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Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill
Mr George Reid (None)
The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5760, in the name of Phil Gallie, that the Parliament agrees that the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill be passed.
Phil Gallie (Conservative)
How strange life can be: here we are debating legislation in a building that neither you, Presiding Officer, nor I wanted, in a Parliament that you fought for and I fought against, on what for each of us is the eve of retirement from half a century or more of full-time employment and 15 years of parliamentary activity. My mind goes back to a debate in the mid-1990s that was organised by the Hansard Society in your building of choice for the Parliament, the old Royal High school building, when we assessed the merits of a devolved Parliament. That debate is long since over and today, in the final hours of the second session of the devolved Scottish Parliament, we consider the final bill of the session, the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill, which will be the last private bill to be dealt with under the Parliament's private bill procedure for proposed public works.
It is perhaps not surprising, Presiding Officer, given your commitment to the cause that you hold dear, and given the respect that you have earned over the years, that you should be presiding over what can only be described as an historic event. Strange it is, however, that I should be moving a motion on, and advocating acceptance of, a bill that has the potential to receive the unanimous approval of this chamber. [Laughter.]
At this point, I will thank my fellow committee members, whose support, commitment and analytical minds, along with the huge contribution that was made by our indefatigable—although, given the effect of that word previously, perhaps I should say "tenacious"—clerk: Fergus Cochrane and his team have enabled submission of the bill to Parliament for approval. Although all concerned gave 100-plus per cent effort towards achieving that goal against a 10-month timescale that was necessitated by the late introduction of the bill and by Parliament's impending dissolution, I make particular reference to Janis Hughes, who will also leave Parliament, come dissolution. [Applause.]
I pay tribute to our assessor at consideration stage, Professor Hugh Begg, who considered in an open manner a mass of written and oral evidence from the large number of objectors and from the promoter. His work allowed timeous
We were appreciative of Network Rail's commitment, after some cajoling, last Christmas to settle the minds of objectors who would lose their homes as a consequence of the rail link. The promoter did so by clarifying the valuation and purchase process. However, other concerns were not addressed so co-operatively. We and the assessor have made it clear—the promoter understands this—that all commitments by the promoter during committee meetings and assessment procedures are binding.
I want to talk now about engagement with the promoter—I go back to my time as a youthful engineer in a publicly owned utility. What a pain accountants, factors and other external bodies could be in preventing us from doing what we knew to be best for the plant and equipment under our care. At times I perhaps recognised the resentment of the promoter towards constraints that were being placed on it, but Network Rail has to realise that a project such as this one must be undertaken in a spirit of co-operation between the public and the promoter. It is in the public interest to commission and build the project to budget and by the set dates. That must be achieved within acceptable boundaries. That point has been addressed by some of the measures that I have yet to describe and which will be described by other committee members during today's debate.
Our previous reports were critical of Network Rail's initial response to a request for the provision of detail; the reports were also critical of elements of non-co-operation. I hope that Network Rail will have recognised its shortcomings in communication and liaison with external organisations and, most important, with local communities. I trust that Network Rail will take to heart the contents of those reports in any future plans and certainly in the implementation of this project.
The committee expressed disappointment at Transport Scotland's offhand approach to the promoter's level of engagement. It provided £340 million of public money to the project, so we thought that it should have displayed a greater interest, as our report suggested. We expect a future Minister for Transport to set monitoring criteria for project progression and implementation.
On engagement, the committee secured a base for local community forums at which matters of construction and timetabling, for example, can be discussed. Most important, Network Rail is obliged to enter into one-to-one discussion with every affected neighbour regarding the provision of planting, fencing and other protective measures.
A large number of objections were made against the bill. I pay tribute to the objectors, who were always constructive but genuine in pointing out difficulties that they considered they would face. Many changes were made to the project as a consequence of the objections. Our assessor identified site-specific requirements, all of which the committee agreed and adopted. For example, there will be a segregated bridge at a particular location to ease access for farm animals. The promoter will arrange for security reviews and meetings with local police for objectors who expressed strong concerns about increased risk of crime as a result of the railway or cycle track.
I recall the difficulties that the committee encountered when we faced objections from the local sailing club and fishing club. I believe that both clubs have attained reasonable settlements; indeed, with respect to the fishing club and its requirements for disabled people, I feel that a generous settlement was reached on its behalf.
A considerable number of objections related to the code of construction and to noise and vibration. Committee colleagues will refer to those matters in due course.
I feel obliged to say that all objections were treated in a way that ensured compliance with the European convention on human rights—justice and fairness were the committee's watchwords.
We believe that the project is sound. We accepted that improvements had to be delivered in areas such as local bus integration, new housing and improved pedestrian and cycle access into stations. Not all such aspects have been addressed yet—my committee colleagues will comment later on them. It is important to capture the railway's benefits from day 1, but it concerns us that aspects have not yet been addressed. However, given the conditions that have been laid down, I am sure that they will be addressed in the future.
There is a requirement for greater input and commitment from local councils and, in particular, from Strathclyde Partnership for Transport in delivering on the issues. Transport Scotland, too, must demonstrate that it has a cohesive strategy. Work must also be done in respect of housing—I believe that Jeremy Purvis will address that matter.
The major issue that we faced was provision of stations at Plains and Blackridge, so we welcomed
Janis Hughes (Labour)
I thank Mr Gallie for taking an intervention. Does he agree that, although the Airdrie to Bathgate link will vastly improve rail services across that part of the country, in particular for the people of Blackridge and Plains, who hope to get new stations in the future, the link would be greatly enhanced by the creation of Glasgow crossrail, which is the missing link in Scotland's rail network?
Phil Gallie (Conservative)
I could not agree more with Janis Hughes. It is a pity that she will not be here to fight for crossrail in the next session of Parliament. I hope that the members who will be here will put their backs into ensuring that a bill on crossrail is the first transport bill to be introduced in the next session. Janis Hughes has my total support on crossrail.
Much work remains to be done to develop the Airdrie to Bathgate rail project. At a cost of £340 million, the project must deliver on every front. The Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements (Scotland) Bill Committee fulfilled an important function and identified and secured enhancements to the scheme, but will cease to exist after the bill has been passed. It will therefore be for Transport Scotland to monitor with particular care how the promoter progresses the project. The needs of other people must be paramount. Transport Scotland must co-ordinate and deliver on a number of matters, such as bus services and housing, which will be part of an integrated scheme. I encourage the minister to reflect carefully on the tone of the clear messages in the committee's report.
I know that I have gone over time, but I want to thank every member of the Scottish Parliament for the friendship and support that I have received since Parliament's inception. I thank them for their good humour and the genuine debate that I have enjoyed as I have projected my sound, well thought out and practical Conservative principles and beliefs.
The Airdrie to Bathgate railway is a good project, which I am sure will bring about tangible improvements for the people who live and work in the central belt, especially in West Lothian and North Lanarkshire. [Applause.]
I am pleased to move, That the Parliament agrees that the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill be passed.
Tavish Scott (Liberal Democrat)
Such a young Parliament, so many historic events. I pay tribute to Phil Gallie's years of public service. I understand that he was with Cunninghame District Council for four years, during which time—my good friend and colleague Cathy Jamieson tells me—he was affectionately known as "the local Tory". He spent five years at Westminster, where he lived through the Major years—I remember watching him on television during the debates on Maastricht. Of course, he has also spent eight years in the Scottish Parliament and has made some mention of Europe and the ECHR in every year. I suspect that Mr Gallie did not think that his career in the Scottish Parliament would end with a debate on the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements (Scotland) Bill, which is perhaps not the most exciting piece of legislation on which to end a career. However, I was encouraged to hear from Mr Davidson that Mr Gallie has aspirations to election to another place. He will not expect me to vote for him if he seeks election to the European Parliament but, by gosh, it will be fun watching him if he gets in. On behalf of everyone on the Executive benches, I pay tribute to Phil Gallie for his time in public life and I wish him all the best, whatever he chooses to do in the future. [ Applause. ]
The rest of my speech is somewhat dull, so I will get on with it. I thank Mr Gallie and his colleagues on the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements (Scotland) Bill Committee, including Janis Hughes. She and I served on a committee back in 1999—I forget which one, but it does not matter—which was great fun. I thank her for all her work as a parliamentarian. I thank the committee clerks, the promoter and advisers for their efforts.
The construction of the railway is a key commitment of our partnership agreement, so we fully support the motion to pass the bill. The railway will bring many benefits to Scotland: it will put in place a necessary public transport connection to the key economic centres of Glasgow and Edinburgh and, when it is operational, it will give people in North Lanarkshire a direct service to Edinburgh and people in West Lothian a direct service to Glasgow.
