Bus Corridors (Glasgow)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:13 pm on 23rd March 2000.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 5:13 pm, 23rd March 2000

I ask members who are not attending this debate to leave as quickly and quietly as possible.

The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S1M-601, in the name of Bill Aitken, on bus corridors in Glasgow. The debate will conclude after 30 minutes without any question being put. Members who want to participate should press their request-to-speak button now.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the concerns of businesses in Glasgow about the effects of bus corridors on the main arterial routes in and out of the city on local businesses, and believes that the local authority should give the fullest possible consideration to the views of small businesses prior to the imposition of these schemes, in view of the potential adverse consequences on employment.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 5:21 pm, 23rd March 2000

At first sight, this might appear to be a trivial matter for this august body, but when one looks into it further, it is far from that. The issue is one of employment and the possible impact of the council's proposals—as yet uncertain—on parts of the city of Glasgow, particularly on parts of the poorer areas of Glasgow.

It is easy to see the other side of the argument. The creation of bus lanes would obviously facilitate the moving of traffic. Buses contain people, like us, who are anxious to get to work or to go home from work. All of us know the frustration of being in long traffic queues. That said, however, surely the issue goes somewhat wider than temporary inconvenience; it is about the effects that the measures would have on the east end of the city, in Shettleston Road, and on the west end of the city, in Dumbarton Road.

I draw the attention of the minister, who comes from the east, to the fact that Glasgow's structure is perhaps unique among Scottish cities. The main arterial routes into Glasgow are through tenemental areas, with shops and small industrial units on the ground floor and private flats above. The structure and design of the buildings is such that there is one way in—through the front door of the shop. The only other route that there is likely to be, probably for fire escape purposes, is a door from the shop to the close or an enclosed back court. It therefore follows that if there are to be deliveries to or collections from a shop, they will have to take place through the front door. Equally obviously, it will not be possible, if bus lanes are introduced, for those to take place without breaking the relevant regulations—and clearly we should not encourage people to break the law. The effect on businesses of not having access would be quite cataclysmic.

I cite a case with which I dealt in the days when I was a councillor in the city of Glasgow. I was consulted by a constituent who was having severe problems paying his rates. On examination, the facts of the case were quite terrifying. He ran a small grocer, newsagent and tobacconist shop, which at rush hour went, in his words, "like a fair". Between 8 am and 9.30 am, the shop was particularly busy and between 4 pm and 6 pm, it was extremely busy. Bus corridors were introduced in Maryhill Road, an area now represented by Patricia Ferguson. His shop, which provided a livelihood for him, one full-time assistant—who was a relative—and two part-time assistants, was no longer financially viable. The area, which is in dramatic need of employment, was therefore left without one full-time and two part-time jobs. If that were to apply to Dumbarton Road and Shettleston Road, the effects would be equally disastrous.

The effects go beyond businesses. If there is no access—no deliveries or collections—and no customers, with the police ensuring that passing trade is a thing of the past, a real threat will be posed to the viability of many small businesses. Shops will close; nothing will take their place. We will have row upon row and street after street of boarded-up shop fronts. That will attract vandals and there will be a danger of fire raising. It will give a depressing appearance to the area as a whole. If the proposals proceed, that will hit the areas concerned with a double whammy of job losses and the appearance of dereliction, which is unlikely to be conducive to attracting any future or further investment into already deprived areas.

I am well aware that this is a matter for the local authority, Glasgow City Council. I do not accept, however, that the Scottish Executive and the Parliament have no input. I am also aware that a consultation process is under way in Glasgow. I cannot help but feel, however, that the pencilled-in proposals were completed some time ago in biro, and that it is the council's intention to implement the proposals at the earliest possible opportunity.

I seek to highlight the difficulties that would arise and to put forward in as strong a manner as possible the representations that I and colleagues from other parties have received from people in the relevant areas, who are concerned as to the future viability of their businesses. In many cases, they are also concerned about the effects on the district in which they live and operate. If the proposals proceed, dereliction will affect many parts of Glasgow.

