20 December 2007

S3M-992 Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Bill [Closing Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 20 December 2007

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]
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Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on S3M-992, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, that the Parliament agrees that the Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Bill be passed.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson:

It is quite clear that a large number of members agree that tolls must go, and that is what the Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Bill will deliver.

I was brought up in Fife and spent the first 20-plus years of my life there, so it brings me considerable pleasure to see the abolition of the tolls. I crossed the Forth road bridge on the first day that it was open; perhaps I will have the pleasure of crossing it on the first day on which it is free to do so.

A number of issues have been raised, as many as possible of which I will try to deal with in the time available. As regards the modelling of traffic, I stress that we are talking about a model. Reality might converge with the model and show it to be 100 per cent accurate but, equally, it might diverge from it. Models are merely estimates; we will of course engage in reality.

Alex Johnstone: I intervene at this point in the minister's speech because those of us who use the Forth bridge regularly are aware that the opening of the A8000 has made a significant contribution to reducing congestion and to improving flow rates on the bridge. Will the minister ensure that any analysis that is done of the removal of tolls from the Forth bridge takes into account the fact that some of the change might be due not to the removal of the tolls, but to the opening of the A8000?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes a reasonable point. There is certainly no longer the same backing up of traffic, which now goes on to the M9 extension. Nonetheless, we do not anticipate that the volume of traffic using the crossing at the peak hour will be materially different, so we cannot use that as an excuse to fail to engage in dealing with the consequences that may derive from the abolition of the tolls.

Patrick Harvie and Des McNulty quite properly focused on the CO2 impacts of abolishing the tolls. Des McNulty said that there could be an increase in emissions of 9,000 tonnes of CO2 per year; other members have used a figure of 8,000 tonnes. It is worth saying that it has been suggested that the climate change conference in Bali cost 47,000 tonnes of CO2. It is what we do with our expenditure on reducing CO2 emissions that is important, as well as the mitigation measures that we put in place.

Des McNulty referred to the Erskine bridge. FETA has arrangements for handling separate closure for high-sided vehicles when required, and I am sure that FETA's professionals will continue to manage the bridge as effectively after the abolition of tolls as they have before it. Alex Johnstone referred, quite properly, to what is perhaps an early thought in motorists' minds that the tolls may have been abolished. I can assure him that FETA has a strategy that will go into operation this very night and continue as long as necessary to deal with any misapprehension that the bill having been passed will immediately lead to the lifting of the tolls.

Alison McInnes talked about Ferrytoll. It is absolutely vital and we fully support it. Members will have seen a reference in yesterday's announcement to our continued support for Ferrytoll. Our investment in public transport over the next three years dwarfs the cost of abolishing the tolls. The Tay bridge debt will be repaid at the end of January—I can give an assurance that that is provided for in the current budget. I hope that John Park will forgive me if I do not go on at length about the Rosyth bypass, as that is ultra vires. However, I have had preliminary discussions with Fife Council on the subject. I say to Jim Tolson that our plans over the piece should deliver an extra 1,000 places on trains from Fife.

The bridge boards have put in place new traffic management arrangements, new signage and temporary works where necessary that will allow the transition to the free crossing. I understand that they are working on the assumption that all the necessary steps will be in place to allow tolls to end around the first weekend in February. That is a reasonable assumption, although it depends on matters such as royal assent, the timetable for which I cannot influence. As I said to Helen Eadie in the stage 1 debate on 15 November, I will sign the commencement order on the first day on which I am able to do so and give the smallest gap to implementation that is consistent with the advice that I get from the boards about what we can do.

There is a clear, if not total, consensus on the bill, both among members and among those outside the Parliament who travel on our roads and bridges. I trust that Parliament will support the motion in favour of the bill at decision time tonight.


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