The railway will provide benefits to the economy of £716 million when we factor in the latest housing projections in West Lothian. It will encourage more investment: the promoter estimates that through opening up new opportunities for business up to 1,500 jobs will be created in the area that will be served by the railway. It will encourage a move away from cars by providing a fast and reliable service to city centres.
In its consideration stage report, the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill Committee asked for clarification of a number of points. I will deal with those now. I can assure Parliament, in response to a point that Mr Gallie made, that Transport Scotland is actively monitoring and assessing the performance of the promoter in all areas of the project. The issue of stakeholder engagement is part of the discussions at the regular meetings between Transport Scotland and the promoter, at which progress and performance are assessed. The promoter has recently developed a stakeholder engagement plan, to which it must adhere. That will be part of the gateway review process that we have discussed in Parliament on several occasions.
The promoter must also engage with all interested parties in an open, constructive and proper manner. I assure Mr Gallie and his colleagues that if that were not the case we would take action.
I also assure Mr Gallie and Parliament that the lack of clarity on housing issues in North Lanarkshire does not in any way affect the economic case for the railway. The bill was introduced on the basis of conservative estimates of housing, which used information that was provided directly by the council. As Parliament knows, the project has a very positive benefit to cost ratio. It will be good news for the project if, as is the case in West Lothian, more housing is planned than was originally assumed. That will reinforce the case for the railway. However, the fact is that the railway is needed now. I assure Parliament that Transport Scotland will ensure, through its regular meetings with North Lanarkshire Council and West Lothian Council, that the impact of new housing continues to be assessed.
As I discussed with the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill Committee at one of its meetings, the railway will cost £299.7 million at 2006 prices. As I have said before, there is no new money for additional measures but, at the request of Transport Scotland, the promoter is currently undertaking the necessary detailed work to develop and design the specification for the proposed stations at Plains and Blackridge, which will give us the detailed assessment of the design, the environmental impact and the costs at both station sites. As Mr Gallie said, that report will be ready at the start of the new session of Parliament. Transport Scotland has started discussions with the councils on the stations and funding. Consultation of local community groups will be carried out in an open and transparent manner and all local interests will be involved. I know that that was an issue of concern to constituency members.
This Government has been getting on with the business of rail after years of neglect. More than £1 billion has been invested in the major projects—that is continuing and committed investment. The Larkhall to Milngavie line has already improved local access to employment and education. The latest figures show that 340,000 passenger journeys per year have happened because of that investment, which is an increase of 53 per cent in patronage against the projection.
The Waverley station infrastructure works will be completed by the end of 2007. That project will allow four more trains an hour into the station, which will bring clear economic benefits and ease congestion for rail users.
The Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line will open and reconnect Alloa to the Scottish rail network. I know that the Presiding Officer has a close and long-standing interest in the project, which will help to ease road congestion and take freight trains off the Forth rail bridge.
The trams project here in our capital city will transform Edinburgh. We have this month approved the draft business case and awarded the moneys that will be necessary for vital utilities work.
Glasgow airport rail link and Edinburgh airport rail link have both concluded their Parliamentary processes. They will bring enormous benefits not only to those airports and cities but to Scotland as a whole, and the Borders railway will breathe new life into Midlothian and the Borders. It will improve access, open up employment and housing opportunities and increase potential economic development.
The Airdrie to Bathgate line will provide a reliable and sustainable public transport link to our major economic centres. It is an essential element of this Government's £3 billion capital investment programme in transport. I strongly urge Parliament to support the motion in Mr Gallie's name and to make a significant contribution to a positive vision for public transport in Scotland.
Fergus Ewing (Scottish National Party)
I, too, wish Phil Gallie well for the future. His was a voice that was always heard in this Parliament—albeit sometimes from a sedentary position. We never had any difficulty in hearing Phil, but he has always been charitable and respectful to other members. While always putting across his points forcibly, he has been reasonable at the same time. We will miss him.
We will also miss Janis Hughes. It is always rash to assume what a lady is going to do, so I am not sure whether this will be her last contribution to
I believe that there will be an outbreak of consensus this afternoon in relation to the bill. That is not a frequent occurrence in this place. We should be pleased that, in our reconvened Scottish Parliament, we can unite behind a project that we all believe will bring considerable benefits to the people of Scotland, especially, of course, to the people who will be directly served by the Airdrie to Bathgate line. The line not only provides connections between those communities and Glasgow and Edinburgh, but connects to places such as Helensburgh. New stations will be provided, such as those at Caldercruix and Armadale, and other stations will be moved.
We certainly support the work in progress on the possible additional stations on the line, namely those at Plains and Blackridge. The Scottish National Party has been persuaded that there should be a station at Blackridge. We believe that that should be a commitment. It is, of course, always difficult to make such decisions. We wish to study carefully, and with a positive approach, the findings on the potential stations at both Blackridge and Plains, which, as I understand it from the minister, will be available to us early in the next session. We are persuaded that the case is particularly strong in respect of Blackridge.
I welcome the submissions that were made by my colleague Fiona Hyslop, who will speak about that possible additional station at more length. Efforts have been made by members of other parties, including Mary Mulligan and Karen Whitefield, who I expect also to participate in the debate. If I have not mentioned other members by name, I mean no offence.
There has been a strong voice calling for a new station at Blackridge. As the SNP transport spokesman, I have been persuaded that, in relation to the range of figures that we have been discussing—they are of course indicative, not exhaustive—a new station would be a valuable investment for the people of Blackridge. I think that the facts, as they emerge, make the case stronger than it has been before. Therefore, we will suggest that, if we are able to earn the trust of the people of Scotland at the elections, that project should be supported. I am pleased to make that clear now, as I did in the previous debate on the subject.
The Airdrie to Bathgate line will provide a much-needed economic boost to both areas. It will help to extend the travel-to-work zone, which will assist the economies in each area. People in Lanarkshire will find it much easier to travel to and work in Edinburgh, and people in the Bathgate area will find it much easier to travel to and work in Glasgow. In a real sense, that will bring together
The new rail link will provide a means of giving an economic boost to both areas. It will also improve the environment, increase the opportunities for people in Airdrie and Bathgate to obtain other jobs in our cities and give them other opportunities, and achieve faster journey times. All in all, it will increase people's ability to travel by rail rather than by road. That will relieve some of the congestion on the M8, which can be a serious problem from time to time.
For all those reasons, the SNP is happy to join other parties in supporting the bill. I noticed what the Minister for Transport said in the final remarks of his speech. I am not sure how long I have to cover this—do I have another five minutes, or 10 minutes, or one minute?
Fergus Ewing (Scottish National Party)
Thank you very much. I have no complaints about that whatsoever.
The minister trespassed somewhat more widely than the confines of the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill. My party and I would like to see more rail links in Scotland. We take a different approach, in that we do not believe that the proposal to establish an Edinburgh airport rail link by means of a tunnel under the live runway and two rivers is sensible, because a surface option could be considered—on which we ask Network Rail to deliver a study—nor do we think that the Edinburgh trams scheme, at a cost of more than £700 million, represents value for money. We believe that the £1,300 million—and rising—could be better used for other purposes, not least to extend Waverley from 28 to 32 paths per hour and to invest substantially in the network throughout Scotland.
Inverness is the fastest-growing city in Scotland, but West Lothian is the fastest-growing county in Scotland. We wish the people of West Lothian and Lanarkshire well with this new line.
Mr David Davidson (Conservative)
Consensus is breaking out. I begin with the retiring members who have spoken today. Phil Gallie has been a quiet, mild-mannered man all the way through his parliamentary life and has argued and won his case by subtle persuasion. On occasion, Opposition members have driven him to distraction, but I suppose that we are all human. I congratulate him on what he has done for this Parliament, as well as on the work that he did in
I enjoyed working with Janis Hughes on the Health Committee, of which she was the deputy convener. A good job was done there. However, I did not enjoy one job that I had to do at the beginning of the Parliament, when we had to negotiate the allowances scheme. Janis Hughes was sent along with someone else to negotiate, but could never give an answer or agreement. I am sure that we could have got the scheme settled much more easily if she had been given the full powers to deliver according to conscience.
The rail link is long overdue and is only one of the steps that we need to take to ensure that Scotland is joined up properly by rail. Some parts of Scotland, such as in the north-east, do not have rail, but the rail link is a welcome extension. The committee is to be congratulated on its thoroughness and on taking on board all the issues that affect the people who will be involved, for reasons of proximity. I congratulate Network Rail on its approach to compulsory purchase, which is a fine example of good practice that I would like to see applied to the Aberdeen western peripheral route, to name but one project, which I hope is coming along.
