07 October 2009

S3M-4851 Aberdeen Crossrail (Kintore Station)

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 7 October 2009

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]
... ... ...
Aberdeen Crossrail (Kintore Station)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-4851, in the name of Mike Rumbles, on Kintore station and Aberdeen crossrail.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the announcement that passenger numbers at the reopened Laurencekirk station have exceeded estimations by around 80%; notes that the decision by the previous Scottish Executive to reopen the Laurencekirk station followed a long community-based campaign; believes that a reopened Kintore station would be similarly successful; expresses its concern that progress on the Aberdeen Crossrail project has stalled under the current Scottish Government, and would welcome funding being brought forward to reopen Kintore station as part of the Aberdeen Crossrail project.

... ... ...

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

I join others in thanking Mike Rumbles for bringing his motion to Parliament. I agree that Parliament should acknowledge that the number of passengers who use Laurencekirk station has exceeded the initial estimate: 36,000 were estimated, but the number of people who are likely to use the station is 70 per cent or—as the motion states—80 per cent greater than that. I acknowledge Alison McInnes's point that that would not have happened without the groundwork that the previous Administration and previous transport ministers undertook. Of course, I encountered difficulties that any transport minister of any political view would have encountered in relation to land acquisition and the problems that are associated with bringing an old building into service. However, we are there, and no member will disagree that the station has been a success.

The project was developed with strong cross-party support and funding at all levels. The final piece of the jigsaw at Laurencekirk station is the car park, which opens today or tomorrow—I cannot remember exactly when, but it is certainly this week—with support from Aberdeenshire Council and Nestrans. The station reopened, after 42 years of closure, in May this year. In a sense, the consensus among politicians was of no great importance—the important point was that there was a cross-community campaign for the station to be reopened.

Similarly, there is substantial support for reopening the station at Kintore. As an MSP for the north-east of Scotland, I share Mr Rumbles's interest in that. I am enthusiast for rail and a regular user of rail services in the area and have jotted down that the only station between Inverness and Aberdeen that I have not used as a minister is Insch station—although that statement is subject to review, as I may find that I have used it. I am familiar with the area and have made approximately 750 journeys on our railway network as a minister.

Many members who are here this evening were present for the meeting that I had with Kintore and district community council—Mike Rumbles, however, was not able to attend that meeting. I am sure that there was a good reason for that, just as there was a good reason for my inability to attend the meeting of 12 September.

Mike Rumbles: It would have been nice to have been invited.

Stewart Stevenson: I believe that Mike Rumbles was invited, but that is another story. There was communication with his office several days before the meeting.

Mike Rumbles: No.

Stewart Stevenson: Instead, we arranged a different date just a few days later.

In expressing their opinions, the members of Kintore and District community council demonstrated a balanced view at that meeting.

The community certainly wants improved transport links for Kintore, but the council was clear that the work should be done only if there is a case that justifies it, based on objective analysis of passenger numbers. The community council's view—this is the view that we should all have—was that investment in transport infrastructure is important, but we need to do the analysis and make the right investment. Kintore looks to be a pretty good option, I have to say, and we are of course doing the work, with Network Rail, to ensure that we have a solid case and a clear understanding of the cost.

We must consider two options. The railway at Kintore is single track, and we could put a platform there at relatively modest cost to support a single-track operation. However, if we do that, we need to ensure that we do not design out the option of providing for a two-track operation at a later date. That forms part of what we need to consider.

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con): Does the minister accept that the strategy that has been so successful for Laurencekirk, with campaigning and the making of a business case for the station, is the strategy that is most likely to be successful at Kintore, and that in the current era of spending restraint, such a strategy is most likely to be successful at any other points along the line, where stations may be built in the future?

Stewart Stevenson: That is self-evident. If community demand is demonstrated, it gives credibility to estimates of patronage, and it builds the case. It is important to qualify the matter about the estimating tool—estimated patronage levels will be raised at all the stations that one might consider throughout Scotland, so the ranking of any particular station is not necessarily changed. Nonetheless, we should have accurate figures.

Alison McInnes: Will the minister take an intervention on that point?

Stewart Stevenson: Am I likely to get more than seven minutes, Presiding Officer?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You might.

Alison McInnes: If the minister is thinking of reconsidering how to measure patronage, surely there should be a way of factoring in local issues at the same time, rather than using another nationwide system.

Stewart Stevenson: I was not seeking to suggest that we are doing something on that based on a nationwide system; I was making the general point that, if we change the model, it is likely to affect all estimates everywhere. I am not posting a recipe for delay, by any means.

Richard Baker raised the question of funding for the Aberdeen western peripheral route. I say from memory—this is subject to confirmation, so I will e-mail the member if I am wrong—but I believe that the written answer that was published in June this year to question S3W-24477, in the name of Nicol Stephen, addressed the issue of funding for the AWPR, and indicated that there has been no change in recent times.

Nanette Milne stressed that a station should be opened at Kintore only if there is demand. Nobody could possibly disagree with that.

Alison McInnes's contribution was extremely helpful and constructive. She highlighted the structure plan for Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen. It is a very good plan that has been produced according to a very good process. I note that one of the things that are contained in it is protection of a corridor. It takes the long-term view that it might, at some point, be possible to construct a case for a station and a new railway to Ellon. There are some interesting ideas in that plan. Alison McInnes spoke about happiness. I am reminded of an old saying—although I cannot remember whose it is:

"Always be happy, but never be satisfied."

That is absolutely on the money as far as this issue is concerned. As Alison McInnes recognised, the incremental approach enables us to make progress as funds become available.

On a matter of general concern, of course we are supporting the north-east through improving services between Aberdeen and Inverness. We have increased the number of services that run up to Inverurie and patronage is beginning to grow, which enhances the case for Kintore by showing that there is increased and genuine demand in the area. I hope that there will be further growth in the area, because that will give us the step change that I want.

I note and encourage the cross-party support that underpinned delivery of the reopened station at Laurencekirk. I urge members to try to find consensus and not to create the false discord that has been slightly apparent from time to time during the debate. It is sensible for us to consider Kintore as the next step, and to ensure that we have an objective case and can find the funds to do the work. We continue to do the work that is necessary on that.

Meeting closed at 17:40

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