18 December 2008

S3M-3125 Drink Driving

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 18 December 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

Drink Driving

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Good morning. The first item of business this morning is a debate on motion S3M-3125, in the name of Kenny MacAskill, on drink driving.
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The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

In the light of Margaret Smith's reference to the Institute of Advanced Motorists, I draw Parliament's attention to my entry in the register of members' interests, in which I have declared my membership of that organisation.

I am glad that we have had this opportunity to discuss this important issue and am heartened by the broad consensus on the view that the current levels of death and injury through drink driving are unacceptable. That thread has run through all the speeches. The casualty figures are moving in the right direction—the number of deaths and serious injuries in 2007 is 45 per cent lower than it was in the mid-1990s, but there is much more to do. One death is one too many.

I will respond to various points that have been made in the debate. Richard Simpson is one of many members on the Labour benches who support a change from the 80mg blood alcohol level, although there are varying opinions on what it should be reduced to. The key issue is that having alcohol in one's system leads to a reduction in appropriate decision-making powers and a diminution of motor skills. Alcohol also reduces inhibitions and multiplies a range of other effects. At 9.40, Richard Baker said that he thinks it would be better if there were a lower limit.

Labour members have got the message; it is just not set out in their amendment.

Bill Aitken made a number of excellent points on drug driving. I note that no one disagreed in any material sense with his comments and I hope that there will be very substantial support for his amendment, even though in supporting it we will be left with a Labour Party amendment that still misses the point. In 1998, the Department for Transport at Westminster made it quite clear that reducing the blood alcohol limit to 50mg would prevent 50 deaths. It is time for us to express that view and to ensure, in a spirit of partnership, that Westminster takes account of it, given that the rest of Great Britain will benefit as a result.

Richard Baker: In a spirit of partnership, we, of course, welcome that limit. However, does the minister accept that members on the Government benches have argued not for a 50mg level alone but for three different limits? I believe that that makes the case for having a full consultation and taking the evidence-based approach that I am calling for. Surely the Department for Transport is looking for constructive engagement from the Scottish Government on this matter.

Stewart Stevenson: On three previous occasions, the policy at Westminster has been to reduce the limit to 50mg. The 11th question in the consultation documents asks,

"What evidence are you able to offer"

to support a change in the limit. The document is not seeking a real change; it is simply asking for more evidence, even though the Labour Administration at Westminster has suggested on three occasions that the limit be reduced to 50mg.

Bill Aitken also referred to Romberg's test, in which people have to estimate how long 30 seconds is. A few members—not, I hope, all the Liberals—should consider that point.

Ross Finnie highlighted certain points that the BMA raised in its briefing note, including slow reaction times, late braking and overconfidence. In an intervention on Mr Finnie, Bill Butler referred to the considerable body of evidence on the subject and Dave Thompson, who has been working on this matter for a long time, made a great deal of sense when he talked about crash risks.

Richard Simpson spoke about three groups of people who are at risk. He focused on the borderline group—the people who drink but try to stay under the limit—and suggested that particular difficulties arise with them. If we were to reduce the limit, there is little doubt that we would make those people think much more carefully about the implications of drinking at all. We would also see a reduction in people's drinking, as has been seen right across Europe.

Richard Simpson also mentioned interesting evidence from Australia and New Zealand and spoke about technical measures, although such measures alone cannot solve the problem. For example, a person who wants to continue to drive can get someone else to breathe into an in-car breathalyser.

Alasdair Allan talked about rural difficulties. He said that we are not against drink and we are not against driving, but we are against conjoining the two. He referred to the effect that drink driving can have on families.

Cathie Craigie said that a small minority of people offend. That is certainly true, but those people have a disproportionate effect on families and safety across Scotland. Cathie Craigie would go for a zero limit, as would one or two others including my colleague Brian Adam, and she called for more efforts from the Scottish and UK Governments. We are prepared to step up to that challenge: I hope that the UK Government is too.

Margaret Smith referred to EU recommendations of eight years ago and said that most EU countries have responded to those recommendations. Aileen Campbell gave more examples of personal experience. Bill Butler welcomed the debate and said that the numbers of deaths related to drink driving had been broadly the same for about 10 years. If that is not an argument for doing something now, what is? He also said that there would be 65 fewer deaths if the limit were 50mg. That is pretty strong evidence.

Rob Gibson raised cultural issues that relate especially to the Highlands, but which also relate to other places. Robert Brown and John Lamont gave closing speeches, although John Lamont missed the target altogether and said that we should work with Westminster—of course we shall—but said also that there is no evidence that lowering the limit will make a difference. I am afraid that we simply see things differently. John Lamont is in a tiny minority, probably even among members of his party.

Paul Martin suggested that we could legislate our way out of the issue. Absolutely not. We have to change our culture and we have to set appropriate limits for what happens on our roads. A limit of 50mg is working right across Europe, and 50mg is the limit that we want here. It will be a missed opportunity if we do not accept Mr McAskill's motion today. It refers clearly to the existing 80mg limit.

We have to remember that the issue that we are debating is about people. Few people who have reached my sort of age will not have been exposed to the consequences of drink-driving. In the past 10 years, I have witnessed two specific instances. They did not involve personal friends; they were incidents that I came across. In France, someone came out of a side road and knocked a motorcyclist over. I was on the scene within two minutes. The necks of two people were broken. They were young people, and they were both dead—I had to go forward and check that they were dead. The drink from the driver's breath could be smelt from a great distance away.