We believe that the project is good value for money with a good benefit cost ratio of 1.81, which is better than the figure for some of the projects that have been brought before the Parliament. More important, it is an ideal tool for regeneration. All too often, people talk about the central belt as simply Edinburgh and Glasgow, but there are many important communities in between. Sometimes, how we link such communities is a bit disjointed.
There is a good environmental case for the line, because it will lead to less congestion on the M8 and fewer parking difficulties in the cities, when people go to work.
The project will improve links to Edinburgh and Glasgow. A number of other issues were raised during consideration of the bill, such as noise levels during construction and the destruction of national cycle route 75, which I have heard protests about, although I am sure that it will be sorted out in due course.
The stations at Blackridge and Plains are important. Right from the beginning, we supported the case for them to be put in place. Even if that means two or three minutes on timetabling, it will be well worth it to ensure that more people are connected to the railway system. I am pleased that the minister is more or less promising to ensure that that work carries on. I look forward to hearing his final commitment on that.
We have always considered the bill to be important. It provides a part of the framework that we need in Scotland. It is regrettable that we have not had the Blackridge exercise. Time could have been saved if that had been done at the same time that the bill was considered. I look forward to the bill coming back, in whatever its final form, in the new parliamentary session. The most important things are to ensure that we get the timetabling sorted out—that includes Waverley station—and to look ahead to setting up a good rail link as part of a new crossing to Fife. We have to look at multimodal transport these days. Unlike the SNP, we favour Edinburgh's airport being linked to the railway system. We had a projection, which was disputed by the authorities, whose arguments we have now accepted.
We support the bill and congratulate the committee and those who served on it on the thorough job that has been done.
Karen Whitefield (Labour)
I am delighted that the last speech that I will make in this Parliament prior to dissolution is on the Airdrie to Bathgate rail line. Mary Mulligan, Bristow Muldoon and I have been campaigning for the rail line since we became MSPs in 1999. Initially, many said that we were dreaming and that the line would never be reopened. I am glad that we chose not to listen to those voices of doubt and listened, instead, to the voices of the people in communities that we represent, such as Plains, Caldercruix and Airdrie, who all said that this was a goal that was worth aiming for. Indeed, although a station at Plains is not included in the bill, I am pleased that the Executive has made a commitment to deliver it during the construction of the line. That is an important commitment because, if we are going to spend £340 million, we should ensure that every community along the line has access to and benefits from the infrastructure. I believe that that is one of the many reasons why the people of Airdrie and Shotts will support the Labour Party in the forthcoming election.
We have been on a long and difficult journey and I would like to pay tribute to the work that has been done by West Lothian Council and North Lanarkshire Council to support the case for the reopening of the line. They have been supporters from the outset and provided convincing evidence to the committee of the benefits that the rail line would bring to their areas.
I thank and congratulate the members of the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill Committee, who worked tirelessly to ensure that the project that we are about to embark on would not only provide good value for money for the taxpayer but would take
I thank Network Rail, which has worked hard to ensure that the bill has passed through the Parliament as smoothly as possible. For some people who have been involved, that passage has been a little difficult and challenging at times but, finally, we have reached resolutions on issues around the Monklands Sailing Club and the Airdrie and District Angling Club. That is to their credit. I hope that those organisations will benefit as a result of the agreements that have been reached. The co-operation of all parties has been vital in ensuring that the bill can be passed before the dissolution of Parliament, so that work can commence on the line as soon as possible.
The reopening of the railway line is historic. It is part of an investment in rail services, the like of which has not been seen in Scotland for more than a generation. It will open up a range of opportunities for my constituents. For the first time, students from my constituency who could never dream of studying in Edinburgh because no public transport links existed and they could not afford to rent accommodation in Edinburgh will be able to benefit from the higher education opportunities in Edinburgh and West Lothian. They will then be able to access employment opportunities in those areas, as well as social and recreational facilities.
The impact that the prospect of the rail line is having on the economy of Airdrie and the surrounding villages can already be seen. A number of housing developments have sprung up in the villages near the line and more are planned. Those developments are helping to bring money into the local economy and to ensure a sustainable future for the villages along the line.
Alex Neil (Scottish National Party)
I agree with much of what the member says, but does she agree that it reinforces the lunacy of closing the accident and emergency department at Monklands hospital?
Karen Whitefield (Labour)
We are talking about a railway line today, and there will be more to discuss during the election campaign than accident and emergency services. However, my views on the matter are clear and members are aware of them, as are my constituents.
There is evidence that the prospect of the rail line is beginning to attract retailers back to Airdrie town centre. I welcome that. It is a positive thing, for which people in Airdrie have been crying out for many years. Indeed, when the line reopens, car parking will become a problem in Airdrie and a creative solution will be required. I know that North Lanarkshire Council is committed to finding such a solution.
I welcome the passing of the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill. I look forward to the day when I can leave my car at home and take the train to work here in the Parliament. Of course, that assumes a fair wind in the coming elections. I commend the bill to the Parliament and hope that all members will support it.
Mark Ballard (Green)
Fergus Ewing and David Davidson began their speeches by talking about the consensus that has broken out in the chamber. When they are feeling so consensual, who would I be to break that consensus? I agree that the Airdrie to Bathgate rail line is vital. It will be not just a link between North Lanarkshire and West Lothian, but a vital link between North Lanarkshire and Edinburgh, between West Lothian and Glasgow, and even between Helensburgh and Edinburgh. It is welcome not just as a local rail improvement, but as a vital component of a national improvement in rail.
I was shocked to discover that there is no direct public transport link between Airdrie and Bathgate. The journey takes more than 40 minutes and requires passengers to change buses at least once. The new line will solve that local problem by providing local public transport as well as being part of a national scheme. It is very welcome.
The Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill Committee did an excellent job and I join others in paying tribute to Phil Gallie and the other members of the committee. The committee's report mentions local communities' concerns that they were not fully involved in the consultation process. The committee did an excellent job in identifying those concerns and taking steps so that communities can feel that their concerns will be addressed in future. In particular, the development of local community forums is welcome, but they must be taken seriously by all sides. It is great to have such structures, but we need commitment to make them work.
The committee's report mentioned the commitments to improve walking and cycling access to the railway stations and the replacement of national cycle route 75, which runs along the old
I share the concern of cycling groups such as Sustrans that there is no impetus on the part of the developer quickly to secure land for an alternative cycle route. It is vital that the national cycle network does not lie broken for years and that we have the investment to ensure that we have a good cycle route for local people and as part of the link between Glasgow and Edinburgh, although it might not be quite as great as the existing cycle route. The concern is that the developer has not been ready enough to grasp the nettle of what putting in a high-quality cycle route will mean to fill the gap that the replacement of rail lines on the existing cycle route will leave.
I share the committee's concerns about access to railway stations. In West Lothian, 25 per cent of the population live within 1 mile of the new railway line. That presents a huge opportunity for that large part of the population to access the railway without having to go by car. However, they will not be able to do that unless the proper investment is made in walking, cycling and off-road routes to take people to the railway stations.
Having multimodal travel systems is great. When 25 per cent of West Lothian's population live within 1 mile of the line, why should the multimodal system mean taking the car to the station, when people could walk, cycle or take a bus? Proper integration of the bus network with the new scheme is needed.
The committee has drawn out all those points. We want the developer to exert effort to secure some of those facilities. When we travel through Croy on the existing Edinburgh to Glasgow line, we see a mass of parked cars, because people drive to Croy, drop off their cars and take the train into Glasgow. Those cars are in the car park and on waste ground and they jam up local residents' parking. That is not only a transport problem, but a problem for residents. We do not want the new stations on the Airdrie to Bathgate line to face similar problems because people who want to use the new stations and to take the train have no option but to drive to those stations. We need to ensure that effort is made to secure the alternative means of transport to those stations.
The project is great, but there is more to do. The committee has done a good job of highlighting some of the problems in the scheme's development. The project can go further. Janis Hughes was right to highlight the need for crossrail
The project is great. I congratulate the Scottish Executive on introducing it and on securing the £300 million of expenditure. However, more has still to be done if we want to secure the maximum benefit from the scheme.
Mrs Mary Mulligan (Labour)
Like many members, I am delighted to have reached the final stage of the legislative process and I look forward to the reopening of the Airdrie to Bathgate line. It has been a bumpy ride at times.
I thank the private bill committee members. Phil Gallie ably chaired the committee. I have listened to him for many years and I am sure that he will be pleased to know that he is still many miles from me politically. However, on this occasion, he has done my constituents a great service, for which I thank him. I wish him well in his retirement and future endeavours.
