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.


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