29 January 2009

S3M-3322 Transport [Closing Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 29 January 2009

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

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The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-3322, in the name of Des McNulty, on transport priorities.


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Stewart Stevenson:

In the limited time that I have, I will try to deal with as many of the points that members have raised as possible.

The STPR deals with surface transport and not merely roads. However, Alison McInnes clearly believes that all interventions on roads should be in the STPR. That is not true—unless she is advocating, as she now appears to be, the abolition of the regional transport partnerships.

Let me draw Peter Peacock's attention to some of the numbers relating to traffic at Elgin. If we consider an extreme situation, as few as 3,000 of the 20,227 vehicles that go through Elgin every day could divert to the bypass. That should make us focus on the fact that we are not merely talking about a trunk road intervention. It is precisely because different views exist that we are now engaging with HITRANS and the local council to work out the right interventions for Elgin. However, we acknowledge that interventions are needed.

Peter Peacock appeared to suggest that the TLR might resolve issues at the roundabout adjacent to the ground of Caley Jags. I am really not clear why that should be.

Mary Scanlon said that she was holding the Government to account. Quite properly, she said that that was the job of the Opposition, and I have no problem of any kind with that assertion. However, the mature way of making progress is to engage on the issues—such as those affecting Elgin—in order to work out the right solution.

Charlie Gordon asked what would be happening in the next five or six years, and then talked about "son of crossrail". This is another situation in which various numbers arise. We have commissioned research work from Jacobs to consider the capacity of the Glasgow stations and the rail network in the approaches to Glasgow. The research will inform a meeting that will take place in the next few weeks. Useful work will enable Strathclyde partnership for transport and the Government to determine the long-term strategy for developing son of crossrail or crossrail-plus, or whatever we choose to call it.

On the question of the rolling stock being too long, if I was misleading in the meeting of the cross-party group on Glasgow crossrail I should now be clear and say that the new rolling stock is 23m long as opposed to 20m, and in future trains will comprise eight carriages of 23m. Under those circumstances, the present ability at Glasgow Central sometimes to put three trains at one platform will be diminished—platforms will be able to accommodate only one train. It is not that we will be unable to get the trains in, but there will be an effect on the overall capacity—the overall number of trains. I know that the people who are considering the issue will acknowledge that that effect will have to be dealt with.

I will answer Lewis Macdonald's points very briefly. He brought forward a miasma of obfuscation, distortion, misrepresentation, pusillanimous persiflage, and economy of memory, facts and explanation. It will be done. We will pay for it. The people of Aberdeen will be duly grateful.

Lewis Macdonald: Will the minister take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: No, he will not. He has got only five minutes, so he does not have enough time.

Jim Tolson described the STPR as a "thin" document. It has 3,800 pages, for heaven's sake! He has given the game away: he has not actually read the thing.

Jim Tolson went on to say that there is a 60mph limit north of the Forth bridge. The first 60mph limit on the A90 north of the bridge, or on any of the roads connecting to it, is at the delimit sign at Dyce airport north of Aberdeen. If he thinks that that will affect—

Alison McInnes: That is wrong.

Stewart Stevenson: Alison McInnes is quite right: I am wrong. The first 60mph limit is north of Inverurie. However, it certainly is not immediately north of the bridge. Let us deal in facts, not hypotheses.

This Government is committed to bringing forward the projects in the strategic transport projects review, and I look forward with optimism to support for our approach at 5 o'clock. We will support the Tory amendment because it makes sense, but no one else should look forward to our support.


S3M-3322 Transport [Opening Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 29 January 2009

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

... ... ...


The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-3322, in the name of Des McNulty, on transport priorities.


... ... ...


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

We have just had a perfect illustration of Labour members' reading skills: they have none. Clearly, Des McNulty has read little, if any, of the STPR. The Maybole bypass is in it.

Des McNulty: No, it is not.

Stewart Stevenson: It is in there, under the interventions for the A77. I can confirm that.

John Scott (Ayr) (Con): Would the minister accept that all that is needed to secure a bypass for Maybole, which would be of benefit to all people in southern Ayrshire, is for the Government to include the project as part of the enhancement of the A77 south of Ayr, as referred to in the strategic transport projects review? Can he give the people of south Ayrshire that commitment today?

Stewart Stevenson: Work for the Maybole bypass is included, and is safety focused.

Cathy Jamieson (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab): Will the minister take an intervention on that point?

Stewart Stevenson: In the six minutes that I have, I will address as many points as possible.

Cathy Jamieson: Will the minister take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will make some progress before I—

Cathy Jamieson: On that point—

Stewart Stevenson: Sorry. I beg your pardon. I will take an intervention from Cathy Jamieson, because of her constituency interest.

Cathy Jamieson: On the Maybole bypass, if it is in the STPR, will you give a commitment today on when that work will commence and when it will be completed?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I remind members not to use the second person.