In Edinburgh, I witnessed another incident at a junction, at which a man in a van drove into the side of another vehicle. I had to hold that man's scalp back on to his head. He could not see—not just because of his injuries, but because of the drink. He was not wearing a seat belt, and he had taken drink.

Those are the sorts of incident that drive home to anyone who is exposed to them the absolute need to engage in this issue. I urge members to support the motion that Kenny MacAskill has moved today.


11 December 2008

S3M-3075 ScotRail Franchise

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 11 December 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

ScotRail Franchise

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S3M-3075, in the name of Des McNulty, on the ScotRail franchise.


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

Good franchise management is critical to the success of Scotland's rail services. I very much welcome Audit Scotland's finding that Transport Scotland manages the core aspects of the franchise contract well. Audit Scotland also states that the franchise is performing well—there are more trains running on time, passenger numbers are well ahead of expectations and passenger satisfaction is up. That performance, together with Transport Scotland's comprehensive recommendations, helped us to make the informed decision to extend the contract.

The rigorous appraisal process, as described by Audit Scotland, delivered value for money—more than £70 million—and, for the first time, a cap on the profits that FirstGroup may take from the franchise. It has delivered for passengers, taxpayers and ScotRail staff.

In raising an issue about a bus company, Mr McNulty said that he did not know the details. In a debate of such seriousness, will he please not raise such matters when he does not know the details? I do know the details, and he would be wise to be careful.

The negotiated position, which external views from the experts Ernst & Young aided us in arriving at, followed consideration of the full range of options, from doing nothing through to granting the extension. We also tightened the contract, requiring more from First for the same subsidy and tying it into the delivery of new services, while creating, for the first time, a profit cap.

Much has been made of Audit Scotland's comments that governance of the extension could have been better. The fact that we do not agree with all of Audit Scotland's analysis could no doubt be explored in more detail by the Public Audit Committee, but Transport Scotland will act on the report's recommendations when that is appropriate.

I turn to the role of individual directors. The management commentary of Transport Scotland's annual accounts for 2007-08 notes, as it did in 2006-07, that it records board members' interests in a register that is publicly available. The interests that have been referred to were documented there in 2007.

Transport Scotland's directors gave assurances that no conflicts of interest arose in the exercise of their duties. I have received assurances that processes—which were signed off by Audit Scotland—were adhered to throughout the extension discussion. The agency's processes, established under the previous Administration, are not only rigorous, but ensure that no conflicts of interest impact on decision making.

This is not the first time that the extension of the franchise has been used to try to make political capital. When we announced it in April, some opposition MSPs suggested that it represented a policy shift without consultation. That is entirely wrong. The extension was always contemplated by the original contract, which was consulted upon and then let in 2004.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): The minister refers to an issue that is addressed in part by the Conservative amendment, which refers to the fact that

"the original contract, negotiated by the previous Labour-led Scottish administration, 'did not specify the conditions under which an extension should be considered'".

In other parts of the United Kingdom, if the original contract did not specify the conditions, extensions have been consulted on. Did the minister make the decision not to consult, or was it some other part of the Government?

Stewart Stevenson: Ministers, in considering this option, were aware of the provisions that were described in a letter from the then-transport minister, Iain Gray, to the Transport and the Environment Committee on 2 December 2002, that the franchise would be a seven-year contract with a possible three-year extension. We exercise the powers and the ability given to us by the contract that Iain Gray put in place when he was the minister.

The Executive of the day said that it favoured a 15-year franchise, but upheavals in the industry at the time, such as the replacement of Railtrack with Network Rail, meant that that was not advisable. Instead, when a Strategic Rail Authority review in 2003 moved to shorter franchises, ministers followed suit, but with the extension there to provide for the necessary flexibility.

That move also fitted the assumptions at the time about the implementation of major investment projects. The Government of the day effectively put in place a contract that envisaged that those services would be in place by the 2011 termination date, as it was then. The extension that we secured delivers what could not be guaranteed in 2004—a contract that will see the major projects and now the Commonwealth games services delivered reliably and safely.

The extension also grants us an opportunity that a refranchise in 2011 would not: to explore the option of moving the next franchise to a not-for-profit model. I have had encouraging discussions with the Scottish Trades Union Congress and union representatives, who are pleased to explore the opportunities that we have created. We will carry out a full consultation and give all stakeholders the chance to comment and input during 2009. This is an exciting development—one that would not have been possible without the extension.

We are committed to delivering real improvements to our rail network, in recognition of the important role that it plays in supporting sustainable economic growth. This is the right deal at the right time. It benefits passengers and businesses and supports sustainable economic growth. I welcome members' support for that commitment.

I move amendment S3M-3075.3, to leave out from "expresses" to first "Transport Scotland".


10 December 2008

Statement & Subject Debate: Strategic Transport Projects Review [Closing Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 10 December 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:00]

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Strategic Transport Projects Review [Closing Speech]

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The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The debate has been illuminating. Unsurprisingly, members have focused on local interests. I congratulate Patrick Harvie on being the only member who spoke in the debate who was able to quote from some, at least, of the 3,800 pages of documentation. Good for Patrick.

