24 February 2010

S3M-5426 Highlands and Islands Airports (Car Parking Charges)

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 24 February 2010

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

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Highlands and Islands Airports (Car Parking Charges)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-5426, in the name of Liam McArthur, on car parking charges at Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd airports. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.


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

Like members around the chamber, I thank Liam McArthur for securing a debate on this important issue. I assure Mr McArthur and other members that I appreciate that strong arguments will be, and have been, made against the introduction of car parking charges at Kirkwall airport and elsewhere. Indeed, I am conscious of the lively debate that took place when car parking charges were extended in Kirkwall town centre to include another four car parks to improve parking turnover, with a highest charge of £2.40 a day.

Liam McArthur: I think that I am right in saying that the proposal was for four car parks, but the decision was ultimately taken to extend charges to two. I say that to clarify the situation for the record—I would not want him to mislead the Parliament.

Stewart Stevenson: The record is now clear and I am sure that the member would not seek to mislead me or anyone else on the matter—two car parks it is.

I simply make the point that the circumstances in which different bodies find themselves mean that they have to look very carefully at the options that are in front of them.

I make the general point that HIAL has 11 airports. I have flown personally into all of them: four as a pilot, a number as a passenger personally and some as a minister. I know that there is huge diversity in the airports across the network and that we have to have appropriate responses to the needs of each one.

I heard the discussions about air fares. It is correct that in our island communities there is not much, if any, competition for the provision of services, so one's choice is much more limited. As a minister, when I was going to Poznań for the 14th conference of the parties—COP 14—about 15 months ago, according to the initial quote from the Government's travel advisers the fare would be £1,200. I did not think that that was the right amount of money, so I spent 20 minutes on the internet and got it down to about £200. It meant arriving in Poznań at 3.15 in the morning, but I thought that it was a sensible thing for the minister to do, although he should not have had to do it.

I acknowledge the value of the discount scheme that the previous Administration introduced and I have been pleased to continue to give support to that very important scheme. I am not terribly sure that the references to FOIs accorded with my understanding of what went on. We have had some useful clarification from Kevin Dunion, the Information Commissioner, about whether documents or information may be sought and we have adjusted our policies accordingly.

It is important that we have a consistent policy on car parking, but having a consistent policy does not ineluctably lead to having identical outcomes. It is clear that the distance of Sumburgh airport from any major centres of population in Shetland creates a particular dynamic that will need to be considered.

I acknowledge Alasdair Allan's legitimate point that there are not many tourists in the car parks of our major island airports. They are essentially used by local people and there is significant difficulty in travelling to airports.

Peter Peacock, like Liam McArthur, referred to NHS patients. I quote from a letter from Inglis Lyon to, among others, the chair of the Kirkwall airport consultative committee. At question 2, it states:

"No charge for hospital patients".

I accept that that is for consultation and that it is a suggestion, but I would be somewhat surprised, whatever outcome we achieve, if we were to wish to charge hospital patients or, for that matter, blue badge holders. Indeed, the suggestion in the letter from Inglis Lyon is that the charge for parking for 24 hours will be £3—broadly the same as the charge for parking in the centre of Kirkwall.

We are in challenging financial times and the board of HIAL is responsible for running the company. The Government minister—me—acts on behalf of the public as the owner of the shares, but, under the Companies Act, it is clear that we appoint the board members to make decisions. I am sure that HIAL will be watching the debate and will be very much aware of the interest that is being taken in the issue. I am very pleased that consultations are now going on. Given reduced demand and hence reduced income, it is important that the board considers every opportunity to balance the books and to ensure that it discharges its responsibilities.

Mary Scanlon: About a minute ago, the minister mentioned a consistent approach. Does he agree that a central factor in that is whether alternative public transport systems are available, such as those in Inverness that I outlined, and that a critical factor is the airport's sustainability, given a potential reduction in demand?

