26 May 2010

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

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 26 May 2010

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

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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.

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Stewart Stevenson: ... ... ...

It has been a useful debate. No one made a contribution that should be ignored. I will try to respond to as many as possible of the points that were made, to add to the comprehensive response that I gave in my letter to the committee.

Jackson Carlaw confirmed, as we have done, that funding for the bridge will appear as a level 3 item in the budget, so any change in it will need to be approved by the Parliament. That is a first, and it will be broadly welcomed because it will enable the Parliament to engage with the continuing expenditure on the bridge in a way that was perhaps less possible with previous projects.

In his opening remarks, Charlie Gordon commented that repair was an option with too many downsides. There is little doubt about that. We heard from a number of members about the economic cost of closing the bridge. If we were to repair the existing bridge, that would essentially involve building up the columns, putting another cable over the top, and—this is the crucial point—finding new anchorage points that were further out. In suggesting that we already know that the bridge can be repaired, Patrick Harvie perhaps knows how those anchorage points will be located and whether they are fit for purpose. I assure members that I do not know the answer to those questions, and at this stage I do not think that anyone else does. It is not at all clear that the issue of putting an additional cable over the top to allow the existing bridge to be repaired is well understood. I do not want to pretend that it cannot be solved; I am saying only that it has not been solved.

Margo MacDonald (Lothians) (Ind): I thank the minister for giving way, because his answer might determine my vote this evening. Inside what timeframe could he find out where the fixings would go?

Stewart Stevenson: I do not think that I can give a substantive answer to that. I can say that the next step is to understand the nature of the existing anchorages, because we know about the deterioration in the cable but we know rather less about the condition of the anchorages. That research is likely to give some further insight into the answer to the member's question, although it might not deliver the certainty that she seeks from me. I would not want to mislead the Parliament about that.

Charlie Gordon said that we must grasp the nettle and endorse the bill. That is broadly, if not totally, the consensus that we have noted in today's debate.

Alex Johnstone bravely took an intervention from George Foulkes, as others of us did. I suspect that, when we add up the minutes for which he spoke, it might exceed the minutes of many of those who had a speaking slot in the debate.

Many members, particularly Margaret Smith, identified the tricky question of the communities of Newton, South Queensferry and Kirkliston. I do not want to downplay the concerns of people in those communities. They are legitimate concerns that require to be addressed. We will continue to engage with the community of Newton. We have made some initial proposals. Indeed, we are looking to have continuous engagement with each of the community councils that has an interest in the bridge and the effects that it will have. The bottom line is that we want to take actions that will make travel via Newton less attractive to people—in other words, they do it only once because they discover that, although their satellite navigation might say that it is a good way to go, their experience tells them that it is not.

In the past, we have sought for a variety of reasons to make contact with the providers of maps for satellite navigation systems—so far, I have to say, without much success—but we will continue to engage with the matter as part of a much wider agenda to stop HGVs, in particular, using many inappropriate routes in Scotland. Of course, South Queensferry will benefit from the fact that, unlike the traffic for the existing bridge, the traffic for the new bridge will no longer go through the middle of the town. There is a balance of advantage and disadvantage.

Margaret Smith: The committee has said, rightly, that the work times should be looked at. However, in the letter that was sent to the committee yesterday, the minister said that he wants to look again at a 7 am start for some construction traffic. Will he confirm that no construction traffic will move before 7.30 am and, indeed, that any traffic moving before the 8 am start time will be that which is involved in the half-hour setting-up period before work begins?

Stewart Stevenson: It is certainly the intention that nothing will happen before 7 am and that in the period between 7.30 am and 8 am people will be taken to their different locations on site.

However, work will start no earlier than 8 am and will stop at 7 pm. I will reread my letter to the committee, but I did not think that it said what the member suggested it says. She might well have read it more carefully than even I did when I signed it, so I will not turn her away from her suggestion.

Alison McInnes said that she wanted a full multimodal bridge. However, that very proposal was the reason for the substantial difference between the current price and the £3.4 billion to £4.3 billion cost that we first heard about. When I originally challenged the proposal, we were told that a multimodal bridge was being planned because light rail could not go over the existing bridge. Again, I challenged that, and further work that was carried out established that it would be possible to put light rail on the existing bridge. That fundamentally changed the cost and design in a way that not only protected the public purse but now presents opportunities that we might not otherwise have had.