I will try, in the time available, to pick up as many of the points that members made as I can. Des McNulty asked whether the existing bridge will take the public transport loading. The answer is yes. As we take private cars and HGVs off the existing bridge, we will reduce the loading on it quite significantly. The deterioration of the existing bridge is driven largely by the weight that it carries. In addition, the flow of bus traffic across the bridge is relatively predictable, so the public transport loading on it at any particular time is relatively predictable. That does not eliminate every uncertainty, but the fact that the bridge will not deteriorate as quickly as was previously thought, together with the fact that there will be a change in the quantity and character of the transport that can go on the bridge, means that we have every prospect of having a very real asset for the creation of probably the single most important public transport intervention that we could create.

We are not talking just about the separation of public transport. The two bridges will have different approach and leaving roads, so the benefits could be substantial. This is an example of extremely imaginative thinking by the project team, on which we should congratulate it.

Jeremy Purvis: I am sure that the minister will come on to the financing of the Forth replacement crossing, but he said in his statement that the Scottish Government had approached the Treasury on mechanisms to secure budgetary cover. Has the Treasury provided the necessary consent? Has the Scottish Government secured agreement for the project to be funded through such mechanisms?

Stewart Stevenson: We will fund the construction of the bridge with public money from our budget—that is clear. It would clearly be of benefit if we could draw forward some of the funding from future years, as that would enable an acceleration of projects across Scotland. That is entirely consistent with what the UK Government is seeking to do. We wish to help the UK Government to bring forward projects—in giving it a way of helping us, we can help it. That is a proper way to proceed, and we will move forward on that basis.

Alex Johnstone talked about a streamlined bridge—as the slimmer of the year in the Scottish Parliament, he is an expert on slimming. The new bridge, with a more restricted design, is not only cheaper but narrower and it still has a lane beside the main lanes that can be used in future for trams, a guided busway or dedicated buses without guiding. However, the transport operation provided on the existing bridge is substantially in excess of what we would have provided in the dedicated lane.

John Park: I recognise that there will be an increase in lanes when the second crossing is built, but can the minister clarify that capacity has been removed from the proposed new crossing?

Stewart Stevenson: The member is correct, but that is more than overtaken by the utilisation of capacity of the existing bridge. In aggregate, the available capacity for public transport has risen dramatically, and the reliability that the public transport option can offer is dramatically better. We should congratulate those in the project team who came up with the intervention.

Alex Johnstone also mentioned high-speed rail. I have talked to Lord Adonis, the new Minister of State for Transport in the Westminster Government, and I expect to meet him in January to talk about high-speed rail, among other things. As he asked me about the matter, I encouraged him to contact the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, which is undertaking an inquiry into the benefits of high-speed rail services, and I assure members that he is watching that committee's work with interest.

I also met the Opposition transport spokesperson at Westminster, Theresa Villiers, to discuss high-speed rail, albeit that, as yet, the Tories seem to see only as far as Leeds. Perhaps her discussion with me has enhanced her view of what we should do.

Brian Adam made a point about the Haudagain roundabout in Aberdeen. That project is not in the STPR, but not because it is not being done. I remind members that I made a commitment that, before we passed to Aberdeen responsibility for that part of what is at present the A90, an appropriate intervention would be made there. Of course, it has to be made in the context of the form that emerges for the Aberdeen western peripheral route after the public inquiry and in the context of what the Haudagain roundabout will be used for.

Lewis Macdonald: Will the minister explain in more detail what that means? Is there a commitment for the Scottish Government to invest funding in upgrading the Haudagain? If so, is it part of the STPR programme or not?

Stewart Stevenson: As I said, it is not part of that programme, but I adhere to my previous commitment on it. Today, we are discussing strategic transport projects. The Haudagain is an example of a local project. Projects that will proceed over the years are not confined to what is strategic for the whole of Scotland. The nature of the local intervention at the Haudagain will be informed by whether there is a third crossing of the river, which people in Aberdeen continue to pursue. The form of the intervention is yet to be determined, but the commitment that I made previously stands.

Bill Butler was well informed, as ever, on the Glasgow crossrail project. By coincidence, I will meet the cross-party group on Glasgow crossrail tonight—that is convenient. The thing that we have to focus on in Glasgow is the lack of capacity at Queen Street upper station and Central station. That is why we need to focus on the provision of new rail station capacity using the existing tunnels, which Mr Butler mentioned, and the existing infrastructure. I spoke to SPT briefly before I came down to the chamber and there was real enthusiasm for engaging on the matter. We will work closely with the people at SPT.

Aberdeen crossrail was mentioned as well. We are making early progress on dramatically increasing provision from three peak morning train services from Inverurie to Aberdeen to a raft of services that go all the way to the south. We are starting to deliver on that, and we will continue to opportunistically enhance the services. We will also, in early course, consider whether we can proceed with a station at Kintore, in a rapidly developing part of the north-east.

Mike Rumbles: Will the minister take an intervention on that point?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You have time, minister, if you want to take an intervention.

Stewart Stevenson: Unfortunately, I have run out of time if I am to cover points that have been raised. I am sorry, but I will not take an intervention.

