Peripheral Route, Aberdeen

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:59 pm on 23rd June 1999.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 4:59 pm, 23rd June 1999

We now come to members' business. Will members who are leaving do so quietly in the interests of the member who has lodged the motion? The debate on motion S1M-47, in the name of Brian Adam, on the peripheral route around Aberdeen will last for 30 minutes and members who wish to speak should press their buttons now. I call Brian Adam to open the debate.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament calls upon the Scottish Ministers to investigate all available means to expedite the building of a peripheral route around Aberdeen.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party 5:06 pm, 23rd June 1999

The local Aberdeen Evening Express kindly referred to me recently as a real north of Scotland MSP. I certainly hope that the paper does not consider some of my colleagues to be unreal MSPs, because I greatly value the cross-party support for the motion.

Most unusually for a proposed roads development, there is widespread support throughout the north-east for the principle of the western peripheral route. The scheme involves economic, safety, environmental and congestion considerations, which reflect national as well as local perspectives. Representations have been made to me about the impact of Government proposals on the review of the trunk road network and on regional transport partnerships and about the key part that those proposals will play in an integrated transport strategy for the north-east.

Other members will undoubtedly wish to highlight particular concerns about the scheme, but I want to leave the Minister for Transport and the Environment in no doubt about the depth of feeling about and support for the western peripheral route.

According to the local newspaper, the proposal first saw light of day 50 years ago. Since then, the outer ring road around Aberdeen has become an inner ring road with substantial housing and other developments to the west of Anderson Drive. The city of Aberdeen and its hinterland have been the engine room of much more than just a regional economy over the past 30 years but, for most of that time, the area has been labouring under the handicap of an inadequate roads infrastructure. There is now a significant undersupply of accessible land in the city for business and commercial development.

Aberdeen City Council's document, "A Transportation Strategy for Aberdeen", says:

"Heavy vehicles . . . use inappropriate roads through or around the City, causing social and environmental problems within Aberdeen and penalising the City's economy."

The document goes on to say that all trunk roads south of Aberdeen are of at least dual-carriageway standard and that no traffic lights exist between Aberdeen and the channel tunnel. However, Anderson Drive-which is hailed as Aberdeen's main trunk road and which, in one of the Conservative Government's last acts, was given trunk road status-has 17 sets of traffic lights. I have to confess that I bear some responsibility-in my previous existence as a councillor-for three sets of those lights.

The traffic lights are necessary for pedestrian safety, but the Scottish Office document, "Sustainable Transport for Aberdeen", states that road safety is still a major concern on the A90 at North Anderson Drive and on some routes through the city. Furthermore, the same document says that North Anderson Drive, North Deeside Road, Riverside Drive, Great Northern Road and King Street have major problems with noise and that those areas suffer greatly from carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide pollution.

The Aberdeen city plan estimates that congestion in the city costs the local economy about £100 million a year. I want to point out to the minister that the cost of the current scheme for the western peripheral route has been estimated at only £85 million.

It will be no surprise to the minister that, given the lack of an integrated transport system in Aberdeen, I am not a supporter of the toll tax or even of road pricing. To be constructive, I refer her to the Government's idea of a Scottish transport bond, as described in "Pathfinders to the Parliament"-I believe that Andrew Wilson referred one of her colleagues to it earlier. The transport bond proposal is not that different from the SNP's Scottish public service trusts scheme, which would be a suitable vehicle for piloting it.

The Aberdeen chamber of commerce and the city's traders association have stated that "a western peripheral route would be beneficial in taking unnecessary traffic out of the city centre" and would help to "promote a new corridor of investment and development" around the city. That relates to the current lack of suitable development land.

I have had representations from people from a wide variety of public and private interests who support this motion. Some 90 per cent of the 50 million tonnes of freight that is carried to, from or within Grampian is transported by road. That is equivalent to 1.8 million 38-tonne-lorry journeys per annum. Many of those lorries pass through Aberdeen despite the city being neither their point of embarkation nor their destination. That applies to only 15 per cent of the total number, but significantly affects the roads.