I am grateful to the other committee members who took on the bill. It came on top of their usual busy workload, but they listened attentively to all—particularly me and my constituents—who made presentations to them about Blackridge station. I thank Janis Hughes in particular and wish her all the best for the future. I have frequently had the pleasure of working with her on committees and I am sorry that that will not continue in the next session. I commend Network Rail for its work and look forward to working with it during the rebuilding process.
The idea of reopening the section of the line came after discussions between politicians and officials in West Lothian and North Lanarkshire. At first, even the Scottish Executive was a little reluctant to make a commitment to it. However, the Executive saw the success of the Edinburgh to Bathgate route, which my Labour colleagues on Lothian Regional Council bravely reopened, and the results of the central Scotland transport corridor study, and saw that there was a strong case for reopening the section. Therefore, it responded accordingly.
There was no long-running campaign with romantic attachments to a previous era; instead, a hard-headed business decision was taken. As many members have said, the line will allow people in West Lothian and North Lanarkshire to
There are many good things to be said about the reopening of the link, which I am sure we will hear. However, I want to mention a couple of outstanding niggles.
I was pleased that the Scottish Executive and Network Rail saw the sense of pushing on with the dual tracking of the Uphall to Bathgate section prior to the bill being passed. I am impatient to see that work finished when I pass workers just outside Uphall station, but I say to the minister that I am not nearly as impatient as my constituents, who are experiencing a dreadful service between Edinburgh and Bathgate. I have had numerous discussions with First ScotRail about the delays, and particularly about cancellations on the Bathgate part of the journey. I hope that the minister will use his influence to speak to First ScotRail and ensure that it keeps to the contract agreements that it has signed, which will allow people to get to work on time, fulfil family commitments and so on.
Members will not be surprised about my second niggle. We will not agree today to stations at Blackridge and Plains. I have referred to the beginnings of the project. I accept that the proposal was purely that there should be a line between Airdrie and Bathgate; stations in between were considered only after local intervention. However, given the housing growth in West Lothian and North Lanarkshire, it would have been a wasted opportunity not to propose additional stations.
I said that reopening the line was a hard-headed business decision. I contend that a station at Blackridge would tick all the appropriate boxes. There would be a good-sized catchment area; there are few other public transport options there, as the bus service is poor; and the community is growing. I have a gnawing suspicion that train people do not really like stations, as they stop trains running, that someone thought that it would be a good idea to offer us two of the four stations, and that we would settle for that and run away. They did not appreciate how strongly the communities of Blackridge, Greenrigg and Plains felt.
Phil Gallie (Conservative)
I understand the point that Mary Mulligan makes about train companies not liking trains stopping. They think that too many stops reduce the number of customers on lines because they increase the time that trains spend on routes. However, in light of what has been said about the Glasgow to Edinburgh link, is not there potential on the Airdrie to Bathgate line to miss out stops
Mrs Mary Mulligan (Labour)
Absolutely. I have always contended that, with a bit of imaginative thought, Network Rail could have planned a timetable that would have allowed that, particularly given that other stations on the line would have lower footfalls.
Despite the two niggles that I have mentioned, I strongly welcome the bill and recognise that Karen Whitefield and I will have the opportunity in the next session, given the new legislation, to see a speedier response to our desire for stations at Blackridge and Plains. The Parliament has done well in opening new rail lines. Railways are good for the economy, the environment and social inclusion, and the Airdrie to Bathgate rail link will deliver in all those areas. At something more than £300 million, it will be well worth the money. It will greatly benefit many of my constituents, including—I say to Mark Ballard—cyclists in my constituency, as there will be a track alongside it. I look forward to being on the first journey on the newly constructed Airdrie to Bathgate rail link.
Fiona Hyslop (Scottish National Party)
On behalf of my constituents in the Lothians, I thank the committee for its diligence. It has served the people of West Lothian and Lanarkshire well in its deliberations. I also thank the clerks for their diligence. The parliamentary clerks are very dedicated to their work—none more so than those who serve private bill committees, as private bills are among the most difficult bills to steer through Parliament. I thank Fergus Cochrane, in particular, for his work on the bill.
When I was growing up in Ayr, George Younger was the local member of Parliament. Phil Gallie, his successor, had a hard act to follow. However, regardless of whether people voted for Phil, the people of Ayr always knew that they had an MP who fought for them. I thank Phil Gallie for taking on that role. It is interesting that, for somebody who opposed the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, he has been a vocal, diligent and effective member of the Parliament. He will be missed by members of all parties.
This is an important bill. In reminiscing about my childhood in Ayr, I reflect on the fact that, a few weeks ago, I attended an event for two West Lothian councillors—Jim Sibbald of Armadale and Audrey Gordon of Boghall in Bathgate—who will retire in a few weeks' time and who have served as councillors for 20 or 30 years. However, it was Councillor David Ramsey who was instrumental in getting the Bathgate to Edinburgh line opened and it was Robert Kerr, a West Lothian county
It was extremely good that the committee made Network Rail, North Lanarkshire Council and West Lothian Council return to explain further points and pursue particular issues. I pay tribute to the people of West Lothian Council, who have worked hard to respond to some of the issues that the committee raised—especially the housing issue.
The benefit cost ratio of the line was originally estimated at 1.81. Network Rail has said that the station at Blackridge, which has been a point of contention, will reduce the benefit cost ratio to 1.71. It was interesting that, when the responses came back from the councils regarding what the future housing developments would be, the benefit cost ratio was revised. In Armadale, 2,000 houses are planned. In Blackridge, there are currently 750 houses and another 750 are planned. In Whitburn, on the Polkemmet site, which is very near the line, 2,000 houses are planned, although there will perhaps be another 1,000 and the developer is hopeful of building up to 5,000—that will be a major development in the area. The revised benefit cost ratio was 1.92, and that was without the Blackridge station. If the Blackridge station is included—and it is recognised that there may be some footfall issues—the benefit cost ratio, with the proposals for housing development, might be the same as it would have been for the original proposals without the Blackridge station. So, things can move on.
In that spirit, I want to look forward. Fergus Ewing gives his apologies for having to leave the chamber for a moment. He was characteristically modest in failing to mention that he visited Blackridge. He went to the old station house and saw where the lines would go. I am delighted that the SNP has made a public commitment to legislate for and fund the building of the Blackridge station. We look forward to seeing the Scottish transport appraisal guidance appraisal for the Plains station, to ensure that we have a proposal that fits both stations.
Fiona Hyslop (Scottish National Party)
I think that there is an outstanding invitation. I represent the Lothians. Not only did Fergus Ewing visit Blackridge, he visited the Avon gorge, which has one of the most difficult stretches of road—it has a 15 per cent gradient—and is a problematic area for the people of West Lothian. I look forward to Fergus Ewing as transport minister delivering on the Avon gorge road as well as the Blackridge station.
Interestingly, I looked at one of Mary Mulligan's 2003 election addresses, when she said that she looked forward to the Bathgate to Airdrie line being open by 2007. Perhaps that was a hope rather than an expectation. Under the current proposals, the line will be reopened in 2010, when it will make a constructive contribution to the local economy.
We have to look forward. The bill committee, the minister, the civil service and everyone who has been involved in the project so far are, in many ways, handing over a baton. The MSPs in the next session of Parliament will have to drive the project forward and ensure that Network Rail delivers on time, that Transport Scotland delivers on its recommendations and that the project is monitored effectively.
This is an important job for the Parliament. It is fitting that this bill should be one of the final bills that will be passed in this session. The objective now is to proceed with the job so that the line can reopen for the benefit of the people of West Lothian and Lanarkshire.
Jeremy Purvis (Liberal Democrat)
With regard to how strategic a view the Scottish National Party takes of this and other transport projects, the fact that the shadow transport minister visited only one place shows that the visit was more about politics than transport strategy.
As a member of the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill Committee and the Parliament, I take great pleasure in recommending the approval of the bill and the railway. In my first parliamentary speech, I raised the issue of the need for communities throughout Scotland to be connected by rail and to have proper integrated public transport links. That is particularly important for rural and urban deprived areas.
Inevitably, and unsurprisingly, my maiden speech focused on my own constituency. Other members have spoken with determination about how important the project is to their area. However, today we are at the final stage of a project for Scotland, for the people of West Lothian and North Lanarkshire, and, with its associated works, for the wider network. I am happy that my final speech of the parliamentary
In 1993, when I was a student, I was lucky enough to be in the House of Commons on the night of the vote on the Maastricht treaty. The House of Commons was divided and it was a late-night debate. Mr Gallie was directly involved in debates around that time, and he has consistently held his views over the years since then, which is to be admired. However, division was not needed and did not exist on the committee under his convenership. Even with his evident enjoyment in tackling the line of questioning about whether the bill is ECHR-compliant, he was consistent in his support of the project. I never determined whether he was glad or disappointed that the bill is ECHR-compliant. I wish those colleagues who are not returning to the Parliament well.