Peter Peacock talked about timescales and priorities. Today's announcement informs a series of future comprehensive spending review periods. If members can tell me how much money will be available to the Scottish Government in—for the sake of argument—2014 to 2017, or 2017 to 2020, I will of course be able to give them some of the certainty that they are asking for.

As usual, Charlie Gordon's comments were well informed. However, unusually, he got something absolutely wrong. If he looks at the left-hand side of the page of the document, and turns it through 90° , he will find that the pages are numbered rather than unnumbered. Unusual for Charlie. Must do better.

In relation to paragraph 31 of my statement, Patrick Harvie asked whether the existing bridge would be dedicated to public transport. I am happy to confirm that—[Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. Far too many conversations are going on in the chamber.

Stewart Stevenson: Thank you, Presiding Officer.

If I did not make it clear in the wording of paragraph 31, I now make it absolutely clear that the existing bridge will be dedicated to public transport.

Jamie Hepburn asked why we were supporting park-and-choose initiatives. Park-and-ride initiatives were started by the previous Administration, and have been supported and continued by this Administration. Building on the success of those initiatives, we now look to have more modes and more variety in the ways in which people can change modes. Park and choose is probably the thing for the future.

I think that Cathy Peattie said that she was a Portonian.

Cathy Peattie indicated agreement.

Stewart Stevenson: Cathy Peattie is nodding, so it must be correct; the word was new to me and many of us. I thought that her tone was constructive and helpful. She focused on issues for her constituents, and on the opportunities in Grangemouth for supporting the economy of Scotland. It is important that we are at last bridging the gap at the Avon gorge between the M9 and the M8.

Margaret Smith talked reasonably about the costs of the existing bridge. The cost of maintaining the existing bridge is relatively modest, and we have published information on that already.

On the issue of roads leading away from Queensferry, we heard conflicting messages from members about a lack of consultation. However, the whole point is that we want to engage meaningfully with the people of Queensferry.

Mike Rumbles: Will the minister take an intervention on that point?

Stewart Stevenson: I really do not have any time at all now.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You have time to take the intervention if you wish.

Stewart Stevenson: Okay, but if you do not mind, Presiding Officer, I have another four pages of notes on points that members have raised.

Mike Rumbles: I—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: It is for the minister to decide. He is not taking the intervention, Mr Rumbles.

Stewart Stevenson: Jim Tolson asked who else had been involved in work on the STPR. I am happy to confirm that COSLA has been involved since Easter this year. We have also engaged directly with the regional transport partnerships.

Gavin Brown talked about the economic importance of transport. Few of us would disagree with that importance. Transport has to be transport for a purpose; it is not an end in itself. The costs that are given in the document that we have distributed are range costs. The actual costs are known only when one manages to buy a project.

Gavin Brown said that we were relying on the trams. Yes, we are. If nothing else, we want to get value for the £500 million that you guys and gals asked us to spend, so we are going to get value for that £500 million. My difficulty is not with trams as such but with the fact that the excellent number 22 bus route is simply being replicated by the trams. I use the number 22 all the time and I know how effective it is. Trams are absolutely a good idea, but maybe not in that case. However, that is history, and we are now moving forward.

John Park, as ever, made a useful contribution. However, on procurement issues, we have to use the Official Journal of the European Union and accept bids on an unbiased basis.

There will be no tolls. John Park asked me about shadow tolling. There is some shadow tolling in Scotland, on the M74, but that is not our responsibility. We will not be doing it.

I thank members for their time. This has been an informative debate and I look forward to progressing with this bold and challenging programme, which is hugely important for everyone in Scotland.


Statement & Subject Debate: Strategic Transport Projects Review

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 10 December 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:00]

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Strategic Transport Projects Review


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

I am pleased to announce today the conclusions of the strategic transport projects review, which sets out the future investment programme for transport in Scotland over the next 20 years—the most structured and ambitious Scottish transport plan ever published.

I bring this nationwide programme to Parliament at a time when we are seeing turbulence affecting major economies and global markets. Scotland is not immune to that. The Government's central purpose of increasing sustainable economic growth is well articulated in "The Government Economic Strategy" and we are absolutely clear about the importance of infrastructure in delivering that growth.

I am, nonetheless, clear that vision and ambition are not enough. It is good government to construct a clear and sustainable pathway to the future, it is good government to make that journey as smooth as possible, and it is good government to ensure that we take everyone with us. That is what we are doing through sound and efficient governance and a prudent approach to investment of finite resources to ensure that we get the optimum return for every pound that is invested.

This Government continues to invest in transport, with announcements just last week of additional capital spending in the current year to deliver projects including the A96 Fochabers bypass and key interventions on the A9, including improvements at Moy, Carrbridge and Bankfoot. Further funding will be brought forward in 2009-10 to ensure that those projects are carried through. However, as John Swinney made clear, there will be a corresponding reduction in the budget for 2010-11. Our current capital plans support record levels of investment in our railways, which includes work on the delivery of the Borders railway and the Glasgow airport rail link. The plans that I will set out today clearly identify where we as a Government see the priorities for investment against the background of increasing pressure on our budget.

Our continuing investment in major transport projects is helping our hard-pressed construction industry now by creating hundreds of much-needed construction jobs. After decades of waiting and years of uncertainty, it is this Administration that is delivering completion of the M74. After generations of Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative government in Scotland, the difference is clear: they talked, we are delivering. [Applause.]