Fish lorries from Fraserburgh heading for the continent have to pass through Aberdeen; cattle trucks from Thainstone mart near Inverurie heading south have to pass through Aberdeen; travel from Portlethen to Peterhead or from Mintlaw to Manchester involves trips through the city. Why? Because Aberdeen is the only place of its size with no bypass-there is no western peripheral route. Why has Aberdeen been denied a decent bypass over many years when just about every other comparable city in Europe has one? We have perhaps been a bit slow in pressing our case, but that has not been so in recent times. The minister is undoubtedly aware of the depth of feeling and I hope that this debate will reinforce that.

After extensive public consultation, the former Grampian Regional Council decided that the route should run from the Charlestown interchange on the A90 south of Aberdeen to the A96 at Craibstone and on to the A90 north of Parkhill.

Other members will put their points to the minister, but my principal case is that the present infrastructure is totally inadequate to serve the needs of a strategic national economic resource-that is how the minister should approach the issue. The construction of a western peripheral route round Aberdeen is not just a local solution to a local problem, but a national solution to a national problem, requiring a major financial input from the Scottish Government. I trust that the minister will be able to give a positive response.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Nine members have indicated a wish to speak. Not all will be called, but more will be called if interventions are kept brief.

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour 5:13 pm, 23rd June 1999

I thank Brian, my north-east colleague, for initiating this debate. I am glad that we from the north-east have been able to come together on the issue. Brian raised many relevant points about the western peripheral route round Aberdeen.

The route has been long in the planning and the need for it becomes more urgent daily. Aberdeen is Scotland's third city and the oil capital of Europe. Oil-related economic activity in Aberdeen has contributed billions of pounds to UK finances and will continue to do so for some time. As Brian mentioned, there are the traditional industries in the north-east: fishing, agriculture and, in my constituency of Aberdeen North, paper making.

Those industries mostly move their goods by road and will continue to do so. The oil and gas industry is in the middle of one of its cyclical downturns, but the price of oil is rising and economic activity is likely to rise next year, which will be accompanied by an increasing volume of traffic.

There are environmental problems. Increasing air pollution in Aberdeen city centre affects the health of citizens and the quality of life there is generally reduced because of the heavy volume of traffic. Part of the solution is to encourage people to use buses, walk and cycle or to be more selective about their journeys by car. The other part of the solution is to move the heavy goods traffic out of the city centre altogether, allowing people to go round the city, not through it.

The western periphery route has been on the drawing board for a total of almost 50 years. It is included in the 1997 Grampian structure plan and in the Aberdeen city transportation strategy. It is fully supported by Aberdeen City Council and the other partners in the north-east economic development partnership, such as Grampian Enterprise and Aberdeenshire Council.

The planned route goes round the city, from the A90 in the south to the A90 in the north. It is a key part of the local transport strategy for Aberdeen and its surrounds. Other parts of the transport strategy-the bus lanes and the park-and-ride scheme-will work best only with the western peripheral route; for example, the park-and-ride schemes are designed to intersect with the western periphery route.

My constituents in the Bridge of Don and all those living beside North Anderson Drive and Auchmill are daily suffering the ill effects of living beside heavy traffic or the frustrations that result from congestion when they are driving from one part of the city to another. They live beside or have to travel on roads that are not suitable for use as trunk roads, but which have a high volume of traffic thundering down them every day because they are the only roads available.

The roads are not motorways and they are not well separated from housing. Anderson Drive is a dual carriageway on to which houses open and which children cross regularly. Brian mentioned the 17 sets of traffic lights. Those are for the pedestrian crossings along Anderson Drive and are completely inefficient on a trunk route, but necessary because of the proximity of housing and people. That is not to mention some pollution-sick roses down the middle of the carriageway beside Haughigan roundabout. Members may wonder why I am talking about roses, but we Aberdonians are proud of our city and the quality of life there, despite the fact that that quality is increasingly suffering because of the heavy traffic and other transport problems.

