Transport Strategy (North-East Scotland)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:52 pm on 29th May 2002.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 4:52 pm, 29th May 2002

The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S1M-3073, in the name of Elaine Thomson, on the transport strategy for Aberdeen and north-east Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. We can risk starting the debate now, as the last members who are leaving the chamber are trickling out through the door.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament commends the North East of Scotland Transport Partnership (NESTRANS) for developing and progressing a regional transport strategy for Aberdeen and the north east of Scotland that promotes modal shift and tackles growing congestion, including the effective development of park-and-ride schemes in Bridge of Don and Kingswells.

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour 5:15 pm, 29th May 2002

I am delighted to have secured the debate, as it gives Aberdeen and the north-east the opportunity to have the most pressing transport issues debated during the time when the Parliament is sitting in Aberdeen.

Thanks to lots of active lobbying and to the support of past and present Scottish ministers with responsibility for transport, Aberdeen transport issues have gone from being relatively low profile to being among the top 10 transport priorities for Scotland. Within three years, the profile of those issues has received more attention than in the previous three decades.

Transport is the key issue. I want to see seamless travel and real travel choices being made available across Aberdeen. One third of households in Aberdeen do not own a car and, for many people, public transport is vital. We need a regional transport strategy that is inclusive, whether people are travelling by air, sea, road or rail or on foot. All forms of transport have to be improved to allow seamless transfer between, for instance, car and bus or air and rail. Seamless travel and real travel choices are also needed to safeguard the environment, improve our quality of life, support our economy and make Aberdeen a truly sustainable city.

There has been much talk about and media coverage of the long-anticipated western peripheral route. However, to resolve fully the transport issues in Aberdeen and the north-east, we need a fully integrated transport system. That is what the north east of Scotland transport partnership has proposed in its plan for a modern transport system.

Although the solutions are wider than the provision of just one road, it is beyond question that the western peripheral route is a key component of the NESTRANS proposals. It is vital for the Aberdeen economy that the growing congestion problem is solved. However, solving congestion is about more than road building. Aberdeen has close links to Houston, Texas, which is a typical American city, but one in which, despite endless freeways, congestion remains a major problem.

Across the north-east, traffic problems are expected to soar by 34 per cent over the next 20 years. By putting in place the NESTRANS regional strategy, we should see a decrease in traffic volumes. NESTRANS has been extremely effective. It has brought together Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce and Scottish Enterprise Grampian. The partnership has now set out a 25-year comprehensive transport plan for Aberdeen and the north-east. The modern transport system that is proposed by NESTRANS will meet the social, environmental and economic needs of the north-east.

There has been wide consultation with the business community and the general population on the NESTRANS plan and the plan has been received positively. Over the past few months, supported by funding from the Scottish Executive, extensive surveys have been undertaken to identify the nature of traffic in Aberdeen. By spring 2003, NESTRANS will know precisely the volume, flow, direction and destination of traffic in Aberdeen and the north-east.

By that time, we will have some of the best-quality information on traffic in Scotland. That will be vital in developing the strategic case for further investment. As a result of Aberdeen being included in the Scottish transport model, which previously extended only to cities in the central belt, the strategic transport needs of the region will be assessed on a level playing field with the rest of Scotland.

I believe that the possible routes for the northern leg of the western peripheral route are to be made public next week. Successful progress is already being made in some areas of the NESTRANS plan. High-quality public transport is being developed. For the first time in a generation, the number of passengers using bus services in the city has increased significantly. Furthermore, our bus services are now clean, safe, reliable and less damaging to the environment, not to mention being accessible to wheelchair users, parents with buggies and elderly people. However, we still need to resolve some issues about ticket pricing on bus services in Aberdeen.

However, what is good value are the park-and-ride schemes. For example, the Bridge of Don scheme has been running for 10 years and usage is increasing all the time. Last month, approximately 4,000 passengers a week used the scheme, which took 2,500 cars off the road. Moreover, the new service from Kingswells has seen an increase in customer numbers of about 15 per cent. The growth in the use of park-and-ride schemes is extremely promising, and I look forward to the further development of the remaining park-and-rides around the city.

NESTRANS has also developed plans for an Aberdeen crossrail, with a half-hour service running between Inverurie and Stonehaven and a new railway station at Kintore. Personally, I would like to see further stops at Altens industrial estate and Persley.

