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
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.