Stewart Stevenson: I acknowledge that absolutely. The investment in new parking facilities at Kirkwall as part of the terminal's redevelopment was excellent. I note that, at peak times, the car park is full—in fact, it is overfull, to the extent that people park on the grass verges and elsewhere. That is not disconnected from the point that almost everyone who parks at the airport contributes to the revenue that is generated from the airport.

HIAL must take into account precisely those balancing issues.

I referred to Sumburgh's location, which presents special challenges because of its distance. I know how much a taxi journey to Sumburgh costs, because I have had to do it on ministerial duties.

Liam McArthur rose—

Stewart Stevenson: If the Presiding Officer is content for me to do so, I will keep taking interventions.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I do not know about keeping on taking interventions, but the minister can take this one.

Liam McArthur: I thank the minister and the Presiding Officer for allowing me to intervene.

The minister referred to the distance between Sumburgh and Lerwick, which is the main population centre. He will appreciate that Orkney has been described as the fried egg, which presents other challenges, not least the existence of other population centres in Stromness, out on the west mainland and in the wider isles, which use the airport but do not have access to the bus service. Constant reference to the distance of Kirkwall rather than Lerwick to the airport is slightly disingenuous, as is the reference to car parking charges in Kirkwall town centre, which are irrelevant to many of my constituents.

Stewart Stevenson: I refer to Sumburgh merely because of the clear and specific difference, but the circumstances at each airport—Stornoway, Kirkwall and Sumburgh—need to be considered. I do not wish to pre-empt the outcomes.

HIAL's remit includes consideration of the social aspect. I do not encourage the board to take a decision that would make it difficult for people to travel to the airport to use air services and I am sure that the board will take tent of my saying that and of what others say.

We give HIAL substantial financial support of some £27 million. The air discount scheme, which benefits many people in Orkney and the Highlands and Islands—take-up levels are high, although they are probably lower in Caithness and Sutherland, where I would like them to rise—involves a further £6 million. Substantial support is provided.

HIAL's board has reflected on the need to consult more fully. I welcome that. Lessons can be learned from the initial consultation. Such decisions are not abstract—they touch on the lives of people in our islands, so it is proper that they should involve consultative committees.

Of course, the board has a wider fiduciary duty to support economic and social aims for the Highlands and Islands. It would have to ameliorate any potential impact of introducing charges and to ensure that it can explain the policies that it implements.

I assure Mary Scanlon that the planning processes for Dalcross station are proceeding apace.

The debate has been useful. I wait with interest to see what HIAL takes out of the consultations that it is undertaking. I hope that it will listen carefully to the input from the debate and from elsewhere. Ultimately, it is for HIAL to take decisions, but I am sure that it will take notice of what is said elsewhere.

Meeting closed at 17:34

10 February 2010

S3M-5359 The Bike Station

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 10 February 2010

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:00]
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The Bike Station

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-5359, in the name of Ian McKee, on the Bike Station makes climate change a local challenge. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates The Bike Station, Edinburgh's bicycle recycling and cycling promotion charity, for its continued work in championing active travel; notes that the charity promotes cycling as a healthy and sustainable means of transport across Edinburgh and the Lothians and works to support people to start and keep cycling while assisting other organisations to promote cycling and bike maintenance skills; further notes that the charity has recently been awarded funding from the Scottish Government Climate Challenge Fund to take on the 80-40-20 challenge, aimed at encouraging commuters to leave their cars at home and use public transport or take up cycling; considers that the project will help reduce carbon gas emissions as well as improving the general health of people in the region; congratulates the charity's manager, Mark Sydenham, for taking on the challenge, and wishes the project every success in getting the people of Edinburgh to take local and concrete action to fight climate change.

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

Like others, I congratulate Dr McKee on bringing the subject to the Parliament for debate. It is one in which we can all usefully engage, and there is an overwhelming consensus around the usefulness of the work that the Bike Station undertakes.