As other members have said, we owe a debt of gratitude to the committed, determined and persistent clerking staff. We would not be able to do the job for the communities that we represent without such dedication from the clerking staff, which all committee members have seen during the past few months.
With my interest in the Borders rail line, membership of the Edinburgh Tram (Line Two) Bill Committee and my membership of the bill committee for this important bill, I am proud to have played a very small part in facilitating a record level of investment in rail infrastructure in Scotland.
I see that my chief whip is sitting in front of me, so I stress that my relatively positive experience on the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill Committee should not in any way be construed as enthusiasm to be a member of another private bill committee if I am returned as a member in the next parliamentary session.
The Parliament has a duty to scrutinise thoroughly proposals for calls on the public purse—more than £300 million in this case—as well as major pieces of planning legislation. Within those areas, the committee was disappointed with some of the promoter's approach in presenting its evidence to us. Our preliminary report determined that the housing forecasts that were presented to us were incomplete. Given that that is such an important matter, and given the impact that new residents will have on the patronage forecasts that underpin the benefit cost ratio of the railway and the on-going subsidies that will be required if it is to provide a satisfactory service for those communities, we were disappointed. It was particularly disappointing because, in the preliminary stage debate, I highlighted the fact that the committee did not think that there was the necessary relationship between the local authorities and Transport Scotland or the required
On the positive side, the picture in West Lothian was somewhat more conclusive. The committee can draw much greater comfort from the work that has been done there. West Lothian Council officials should be commended for responding positively at preliminary stage to the committee's requests for more information. Much of the new housing that is planned in the western part of West Lothian, about which members have spoken, will benefit the scheme directly. The council gave evidence that there is a commitment to deliver more than 6,000 houses in the period to 2011, rising to more than 7,000 by 2015. The committee saw that as positive, but appreciated that it would place considerable burdens on the local infrastructure in the areas concerned.
The picture in North Lanarkshire was less clear. We leave the bill process without having a clear picture of the housing that is associated with the project, as the statutory local plan process is still in its early stages.
The committee was disappointed that it did not receive clarification on home loss payments. There is inconsistency between the process in Scotland and that south of the border. The Minister for Transport knows that I have an interest in how the matter affects the proposed rail line in my constituency. It is not acceptable for constituents not to have a clear response from the Executive on its intention for home loss payments. I hope that the Minister for Transport will have an opportunity to respond on that point today or, if not, that he will come back to the Parliament at the earliest opportunity with clarification of the position from the Minister for Communities.
Mary Mulligan was absolutely right to say that today we are making a hard-headed business decision, but it is more than that. The Executive is delivering record investment in the rail infrastructure, connecting all areas of Scotland. Communities in Midlothian and my constituency in the Borders, communities in Lanarkshire and West Lothian, and Scotland as a whole will benefit from that investment. That is why I have no hesitation in recommending today that the bill be passed.
Bristow Muldoon (Labour)
I agree with many previous speakers, including Karen Whitefield and Mary Mulligan, that the project will bring economic, environmental, social and educational benefits to people throughout the M8 corridor. It will mean that my constituents in places such as Livingston and Broxburn will be able to travel to North Lanarkshire and, in particular, to
The project builds on the success of the existing Bathgate to Edinburgh rail line, which was reopened in the 1980s to boost a West Lothian economy that was suffering from mass unemployment. The reopening of the line played a significant role in the economic and population growth of towns such as Livingston, Broxburn and Bathgate, by making them attractive places to live for people who wanted to work in Edinburgh and by making West Lothian a more attractive place for employers to base themselves because of the improvement in transport links. The line made a significant difference to West Lothian in that regard.
Tribute should be paid to my late colleague Robin Cook, who played a major part in pushing for the project to be delivered. Those who pushed for the project could not have dreamed that it would be so successful. Its success has led to a doubling in the frequency of trains, from hourly to half hourly, and to a doubling in the capacity of those trains, from mainly three-coach trains to six-coach trains at peak times. The Executive has made those changes in the past few years.
The project that we are debating today will take forward West Lothian and North Lanarkshire in far more positive economic circumstances. Currently economic participation in West Lothian is higher, and unemployment is lower, than the Scottish, United Kingdom and European averages. However, we want to push down further the unemployment that still exists in pockets in West Lothian. In particular, we want to ensure that we get the highest levels of engagement in the economy by young people. The completion of the line to link the Airdrie to Glasgow and Bathgate to Edinburgh lines will allow us to build on that more favourable economic climate, help us to increase further employment opportunities and support the expected and planned continued population growth in West Lothian.
On benefits to existing commuters, as part of the project a number of enhancements will be made to the Bathgate to Edinburgh line, as Mary Mulligan mentioned. Twin-tracking will take place: work to clear the way has already started. There will be electrification and improved rolling stock. Trains will move to a 15-minute frequency, which will double the capacity of the line at peak times. I inform Mark Ballard that there will also be extra park-and-ride capacity, which is important. Although we want many people to access the lines by foot or cycle, it will remain the case that many
Rail passenger numbers have grown considerably in recent years. This project, along with a number of others that have been agreed to recently, will allow that public transport growth to continue in the decade ahead and will provide more opportunities for people to travel in and out of Glasgow and Edinburgh without taking their cars, thereby reducing congestion and the environmental consequences of the overuse of cars.
This new railway project will bring benefits to my constituents in Livingston and to many communities along the M8 corridor—in Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, West Lothian and Edinburgh in particular, as well as in adjoining communities. The project will be good for the economy, will benefit the environment and will open up new social and educational opportunities. That one of the last decisions made in this parliamentary session will also be one of the best and most beneficial to my constituents and those of Karen Whitefield and Mary Mulligan is a good note on which to sign off. I am sure that the bill will be passed unanimously at decision time.
Alex Neil (Scottish National Party)
At the risk of repetition, I repeat what I said last week in the chamber: as a resident of Ayr, I vouch that Phil Gallie is the best member of Parliament that Ayr has ever had and, as Fiona Hyslop said, that is a great compliment, because Sir Thomas Moore and George Younger were very good constituency MPs before him. As a constituency member, Phil Gallie has been absolutely outstanding. I also pay tribute to Janis Hughes and wish her all the best in the future. Unlike Phil Gallie, she will not be retiring; she is going to pastures new. I am not tempted by this morning's poll to comment on those who might not be here involuntarily after 3 May, but we wish them well, too.
The committee's work and its report are an exemplar of the way in which a private bill committee should work. Not only did it produce excellent reports, listen carefully to witnesses and take into account fairly and objectively all the points that were made in evidence to it, it influenced heavily the behaviour of Network Rail in particular, about which I will say more in a minute or two. I do not hesitate to congratulate the committee on its excellent work on the bill.
As every speaker from every party has said, the project ticks all the right boxes. First, it ticks the economic box, because it will benefit the West Lothian and Lanarkshire economies, and by expanding the labour market throughout the west central belt it will benefit others outwith Lanarkshire and West Lothian. Secondly, it ticks the environmental box, because it will expand our railway network and, as Fergus Ewing mentioned, hopefully divert some traffic from our road network, and the M8 in particular. Thirdly, the project also ticks the social box. After all, surely it is socially beneficial to have a rail network that not only links Bathgate and Airdrie but strengthens links with Edinburgh, Glasgow and places as far afield as Helensburgh.
Alex Neil (Scottish National Party)
Of course I do. Indeed, that will be a very important consideration, particularly over the next five weeks. This project, which will involve public sector investment of about £300 million, is excellent and will provide real value for money.
That said, I have three points to make. First, as the committee has pointed out, we must monitor the long-term provision of local integrated bus services to maximise the project's economic and social potential. The Executive and local constituency and regional members will keep a close eye on progress in that respect.
Secondly, I hope that, during the bill's passage, the Parliament has learned a lesson about Network Rail. I have attended a number of meetings on the issue of Network Rail's treatment of constituents and organisations, such as the angling club that uses Hillend fishing lodge in Airdrie. I have to say that the senior management of Network Rail in Scotland have a lot to answer for. Their attitude to individuals and local organisations has been dictatorial, unreasonable, secretive and uncompromising, and their handling of the community with this project has been totally incompetent. Thanks to the committee, Network Rail has been forced against its wishes to come to a compromise or reach a deal on many issues, particularly with regard to the fishing lodge and the compulsory purchase of houses in Caldercruix. The minister needs to keep an eye on Network Rail's senior management, because if that is how they think people should be handled, they need a lesson in democracy, transparency and accountability.