The Government already has an ambitious programme of transport projects, including the Airdrie to Bathgate rail improvements, the recently opened Clackmannanshire bridge, M74 completion, the Glasgow airport rail link and our continuing support for the Borders railway. We are also making progress on other projects, including the Aberdeen western peripheral route, and we will shortly announce the second national planning framework, which will set out the national schemes that will contribute to our purpose.

Transport Scotland's current investment programme is delivering more than 40 major projects to enhance and improve the national strategic road network serving our cities, communities and centres of economic activity throughout Scotland. In addition to those that I have already set out, the programme includes projects such as Pulpit Rock on the A82, the Raith interchange on the M74 and dualling of the A90 from Balmedie to Tipperty.

The strategic transport projects review is the first nationwide multimodal evidence-based appraisal of Scotland's transport system as it stands and as it is forecast to develop over the next 20 years. It is at the leading edge of transport planning at national level and undertakes an orderly assessment of the strategic transport corridors that cover Scotland. It considers predicted changes in areas such as land-use, population, economic performance and emissions in order to address our objectives of improving journey times and journey reliability and quality, and of reducing carbon emissions in line with our climate change objectives. The challenge that faces Scotland's strategic transport networks over the coming years is to adapt to those competing pressures within a finite budget, while improving the levels of service that we expect of a dynamic and modern country that is focused on growth.

The STPR has considered many options to address those nationally significant issues, including many projects that are promoted by stakeholders across Scotland. On proposals that will contribute to our objectives at regional or local level, the STPR has identified those that should be owned and promoted by the Government, and has made it clear where other delivery partners such as local authorities and regional transport partnerships are best placed to lead. In some cases, we will work with local partners to deliver the schemes.

The programme complements the Scottish Government's current and continuing investment in maintaining the trunk road network and in ensuring that train services are further developed by means of the high-level output specification.

The package of schemes that are recommended by the STPR covers all Scotland, from improvements on the A75 and A77 to the Loch Ryan ports, via railway enhancements across the network and safety improvements in the north of Scotland. The schemes include significant projects such as the Forth replacement crossing and railway improvements between Edinburgh and Glasgow, on the Highland main line and for Aberdeen and Inverness.

In total, 29 schemes are recommended within a hierarchy of, firstly, maintaining and safely operating our transport network; secondly, optimising the use of those networks; and, finally, where there are identified gaps, considering targeted infrastructure improvements. The hierarchy emerges from the national transport strategy that was put in place by our predecessors in 2006.

Our high-level modelling suggests that, taken together, the overall package of schemes could—compared with business as usual—cut between 100,000 and 150,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, which would help us to meet our climate change commitments. By focusing on the hierarchy for delivery, and with the emphasis on public transport, we are leading the way in making sustainable transport more attractive.

The financial climate in which we are working has materially changed. External factors that are outwith the Government's control will have an impact on how and when we can deliver on the infrastructure investment that the country needs. There is continuing uncertainty in the financial markets, and the cost of borrowing and the availability of funds are fluctuating daily.

We now have to deal with the practical implications for budgeting of changes in United Kingdom Government accounting practices, which will have a significant impact on the capital cover that is available for our major transport investments. Our investments will all be undertaken in an environment in which the Government accounts will conform to the international financial reporting standards. That will mean that almost all infrastructure projects—including private finance initiative and public-private partnership schemes—will come on balance sheet.

Following the Chancellor of the Exchequer's pre-budget report on 24 November, there are projected cuts in future budgets—approximately £1 billion of cuts to Scotland's budget in 2010-11 and 2011-12. For the sake of the people and public services of Scotland, all members in the chamber should unite in resisting those Westminster cuts.

Given the urgency of timing and its central importance to the economic wellbeing of the whole nation, the Forth replacement crossing will, until it is open in 2016, dominate our investment programme. We have approached the Treasury about mechanisms to secure budgetary cover for the unique investment of the Forth replacement crossing by reprofiling our capital budget over the next 20 years. Such cover would not mean that the Treasury would pay for the new crossing, but that there would be an increased capital budget during the years in which we will be paying for the crossing so that other important investments can proceed at the same time. Capital budgets in later years would be correspondingly reduced.

In circumstances in which capital investment is at a premium, it becomes even more important that we secure maximum value for the public purse from the resources that are available. That underlines the importance of the Scottish Futures Trust as a centre of expertise and project collaboration in helping the Government to maximise the value and effectiveness of our infrastructure spending by releasing every year up to £150 million of extra investment in the fabric of Scotland's public services.

The STPR is about providing a robust framework of schemes, the delivery of which will be prioritised in each spending review. I will, of course, keep Parliament updated on progress. Members might wish to reflect on how much more satisfactory it would be if this Parliament had full financial and borrowing powers so that we could make these decisions for ourselves, in the best interests of Scotland.

Improving rail connections between Edinburgh and Glasgow will provide more and faster services that will run more frequently and will have increased capacity. By 2016, services will have increased from five or six per hour to 13 per hour. In addition, a new suite of services will be defined by significantly quicker journey times between Edinburgh and Glasgow; the journey time between the two cities will be reduced by about 30 per cent to around 35 minutes. Transport Scotland is progressing the programme through working with Network Rail and First ScotRail. Feasibility studies are complete and contracts to take the project through to design development are on schedule to be in place by the end of this month.