The debate has included a number of interesting speeches. Ian McKee talked about weight loss and cycling. In the past fortnight, I found another way of losing weight: I had toothache and lost 4 lb because I was not eating. However, I would really rather lose weight by cycling than by having toothache; the two are not comparable in any sense.

Mike Pringle talked about the Bike Station being in his constituency and the range of services that it offers. I have never owned a new bike in my life but have had a long series of second-hand bikes—starting with my mother's, on which I learned to ride—and have hired bikes from time to time. Therefore, I hope that I am showing some of the leadership for which Sarah Boyack looks, although I concede that more can always be done.

Sarah Boyack made the point that many bikes are locked up in garages, unused. The status of my current bike fits that description exactly. In my constituency, many bikes—including mine—are acquired at a roup. I think that there were 20 bikes for sale at the roup at which I bought mine for a fiver. Many of us acquire bikes in that way, but they are not of the standard that the Bike Station turns out because they are not maintained and often not particularly safe. Therefore, the Bike Station's role in turning old bikes into useful and safe bikes is excellent.

I think that Sarah Boyack said that 45 per cent of people in Edinburgh live within 5km of their work. Of course, 54 per cent of all car journeys are less than 5km. The two facts come together rather neatly. Indeed, 40 per cent of car journeys are less than 3km. There is a clear opportunity for people to get out of their cars and on to their bikes, the bus or their own two feet. For me, 3km—about 25 minutes' walk—is a walk rather than a cycle. We must try to encourage that.

An important reference was made to children having bikes but not using them to go to school. If we get children cycling to school, we get mum or dad not taking them in the car to school. If mum and dad start the day without having to get into a car to take their children to school, there is a good chance that they will change their travel options—perhaps they will get the bus, do some walking or get the train. There are all sorts of important linkages.

Sarah Boyack also referred to potholes as a major problem, so I am sure that she will join others in welcoming the finance that was announced today for dealing with them throughout Scotland.

I return to the Bike Station. Its ambitious 80:40:20 project can make a real difference in Edinburgh and, perhaps more fundamentally, can show other parts of Scotland what it is possible to do. The team that will provide support, run promotions and try out equipment will not only be doing something in Edinburgh but showing the whole of Scotland what is possible.

The project is about sustainable transport, personal travel planning, engaging companies in cycle challenges, doing training, loaning bikes and all the other things that we have heard about. We have engaged with the Bike Station to encourage Scottish Government staff to cycle to work regularly. One of our senior directors regularly appears at meetings with me straight off his bike, carrying his helmet in his hand, which is an inspiration to others. The Dr Bike scheme that was referred to earlier is excellent in engaging with people and ensuring that their bikes are safe and that they understand how to be safe on them.

I visited the Bike Station in 2008 and presented Mark Sydenham with a Scottish transport award for sustainability. I also had the pleasure of awarding £86,000 for the build-your-bike scheme. Of course, that scheme provides not only environmental benefit but social benefit, in that it often engages with youngsters who have difficulties in their lives. The scheme gets them involved in purposeful activity, and they end up with a bike that they can take away. They are also given the opportunity to spend a day off-road, perhaps in Glentress forest near Peebles, to ensure that they understand that bikes are not just utilitarian things but can be great fun. As others have said, the Bike Station has brought together an alliance of people with shared interests.

The cycling action plan's target is for 15 per cent of all trips to be made by bike by 2020, which is in line with the Brussels charter that was signed last year. I understand that Edinburgh is the only United Kingdom city to have signed it. Let us see whether more cities in Scotland can take that on board and make a similar commitment. I repeat that this is not just about Edinburgh but about the whole of Scotland. Much is going on across Scotland to encourage more active travel.

I am pleased that, through the motion, Parliament is celebrating the work that has been done on our doorstep. I have personally considered whether I should buy a unicycle, but my wife has dissuaded me from doing so—she foresees my hurting myself too much. I therefore think that two wheels are better than one and that two wheels are better than four every time.

Meeting closed at 17:47.

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