Peripheral Route, Aberdeen

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:25 pm on 23rd June 1999.

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

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.