My final point, which underlines a wise comment that Phil Gallie made in his speech, relates to Network Rail, Transport Scotland and the Executive. We will keep a close eye on proceedings to ensure that all the commitments that have been made are kept and implemented,
Margaret Mitchell (Conservative)
I support this much-wanted bill, which provides for the re-opening of the former Airdrie to Bathgate line by re-laying missing track between Bathgate and Drumgelloch. In practical terms, it means that when the new line is completed by the end of 2010—at least, that is the current estimate—trains will run from Helensburgh through Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh, calling at Airdrie and a relocated Bathgate station. In addition, the bill provides for the re-opening of stations at Caldercruix and Armadale and the relocation of the existing station at Drumgelloch.
However, as a Central Scotland MSP, I am interested specifically in the project's positive economic benefits for people in Monklands, Coatbridge and, in particular, the constituency of Airdrie and Shotts. In that regard, I acknowledge the work and commitment of the constituency MSP Karen Whitefield in helping to make the bill a reality. That part of North Lanarkshire has poor transport connections with Edinburgh and suffers from a marked degree of social and economic neglect, which was exacerbated when the Boots factory—a major employer in Airdrie for more than 50 years—closed in February 2005 with the loss of more than 800 jobs. It is hoped that the provision of enhanced public transport opportunities to that area of North Lanarkshire and to those who do not have access to private cars will in turn boost the local economy in Airdrie and in the other towns that the railway will serve, resulting in job creation and population growth.
The bill has much to commend it, not least the contribution that it will make to reducing road congestion on the M8 by providing a public transport alternative to car travel. I welcome the decision to carry out appraisals of the proposals for stations at Blackridge and Plains, although it is regrettable that those stations are not included in the bill. Nonetheless, the bill is an excellent one to be the final bill to come before the Scottish Parliament in its second session. I pay tribute to everyone who has been involved in scrutinising it.
I wish Janis Hughes well for the future and make special mention of the committee convener, my colleague Phil Gallie, whose spontaneous constitutional contributions will be missed in the Parliament. I wonder whether the European Parliament realises what may be about to hit it.
Donald Gorrie (Liberal Democrat)
I congratulate the committee, which has clearly done a good job, and which, by studying the issues intensively, has done what committees are supposed to do. I congratulate the Executive—which I do not often do—and the Parliament on the positive attitude that we now have to rail infrastructure and improving rail services of all sorts. That contrasts with the situation in the mid-1980s. Various members have mentioned the opening of the passenger line between Edinburgh and Bathgate by Lothian Regional Council. Some of the people who were in favour of that have been mentioned. Obviously, some district councils and members of Parliament supported the proposal, but Lothian Regional Council drove the scheme. However, at that time, there was distinct scepticism about and hostility towards going for rail.
As a result of the curious way in which politics operates, no party on the council at the time had an overall majority. A proposal was produced for a road into Edinburgh, which was controversial, but, as part of the package, we achieved the reopening of the Edinburgh to Bathgate line for passengers, with a station at Livingston, the Livingston South station on the Shotts line and a station in Corstorphine, at South Gyle. The proposals were revolutionary because of the promotion of rail infrastructure, for which Lothian Regional Council deserves great credit. That is an example of the fact that, although in politics we have ever-changing coalitions, we do not need formal coalitions; we can have intelligent co-operation between parties. We could do a lot more of that in the Parliament.
We have come a long way and we now have a better attitude to rail. As members have said eloquently, the Airdrie to Bathgate line will be helpful. It is not simply about getting people from Airdrie into Edinburgh and people from Bathgate to Glasgow, although those features are important, especially for education and jobs. As members have said, developments in housing and job opportunities are taking place in North Lanarkshire and West Lothian. We can have better trade between the towns there. It is certainly a problem in central Scotland that, although the towns in the area between Edinburgh and Glasgow often have good transport links to Edinburgh or Glasgow, the links within the area are not good. We can build up a much better transport network in North Lanarkshire and West Lothian and so develop the prosperity of the towns there. The railway line will be useful.
I am not sure whether this will be my last effort at entertaining members. I am not into nostalgia, but I want to thank members. Everyone in the
The Parliament has a lot to congratulate itself on, as does the Executive. We have done quite a lot of good things but there is still a huge amount to be done. There is still a lot wrong with Scotland, with the Executive and with the Parliament. Members who have the good fortune to be elected in future will have plenty of good things to do. My commiserations to those who will be leaving involuntarily, and my congratulations to the colleagues already mentioned who are leaving voluntarily.
I hope to pursue the issues that excite me from outwith the Parliament, so I am not making a retiral speech. I will merely be wearing a different hat in future.
Cathy Peattie (Labour)
The Airdrie to Bathgate train line will link communities across Scotland and it will encourage more people to get out of their cars and on to the railways. It is a good-news story. Scotland has built more railway services than the rest of the United Kingdom, and we are committed to continuing to do so.
As Phil Gallie said, this is the last time that the Parliament will use the private bill mechanism for railways. Of course, that is welcome, but we in the bill committee have taken our job seriously to ensure not only that the bill was viable but that local people would be taken into consideration when construction was under way.
At the risk of sounding like an anorak, I want to talk about the code of construction practice. The code sets out how the promoter will minimise the disruption and the impact on local people. It is a robust document that can, and will, be further improved in the period up to the commencement of works. The latest COCP offers greater protection to local communities and an opportunity for engagement between them and the promoter. It includes more than 100 improvements identified by the committee since the first version was submitted. That version was far from perfect and far from fit for purpose. Many enhancements have been identified by councils, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage.
We have made some important changes to reduce construction impacts. Examples include a reduction in the construction hours of working. If the promoter wishes to work outwith those hours, the COCP provides a mechanism for that and for approval by local councils. The COCP now has statutory backing to ensure that the promoter complies fully with it. That is an important change, given the real concern among objectors about whether they could trust the promoter to deliver construction mitigation measures.
A planning monitoring officer has been appointed, funded by but independent of the promoter, to oversee compliance with environmental mitigation standards, including the code of construction practice. That officer will be able to halt construction works if standards are breached. That is a very important addition to the legislation. There was opposition to the creation of the post from the promoter, which wanted to deal with the issues in-house. However, such appointments are accepted practice in transport projects such as this. The appointment will ensure that the monitoring process is open, transparent and accountable.
There will also be improvements to the requirement on the promoter to liaise with and engage with bodies such as local councils, SEPA and SNH on the consideration of mitigation plans and mechanisms. There is a provision for equipment to monitor noise, vibration and dust at site-specific locations. Objectors were concerned about such impacts.
There will be one-to-one engagement and dialogue, between Network Rail and every person affected, on the provision of screening—such as planting—to lessen the visual impact of the railway. For every tree damaged or cut down because of the construction works, two will be planted to take its place.
We come now to even more anorak stuff. The noise and vibration policy sets out how the promoter will minimise disruption from noise and vibration during the operation of the railway. The NVP has statutory backing to give it teeth, and it will be enforced through the local planning authorities. Local people along the railway route can be assured that the promoter has no choice but to comply with the document. As I said, the first version that was submitted was far from satisfactory, but the latest version incorporates many of the improvements that were identified by the committee and the councils. The NVP now reflects more appropriate standards and expectations in the noise and vibration monitoring regime that it sets out.
I welcome the approach of designing out noise at source, rather than relying on the provision of physical barriers, which will be implemented
I thank all those who have worked to bring the bill this far: Network Rail, our assessor, the many people who gave evidence to us, our smashing clerking team and our excellent convener. I wish him well in his retirement and offer my best wishes for her future to my sister Janis Hughes. I have enjoyed my involvement in the consideration of an interesting bill. I like trains and think that railways are extremely important for our economy and our environment. We should be proud of the bill and I urge all members to support it.
Mr David Davidson (Conservative)
The debate has been wide ranging and consensual and has covered all the relevant issues. The committee has done a wonderful job and the procedures that will be followed as a result of its work—the promoter's acceptance of which we hope will be backed up by the Executive—are a model of how we should deal with public consultation on projects that have a huge impact on people's lives.
The economic and social arguments for the railway have been well made. We must now apply the lessons that have been learned from consideration of the bill. I am not suggesting that we should retain the private bill procedure, but that we should adopt the model of practice that Cathy Peattie so eloquently outlined.
As Jeremy Purvis said, it is important that we review the compulsory purchase order provisions that apply in Scotland, which are way out of date. In England, such provisions are revised fairly regularly. There is a disparity in the value of the payments that are made. I want the minister to take on board Network Rail's good practice of purchasing properties that will suffer from proximity blight and to build it into a modernised compulsory purchase order scheme. That would benefit people who end up living on little traffic islands as a result of big road projects going past their houses, for example. [Interruption.] Mr Adam is quite unfair to suggest that my house would benefit from such a measure, because my house is not affected in that way. Network Rail's good practice serves as an important lesson.
