26 May 2010

S3M-6391 Forth Crossing Bill: Stage 1 [Opening Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 26 May 2010

[The Presiding Officer opened the meeting at 14:30]

... ... ...

Forth Crossing Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-6391, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on the Forth Crossing Bill. I warn members that we have no time to spare in this debate, so draconian measures will have to be taken if members overrun the guideline timings that they have been given.


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

I am pleased to open the stage 1 debate on the Forth Crossing Bill. I thank all those who were involved in the scrutiny of the bill, in particular Jackson Carlaw and the members of the Forth Crossing Bill Committee. I also express my appreciation to the many individuals and organisations who provided oral and written evidence.

The Forth Crossing Bill Committee's stage 1 report is considered and balanced, and I welcome its recommendation that the principles of the bill be agreed to. The bill directly affects private interests, so we must pay close attention to it. People's rights are important, and we must understand the need for a new crossing in that context. We must ensure that those who are directly affected by our proposals understand the bill's implications.

In 2004, the Forth Estuary Transport Authority carried out its first internal inspection of the main cables on the Forth road bridge. It found fairly significant corrosion, and it estimated that there was a loss of strength of about 8 per cent. In 2007, the Government recognised that securing cross-Forth travel was imperative for the economic wellbeing of Scotland, and accordingly it committed to a replacement bridge.

In 2008, FETA carried out another inspection, which showed a total weakening of about 10 per cent. To halt or slow the weakening, FETA commissioned a scheme to dehumidify the cables. We are optimistic that the scheme will reduce the environment for further corrosion, and the results should be known soon, but the strength that has already been lost and measured will not be recovered.

In December 2008, I announced that the Government had, as promised, considered the future of the existing Forth road bridge, and I outlined how the existing bridge would be used as a dedicated public transport corridor.

We have debated and discussed at length the issues around the need for a replacement crossing and how it should be funded. In January 2009, we—well, nearly all of us—welcomed the fact that it would operate without tolls. We agreed that it should be capitally funded, and that it should be progressed at the earliest opportunity.

Having set out the need for the crossing, I will now comment on the report. I have provided a detailed written response of more than two dozen pages to the committee convener, and I have supplied a copy to the other relevant committees. Today, I wish to draw out two of the key issues within the report: public transport and the impact of our proposals on the local community.

The bill contains substantial public transport elements. Indeed, the design of the project is based on future travel growth beyond 2016 being supported by public transport rather than private travel. The project will provide access improvements to Ferrytoll park and ride, bus priority measures at Ferrytoll junction, dedicated bus links between Ferrytoll and the existing bridge, and a massive increase in public transport capability over the existing bridge. In the south, fast bus-only links will connect the A90 to Echline junction and the existing bridge.

Providing those substantial infrastructure elements is only part of the solution. Like others, I recognise that more needs to be done to capitalise on the potential created for modal shift. Working with the local authorities, the south east of Scotland transport partnership and others, we have developed a strategy to increase travel choice, to improve integration and to encourage modal shift. In the current financial climate—who knows what future settlements might be?—we cannot guarantee to deliver the entirety of the strategy immediately, much though that is our preferred position. However, there are things that should and can be done soon, because unless there is a change in travel habits, there will be inevitable traffic management pressures at peak times, particularly at Ferrytoll, during the construction period.

George Foulkes (Lothians) (Lab): Is the minister aware that even Transport Scotland accepts that, in percentage terms, the overall shift will be away from public transport and towards private transport? Does he accept that a large percentage of that increase will come into the city of Edinburgh, which is already overcrowded and greatly congested with private traffic? How does he propose that City of Edinburgh Council should deal with that extra traffic?

Stewart Stevenson: The expected traffic volumes on the new bridge are essentially at the same level as we currently provide. The provision of extra public transport as an option is a way of addressing the mode by which people travel to Edinburgh. We are also making it easier for southbound long-distance traffic to turn right, as it were, so that people can travel by the M9 and M8 to their ultimate destinations. Therefore, we are addressing the problem in a range of ways. However, the member is not being unreasonable in pointing out the need to look at the effects on traffic in the city of Edinburgh. To that end, we will continue to work with SEStran and City of Edinburgh Council to ensure that we understand their concerns in sufficient detail and respond to them.

George Foulkes: If I may pursue that point, let me say, with respect, that the minister is inadvertently misleading the chamber. The new crossing will have no direct link with the M9, so traffic will not be able to go directly on to the M9 as he seemed to imply. An increasing amount of traffic will go into Edinburgh. When I had my one-to-one with the officials and asked them how those extra cars coming into Edinburgh would be dealt with, they told me that that was a matter for City of Edinburgh Council. However, with less and less funds to deal with such matters, the council will find that ever more difficult. The minister and his officials seem to be just shrugging their shoulders. The matter cannot just be left to City of Edinburgh Council.

Stewart Stevenson: Let me say that I am always happy to meet the member, but let me just address his specific point about the lack of a connection to the M9. The improvement to junction 1A, which is one of three packages of work associated with the project, will precisely deliver a westward connection on to the M9 and allow people to travel southward and on to the M8 as well. However, if the member wants to raise further matters, I will be happy, as will my officials, to meet him.

Another important point is that we intend to look at temporary hard-shoulder running for buses on the M90 during the construction period. We recognise that there will be particular issues during both the construction period and the post-construction period that will need to be addressed.

Let me talk about local communities. It is an inescapable fact that construction activities generate noise. Within the bill and our comprehensive code of construction practice, we have set out appropriate and comprehensive measures that are at the forefront of good practice, to manage, mitigate and control construction noise. We recognise that we need to augment those measures and ensure that they are understood, and to that end I will bring forward changes to the code of construction practice.

We have had extremely productive discussions with the local authorities north and south of the firth. They recognise the value in the effective planning processes that we are putting in place, but improvements can be made, so we will form a noise liaison group with the local authorities. We are also working with local authorities towards a memorandum of understanding on noise and vibration. I shall ensure that the Forth Crossing Bill Committee and constituency members are apprised of the outcome of our discussions.

The committee's report recommends a reduction in the proposed working hours for the construction of the roads, and when I spoke to the committee I agreed to consider that issue further. I have concluded that we can change working hours without unduly compromising the delivery of the project. Accordingly, I will revise the code of construction practice. The normal working hours for road works will now be 8 am to 7 pm with a 30-minute start-up time prior to 8 am. That start-up time is only to allow people to go on site and travel to their designated area of work; it will not be used for working.

Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD): Will the minister take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: No. My apologies, but I am almost out of time.

The A904 through Newton is a particular issue, and I am pleased to advise that additional works to reduce community severance within Newton village are currently being discussed with West Lothian Council and Newton community council. I am sure that Mary Mulligan will welcome that.

I welcome the committee's endorsement of the principles of the bill, and the recommendations and suggestions within the committee's report. I acknowledge that many of the committee's concerns reflect the concerns of those who will be directly affected. In turn, I trust that Parliament recognises the positive and constructive approach that we are taking to address the committee's concerns. I will listen carefully to the contributions of members, including those whose interventions I was not able to take, and seek to respond to them in my closing remarks.

At the centre of what we are doing is the delivery of a good transport system for the whole of Scotland, and we particularly wish to look after the interests of the communities that lie adjacent to the crossing.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Forth Crossing Bill and that the Bill should proceed as a Hybrid Bill.


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