I will confine my remarks to that. The debate has excited considerable local interest. I have had intimation from several members of other parties that they wish to participate, and I wish to give them the maximum opportunity to do so.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Indeed, Mr Aitken—six members have asked to speak. Everyone will be able to do so if speeches are kept to just under three minutes.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour 5:27 pm, 23rd March 2000

I will not presume to give Sarah Boyack a lecture on the make-up of Maryhill. She is very familiar with it, given that she used to live there and that her mother and brother are still constituents of mine, I am pleased to say.

I thank Bill Aitken for raising the matter in Parliament, and it is valid that we examine the issues. As Bill mentioned, we have had a bus corridor in Maryhill for some years. Originally, it seemed to most of us who lived on or near Maryhill Road to be a fairly attractive proposition.

A great deal of traffic came into the city centre via Maryhill Road, mainly, I have to say, from Bearsden and Milngavie, but also from other areas of Glasgow, taking Maryhill Road as an alternative to other main roads. A reduction of three minutes in the average bus journey, with the concomitant reduction in the pollution from standing vehicles, seemed an excellent way forward. The scheme still has some merits, but over the years, two factors have emerged that are perhaps not so attractive to the residents or to the shopkeepers of the area.

The first factor is that a new development of modern houses at Celtic Street has become a car park for Maryhill railway station. People from outside the city come into Glasgow, park their cars there and make their way into the city centre by train. The result for the people of Celtic Street is that they cannot park anywhere near where they live.

The shops on Maryhill Road have suffered in recent years as a result of the bus lanes. I do not blame the bus lanes entirely for all the closures of small shops on Maryhill Road. People's shopping trends have changed in recent years, too, and there is more of an emphasis on people concentrating their shopping in out-of-town developments or in the city centre. However, the bus lanes have, at the very least, exacerbated the situation.

As a result, long stretches of Maryhill Road—a major route into the city—have become festooned with "To Let" and "For Sale" signs. Tenements above empty shops encounter problems with dampness penetrating from below and it is difficult to trace owners, tenants, factors or anyone who will take responsibility for the property, which is, of course, also vulnerable to vandals.

I hope that the minister urges Glasgow City Council to limit the use of bus lanes to peak times. That would be of great benefit to traders. I hope that the city council considers alternative uses for the shops that are lying empty on Maryhill Road. It has already been suggested that they be turned into ground-floor accommodation for people with special needs, although that might not be possible with all the shops. We should think about having cheap rental packages and incentives to encourage back into the area the small shops that used to proliferate on Maryhill Road.

The local councillors and I have put our concerns to Glasgow City Council, which is prepared to consider those ideas. I ask the minister to urge the council to take on board the concerns of the communities where bus lanes are proposed and to consider assisting communities such as Maryhill which already have bus lanes and the associated problems.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 5:31 pm, 23rd March 2000

I was pleased to hear what Patricia Ferguson said about the Maryhill corridor. Having seen the example of Maryhill Road, the traders from Shettleston Road and Dumbarton Road have joined together to publicise their view that bus lanes are not always beneficial to an area.

I am concerned not only about the shops in an area but about the community as a whole. I worry that, without local shops, local people will not have any services. Also, local people are employed in the shops that are at risk. While I sympathise with the shopkeepers, I also sympathise with the people who use those shops. We must preserve that amenity. Buzzing places such as Dumbarton Road and Byres Road would die without those shops.

I have asked the minister many questions on this subject. In all her answers, she talks about consultation. I agree that we need consultation, and it is because of the importance of consultation that the traders from Shettleston Road and Dumbarton Road set up the traders association. They felt that they were not being consulted. I am pleased that Mr McPhie of the traders association, which submitted a petition with more than 17,000 signatures, was one of the first people in Scotland to address the Public Petitions Committee. The committee passed that petition to the Transport and the Environment Committee, which will, I hope, take action.

The traders have had a rough time from some Glasgow councillors regarding the meetings that they have held, most of which I have attended.

I have a map with me that shows proposed bus lanes and bus gates and which was produced in August 1999 by Glasgow City Council with no consultation. I have minutes of a council meeting from 29 November. They mention plans for bus lanes going back to April. Again, local people were not consulted on those plans. The council agreed to

"enter into a partnership with West Dunbartonshire Council, First Glasgow and Glasgow Wide Taxi Owners Association".

