29 May 2002

S1M-3073 Transport Strategy (North-East Scotland)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S1M-3073, in the name of Elaine Thomson, on the transport strategy for Aberdeen and north-east Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. We can risk starting the debate now, as the last members who are leaving the chamber are trickling out through the door.
Motion debated,

That the Parliament commends the North East of Scotland Transport Partnership (NESTRANS) for developing and progressing a regional transport strategy for Aberdeen and the north east of Scotland that promotes modal shift and tackles growing congestion, including the effective development of park-and-ride schemes in Bridge of Don and Kingswells.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Elaine Thomson gave a very interesting speech. She will be aware that, just for the sake of getting something into the business bulletin, I lodged an amendment to her motion. Of course, in members' business debates, such amendments are quite properly never selected. However, my amendment focused on the impact of congestion in the city on business in the area north of Aberdeen. In that respect, I was very disappointed by Elaine's speech. Despite the fact that her own motion refers to

"Aberdeen and the north east"

she entirely concentrated on the effects of the current transport difficulties in the city. Although I acknowledge that other members share my views on this matter, it will come as a surprise to some in the chamber that the effects of congestion in Aberdeen and rural transport are also a matter of concern. The Parliament might be sitting in the city of Aberdeen, but the north-east of Scotland itself is an altogether different matter.

We are delighted to hear that the transport profile of the area and the difficulties that we face have risen into the top 10. However, we are not talking about top of the pops and some transient view of our difficulties; the bottom line is that we need actual money.

We are talking about plans that are coming forward. At the dinner that Aberdeen City Council generously provided last night, the Labour council leader Len Ironside said that a failure to invest would be a problem for the whole of Scotland. I certainly agree with him. He said that things are moving forward, and that he hopes to have funding next year. But hope will not sustain the business communities of the north-east of Scotland; only action will do so.

We have heard that inclusive transport is needed, and I thoroughly agree with Elaine Thomson on that. She gave high praise to the efforts that have been made in the city to allow people with wheelchairs access to buses. However, I draw to her attention and to the minister's the fact that there are also many people in rural areas who are disabled and use wheelchairs to get about. Although they have the necessary passes to get access to buses, rural areas do not have buses that the wheelchairs can automatically get on to. Even more to the point, we do not have bus drivers who are able or willing to lift wheelchairs on to their buses. I know that I am not alone in representing a constituency where disabled people with bus passes still have to use taxis because, despite the apparent provision of transport for them, they cannot use the buses.

I would also like to address my remarks to business. I believe—no one has yet denied it, although I confess that I have not done rock-solid research—that my constituency is the only mainland constituency without any railways. Business in my constituency is utterly dependent on the roads. There are several businesses in my constituency that are genuinely and actively considering relocating to Aberdeen. The north-east would not lose out because of such a move, but the area north of Aberdeen certainly would. They are considering the move because it takes them an extra hour to get to their markets and that puts an extra £100 on the cost of taking a load south.

The NESTRANS studies have been excellent and we can support their recommendations, but what we actually need is money and action now.


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