at secondary school. Training and support for volunteers will also be part of that. Cycling Scotland and partners will also develop a delivery plan for, in particular, delivering more on-road cycle training, which will be formulated by the end of 2010.

Secondly, on planning, the committee sought for active travel to be at the heart of new developments. The action plan will promote existing guidance to achieve more well-designed and accessible cycling facilities throughout Scotland. I await with interest the output of the inquiry, in which the committee is currently engaged, on the relationship between transport in general and land use.

I was pleased this morning to see published the document, "Cycling By Design", which provides a comprehensive guide to contemporary examples of best practice in cycling design. Its primary focus is the establishment of guidance for practitioners throughout Scotland to ensure consistent and appropriate design. Transport Scotland currently requires consultants and contractors who are working on trunk road projects to follow that guidance. That will help raise the game of everyone involved.

Thirdly, on leadership, in integrating cycling with public transport we will strengthen partnerships, lead on investigating how other countries achieve traffic-management measures to integrate active travel, and seek opportunities to ensure that active travel is an integral part of planning decisions, which of course will help to improve health, regenerate communities and make roads safe for all.

Patrick Harvie: The minister mentioned leadership and attempts to reproduce the success that other countries have achieved. Will he have time in the rest of his speech to address the central question of funding? We have heard time and again from many witnesses that if we do not address that with rather more than a 16 per cent increase in funding from such a low starting point, we will not have a chance of reaching the targets that the Government is setting itself.

Stewart Stevenson: Funding is certainly an important issue, which is why we have seen the budgets for cycling across Scotland rise year on year during the time of this Administration. I recognise that the budgets have risen, not the expenditure. The expenditure saw a one-time diversion from a cancelled scheme, but the budgets have been rising and continue to do so. I will comment further on that in my concluding remarks at the end of the debate.

We are in a period of financial constraint and we are keen to hear at all budget debates suggestions from members on which policy areas should be given priority.

I observe once again that I see quite different outcomes in different parts of the country where the expenditure is similar. It is perfectly possible to get much more for some of the money that is spent.

I look forward to a productive discussion on how we can increase active travel and improve the health and wellbeing of the people of Scotland. Who knows—it might even address my throat.

15:38

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