Stewart Stevenson: The STPR will be funded through successive spending reviews. The Maybole bypass and all the other work will be similarly considered, as funds become available. It is included in the A77 intervention.

Reference was made to the Haudagain roundabout. The very first oral answer that I gave, in May 2007, provided an absolute assurance of the Government's commitment to dealing with the issues there. I repeat that assurance—as I appear to have had to do weekly ever since. Sooner or later, somebody will hear that the Haudagain roundabout will be fixed by the Government, in the interests of the people in Aberdeen.

The STPR is about strategic nationally important projects. It distils a huge number of projects into its 29 interventions, which we as a Government will directly deliver. We are clear about our delivery priorities and about the timescales within which interventions can be delivered.

The Forth replacement crossing is central to our strategic transport priorities. It is a vital economic link, which must be maintained, and I know that there is broad—if not universal—agreement on that point across the chamber. Financially, it dominates what is going on.

In parallel, we are able to undertake a substantial number of rail improvements: between Edinburgh and Glasgow, on the Highland main line and on the route between Aberdeen and Inverness. Those interventions will dominate the period to 2016.

The Government takes responsibility for what the STPR will deliver—and we intend to deliver. I accept that not all the decisions will be welcomed by everyone and that there are schemes that are not in the STPR. In considering 1,000 projects, that was inevitable. Good government is about approaching problems systematically and taking tough decisions.

Let me speak a bit about Elgin. There are some important issues around Elgin that will influence the way forward. There have been a number of studies and they have come up with a range of different conclusions about numbers. The Highlands and Islands transport partnership study suggests an average figure of 20,227 annual traffic movements in the centre of Elgin. However, our monitoring on the trunk road at the edge of Elgin shows 7,000. That is quite a different number that tells us that the congestion issues in Elgin are largely local.

There is also a difference of view in the modelling that we have done and the modelling that HITRANS has done on the transfer effect. We think that only 10 to 35 per cent of the 7,000 vehicles going into Elgin will transfer to the bypass, whereas HITRANS cites a figure of 60 per cent of its 20,000. That numerical difficulty does not mean that there is not a problem to be solved—of course there is. It indicates, however, that further work must be done to understand the distinction between the benefit that could be delivered by upgrading a trunk road with a new bypass to the south of the town, and interventions that would affect local traffic inside the town. That is why we are continuing to work with the regional transport partnership and the local council on the issue. We will continue to pursue that intervention with energy and commitment.

We are the first Administration to adopt the whole of the A82 route improvement plan. We have done so because 13 people died on the A82 in 2007. It is a road on which engineering interventions can make a very real difference. Safety is our top priority, and we will pursue it right across Scotland. We will continue to engage with communities and regional transport partnerships. I notice that the Labour member appeared to suggest that we should abolish regional transport partnerships, as he said that only the Government should be making interventions. We take a different view, which I think is shared across the chamber. I will be interested to hear from the former convener of the north-east Scotland transport partnership.

I move amendment S3M-3322.2, to leave out from "lacks" to end and insert:

"(STPR) focuses on the three STPR priorities of addressing safety on the network, maximising use of the network and making focused investments that deliver national benefits and notes that the STPR is not the only mechanism for the delivery of surface transport infrastructure supported by the Scottish Government which also involves working with regional transport partnerships and councils and that the Scottish Government is engaging with local communities such as Elgin, Inverness and Maybole to deliver solutions to a range of transport infrastructure issues that have important local benefits."


15 January 2009

S3M-3214 Forth Crossing

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 15 January 2009

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

... ... ...

Forth Crossing

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-3214, in the name of John Swinney, on the Forth road crossing. ... ... ...
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The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

Let me treat this somewhat didactically for the hard of hearing and the hard of heeding. I will talk about policy, finance and the capability of the new crossing. I hope that I will have time to respond to as many members as I can.

The policy has not changed: it is to have multimodal capability between Edinburgh and Fife. What has changed is the implementation of the policy in the light of the innovative and exciting work that is being done by the professional engineers in Transport Scotland. It is an implementation that will deliver a huge financial benefit and simultaneously open up for future Administrations further capacity options, if they so choose. This Administration's option is to deliver a replacement for the capacity of the bridge that was opened in 1964, but the design gives us the opportunity—in particular in relation to public transport—to increase capacity and reliability and to deliver the kind of public transport intervention, particularly for buses, that we have not seen for a generation.

Patrick Harvie: The minister has implied—I think that I am right in saying that it is on the record for the first time—that under his scheme future Administrations will have the choice of increasing road capacity between the two Forth crossings by using the existing crossing. If his climate change targets mean anything at all, surely he needs a system in place to prevent that from happening. Will he guarantee that the SNP would never support such a scheme? How will he prevent future Administrations from doing so?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sure that the member will have read the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill, so he will know that it provides for predictions as to how much carbon we must eliminate from our economy. That is precisely the handcuff on future policy making in a range of areas that the member might care to look at.