Many of the city's small country roads are currently used as a peripheral route, but they are totally unsuitable for such use. That has an impact on all local residents. The expansion of the oil and gas industry has led to considerable population growth in Aberdeenshire. Whole new areas of housing have been built, such as at the Bridge of Don, which now forms nearly half of Aberdeen North. That has been accompanied by a huge expansion in economic activity. The current transport infrastructure, particularly the roads, just cannot cope.

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour

I will.

Given the geography of Aberdeen and its hinterland, transport by road will always be necessary, as there will always be areas where public transport is not an easy option. I am delighted that public transport will be given the support that it needs in the forthcoming transport bill, but it must be considered together with roads. I believe that roads, where necessary-and I would say that the western periphery route is necessary-and the other measures in the bill will meet the transport needs of Aberdeen in the next century.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Conservative 5:18 pm, 23rd June 1999

I live in Alford, not far from one of the proposed routes, and on many occasions I drive through Aberdeen on what has now become a rat-run down the Netherly route.

Road safety is one of the problems that would be best solved by a peripheral route. Last year, there were 56 road deaths in Grampian alone, which is a terrifying amount. The lack of a peripheral route contributes towards those accidents.

The funding proposals over the past few years have encouraged the wrong solution. I have been to a number of meetings, including those of the Greenwedge in Netherly, at which people have expressed concern about how the council has sought funding because central Government will not provide it. Then planning gain comes into play; for example, Stewart Milne Developments has offered a £12 million planning gain for building a new town. Those things do not work for the benefit of Aberdeenshire and slow up the whole process.

I am in favour of the peripheral route. Central funding is needed to expedite the building of the road, as the motion proposes, so that Aberdeenshire can have the services that it deserves. I support the motion.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 5:19 pm, 23rd June 1999

I support the motion. Many good points have been raised, but I would like to add one other major issue. I see this as one element of a larger issue: the process of establishing an integrated transport system in and around Aberdeen. I do not want to add to the special pleading for money from central Government-Brian has already mentioned that this project could cost in the region of £80 million-but the issue of an integrated rail transport system from Inverurie to Stonehaven is extremely important and needs to be addressed at the same time as the western peripheral route.

One of the criticisms that might be made of the western peripheral route is that it could generate more traffic, as is the case with many new bypasses and roads. I suggest that a bypass around Aberdeen should have very few interchanges. We have heard the points that have been made about through traffic, from north to south and from south to north. If we restrict the number of interchanges, that will deal with the criticism that the road would only increase traffic. That is an important point.

I will keep my contribution short so that other members can take part in the debate.

Photo of Irene McGugan Irene McGugan Scottish National Party 5:21 pm, 23rd June 1999

I, too, wish to support the creation of the western peripheral route, which will contribute to and be important for the economic future of Aberdeen. I echo the calls for the project to proceed with the full financial support of the Scottish Executive and without delay.

However, I want to reflect some of the concern that is felt by residents of communities to the west of Aberdeen, who favour serious reconsideration of the proposed route. As recently as 1994, there were still around 15 options under review, and the current route was confirmed by Grampian Regional Council only shortly before reorganisation in 1996. This has never been a single-option project.

A strong argument against the proposed route, which was expressed by respondents to a household survey that was carried out in the area, is that the western peripheral route should go round the city and not through it. Aberdeen has an eccentric shape and extends out through Cults to Culter, and many people feel that the western peripheral route should skirt the western margin of Culter.

The current option was selected in preference to that because it was claimed that routes further out would do little to relieve traffic congestion in the city. However, Grampian Enterprise, in 1997, and the Scottish Office, in 1998, accepted that the western peripheral route would not substantially alleviate commuter car congestion, so it may be that that argument for the route's location is no longer valid. As has been mentioned, the North Deeside Road, which serves this area, is already heavily congested at peak hours, and the superimposition of a north-south flow on the west-east flow at specific intersections will, it is feared, result in even worse congestion.