There is no mention of the traders or the people who live in the areas that would be affected.

We are told that a leaflet was sent to everyone in the areas, but it was sent only to businesses—residents did not receive it. It was sent at the end of November and the beginning of December, and the returns were to be in by 18 January. However, good consultation cannot be carried out over the Christmas and new year period.

I have attended several public meetings and I know that residents are concerned about the fact that they know nothing about the plans. I would like the minister to take their concerns on board.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 5:34 pm, 23rd March 2000

I thank Bill Aitken for giving Glasgow MSPs the opportunity to discuss the quality bus corridor from Faifley to Baillieston.

I want to emphasis the word "quality". We must bear in mind that the object of the exercise is to create a quality bus corridor. Having said that, and to make my position clear, I do not support 24-hour or extensive bus lanes. I support whole-heartedly what Patricia Ferguson said, which is the meat of the matter. I do not support the bus gates outwith the city centre and I do not support any development that would inhibit the quality of residents' life or the livelihood of traders on the Glasgow route.

Like other members, I support consultation on the proposals for change involving communities, traders and all other interested parties. It is important to note that this is pre-statutory consultation. It is to the council's credit that it has widened that consultation. Consultation on bus corridors is important for communities. We should not forget that we are essentially trying to get more people of all types to use the bus service. People are demanding changes so that they can get to work more quickly, pick up their children more quickly and attend hospital more quickly. We should not lose sight of our objective; those are things that car users take for granted.

The bill has raised the concerns of traders. I would like to address those concerns. Part of the corridor—in Dumbarton Road—is in my constituency. Bill Aitken has already raised some of the concerns of traders. I have studied the bus corridor proposals in detail, and I think that the local traders have been misled about the extent of the proposals. I feel confident that, through the consultation, traders will be listened to. I do not believe that any of us—never mind Glasgow City Council—would put together proposals that would negatively affect traders in the city.

I am fortunate enough to have a good relationship with my local councillors. Aileen Colleran and Eamon Fitzgerald, in the Partick and Hayburn wards, which are affected, have kept me informed and have done a lot to keep their constituents involved in the consultation process. In the west end, and in Partick in particular, there will be 300 new households within a very short walking distance of the Partick shopping area. Traders would welcome that with open arms. It is important to note that local walk-in trade is as important to small traders as trade from car-stopping, which has been described this evening.

We have a responsibility, as representatives in the Scottish Parliament, to ensure that we take a balanced view when taking up the interests of the traders and the community. We all want the best quality of life for those who live near the bus corridor—those whom we want to use the bus service—and the best quality traffic management system for all. The city council should be congratulated on the wide consultation that it has undertaken.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 5:37 pm, 23rd March 2000

I, too, congratulate Bill Aitken on securing this debate. I was struck by Patricia Ferguson's comments. We were all saddened by the situation in the Maryhill Road, which she knows well. I do not want that to be replicated elsewhere, so we have to take preventive measures in other parts of the city. We must not forget that the purposes of a transport system—notwithstanding global warming, public transport projects and all the rest—are to take people where they want to go, to facilitate commerce and to sustain communities.

Like other members, I have met local people in Shettleston Road and Dumbarton Road. I have been briefed on the scheme by council officials. I have heard the chairman of the council committee bravely and sincerely defend the scheme at a packed meeting in Shettleston Hall. I remain convinced that, as it is presently designed, it is not a very good scheme. I cannot understand how it is in the public interest, in the areas that are not congested outside rush hour, to think of banning private vehicles from stopping at the shops or to give buses—some of them articulated, double-barrelled monsters—fast right of way in the inside lane, next to the pavement. Statistics have shown an increase in the number of accidents in Maryhill Road as a result of just such an arrangement.

It cannot be in the public interest to damage the trade of suburban shopping centres and the communities that rely on them; we are trying to sustain communities and create social inclusion. One statistic, which I heard at the meeting at Shettleston Hall, impressed me. In a survey of one day in Shettleston Road, there were 176 buses with 10 or more passengers, but 341 buses with nine or fewer. Some were running in the evening, no doubt, but the figures show that two out of three buses are not reducing congestion but adding to it.