In addition to service improvements, the project will involve the construction of a new railway station that will be designed to integrate with the Edinburgh tram network, which will provide onward connection for passengers who use Edinburgh airport. That facility will provide a much-needed improvement in public transport access to the airport and the surrounding areas. The station will be situated on the Fife railway line to the north of the A8 Gyle roundabout. Outline design is under way, and it is planned that the station will be completed in time for the opening of the Edinburgh tram network in 2011. Transport Scotland is working closely with the tram project team to produce the best possible link for passengers between the railway and the tram network, which will provide an easy and effective interchange for passengers.

However, our investment in rail is not limited to the central belt—we are committed to improving connections across Scotland for business, commuters and leisure travellers alike. Feasibility work for the Highland main line is under way, with the aim of providing a faster and more frequent service between Inverness and Glasgow and Edinburgh, via Perth, by reducing existing journey times by up to 30 minutes.

Transport Scotland continues to invest in our rail network through the high-level output specification. Work is already under way to develop the HLOS for the next period—2014 to 2019—and the STPR's recommendations will play an important role in that.

When there is investment in rail projects, not only are we moving on our climate change commitments, but the use of the regulated asset base allows us to keep that investment within the overall scope of our payment to Network Rail and off the Government's balance sheet.

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth announced last year our plans for securing the future of cross-Forth travel and undertook to set out during 2008 how we would promote and fund the new crossing. The condition of the existing bridge continues to deteriorate. Inspections continue on the cables and although the existing bridge, which opened in 1964, may be deteriorating less rapidly than was previously thought, it is clearly not certain that it will provide a reliable and resilient crossing for the current weight of traffic. Safeguarding that vital connection in Scotland's transport network remains absolutely essential to the nation's economy, so providing alternatives to car use for travellers across the Forth has been central to our strategy for the replacement crossing.

Updated findings from the Forth Estuary Transport Authority have allowed us to consider the future of the existing bridge. We have concluded that it can be retained, alongside the new bridge, as a dedicated public-transport crossing as part of a managed crossing strategy. Sustainable public transport will be given priority on a dedicated public transport corridor across the existing bridge, with the option in the future to convert the existing bridge for light rapid transit, trams or guided buses. The existing bridge will continue to provide access for pedestrians and cyclists.

A narrower design for the replacement crossing is therefore possible, which will help to reduce the carbon footprint of its construction. Implementation of that strategy will provide an immediate boost to public transport infrastructure, but with less environmental impact and at significantly less cost. It will protect and enhance the economies of Fife, Edinburgh and the east coast of Scotland as it will create new opportunities for sustainable economic growth.

The Government set the project team a challenging and demanding target of designing a scheme that will provide value for money, realise savings wherever possible and make the most efficient use of existing resources. The strategy that I have set out today delivers against each of those elements. I am delighted to announce a saving of around £1.7 billion in the project cost estimate, which is now between £1.72 billion and £2.34 billion. Of course, included in that cost is £100 million to £200 million that will be handed over to the UK Exchequer as VAT.

Work throughout 2008 to assess possible financial and procurement routes to deliver this huge project has been thorough and comprehensive, and has been set against the reality of the new international financial reporting standards, which bring infrastructure contracts on balance sheet. Officials have worked with experienced advisors on contract strategies, and that work has pointed us to the best form of contract for the project. To explore the opportunity for off-balance-sheet treatment, we have examined contract strategies ranging from conventional design and build contracts, through non-profit-distributing design, build, finance and operate concessions, to innovative long-term leasing options. As a consequence of that work and that reality, the Forth replacement crossing will be publicly funded and will be procured through a conventional design and build contract. That will deliver best value for money and the certainty of delivering the replacement crossing by 2016.

The Forth replacement crossing will be promoted through a parliamentary bill that will be introduced to Parliament late next year. I can also announce to Parliament that, under an SNP Government, the new Forth bridge will be toll-free.

I understand the keen interest in the design of the replacement crossing, and my officials continue to work closely with Architecture and Design Scotland to develop a bridge that will not only improve operational flexibility and provide greater reliability for all, but will enhance what is an iconic vista. Continuing our commitment to engage with local communities, we have arranged a full programme of supporting public information exhibitions for the new year.

The project is of a scale that is unprecedented in recent times in Scotland and will form a massive part of our infrastructure programme. Our strategy, which is economically sound and provides value for money, meets every requirement and maximises use of our existing assets. We remain on target both to achieve the 2016 opening date that we are committed to, and to deliver the substantial cost savings that I have reported today.

I have set out our immediate priorities for transport, which balance investment between road and rail. The whole of Scotland will benefit from nationwide packages that will enhance the road and rail networks for all travellers and users. Schemes include reconfiguration of our national rail timetable and measures to improve the attractiveness of public transport by, for example, introducing a strategy of park-and-choose sites serving the following: Aberdeen at Dyce and Charleston; Dundee; Edinburgh at Pitreavie and Halbeath; and Glasgow at Bargeddie, Fullarton and Bannockburn.