On the subject of finance, I say to everyone: the bridge is safe, the finance is safe and the finance is known. For those who are hard of hearing, I say more loudly: the bridge is safe, the finance is safe and we know where we are going. Finally, for the hard of heeding: the bridge is safe, the funding is safe and we know where it is coming from. It is coming from the Government.

Jeremy Purvis: Will the minister take an intervention?

Murdo Fraser rose—

Stewart Stevenson: Mr Purvis first.

Jeremy Purvis: I am grateful to the minister for giving way. On the reduction in the cost estimates for the current Government's solution, what proportion of that reduction is owing to the funding mechanism that it has now opted for?

Stewart Stevenson: Choosing a funding mechanism that comes from our own resources is clearly the best value for money. That is a significant change from using mechanisms such as a lease and a shadow toll, or PPP. The funding mechanism that we have selected means that there is a significant change in the price. Now, does Mr Fraser wish to—

Jeremy Purvis: On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My point of order is relevant to the Presiding Officer's statement earlier today. In this debate, not only the cabinet secretary—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: No, sorry. I will not take a point of debate dressed up as a point of order. Can you sit down, please?

Jeremy Purvis: May you hear the point of order first, Presiding Officer, before you rule on it?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You can make the point of order at the end of the debate, or you can write to me and we will adjudicate on it. I am not taking the point of order just now. We will conclude the debate.

Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Standing orders do say—there is no question about it—that, if a point of order is raised, it must be heard and proceedings must stop.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Mr Rumbles, if you look at standing orders, you will see that points of order should not be on the subject under debate and that they must be points of order and not points of debate. I call Murdo Fraser.

Murdo Fraser: Thank you, Presiding Officer. Perhaps we could return to the subject of the debate. I want to put to the minister an important point that has not yet been addressed by a minister during the debate. Why was there such a delay in ministers' seeking Treasury approval? Why was approval sought only 14 days before the announcement that was made in December? Was that due to incompetence or was there another, more sinister reason for it?

Stewart Stevenson: Within a very short time of Cabinet's concluding the shape of this project, we approached the Treasury. That was the right time to do it and the right way to do it.

I very much welcome the open approach that I think is being taken by the Treasury. We expect to have fruitful and useful discussions when Mr Swinney and I meet the Treasury team in the next few weeks.

I turn to the capability of the bridge. First, the bridge provides replacement capacity for freight vehicles and the private car—two lanes in each direction. However, we will enhance the weather proofing compared to the existing bridge. On the Severn, the modern bridge hardly ever closes—it probably never closes—in comparison with the old bridge. We will see the same on the Forth.

Similarly, the provision of a hard shoulder means that breakdowns and accidents will interfere less with the operation of the bridge.

Helen Eadie: I asked about European funding, but the minister did not respond to that in his remarks on funding.

Stewart Stevenson: We explored that without success.

I return to capability. The old bridge was built with a 120-year life. That lifespan was predicated on a number of things: first, that we would not have corrosion in the cables; and secondly, that we would have a much lower utilisation than we have currently. It is interesting that those responsible for the Severn crossing responded early to the design capacity point being reached; they have similar utilisation on two bridges across the Severn.

Today, we are faced with a bridge that is approaching the safety point and which is continuing to deteriorate simply through use. The kind of vehicles that are carried on the bridge are very different from the vehicles that were carried on it when it first opened.

In the limited time available, I will try to respond to members' points. I very much welcomed Derek Brownlee's acceptance of the funding model that we have adopted. That is useful and sensible.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. There are far too many conversations going on.

Stewart Stevenson: Marilyn Livingstone got to the nub of it when she said that the case is made for a new crossing. The multimodal capability is there.

George Foulkes conflated funding and project management. The problem with the Parliament was not the funding mechanism but the project management. He raised the issue of local authority borrowing. The difficulty is that, under the adoption of international financial reporting standards, that would have to be on the balance sheet of local authorities at the outset—exactly the same problem as PFI and exactly the same problem with borrowing.

Murdo Fraser quoted Churchill, who, I think, also said:

"Prediction is difficult, especially for the future."

That is certainly true of the deterioration of the bridge, but we cannot take a gamble that things will magically come right.

I say to Margaret Smith that we have been advertising this week in The Scotsman, the Metro and other papers the substantial engagement that there will be with communities.

Even Patrick Harvie said that a road crossing remains an important part of our transport infrastructure. I thought that that was important and interesting.

Chris Harvie suggested that a barter approach might be of value. That is very interesting, but perhaps we will not look at that immediately.

In 1935, my great-uncle was the chairman of the campaign committee for the Forth road bridge. He anticipated that 6,000 vehicles a day would cross the bridge. Today, we have 11 times that number crossing the bridge. The world has changed since 1935—and since 1964. I commend the motion in my colleague's name to the Parliament.


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