We all have experience of consultations that are a device for implementing something that has already been decided. I hope that the consultation on this issue is not of that kind. I would be encouraged if the council indicated that the working groups will report back to local people after the consultation and involve them.

The way forward is to look at the whole transport corridor: the railways, the road system and things such as park and ride at the fringe of the city. There are considerable concerns about the proposals and they should not go ahead as presently mooted.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I would like to squeeze in Mike Watson and Dorothy-Grace Elder, but their speeches will have to be in headlines or bullet points—they have two minutes each.

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour 5:41 pm, 23rd March 2000

I will be brief. I thank Bill Aitken for introducing a debate on an important issue.

Although my constituency does not have bus corridors, many of my constituents use them. When I was the MP for the constituency, I was heavily lobbied on the issue of Victoria Road before the bus corridor there was introduced. I have also been written to by people who live in Shettleston Road. The consultation is obviously reaching people. That is important because the survey carried out after the Victoria Road bus corridor was introduced showed that 68 per cent of people did not recall publicity about the changes before they were introduced. That included a high proportion of the shopkeepers.

We should not forget that the purpose of bus lanes is to ease congestion, make bus travel easier and reduce the number of cars going into the city. Patricia Ferguson's arguments were important. In the greenways system in Edinburgh, the bus lanes are on at certain times of the day—sometimes only at rush hours. The Glasgow bus lanes are on permanently. That could be looked at for all bus lanes, not just the bus corridors.

I am concerned about the shopkeepers. In Victoria Road, an area I lived close to and used until two years ago, it is undoubtedly the case that since the introduction of the scheme a number of "For Sale" and "Closed" signs have gone up on shops. That is to be regretted, although part of that equation is that Asda built a big supermarket at Prospecthill and Safeway built a new supermarket at Crossmyloof.

Bus lanes are necessary, but we must consider the effect on shopkeepers. We must also think about travel in and through Glasgow, which is a problem, as anybody who does it regularly knows. Consultation and more co-operation could lead to a better outcome than occurred at Maryhill and Victoria roads. I sympathise with the people in Shettleston Road. I know Alistair Watson and his colleagues will be following the debate and will respond to it in their decisions on how to proceed.

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent 5:43 pm, 23rd March 2000

I am sorry we have only two minutes because the issue is important, it affects many thousands of people and the principles go beyond the situation in Glasgow. I also thank Bill Aitken for raising the subject for debate.

The Shettleston shopkeepers' petition has 17,300 signatures, which is huge for this Parliament and shows the strength of feeling. I have attended most of the public meetings. There were more than 400 people at one meeting at Shettleston Hall. Only one person voted for the bus corridors and he was a bus company executive. The Shettleston traders have done some superb research, finding out that accidents have gone up alarmingly in areas where bus lanes have been introduced.

Strathclyde police figures show that the accident rate on Maryhill Road went from 30 people injured to 65 injuries, including one death, in the first year of fast bus lanes. The remaining shopkeepers told the Shettleston shopkeepers that trade was down 75 per cent in Maryhill Road and down 82 per cent in Victoria Road. That is devastating.

Shortly after the public meeting protesting about the bus lanes, we learned that Shettleston's shopkeepers were about to face a double whammy, as a gigantic new Tesco is planned for the end of the street. It was rather strange that we were not told of those plans at the public meeting. Tesco promises to offer 450 jobs, but 300 jobs in small shops are affected—there are 140 small shopkeepers. Small shopkeepers in Britain have suffered greatly. Fifty thousand small shops have closed in a generation—that is too many. The Parliament must have a policy to protect our shopkeepers, who inject so much into the heart of a community.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 5:45 pm, 23rd March 2000

I am grateful to Bill Aitken for initiating this debate, if only so that I can put on record that, as I was born in Glasgow, I am most interested in its economic and environmental future—I did not want to interrupt his opening remarks to correct him.

I know from the oral questions that I answered last month, from the many written questions that have been lodged and from the petition that the Parliament has received, that members have a strong interest in this matter. It is important that we have the opportunity to debate this issue, but we should recognise that this is a matter for Glasgow City Council and West Dunbartonshire Council rather than for us.

