11 May 2005

S2M-2367 A90 Upgrade

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 11 May 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

… … …

A90 Upgrade

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2367, in the name of Nanette Milne, on a call for action on the A90. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I invite those members who are leaving the chamber to do so as efficiently, quickly and quietly as possible.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with concern the number of road accidents on the A90 north of Aberdeen between Tipperty and Balmedie; further notes the significant number of new houses in and around the Ellon area which have added to the high volumes of traffic on this already congested road, and considers that the Scottish Executive should take action to upgrade this stretch of road as a matter of extreme urgency.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Presiding Officer, I got a signal that I could take 20 minutes for my speech—I will see what I can do.

As the member for Banff and Buchan, I open by gently advising some on the Conservative benches not to talk down Banff and Buchan. The case for improved transport into the north-east of Scotland is not based on the narrow self-interest of the people and businesses of the area, although they would undoubtedly benefit; it is much more substantial than that. We are a net contributor to the economy of Scotland and it is to the detriment of Scotland if the area is not invested in to enable us to raise our game even further. Indeed, in 1987, when my colleague Alex Salmond was elected, unemployment in the Banff and Buchan constituency was 1.2 times the Scottish average; today it is 0.4 times the Scottish average. Under Alex Salmond's benevolent leadership or dictatorship—call it what we will—we have exploited the opportunities with which nature, business and the climate have presented us. That might not be entirely down to Alex Salmond, but it certainly is in some part. However, we demand the opportunity to make even more of a contribution, and it is that on which I base my speech. There are challenges in Banff and Buchan, but there are also opportunities, which are much more important.

In that vein, I do not limit my ambitions in the way in which Nanette Milne does. I thank her for the opportunity for the debate, which is welcome. However, I think that we should have a dual carriageway all the way to Fraserburgh, not one that stops at the small town of Peterhead, although of course Peterhead is a very important town.

At last there has been some slight progress on the northern part of the A90. Today I received information about the Hatton bends tender. In the debate five years ago, Alex Salmond welcomed the commitment of the Executive to doing that work. The tender will go out on 26 May and the work will start on 22 August and continue for 45 weeks. Let us hope that the interruption is not too much.

The Minister for Transport (Nicol Stephen): The member has stolen my speech.

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry if I have stolen the minister's speech, but I have shown how we in Banff and Buchan are well wired into what is going on. We will be better wired in with better roads.

Some statistics on injuries and deaths will help to anchor the debate. Between 1999 and 2003, six fatalities per year occurred in Aberdeen, whereas 25 per year took place in Aberdeenshire. That is despite the fact that the populations of the two areas are broadly similar, albeit that Aberdeenshire's is slightly bigger. Research shows that 50 per cent of accidents happen within two miles of home, so the problem is perhaps even more significant than that ratio would suggest. The total number of accidents for the period is 556 in Aberdeenshire and 424 in Aberdeen. Those figures demonstrate, perhaps not conclusively but illustratively, the nature of the problem.

After BEAR Scotland Ltd took over the maintenance of the part of the A90 that is the subject of tonight's debate, as well as the other parts of that road, some important issues became apparent that people had not previously realised. For example, BEAR had not realised that the A90 north of Aberdeen was the only part of its empire in which no alternative transport medium was available. Whereas every other bit of trunk road that BEAR was given connected places that, in the event of the road being blocked, could be accessed by railway, no railway goes to Ellon, Peterhead or Fraserburgh. Much though I might like such a railway to be built, I suspect that the cost benefit ratio would make it unreasonable for me to demand one. However, once the Borders railway opens, mine will be the only parliamentary constituency in Scotland with neither an airport nor a railway. That illustrates a key point.

The fact that only a single carriageway goes to Peterhead produces effects that not all people might realise. For example, I am told that the speed limit on single carriageways for heavy goods vehicles is 40mph. Therefore, such vehicles travel at only two thirds of the speed at which they could travel if they were on a dual carriageway. That not only slows down commercial traffic to its detriment but increases the likelihood that queues of cars will build up, the drivers of which experience tremendous frustration. Frustration is one of the key causes of accidents. The minister might care to think about that issue.

Alex Salmond said in the debate in 2000:

"I greatly welcome the progress on the Hatton bends ... I welcome the minister's commitment to the project."—[Official Report, 10 May 2000; Vol 6, c 496.]

It has, indeed, been a sair fecht and a long time.

I find it slightly ironic—as a mathematician, I always notice these things—that the debate on that day was on motion number S1M-737, in the name of David Davidson. In the north-east, we ain't jetting our way to a new transport infrastructure. If the Minister for Transport can tell us different, he will have our eternal gratitude.


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