20 May 2010

S3M-6349 High-speed Rail [Opening Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 20 May 2010

[The Presiding Officer opened the meeting at 09:15]
... ... ...
High-speed Rail

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-6349, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on the high-speed rail link.

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

At the outset, I recognise that Robert Brown is speaking on behalf of the Liberals—on Monday, I spoke to Alison McInnes about this debate, and I hope that she has a speedy recovery from the temporary ailment that is keeping her from us today.

I realise that it is just over a year since we last debated high-speed rail as a group. On that occasion, we convened to welcome the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee's report on the potential benefits of high-speed rail and as a Parliament established—early on—our shared commitment to bringing high-speed rail to Scotland.

The clear vision set out by our colleagues on the committee, and the overwhelming consensus displayed in the chamber, have directed our work on high-speed rail in the past year. In the course of the year, we have experienced the harshest winter for 40 years, which affected travel across the UK—indeed, at home we had 14 consecutive weeks of snow, something that we have never had before. More recently, volcanic ash from Iceland has closed our airspace and disrupted the plans of many thousands of travellers. Both events clearly demonstrate the cost to the economy of disrupted travel plans and the essential value of cross-border and international travel to our economy.

With predictions that eruptions and ash clouds will continue to disrupt flights for a considerable time—perhaps even years—we can look with some envy at our European neighbours whose high-speed networks are well established and who have much less reliance on short-haul aviation.

The past year has seen major reports on high-speed rail from both Network Rail and Greengauge 21. We also established a broad-based stakeholder group, drawn from Scotland's business and transport communities, to direct the production of Transport Scotland's strategic business case for high-speed rail to Scotland, which was published in October 2009. Those reports clearly set out the economic and environmental benefits of high-speed rail to Scotland and the United Kingdom and highlighted Scotland's centrality to the case for a UK network.

Let me remind Parliament of some of those benefits. High-speed rail could bring economic benefits worth £20,000 million to the Scottish economy, mainly through reduced journey times, and a further £5,000 million of wider economic benefits through job creation in areas close to the line and agglomeration. In addition, a three-hour journey time between Scotland and London would create substantial modal shift from air, with reduced carbon emissions—at three hours, high-speed rail could capture 67 per cent of the overall travel market between Scotland and London, and at 2.5 hours the figure could rise to 80 per cent. That contrasts with the current situation, in which approximately 7.2 million people travel between central Scotland and London but only about 1 million of them travel by rail. Crucially, those reports show that Scotland is central, not peripheral, to the business case for high-speed rail in the UK.

On 11 March, the Department for Transport published its command paper on high-speed rail, which outlined the then UK Government's commitment to high-speed rail from London to the midlands by 2026, with extension to Manchester and Leeds after that. There is a great sense of disappointment in the Scottish Government and, more fundamentally, among our stakeholders that Scotland has not yet been firmly included in the plan. We must try to change that. The business and transport communities as well as politicians of all parties in Scotland agree that including Scotland in any new network, from the start of the planning process, completes the case for high-speed rail in the UK.

Although the DFT's proposal makes small concessions to Scotland—for example, hybrid high-speed rolling stock will operate on classic lines to Scotland from 2026—it is vital that high-speed rail's reach to the north extends beyond those cities, with full high-speed lines. There is no sensible alternative.

Jeremy Purvis (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD): On planning, has the Scottish Government started any scoping work on potential routes for central Scotland and the north of Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: Part of the brief of HS2 Ltd, which was established by the UK Government through the Department for Transport with substantial support from us, is to plan the entire high-speed rail network. We support that. Thus far, we have proceeded on the basis that it is HS2's responsibility to undertake that work. I had discussions on the subject with the previous Secretary of State for Transport, and he was clear on our views. Although I have spoken to the new secretary of state, Philip Hammond, on two occasions so far, that has been on the matter of ash. However, we will discuss high-speed rail and how it should be planned for in future.

Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): Is there any provision for high-speed rail in national planning framework 2?

Stewart Stevenson: We said in national planning framework 2 that high-speed rail is an important part of what we want to do. We are clearly committed to it in principle. I do not believe that any member would dissent from that shared view.

I do not want to get unduly bogged down in the detail of who actually does the planning, although I will return to the Liberal amendment. The important point is that the planning is done, because failure to bring the high-speed line to Scotland would significantly disadvantage the Scottish economy, as it would affect its attractiveness as a place to visit and do business.

Of course, bringing high-speed rail to Scotland would not mean that we alone would derive a benefit. The connectivity between London and Scotland gives the opportunity to redraw the economic map of the UK. There would be benefits to Edinburgh from a fast connection to Birmingham and vice versa, and Manchester could derive benefits from a high-speed connection to Glasgow.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): Does the minister accept that those who make arguments about increased connectivity, as he seems to be doing, only strengthen my concern that some people consider high-speed rail to be an addition to the existing connections by air, rather than a replacement for them, which completely undermines any environmental case?

Stewart Stevenson: I do not see it as an addition; I see it as a replacement. With a journey time of two and a half hours, the overwhelming majority of people would, without Government intervention of any kind, travel by rail, because it would make sense. It is in that context of making sense that we are here today.

At present, there is no firm UK Government plan, but the Scottish Government and Parliament can work to present our clear vision for how to make progress on high-speed rail. All parties have the opportunity to promote the case for high-speed rail to Scotland. Promoting it is one thing but, on the basis of the plans that the DFT presented earlier in the year, we are preparing for the introduction of hybrid high-speed trains on routes to Scotland. We are working with the rail industry to understand fully whether the capacity offered by those trains will be enough to meet expected demand or whether further measures will be needed. We also need to understand gauge issues, and the impact on line speed and other west coast operators. Paradoxically, when one puts a high-speed train on our existing railways, it has to be light and cannot tilt, therefore it runs more slowly on our rails than the existing tilting trains.

We have asked Network Rail to develop work to give us a clearer picture of likely implications. We are giving attention to the matter of terminals in our two major cities—the correct location and specification of high-speed terminals will ensure that high-speed rail fits with our existing strategic plans—for example, how high-speed rail in Glasgow adds to our plan for overall rail enhancement for the west of Scotland. We need to understand the opportunities for onward travel locally and across Scotland, and the potential to contribute to regional and national economies. When 100 per cent of our electricity is from renewables—and we are talking about electric railways—the carbon cost of running our railways will essentially be zero.

There is in Scotland a clarity of vision for what we want to do with rail. We have set out bold plans for future strategic investment in our rail network. The strategic transport projects review specifies electrification of the strategic rail network and structured programmes of improvements across Scotland—on the Edinburgh to Glasgow line and between Aberdeen and the central belt—to deliver capacity in the west of Scotland, including for high-speed rail. The national planning framework refers to HSR as a key component of future economic sustainability.

It is disappointing that the DFT does not yet have Scotland in its plans, but that is not by any means the end of the story. People here have a role to play in changing that. This Parliament's voice is crucial. Let us seize the opportunity to state a clear vision for high-speed rail in the UK, one that includes Scotland and delivers benefit across the UK.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the work of High Speed Two, Greengauge21 and Network Rail, among others, which have developed the case for high-speed rail in the United Kingdom during the last year; notes the strong economic and environmental case for extending high-speed rail to Scotland; notes the opportunity to engage with the new Westminster administration to secure Scotland's place in a UK high-speed rail network, and supports work to bring high-speed rail to Scotland at the earliest opportunity.


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