However, this debate could be helpful. Members have made many points, to which I would like to respond. I will outline the provisions of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 that apply to bus corridors; set out the process that needs to be carried out by councils; and inform members of action that has been taken—I am aware that many members are aware of some of those actions. Members made some wider points effectively. It is important that bus corridors should be considered in the context of a wider policy on transport. The work that has been done by both councils on their local transport strategies allows us to consider this debate in that wider context. For example, park-and-ride schemes, which Patricia Ferguson mentioned, are important and must be developed by councils. The future of retailing and the pressure on shops must be underpinned by a strong planning regime—the guidelines and local plans that are in place in both councils.

Under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, local authorities have a general duty to ensure the free-flowing movement of traffic in their area, which they can do by introducing traffic regulation orders for a variety of purposes. It is for each traffic authority to decide on the best way in which to proceed to meet that statutory obligation. Bus lanes are one way of doing that.

To promote a traffic regulation order, local authorities have to follow the procedures laid down in the Local Authority Traffic Orders (Procedure) (Scotland) Regulations 1999. They are designed to ensure that local authorities cannot just impose traffic orders. They provide for consultation, publication of proposals, a statutory period for objections to be received and, if objections are not withdrawn, a hearing procedure. Depending on the nature of a traffic order and whether objections are sustained, the matter may eventually come before the Scottish ministers for determination.

I need to be careful about what I say on any particular scheme, as I may become involved in determining whether it should go ahead. It would be inappropriate for me to say anything about proposals that could prejudice my future involvement. I am sure that members appreciate my position. However, I hope that it will be helpful if I speak on those issues.

The background to bus quality partnerships in this instance is the successful joint bid by Glasgow City Council and West Dunbartonshire to the first round of the public transport fund for the development of bus priority measures along the Baillieston to Faifley corridor. The public transport fund is aimed at assisting local authorities to add key value-for-money developments to their public transport network. The joint bid was considered very carefully by ministers in March last year and a total of £6 million of additional capital consent was made available to the councils to assist with that project.

The detail of the project is entirely a matter for the two councils. They received a further award of £6.6 million from the second public transport fund competition, to assist them with the development of another two quality partnerships in the city.

Bus lanes cannot be introduced regardless of public opinion, which is where the key issue of consultation comes in. The comments of many members present about the consultation in which they have already been involved are extremely important. I stress that this is pre-consultation that is taking place in advance of the statutory procedures. The councils should be commended on the extent to which they have been prepared to engage with individual members of the public and the business community. Significantly, a number of workshops have been held. Those are not about signing on the dotted line, but about enabling members of the community—of the business and shop communities in particular—to express their views on the detail of the proposals.

Patricia Ferguson's point about the Maryhill corridor raises detailed issues of operation that are, quite rightly, part of the consultation process. Pauline McNeill, Robert Brown and Sandra White also made some detailed comments. Robert Brown's point about the ownership of schemes was particularly crucial, while Mike Watson made an important point about co-operation. I am sure that the councils will read the Official Report of tonight's debate and will take on board the points that members have made.

When dealing with an issue of this sort, which has aroused huge public interest, councils need to go beyond the statutory consultation process. Important work has been done so far, and the consultation process will give people an opportunity to contribute on the principle and the detail of the proposals. This is an excellent example of local democracy working as it should. Neither council is starting with preconceived ideas, and both are listening to the concerns of those who believe that they may be affected by bus lanes. As the member for Edinburgh Central, I am aware that it is critical to get the detail right. That is why we need informed discussion, particularly at local level. I urge the MSPs who have spoken in and been present at tonight's debate, and local residents and businesspeople, to raise their concerns directly with the councils.

I know that members have not been able to make all the points that they would have liked, but their views are important and should be taken into account when schemes are being considered. The councils are listening, and people inside and outside this chamber must not miss the opportunity to make themselves heard. Until the councils promote a traffic order for bus corridors and have been through all the statutory procedures, I will not be able to comment directly on the proposals.

I hope that members have found the debate useful and I look forward to the two authorities taking on board the points that have been made tonight and in the workshops.

Meeting closed at 17:53.