12 March 2009

S3M-3674 Aberdeen Crossrail [Closing Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 12 March 2009

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

Aberdeen Crossrail

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): ... ... ...

The first item of business is a debate on motion S3M-3674, in the name of Alison McInnes, on Aberdeen crossrail.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson:

I welcome John Park's concluding remarks, in which he looked forward to my continuing to come to the chamber. I intend to do that.

The strategic transport projects review is the thread that has run through the debate. Indeed, it is the first objective-led, nationwide, multimodal and evidence-based appraisal process to be undertaken in Scotland. Other jurisdictions are now looking into it—we are at the leading edge of international approaches to transport planning.

The STPR sets out the next 20 years of investment priorities. It will help ministers and Administrations to make informed decisions on future transport spending, subject to the current programme.

Brian Adam (Aberdeen North) (SNP): Can the minister confirm that capital for rail is rather more possible because Network Rail has borrowing powers, and that there is therefore less potential financial impact on rail than there is on road from the Forth road bridge project?

Stewart Stevenson: That is absolutely correct. Indeed, the proposed rail interventions for the north-east are budgeted at some £1.1 billion. If that does not highlight the Government's commitment to improving the rail infrastructure in Aberdeen city and Aberdeenshire, I do not know what will.

Jeremy Purvis: I am interested in what the minister said in response to Brian Adam. If Network Rail's regulated asset base is the most effective way of delivering rail infrastructure in Scotland, why has he ruled out using that method for the Borders railway? Why does he prefer to borrow £300 million from the private sector for that project?

Stewart Stevenson: We invited Network Rail to compete, which would be the most effective way of reaching a cost-effective solution. In fact, a substantial number of people are interested in building the Borders rail link. It is important that we support the Office of Rail Regulation, which says that we can achieve 30 per cent savings by using different models and approaches, compared with how Network Rail does things. The Office of Rail Regulation has managed to get 19 per cent efficiency savings for the next control period. It is proper that we always consider the most effective ways of doing things on the rail network.

I will now turn to a few of the remarks that members have made. I will deal with as many as I can in the time that is available. Des McNulty criticised the Liberal Democrat motion—I accept that he did so in a mild way—for its parochialism. I am not sure that I agree with him on that. It is proper that the Parliament should debate that in plenary session, if it is asserted that such matters in Aberdeen are important for the whole country.

Des McNulty says that we need a strategy for conurbations. Should local stations be national or local? That is a perfectly good and proper question for him to ask. We need to consider the cross-cut across a range of projects in different transport modes and we must seek to integrate them, which is precisely what we have sought to do in the strategic transport projects review. Will strategic transport projects review 2, when it comes along, do things better than STPR 1? Yes, of course it will, because one can always learn lessons.

On the proposal to consider Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire as a single transport area, that is largely happening already through increased collaboration between the councils. Des McNulty emphasised the need for dialogue. Basically, I agreed with a great deal of what Des McNulty had to say. I do not always do so, but I think that he spoke a great deal of sense today.

Alex Johnstone spoke about timetable issues south of Aberdeen. Of course, we do not control the timetables on the network in Great Britain. We can control what we ask of First ScotRail, but the timetables depend on Network Rail's willingness to co-operate, and indeed that of the other operators that have to access the track, which are controlled by Westminster. We are making good progress; we will try to do more.

Nigel Don pointed out that it is north-east to south-west trains that are important. We are not ruling out more stations. One of the benefits of the incremental approach is that we will build up the case for further stations. Various locations have been mentioned.

Lewis Macdonald once again introduced the issue of the Haudagain roundabout. The work will be done by this Government and people will welcome it, as I have said before. That is not a national project; it is about fixing the local road. The traffic has been transferred off what is currently a trunk road; it is being made a local road. However, we are supporting that project, as we believe we should.

Richard Baker welcomed incremental improvements. I think that he is absolutely right.

I hope that I can borrow John Park's crystal ball, which has clearly been working for him. I would make a little point about the new Forth bridge. We are seeking to ensure that local civil engineering contractors are fully engaged at an early stage so that they understand what opportunities are available for them. Under international law, we cannot mandate who, internationally, is involved, but we are going to give our local people the best possible shot.

This has been a good debate, although not entirely free from rancour. We will see how we vote at 5 o'clock. The commitment by this minister and this Government to improving rail services in the north-east is absolute. No minister before me has used the railway as much as I have. I look forward to continuing to do so, and I support the amendment in my name.


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