Many members have talked about how the railway will affect the residents of their
Brian Adam (Scottish National Party)
It is right that tributes are being paid to those members who will leave the Parliament in the next few days. I would like to reminisce a little about Phil Gallie, who—it is my recollection—challenged for the leadership of the Parliament's Conservative group. We can speculate about how different things might have been if Phil Gallie had led the Tory group in either of the Parliament's first two sessions, but I understand that he is not really retiring and that he hopes to continue his political career elsewhere. He wants to get the full set—cooncil, Westminster, the Scottish Parliament and the European Parliament. He might be more successful in challenging for the leadership of the Conservative party's European group, wherever that happens to sit on the political spectrum. His strong views will undoubtedly contribute if he fulfils that particular ambition.
Members have used the debate, rightly, to address wider railway and transport issues. At risk of appearing to be Stewart Stevenson mark 2, I will say that my father was a railwayman and my family was temporarily broken up as a result of the Beeching cuts. During the first two sessions of the Scottish Parliament we have made sensible attempts to restore lines that should never have gone and to develop lines that we will need in future. If we are to bring about a shift in people's transport choices we must offer realistic alternatives, such as rail.
Bristow Muldoon (Labour)
In the light of Mr Adam's commitment to railways, which I welcome, how can it make sense for the Scottish National Party to oppose the building of a railway line to an airport that serves 78 million people a year?
Brian Adam (Scottish National Party)
I will talk later about the choices that people make.
The development of railways is important and the Airdrie to Bathgate line will make a significant contribution. Members eloquently put the case for the line and it is great that there is consensus in the Parliament on the bill.
I am not sure that many members will lament the fact that we are about to pass the final transport bill to be considered under the private bill procedures. There is a great deal of detail in the bill, some of which was mentioned by members—Cathy Peattie talked about the anorak stuff. The matter is complex. We cannot just decide to restore or build a new railway. The process requires much detailed thought and, not least, engagement with the public. Concern has been expressed about how the public were engaged with in the initial stages of the Airdrie to Bathgate proposal. My colleague Mr Neil took a view on how public bodies pursued the project and spoke eloquently on the matter during the debate. However, the committee addressed many of the public's concerns.
The bill will bring opportunities for regeneration in West Lothian and North Lanarkshire. I hope that it will not just encourage people from those areas to travel to Glasgow or Edinburgh to work, but provide opportunities for them to work at home and for other people to move to the areas. I hope that West Lothian and North Lanarkshire will become more attractive to employers and that people will be able to work closer to home. However, the bill will improve connectivity and there is no doubt that it will make a significant difference to congestion on the M8 corridor.
Not every project will attract universal support. Many significant capital transport projects—£300 million is not an insignificant amount—are being considered, so we must make choices. The public will have their say on the choices that are set out in each political party's programme. Mr Muldoon was right to say that the SNP did not support the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill. We support a link to Edinburgh airport but we do not think that the EARL project represents value for money. We can all argue our cases and we will hear the public's verdict on them very soon.
I believe that this project is worthy of support for a variety of reasons. It can perhaps be developed further by the introduction of new stations.
Other members mentioned crossrail. The mentions of crossrail assume that the reference is to Glasgow crossrail, but I am aware of two crossrail projects that are on the stocks—there may be others—as there is also one in Aberdeen. I welcome the fact that new stations can be opened. I certainly hope to see the Aberdeen crossrail project get off the ground. The options that are being considered by Network Rail for improvements to the railways will give us the chance further to develop our railway system, admittedly with significant capital costs across the board.
The choices available mean that not necessarily every project will be endorsed, but the Airdrie to
Tavish Scott (Liberal Democrat)
Cathy Peattie made an excellent point about the 100 separate improvements to the code of construction practice that were identified by the committee on the basis of the evidence presented during the passage of the bill. That is what this place was recreated to do. The fact that so much work has been done by so many individuals, both in the committee and in the Parliament generally, is one of the important points that we must reflect on as we consider our procedures and look towards the new mechanism for handling capital transport projects in the future.
I welcome Karen Whitefield, Mary Mulligan and Bristow Muldoon's consistent and sustained arguments in favour of the measure that we are passing today. That has been important from a number of perspectives.
I will deal with a number of issues that have been raised. First, I say to Mary Mulligan that I am aware of the concerns that she expressed about the Edinburgh to Bathgate service. I will ensure that First ScotRail know of those concerns and, more to the point, act upon them. She also made a not unfair observation about train anoraks not liking stations. We have had similar debates in other places and no doubt will do so again in future. It is a fact that in dealing with the obvious desire to improve city-to-city connection times we have to consider the number of stops that are on a particular line. The point that Mr Muldoon and others have made repeatedly in the chamber and in committee debates is that when there are four rail lines between Edinburgh and Glasgow we will be able to do much more about connecting the communities in between Glasgow and Edinburgh and about improving journey times, which I know is a cross-party wish.
I say to Mark Ballard that we will invest more in car parks and in better bus links, but I do not want a rail station to be only a rail station: I want them all to be—as far as we can achieve—proper transport interchanges, so that people can move between different modes of transport.
John Swinburne (SSCUP)
I think that everyone agrees that the bill is excellent, but the missing link that no one has mentioned is the 20 per cent of the population who will not be able to afford to use the facility. Will the minister look into free off-peak travel for pensioners and ensure that the facility can be fully used once it has been established?
Tavish Scott (Liberal Democrat)
We are certainly examining the affordability of our rail network generally. A fare
I thank Donald Gorrie for his warm words. I see that, unfortunately, he has now left the chamber. Liberal Democrat ministers have not always enjoyed such support from Donald, but we certainly do today. Although it will be on the record rather than to him in person, I wish him a happy retirement and particularly give my best wishes to Astrid at this time. I have, as I am sure we all do, a number of constituents who write to me in exacting detail on many issues. Donald Gorrie may become such a constituent in the coming years.
Jeremy Purvis mentioned home-loss payments. I say to him and to other members that I am very disappointed that we have not been able to come to final conclusions on that matter. As he and the committee know, the matter is under active consideration. The Deputy Minister for Communities wrote to the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill Committee about that on 15 February. I earnestly hope that we will come to conclusions on the issue as quickly as we possibly can. I understand the points that members have raised on the subject.
Alex Neil—who is also not in the chamber at this point—and other members asked about integration with bus services. As Mr Gallie might have already pointed out, all parties gave firm commitments to take forward the necessary work no later than 18 months before the rail service is due to operate. It is important to emphasise that.
Tavish Scott (Liberal Democrat)
May I finish these couple of points and then give way?
David Davidson also raised timetabling issues. As the evidence to the committee has shown, the new direct service will take only 42 minutes to reach Glasgow from Bathgate. Currently, the journey takes one hour and 25 minutes on average. Colleagues have spoken about the sheer drive behind the project, and that is the sort of improvement that could be made to timetabling.
Mr Adam made an interesting wind-up speech on behalf of the Scottish National Party. He restated his party's opposition to connecting Edinburgh airport to our rail network. His is not a position that we support in any way whatsoever. The problem is that, one day, the SNP says that the saved money could pay for Waverley station—as Mr Ewing said today—but, another day, Mr Adam starts to talk about Aberdeen crossrail. We never quite know what the SNP's transport policy
The Airdrie to Bathgate line is an important project for Scotland, and I hope that the Parliament will support the bill this evening.
Alasdair Morgan (Scottish National Party)
I never intended to do anything else, Presiding Officer—as you well know, I suspect.
I congratulate Phil Gallie, Janis Hughes, Donald Gorrie and others who, knowingly or unknowingly, have made speeches in this chamber for the last time. I do not think that it is an anticlimax to their careers to contribute on such a bill, because I do not think that there is any finer cause than restoring an old railway line. That having been said, the committee process that we had to go through to get here—a private works bill—is not sexy. It does not get the headlines—or very rarely, anyway. The process is long-drawn-out and there is little opportunity—none, in fact—for fine speeches.
Alasdair Morgan (Scottish National Party)
Perhaps Mr Purvis wishes to say that he made many fine speeches. I must have exited from the committee at that stage.
Anyone who doubts what I have said need only look at the holyrood.tv website, where they might still be able to catch the webcast of our consideration of amendments at consideration stage. We were all provided with extensive speaking notes on the many complex amendments, almost as a legal requirement. The webcast of that meeting gives a real flavour of what it was like to serve on the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill Committee.
