After section 68

Transport (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 20th December 2000.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 2:30 pm, 20th December 2000

We pick up where we left off this morning. I call Donald Gorrie to speak to and move amendment 3.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

Amendment 3 achieved a tied vote at stage 2. I think that it is worth testing the opinion of the Parliament on it, and I intend to do that.

Amendment 3 is not an earth-shattering or strategic proposal; it is locally focused and straightforward common sense. I am sure that we all have experience of schemes proposed by local authorities, health boards, enterprise companies or sports organisations that deal properly with transport to get people to and from those projects—and of others that do not. I am suggesting that any body that proposes a new building, such as a huge hospital on the edge of Edinburgh, or small development, such as a pensioners' lunch club, or a scheme to encourage more children to take part in sport, should have to explain in their proposal how people are going to get there and who will pay for it.

Like almost all other members, I helped during the Anniesland by-election. I visited a day centre for elderly people that was fully funded for transport. It worked like a dream: minibuses collected people and took them home again. The whole operation worked really well. However, I know of a pensioners' lunch club on a large housing estate in another city where, other than on the main routes, there is no public transport. In bad weather, very few people attend. It is clearly in the public interest that funding for that lunch club should take account of transport costs.

A Westminster colleague who represents a large rural area complained to me that although there are development proposals for excellent sports facilities in school buildings, all school pupils in rural areas have to get the school bus at the end of the school day if they want to get home. They cannot use the sports facilities after school hours. The people who promote such developments must take account of transport needs. It should be incumbent on them to do that. This is not a huge bureaucratic matter. All they need is two or three paragraphs in their proposal to explain how people will get there; whether there will be additional public transport or concessionary travel, or whether people are expected to drive there.

At the highest level, the design and siting of the new royal infirmary building in Edinburgh took absolutely no account of transport. It was an afterthought and there will be huge disasters resulting therefrom. If the minister can be persuaded to accept amendment 3, it will help us to prevent small failures or big disasters in future. I honestly cannot understand why she is still holding out against it. I will listen carefully to her arguments, but at the moment I certainly intend to press the amendment to a vote.

I move amendment 3.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent

I welcome the opportunity to debate amendment 3. Donald Gorrie's proposed new section would place a duty on local authorities to consider the transport implications of publicly funded projects. In fulfilling that duty, local authorities would have to indicate, inter alia,

"whether any free or concessionary fares are available" and

"how the costs of any free or concessionary fares . . . will be met."

It is on that point that I would like to ask the minister for clarification.

COSLA warmly welcomes the proposals for a concessionary travel scheme, but there are questions about the case of disabled people who cannot access buses or trains. Some local authorities take the view that using a taxi is the only reasonable option for some disabled or elderly people, either because of the nature of their disability or because of the lack of other forms of public transport. I understand that some councils spend up to a quarter of their concessionary fares budget on taxi travel, as distinct from bus or train travel. They use taxis only as a last resort, in cases where a disabled person is unable to access buses or trains, for the reasons that I have stated.

Section 68 is not precise enough about whether travel by taxi may be included in the concessionary fares travel scheme. If taxis are excluded from the scheme, councils will have to pick up a bigger bill or deny the benefit of concessionary travel to some severely disabled people—people who are most in need of it. I ask the minister to respond to that specific point when she replies.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I share Donald Gorrie's aspirations in lodging the amendment. That was the view that I took when we discussed the amendment at stage 2. We agree that, if we are to tackle transport problems effectively, local authorities must consider the transport implications of facilities or projects. However, I do not think that only local authorities should be required to do that. I also do not think that amendment 3 would do what Donald Gorrie hopes. In fact, I think it would do quite the reverse. I am mindful of the fact that at stage 2 there was a tied vote on the issue, so I will deal in detail with the points that are made in the amendment and say why I do not think that they are appropriate for the bill.

Amendment 3 is both too narrow and vague. It refers only to public transport. There is no mention of cycling, of walking or of situations in which freight may be an issue in local authority development. There is also no reference to cars. Donald Gorrie mentioned them in his speech, but they are not included in his amendment. Projects that are not funded or supported by local authorities, such as national health service projects—Donald Gorrie spoke about hospitals—and university, private sector and Scottish Executive projects, would not be covered because of the way in which the amendment is drafted. The definition of publicly funded projects could be loose enough to include parades or hogmanay festivities, if they are supported financially by a local authority. All local authority funded projects would be caught, from the local creche to the community library to the 1,000-pupil school.

Donald Gorrie gave the example of pensioners' lunch clubs, which would also be affected by the amendment. Public transport might not be the most appropriate form of transport in that situation. A community transport initiative might be more effective than a registered, regular bus service. It is important that we think through the implications of the amendment very carefully.

Donald Gorrie also cited the example of the new Edinburgh royal infirmary. There is investment in public transport for that project. This year the Executive gave the City of Edinburgh Council £8 million, in part to allow the creation of a high-quality bus corridor that will include the new Edinburgh royal infirmary. There are ways in which we can help public transport reach local authority funded projects.

Paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (2) amendment 3 suggest that local authorities must, in any documents that they are preparing—including documents that describe or promote a project or facility—indicate exactly what public transport facilities are available and say whether they are any good. That could have undesirable implications for tourism and other activities. We want promotional literature advertising council-supported theatre, tourist attractions or festivities. All of that would have to include the council's assessment of the adequacy of public transport services and related cost figures. That would take up space and might detract from key promotional messages. I will come on to other ways to deliver that.