We have made clear our belief that providing quality public transport alternatives to the private car encourages responsible modal choice. To further that aim, we will bring forward schemes to build on the Edinburgh to Glasgow rail improvements, including detailed signalling changes to manage the network better and changes to junctions in order to improve capacity. Rail services between Edinburgh and West Calder, Newcraighall, Dunbar, Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy will be improved, the Haymarket interchange will be upgraded, and a national integrated ticketing scheme will be introduced to support services.

In the west of Scotland, there will be a step change in strategic rail enhancements not only to meet predicted future demand and capacity constraints within Glasgow, but to increase public transport access to areas of economic activity and key public services such as the new Southern general hospital. Those enhancements, which include the possible development of a metro or light rapid transit network across Glasgow, will also allow improved rail connections with Ayrshire and Inverclyde through additional platform capacity in Glasgow and additional parking at stations including Ayr, Prestwick, Troon, Glengarnock and Kilwinning. Links to the Loch Ryan ports will continue to attract investment along the A75 and the A77 and, for key freight routes across Scotland, there will be specific measures on the west coast main line to lengthen passing loops, improve the loading gauge and increase freight terminal capacity.

In the central belt, the continued growth and success of the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee will be supported by intelligent transport systems on the M8, the M90, the A720 and the motorway approaches to Glasgow, and by active traffic management to manage pressures on the links between these cities. Improved access to the port of Grangemouth will include the upgrade of the A801 between the M9 and M8.

Allied to all that is the ability to make significant economic progress by reducing journey times between all of our cities. Although for Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness, work towards that aim will be led by investment in the rail network, it will be complemented by road safety improvements in targeted locations.

Moreover, after years of talk and no action under previous Administrations, and for the first time in any Scottish transport strategy, we have included in the STPR our intention to improve the A9 to dual-carriageway standard between Perth and Inverness. Improvements to the A96 will include upgrading the road to dual carriageway between the A9 and Nairn, with a new connection between the A9 and the A96 to provide relief for the Raigmore interchange. Other improvements to the A96 will include a long-overdue new Inveramsay bridge.

Promotion of solidarity and cohesion—key roles within our economic strategy—will be delivered by route improvements and safety measures, where required, across the west and north of the country on strategic routes including the A82, A835, A9, A90, A96 and A830. Targeted road congestion-relief measures will also be introduced, including upgrading the A77 to dual carriageway around Ayr, introducing bypasses at communities such as Dalry and Nairn, and junction improvements at key points such as Sheriffhall. Together, those schemes will make a major contribution to the principle of providing "sustainable, integrated and cost effective public transport alternatives to the private car, connecting people, places and work, across Scotland".

Since coming to power last year, we have applied the greatest possible impetus to progressing the Forth replacement crossing. Even with that effort, building on planning that commenced in 2005, construction will start only in 2011, which illustrates the time that is needed to deliver major transport projects from inception to construction.

The STPR has been developed in close consultation between officials, recognising the key links between transport, planning and climate change. That has ensured that a common strategic agenda has been found across the national planning framework and the STPR, and that the recommendations that have been made are mindful of our commitment to reducing emissions. I anticipate that, after consideration by Parliament, the national planning framework will be approved by Scottish ministers and published in spring 2009. To ensure effective delivery, the STPR and NPF teams will take forward an action programme with key delivery bodies in the new year.

We are keenly aware of the challenge that is posed by climate change and of the need to reduce emissions from Scotland. Our ambition to play a leading role internationally is reflected in our Climate Change (Scotland) Bill, which was introduced to Parliament last week. The bill represents the most ambitious climate change legislation anywhere in the world. The targets that it sets will drive new thinking, new solutions and new technologies, and will put Scotland at the forefront of international action to move the world along the path to a sustainable low-carbon economy.

The imperative of reducing emissions has featured large in the consideration that has been given to the options for crossing the Forth, and to the package of interventions that have arisen from the STPR. The carbon emissions that will be associated with construction of the Forth crossing strategy are now significantly less than those for the earlier option.

In the case of the STPR, the majority of the interventions involve improvements to the public transport infrastructure, thereby facilitating the shift from car-based travel to bus and rail. Although those outcomes are welcome—with the potential to reduce emissions by more than 100,000 tonnes—we acknowledge that much more needs to be done. In particular, we shall continue to give early priority to interventions that improve safety.

We are on track with the delivery of the Forth replacement crossing and, in addition to the investment that we are making in transport in the current programme, the STPR provides the robust evidence base to plan for the future of Scotland.

In the current financial climate, we, as a Government that is committed to delivering for the people of Scotland, must ensure that our approach is ambitious, yet accountable and achievable. As we deliver this ambitious programme, we will take the right decisions for the future of all Scotland.


… … …

03 December 2008

S3M-1975 South Edinburgh Suburban Railway

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 3 December 2008

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

... ... ...

South Edinburgh Suburban Railway

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S3M-1975, in the name of Gavin Brown, on the south Edinburgh suburban railway. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the wide public and cross-party political support that the campaign for the reopening of the South Sub railway has gathered; acknowledges the importance of the work carried out by groups such as Capital Rail Action Group (CRAG), E-Rail and TRANSform Scotland; observes that the most recent report on the reopening of the South Sub did not contain a benefit-cost ratio, which was positive in previous reports; believes that the reopening of the South Sub would ease the impact of traffic on the main routes into the city as well as playing an important role in the reduction of fuel emissions in the south of Edinburgh, and believes that there is a case for the reopening of passenger services on the South Edinburgh Suburban Railway.