As has been mentioned, Aberdeen chamber of commerce and the city traders association have acknowledged that the western peripheral route will help to promote a new corridor of investment and development. Although it is accepted that land is needed for residential, industrial and commercial development, residents feel that the western peripheral route is putting the green belt at risk. The city should be proud of the way in which, over the decades, green belt policy has achieved what it set out to do, especially the aim of preserving areas of unspoilt countryside as close to the city as possible and for the benefit of the whole population of Aberdeen.

Among the natural assets that would be badly affected are the Newton Dee and Camphill Rudolf Steiner schools. People on those campuses would suffer greatly from the noise and disruption. Moreover, to run a dual carriageway through land that includes one of the longest-established organic farms in the north-east is not acceptable. In the 1994 environmental impact assessment it was concluded that "the deleterious effects of the Western option on the Camphill Estates are severe and may be sufficient to make that route unacceptable."

While fully endorsing what has been said about the benefits to Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire of the western peripheral route, I suggest that the location of the route may warrant some reconsideration.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I apologise to members who have not been called. The remedy is to keep interventions brief. I call Sarah Boyack to wind up the debate.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 5:25 pm, 23rd June 1999

I thank Brian Adam for raising this issue and thank all members for the level and quality of the contributions that they have made to the debate.

I hope to travel to Aberdeen on 6 July. The comments made today will be useful when I visit the city and look at its transport problems. As members have said, this proposal has been around for a long time and has widespread implications, some of which members have picked up on today. The proposal has potential benefits for the economy and for congestion, by relieving traffic through the city, but an 18 km road through a green belt location also has potential costs and will potentially have an impact on local communities, as Irene McGugan mentioned.

The route would cost a very large sum, as Brian Adam correctly identified. Early estimates suggest that the cost would be in the region of £85 million, which is far in excess of the sums that would be possible for such schemes with conventional funding. I will come back to that point later, because I think that it is a key issue.

I want to address also the wider context of this proposal, because it cannot be examined in isolation from the overall transport strategy for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

I am delighted to put on record the extent to which Aberdeen City Council has promoted innovative and radical transport strategies. We have already heard about the sustainable transport strategy implemented in Aberdeen last year. It was funded in partnership, which is extremely important, as it set the context for an overall transport strategy.

Improvements are taking place. Key examples are the park-and-ride site at Bridge of Don, the bus priority measures along the A944 from the previous transport challenge fund, this year's public transport fund approval for bus priority measures, park-and-ride sites on other important corridors into the city, and other proposals being developed by the council for bus priority measures in other parts of the city.

Progress has also been made on rail issues. Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council have worked effectively with ScotRail to develop rail services in and around the Aberdeen area. There is also the possibility of a feasibility study into a half-hourly service between Stonehaven, Aberdeen and Inverurie. Those are important developments.

Key service improvements have been introduced by ScotRail in the past two years. There are seven additional services through Stonehaven and five additional services through Dyce.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

No, thank you. My speech is too long for the time available.

Two additional services from Edinburgh now also stop in Inverurie. Improvements are coming into place. ScotRail has also made proposals to redevelop the former Guild Street rail freight depot. That is important, because it will provide the opportunity for a major transport interchange, fully integrating rail, bus and coach services, a taxi halt and a car park, all connected by covered walkways.

Things are happening in Aberdeen that are important in the context of this debate. We look forward, through the local transport strategy and the bids that will be submitted in the next round of the public transport fund, to further ideas for developing the strategy in Aberdeen.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Will the minister use the opportunity of her visit to Aberdeen to drive through the city and to encounter at first hand the difficulties experienced by people living in the north-east of Scotland?

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

It is my intention to travel through the city and to see the different transport problems that are being experienced.

As well as the local transport strategy, there is a new joint structure plan for the area covered by the Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire authorities. The combination of those two documents presents the councils in the area with the opportunity for a full discussion with the communities about the opportunities that are available.

