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6 November 2013

S4M-08173 Glasgow Airport Rail Link

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-08173, in the name of James Kelly, on transport.

14:40
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15:26

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

It was an American President who once said that, when he came into office, all the things that he had been saying were bad turned out to be much worse. That, perhaps, was the case with the GARL project.

The Labour Party motion rather unwisely invites Parliament to agree to an “audit of all transactions”. The word “transaction” is, of course, defined in “Webster’s Dictionary” as “a business deal”. It is not just about finance, so let us look at some of the transactions and delve deep into the Official Report of the Parliament.

We will look first at 3 October 2006, when the Glasgow Airport Rail Link Bill Committee was meeting and John Halliday, the assistant chief executive of SPT, was before the committee. He made the position clear:

“SPT was the architect of the agreements and we negotiated the terms.”—[Official Report, Glasgow Airport Rail Link Bill Committee, 3 October 2006; c 300.]

We know where it started: with SPT.

We heard from a number of members that there was “a strong economic case” for GARL. James Kelly said it in his opening speech, and Mary Fee said that

“the viability of the project was never questioned”.

However, in paragraph 32 of the committee’s preliminary stage report, Glasgow Airport Ltd is reported as saying:

“As the bill stands, we think that it is as likely to have an adverse effect on the airport as it is to have a positive effect”.—[Official Report, Glasgow Airport Rail Link Bill Committee, 8 May 2006; c 57.]

Right at the outset, even the airport operator was unconvinced.

Patricia Ferguson said that the rail link would take “cars off the road”. Well, at paragraph 38 of the report, we read about

“reductions of 0.5% and 0.8% in total M8 traffic flows by 2030.”

We are talking about single-figure numbers of cars being taken off the motorway. At paragraph 40, we read that the bus operators expected the number of people who would use the bus to double. Therefore, GARL would hardly be displacing anything.

The committee recorded its slight scepticism about the claimed economic benefits at paragraph 26. In paragraph 17, it said:

“patronage figures are low.”

Looking further, according to paragraph 221 of the consideration stage report, it was certainly possible that the project could cost as much as £210 million.

From paragraph 34 of the consideration stage report, it is clear that not all the evidence was available to Parliament. Commercial confidentiality prevented negotiations with the airport from being fully revealed to Parliament, so we made the decision in some ignorance. Paragraph 36 of the report says that

“The Committee remains extremely disappointed”

by that.

The costs on the airport campus were to be £5 million but ended up at £70 million. In the detailed costings that were brought to Parliament, not a single line item approaches the figure of £70 million.

I supported the project initially, but it was ill conceived in its detail. The reason for that lies at the door of parliamentary colleagues in the Labour Party and their allies in SPT.

15:30

Stewart Stevenson
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