The new bridge will have the same capacity as the existing bridge, although I acknowledge Patrick Harvie's point about the temptation to reuse some of the capacity that would appear to be lying idle on the existing bridge. Parliament has the opportunity to send clear messages about that; indeed, I certainly wish to send the clear message that it is not something that we should permit.

Patrick Harvie: Will the minister give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry—I really have a lot to cover in my now diminishing time.

It is, of course, important to integrate bus and rail across the east of Scotland. It was, however, suggested that quite a lot of capacity was available on the rail bridge; that is not the case, partly because there is a very long block on the bridge. We hope that by putting an extra signal in the middle and breaking the block in two we will relieve things and increase capacity. In fact, it was necessary to get traffic on to the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line before we could even find the capacity to increase rail passenger services to Fife. The issue is not quite as simple as might have been suggested.

With regard to the intelligent traffic systems that Joe FitzPatrick and Jim Tolson mentioned, I point out that, paradoxical as it might seem, the mathematical model for traffic modelling is known as the Monte Carlo system, because it involves rolling what might be described as mathematical dice. The intelligent traffic system might slow down traffic, but if we can get it right, that will also shorten journey times. Using computers to monitor what goes on on the road network and to encourage traffic to slow down—which will, as I say, shorten journey times—actually works. We are not being ground-breaking; it has been done elsewhere and we know that we can do it here.

On the cost of capital issue that Joe FitzPatrick mentioned, it is worth pointing out that changes to the accounting rules mean that we will not have to account for that in the future. In any case, it does not make any difference to the availability of cash to the Government; it merely changes the book-keeping.

David Stewart, with that ever-reliable source Wikipedia, referred to optimism bias. I prefer the view expressed by Professor Fred P Brooks Jr in my favourite project management book "The Mythical Man-Month". Every chapter in the book starts with a quotation; one starts with the Dutch proverb, "Een schip op het strand is een baken in zee", which means that a beached ship is a warning to the sailor. We are looking at previous projects that have not been successful and taking the appropriate warnings. Optimism bias, which is a Treasury rule, is a useful way of getting a grip of many things that we need to do.

Ted Brocklebank averred that he is still a tunnel fan. It is worth reminding ourselves that a tunnel would not be able to take whisky or fuel lorries because of their associated risks. That is by no means the reason why a bridge was chosen, but perhaps that should not be entirely disregarded in view of Fife's interests in whisky.

Helen Eadie asked about TEN-T. I assure her that we made two applications. She may have received the answer that she received because of the question that she asked. The applications go in in the name of the Department for Transport, not in the name of the Scottish Government. Things will depend on the question that is asked—there is not necessarily inconsistency. We are preparing a third application. It is worth reminding members that the total allocation across Europe was only €80 million, so it is not decisive in funding terms, alas and alack.

Margaret Smith talked about £100 per bus that crosses the old bridge. That is a fully allocated cost. If no buses are sent across, very little of that £100 per bus will be saved. There is a difference between the cost when it is allocated and what is saved when the activity is not done. That is fundamental.

Margaret Smith rose—

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry, but I do not have enough time to take an intervention. I will talk to the member about the subject afterwards if she wishes to hear more about it.

Patrick Harvie said that nothing else would be done when the bridge was being built because of the finances. That is absolutely not the case. There are major rail projects, and investments in public transport will continue. The Edinburgh to Glasgow rail improvements programme is important. Some £1 billion will be made available in the period up to 2015. We will do many other things.

We will issue the next version of the code of construction practice programme by 31 May. Members will therefore be able to see the flesh that we have put on the commitments that we have made in that respect.

Every time that we consult on transport and any other part of our activities, it is possible to ask whether we can improve on that consultation and to conclude that it is. We will certainly ask that. We have done a great deal of consultation and directly interacted with people. We have proactively gone out and engaged with them; indeed, we have probably done more consultation than we have ever done before. However, I recognise that the project is very big and that it will affect a large number of people. We will certainly consider the lessons.

The case for supporting the bill has been well made. The replacement crossing will be an essential element of our national infrastructure. The debate has been good and informative, and we will continue to engage with the committee and the Parliament.

I take great pleasure in endorsing the motion on the general principles of the bill.

Stewart Stevenson
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