... ... ...


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

I begin by congratulating Gavin Brown on securing the debate. My personal experience as transport minister is that between 17 May 2007, when I came into office, and 5 November 2008—I do my counting monthly—I have made 436 ministerial rail journeys and 116 ministerial bus journeys, so I speak not from the position of the abstract theoretician but as an engaged user of Scotland's public transport network.

The Government's economic strategy makes it clear that the aims of our focus on transport are to make better connections across Scotland, to improve reliability, to reduce journey times, and to maximise opportunities for employment, business, leisure and tourism. Members will hear a great deal more about transport in the statement that I will make to the Parliament next week on the strategic transport projects review.

I acknowledge the clear support for the proposal that exists in many parts of Edinburgh. Gavin Brown named eight groups, and I recognise the commitment and sincerity of those people. He also made a point about the impact on road traffic, and that point is certainly made in the report. He mentioned a seven-minute journey time from Morningside, and clearly there are advantages to such provision for passengers.

Gavin Brown also highlighted the fact that, at present, 50 freight trains use the railway each day. That is not an inconsiderable issue in thinking about what can be done. He mentioned that the station locations are already known. That is true, although, as Christopher Harvie said, there might be issues about bringing the stations back into use. In particular, as much of the route is elevated, there are issues in relation to disability legislation that would substantially increase the cost from what one might imagine and what might previously have been thought. The option is not as cheap as it would appear to be, given that it involves a working, fully signalled railway that is joined to the network.

Why does the most recent report not provide a cost benefit ratio? The report was produced using the Scottish transport appraisal guidance, which is primarily about identifying what transport problem exists and, from that, seeking to identify the appropriate solution. It is not about evaluating whether we should have a railway through south suburban Edinburgh. The study has not yet developed to the point at which it would be reasonable or appropriate to update the cost benefit ratio. Having said that, I am not going to pick at or criticise the previous figures that have been produced.

I turn to the issue of resources and where they can best be deployed. Chris Harvie said that, in a sense, the big issue is the switches that join the south suburban loop to the main line. There are substantial costs in upgrading such switches.

Recently, we went through an upgrade in connecting the Bathgate line to the main line, taking a dual line and merging it into a single connection to the main network to be a fully doubled connection. That closed the line for a week last Christmas and cost a substantial amount of money. We would certainly need to do such work for the project that we are discussing tonight. Furthermore, the Bathgate line has a much lower level of use than the one that is talked about in relation to the south suburban line.

More fundamentally, the big problem is capacity at the two main stations in Edinburgh and the use to which we should put that scarce capacity. I will return to that shortly.

Robin Harper is obviously a former pupil of the Royal high school. I am not sure where David McLetchie went but, given his remarks I suspect it that was a rival school in Edinburgh. He suggested that I should sit down and talk to the City of Edinburgh Council. As an enthusiast for public transport, I am always happy to do that sort of thing. If that is helpful, I will do so.

Robin Harper latched on to the key issue of the carbon contribution—and quite properly so. There would be a carbon benefit in getting more people off the roads and on to the south suburban line. However, we have to compare that with the carbon benefit of using the slots at Haymarket and Waverley for longer distances, which is likely to be greater.

Robin Harper highlighted the issue of signalling. We in the British isles are looking at the European signalling system, which is essentially a moving-block system that improves the utilisation of rail lines. However, the new timetable for Kirkcaldy has about 12 trains an hour, proving that we can do quite well in the existing system. The European system will be piloted on the Cambrian network quite soon, and we would expect to see the system here. We need investment in rail signalling if we are going to improve services.

Ian McKee suggested that

"Little extra in the way of signalling would be needed",

and he asked a number of questions, some of which I can answer. One of the reasons why the estimates of potential users are variable is because the routes that were being considered were somewhat different. Further, we must take into account that if we get people on to rail, we get them out of the bus. Considering the system as a whole, I think that the situation is not as clear cut as some might suggest. With six or seven rail stations, the cost might be quite high.

Margo MacDonald said that the problems can be overcome by engineering. Engineering can solve almost every problem but, as she suggests, that approach may be constrained by the fact that this transport minister is deaved.

The key difficulty is that the Halcrow study has not identified a transport problem that requires to be solved. There are already significant changes to our network: the adjacent corridors, supported by the development of Edinburgh Park services through to Newcraighall; and the Edinburgh tram link—there was not huge enthusiasm for that on the part of the Scottish National Party, but nonetheless it will be part of Edinburgh's transport infrastructure. Joining tram and train—those are all things we are doing. Other developments include the Waverley line to the Borders and recent improvements to Edinburgh to Glasgow connections, with increased frequency and speed.

For the moment, the bottom line for the Government is that, on the basis of the information available, opening the Edinburgh south suburban line would not be the most cost-effective use of our scarce resources. However, as an enthusiast for expanding the rail network, I hold out an olive leaf. If there are issues that the City of Edinburgh Council wishes to discuss with me, I am very happy to sit down and discuss them. However, I do not want to raise expectations to the point where they simply cannot be filled. With scarce resources, we have to make choices.

Meeting closed at 17:37.

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