We need fully developed transport and land use strategies. All the speakers today have mentioned that. We need to ensure that we have an integrated approach, which will require a lot of effort from the councils.

I want to flag up two key issues that I expect Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council to address: the importance of the western peripheral route relative to sustainable transport measures in the city centre, such as walking, cycling, increased bus priority and improved bus frequencies; and the extent to which bus priority and other measures in the city centre are dependent on early progress of the bypass. I understand that the Oscar Faber study drew at best a modest link between the two.

The land use implications of the bypass and the possible knock-on effect on transport demand also need to be addressed, especially the effect of any future greenfield developments on car-based demand, as speakers today have mentioned.

Finally, we need to consider how best to integrate the proposed western peripheral route into a comprehensive transport strategy for the city and its hinterland.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

I deeply regret the fact that the minister has not highlighted the problems of people who live to the north and north-west of Aberdeen. Vital industry is at risk because of a lack of transport infrastructure, and I am disappointed that the minister has not addressed that. Before she sits down, I hope that the minister may be able to comment on her plans to allow the north-east corner, even as far along as the Moray coast, to integrate more with the south.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

The key point that I am trying to get across concerns the relationship between Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, the city and its hinterland. We must have a transport strategy that meets the objectives of those different areas.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

No, I will not give way, because I want to get on to funding, which is a key issue that several members have talked about. To avoid any doubt, I have to make it clear that the western peripheral road is not under consideration in the trunk roads review, nor has any Government made any commitment to incorporate such a road into the trunk road network.

Members might ask why the Scottish Executive cannot, nevertheless, trunk this route and fund its construction. That question deserves a straight answer and I want to be as open as possible. The severe pressures on the trunk road budget mean that trunking would be an empty gesture-in the foreseeable future there is no realistic prospect of funding the western peripheral road from the trunk road programme.

Many members have approached me over the past few weeks about road schemes in their localities. There is nothing wrong with their doing that: it is their job to represent the views of their constituents and local businesses. However, if I were to accede to every request, I could spend the trunk road budget several times over. Even if persuaded of the case for doing so, the Government could not build all those roads while meeting its priorities in education, health and housing. Somebody has to be disappointed. I therefore urge those from the north-east to consider alternative means of progressing this scheme, along the lines that I am about to suggest.

Members will be aware that last week the Government announced its intention to introduce a transport bill in the next session. Among other things, the bill will permit local authorities to introduce charges for the use of existing local roads in a designated area, and will give them powers to levy workplace parking charges. We intend to consult widely on those issues, and to publish details of our charging proposals very shortly. I note Mr Adam's suggestions, and I encourage him to make them again during the consultation process.

Any proposal by a local authority to introduce charging would require the consent of the Scottish Executive. In considering such a proposal, ministers will be mindful both of the extent to which the authority has won the support of its local communities for its integrated transport policy, and of the thoroughness with which the authority has established plans for spending money on all modes of transport.

The new western peripheral road could be promoted using existing powers in the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 for tolling new roads. Those powers are being used by the promoters of the Birmingham northern relief road, although that particular project has attracted a fair degree of controversy on other grounds and may not be the best of models. However, the 1991 act is worth considering.

Inevitably, it will take time for people in Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen to develop and refine their thinking on strategy, including plans for the western peripheral. That will have been time well spent if the end result is a more integrated and sustainable set of proposals that address the transport problems of the north-east in the round.

Officials met the councils last year and stand ready to do so again. I intend to be fully involved in the development of strategies and in the consultation on charging. I look forward to the development of today's debate, and to informed and balanced debate about how we might meet the needs of road users and public transport passengers alike. However, members must be under no illusions: there is no piggy bank sitting at Victoria Quay waiting to be raided. If the western peripheral is to have a place at the heart of Aberdeen's integrated transport strategy, it will require innovative funding sources and brave decisions by Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire councils working in partnership with their local communities. There is no ducking that hard reality. To say otherwise would be to raise unrealistic hopes in the minds of members and their constituents.

Meeting closed at 17:34.