In their scrutiny of works bills, committees need to balance schemes' projected regional and—in this case—national social and economic benefits against the local economic impacts. I hope that we performed that task reasonably well. As members have mentioned, we recognised the real benefits that the railway could bring, through improved connectivity and accessibility, to the regional and national economy, particularly with respect to job creation in Edinburgh and Glasgow, new housing and access to educational and training
We have to balance those benefits against the physical impact the railway will have and its impact on individuals. We need to asses how any adverse impacts might be lessened. A small example of that, which I think has been mentioned, are the measures the promoter might provide to minimise the risks of vandalism and antisocial behaviour at the local sailing club. That does not rate highly in the national economic scheme of things, but it is very important to the sailing club. The committee managed to get the British Transport police to review security at the club's premises to recommend specific measures that might be put in place, such as fencing, tree planting and the installation of closed-circuit television. The promoter will have to provide whatever results from that investigation.
In striking a balance, we have secured important changes to the project that will reduce the constructional and operational impact and provide greater protection to individuals, particularly those who are close to or next to the railway. It is important to acknowledge that.
I am glad that there has been such unanimity about the principle of restoring the link. Some gentle electioneering went on, but nothing too heavy given that there was such consensus on the bill. Even though, as a nationalist, I baulk slightly at restoring a link that was once part of the North British Railway—I would have preferred it to be an ex-Caledonian line—I am still strongly in favour of the project.
Our debate is indicative of the way rail is beginning to regain its rightful place as the more frequent winner when transport choices are being made by individuals and Governments.
Members have clearly spelt out the benefits of increased connectivity between communities in the west that are to the east of Glasgow and communities in the east that are to the west of Edinburgh. It is clear that such connectivity cannot come from road transport.
Several members referred to the success of the reopened Edinburgh to Bathgate line, and various sets of politicians who participated in or contributed to it have been mentioned. Congratulations should also go to Chris Green, who was head of ScotRail at the time—I think that he is now with Virgin. He was an important driving force behind the reopening. I say that because although the committee was occasionally critical of Network Rail in its communications with it and in its reports, it was important to the project as a whole that we had an enthusiastic promoter who wanted to get the railway reinstated.
Cathy Peattie (Labour)
Does Alasdair Morgan agree that Alex Neil was quite unfair in what he said about Network Rail? Our role as a committee was to question the promoter and to make amendments in line with the requests of local authorities and others from whom we took evidence. I object to the way Alex Neil spoke about Network Rail.
Alasdair Morgan (Scottish National Party)
I am sure that the member's remarks are on record. I have just referred to the consensus in the chamber. I am certainly not going to be drawn into criticising individual members at this stage in the debate.
I now come to something that Phil Gallie was particularly interested in. There are two reports before members today, the smaller of which is about European protected species. We considered evidence from the promoter and various other statutory bodies on the effects that the works—the construction of the railway line rather than its operation—might have on protected species such as otters, bats and great crested newts. Members will be delighted to know—as, I am sure, are the newts—that with all the mitigation measures and enforcement, the favourable conservation status of otters will not be detrimentally affected in the long term. We have also found that no bat roosts have been identified and that there will be no impact on great crested newts. Nevertheless, we have made changes to the code of construction practice to provide appropriate controls to ensure that all is well. In case not every member has read the report, I can tell them that in the light of the amendments and other improvements made to the scheme, the construction of the railway will not affect the favourable conservation status of otters.
The integration of bus services with the railway is important. The committee is still unconvinced about the provision of local bus services, particularly about how they will integrate with the railway. We received evidence from the promoter, Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, councils—particularly North Lanarkshire Council—and Transport Scotland, but we felt that a lot of it lacked conviction and certainty. We got broad, sweeping statements, but we did not get real commitments of substance on precisely what will be done or what will be put in place.
West Lothian Council appeared to have made much more progress on the delivery of bus services than North Lanarkshire Council. Paragraph 367 of our report says:
"There is an impression of more confidence and commitment in the West Lothian area to ... capture the benefits of the railway from day one."
We encourage SPT and North Lanarkshire Council to bring themselves up to that state.
A lot of work remains to be done by Transport Scotland and others to map out a clear and timed strategy for the delivery of the bus services. When and how will they apply for grant funding? When should work begin on the integrated timetabling of bus and train services? How will the requirements of local communities be gauged and their views sought? If proper bus services are not in place on the day the railway opens, the agencies that I am talking about will have failed this project and the communities that are served by it.
The railway closed to through services in 1956 because it was not carrying enough passengers. I do not think that the same fate will befall the new railway, but the passenger traffic should not come just from those who live extremely close to the railway or can drive to it; it must come from the whole population of the railway corridor.
Mark Ballard referred to the cycle path and cycle access to stations. The committee had concerns at the preliminary stage about the promoter's commitment to a fully functional, integrated and connected cycle path and footpath, to address issues that were raised by the changes that had to be made to national cycle route 75. We were disappointed that, at first, the promoter did not feel obliged to provide a cycle path of a standard equivalent to the current route. There seemed to be a lack of dynamism in its dialogue with the various stakeholders. We have to stress the importance of cycle paths and footpaths for communities along the corridor. I am glad to note that, since the early stages, the promoter has given some positive responses to what we have been saying. At our request, it has established a forum with key stakeholders such as Sustrans that has identified and secured some route alignment improvements. We are glad to note that those improvements can be made without going above the project cost. We hope that that level of constructive engagement continues.
Mark Ballard (Green)
I welcome the work that the committee did to encourage the promoter to take into account the need to ensure that there is proper walking and cycling connectivity to stations and to renew NCR 75, but does the member share the concern that Sustrans has expressed about the slow rate of acquisition of land to replace NCR 75?
Alasdair Morgan (Scottish National Party)
I was going to say that we got a slight impression that, to some extent, the promoter is going through the motions and that there is a lack of dynamism behind what it is saying. Because steam trains needed to run on tracks with light gradients, an old railway line will provide the best cycle route and a replacement route will not be as good, but we have to ensure that the replacement is as good as it can be.
Footpaths are also important because most passengers will access stations on foot. It is therefore important that the promoter takes on board the suggestions and ideas for further enhancement.
There was considerable discussion about flooding, but I do not want to go into that in too much detail. Some of the concerns were, perhaps, not as important as they might have been, but we are reliant on assumptions rather than hard evidence that, for example, culvert capacity will not have to be increased to avoid flooding. The promoter is responsible for undertaking whatever work is necessary to bring whatever flooding risk there will be down to the current level.
We were glad to note the minister's letter of 30 October, in which he acknowledged that there is a case for constructing stations at Blackridge and Plains. We welcome the Executive's commitment to consider that further in the next session of Parliament and, if necessary, to bring forward procedures under the Transport and Works (Scotland) Act 2007 and the normal planning process.
We note in our report that Transport Scotland was rather non-committal on how local community bodies will be involved in the consideration of the stations issue. We expect it to engage fully in gathering local people's views. I was glad to hear what the minister said about that in his opening speech. It is clear that there are difficult issues to be resolved. We need to strike the right balance between journey times—from end to end or between any two points—and the number of stations. I note that the motion for this evening's members' business debate proposes the reopening of various railway stations. The two are not incompatible, but within the constraints of the budget and infrastructure for any project, difficult choices will have to be made. Like the minister, however, I do not agree with Mary Mulligan's view that railway people do not like stations. If I interpret correctly the consensus that emerged during the debate, our view is that although none of us would insist that every train stops at every station, we need an imaginative solution so that each community gets the service that its population merits.
In considering its approach to scrutiny of the bill, the committee recognised the need to ensure that there was open participation. Everyone who was affected had the opportunity to appear before us or the assessor to explain how the railway or its construction would impact on their everyday lives. In its basic and most frightening form, the effect was that the person would lose their house.
The fact that we undertook our scrutiny in such a short time is due to the effective process that the Parliament has developed in the past few years to
In passing, I point out that making the code of construction practice and the noise and vibration policy mandatory accompanying documents was a good thing. A lesson can be learned from that.
I thank the committee's clerking team, which was led by Fergus Cochrane, for the work that it put in. The volume of paper involved in a private bill is frightening. I suspect that if there is one way in which we can improve, it is to reduce the amount of paper that is used. A lot was done electronically, but still quite a few trees were involved in the process.
I support what Phil Gallie and nearly every other member has said: the Airdrie-Bathgate railway is a good project. It is recognised as a much-needed project that can bring important social and economic benefits along the corridor of the line and, due to improved connectivity, throughout Scotland. As we say in our report, the project could be better and we hope that work is taken forward in a positive vein to secure improvements.
I will finish with a quotation from the committee's report. The project can be
"a world class project that captures and maximises benefits to all sections of the community and not just the rail fraternity."
I support both motions in the name of Phil Gallie.