Our ability to enforce amendment 3 is also doubtful. The resource implications of checking each local authority project or facility would be significant. Checking would lead to more bureaucracy, more form filling and more report writing, and would not deliver the long-term transport benefits that Donald Gorrie seeks.

There are better ways to address the transport implications of travel-generating developments. For example, national planning policy guideline 17 already promotes an integrated approach to land use, economic development, transport and the environment for new developments, whether public or private. A transport assessment must be prepared as a matter of course for significant travel-generating developments. That assessment must indicate the expected travel demand and the mode shares that are deemed acceptable, including any actions that are required to achieve those mode shares.

We are keen to promote green travel plans for existing developments—the use of public transport, cycling, walking and shared car use by employees, suppliers and customers, both for commuting and during the working day. There are many better ways in which we can deliver the objectives behind amendment 3. It raises important issues, but it would be a mistake to incorporate it in the bill.

Dennis Canavan asked about taxis. They are not specifically covered in the bill as drafted, but ministers could bring them into the scope of a scheme by order under the definition of "eligible services". Members should examine section 68(6). By widening that definition and using the order-making process that is identified at line 23 on page 40, we could address that issue if we and local authorities felt that it was important.

Our public commitment is to off-peak bus fares within the currently identified local authority concessionary areas. That commitment is in the bill. We had many discussions in committee about the extent to which it could be amended. We have had a report from consultants about different costings. I am keen to consider with local authorities the most efficient schemes that we could deliver and to debate those issues with them, but that is not specifically covered in the bill. That was Dennis Canavan's key question, but the way the bill is drafted does not prevent us from doing that in the future. We have scope to expand on what is currently in the bill. I hope that that answers Dennis's question.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent

If a local authority produced a proposal whereby people who are unable to get access to bus or train travel might benefit from a concessionary or free taxi service, would there be a delay in the appropriate ministerial order coming forth?

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

It would not so much be about a delay; it would be a matter of priority depending upon how important it was at the time. There would also be discussions with local authorities. How we proceed with the order-making process is clear in the bill. We have not seen that as a top priority. We will discuss involving people with disabilities and disabled issues in transport later this afternoon. We would expect that group to discuss this issue and many others. We did not discuss the matter in detail during the committee stage of the bill.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

I honestly am not impressed.

The minister said that amendment 3 is vague and applies to authorities other than local authorities. Of course it does; that is the point. However, the local authority is supposed to organise the transport, so if a theatrical or sporting enterprise, or a hospital or training facility, is proposing a project that is supported by public funds, the council should say, "What about transport?" If the council is issuing a leaflet about a local festival or local theatre, it should include a sentence about how to get there and whether there is a bus service or cycle lane.

The minister seems to think that community transport is not public transport. That is not my understanding. I would have thought that community transport was an important part of public transport as a whole. A lot of those needs could be met by community transport. If a project or facility can be accessed on foot or by bicycle, the council need only include a sentence to that effect in its report. My amendment would not result in a great bureaucratic nightmare; it is simply a reminder to councils that they should take account—

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Although I am happy to sign up to the wider aspiration behind Mr Gorrie's amendment and to work with local authorities to deliver it, the terms of amendment 3 do not cover his points in the way that he suggests.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 2:45 pm, 20th December 2000

I cannot agree. The amendment stipulates that councils must say whether public transport is needed to access any project or facility and how they plan to provide such transport. If people can walk or cycle to those locations, the council need only say so, which means that more public transport does not have to be organised. The minister is taking an extraordinarily narrow and pedantic view of the matter.

The minister suggested that tourism might be damaged if the council had to include a sentence or two about how to get to the excellent shows at the Edinburgh festival, for example. I would have thought that it would encourage tourism. The minister has done some excellent work on the bill, but I do not know why she is resisting amendment 3. Some people must have an agenda that I do not understand. My proposal is simple and commonsensical and I am happy to press it.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The question is, that amendment 3, in the name of Donald Gorrie, be agreed to. Are we all agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 5

For: Brown, Robert, Canavan, Dennis, Gorrie, Donald, Harper, Robin, Munro, Mr John, Raffan, Mr Keith
Against: Aitken, Bill, Barrie, Scott, Brankin, Rhona, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Curran, Ms Margaret, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Ewing, Fergus, Fergusson, Alex, Finnie, Ross, Galbraith, Mr Sam, Godman, Trish, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Harding, Mr Keith, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Jenkins, Ian, Johnstone, Alex, Lamont, Johann, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, MacKay, Angus, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, McAllion, Mr John, McAveety, Mr Frank, McLeish, Henry, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Murray, Dr Elaine, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Thomson, Elaine, Tosh, Mr Murray, Wallace, Ben, Watson, Mike, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Abstentions: Adam, Brian, Crawford, Bruce, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Grahame, Christine, Hamilton, Mr Duncan, Ingram, Mr Adam, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Ms Margo, McGugan, Irene, McLeod, Fiona, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Mr Gil, Robison, Shona, Russell, Michael, Sturgeon, Nicola, Ullrich, Kay, Welsh, Mr Andrew

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The result of the division is: For 6, Against 61, Abstentions 19.

Amendment 3 disagreed to.