A further component of the NESTRANS plan is the development of rail freight, which is another way of moving goods to market while getting off the road. Finally, there are important initiatives to increase road safety and reduce the number of people, especially children, who are injured or killed in road accidents. The safer routes to school initiative and the introduction of the "twenty's plenty" scheme spring to mind.

To have a sustainable city, we need an integrated transport system that is accessible to all, meets the whole community's needs and respects the high quality of life that we value in Aberdeen. It is vital that we have transport choices that reflect the differing needs of all citizens and organisations in the city. Aberdeen's economic importance was made clear in this morning's debate on the oil and gas industry. I hope that, when he responds to the debate, the minister will make it clear that resolving Aberdeen's growing congestion is high on his priority list. I ask him to consider the request that the Transport and the Environment Committee and I have made to rank Scotland's top 10 transport priorities. I know that there will be discussions about the spending review over the coming weeks, and I hope that the minister will give due recognition to the importance of improving Aberdeen's transport infrastructure. Only with a modern transport system in place can Aberdeen continue to enjoy the benefits and rewards that it is currently so fortunate to receive.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I am quite confident that we will get everyone in if members keep their speeches to four minutes. I call Stewart Stevenson.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 5:22 pm, 29th May 2002

I thought that my colleague Brian Adam was going to speak first.

Elaine Thomson gave a very interesting speech. She will be aware that, just for the sake of getting something into the business bulletin, I lodged an amendment to her motion. Of course, in members' business debates, such amendments are quite properly never selected. However, my amendment focused on the impact of congestion in the city on business in the area north of Aberdeen. In that respect, I was very disappointed by Elaine's speech. Despite the fact that her own motion refers to

"Aberdeen and the north east" she entirely concentrated on the effects of the current transport difficulties in the city. Although I acknowledge that other members share my views on this matter, it will come as a surprise to some in the chamber that the effects of congestion in Aberdeen and rural transport are also a matter of concern. The Parliament might be sitting in the city of Aberdeen, but the north-east of Scotland itself is an altogether different matter.

We are delighted to hear that the transport profile of the area and the difficulties that we face have risen into the top 10. However, we are not talking about top of the pops and some transient view of our difficulties; the bottom line is that we need actual money.

We are talking about plans that are coming forward. At the dinner that Aberdeen City Council generously provided last night, the Labour council leader Len Ironside said that a failure to invest would be a problem for the whole of Scotland. I certainly agree with him. He said that things are moving forward, and that he hopes to have funding next year. But hope will not sustain the business communities of the north-east of Scotland; only action will do so.

We have heard that inclusive transport is needed, and I thoroughly agree with Elaine Thomson on that. She gave high praise to the efforts that have been made in the city to allow people with wheelchairs access to buses. However, I draw to her attention and to the minister's the fact that there are also many people in rural areas who are disabled and use wheelchairs to get about. Although they have the necessary passes to get access to buses, rural areas do not have buses that the wheelchairs can automatically get on to. Even more to the point, we do not have bus drivers who are able or willing to lift wheelchairs on to their buses. I know that I am not alone in representing a constituency where disabled people with bus passes still have to use taxis because, despite the apparent provision of transport for them, they cannot use the buses.

I would also like to address my remarks to business. I believe—no one has yet denied it, although I confess that I have not done rock-solid research—that my constituency is the only mainland constituency without any railways. Business in my constituency is utterly dependent on the roads. There are several businesses in my constituency that are genuinely and actively considering relocating to Aberdeen. The north-east would not lose out because of such a move, but the area north of Aberdeen certainly would. They are considering the move because it takes them an extra hour to get to their markets and that puts an extra £100 on the cost of taking a load south.

The NESTRANS studies have been excellent and we can support their recommendations, but what we actually need is money and action now.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 5:27 pm, 29th May 2002

I should like to take the opportunity to express my praise for NESTRANS and the efforts that it has put in so far in developing its policies and the proposals that it is now trying to find funding for. NESTRANS is an example to many other areas of Scotland of how Executive organisations, councils and representative bodies can work together and come to a conclusion on what is necessary to develop a transport strategy for an area. However, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire have certain elements that are not duplicated elsewhere in Scotland.

It was interesting to note that anybody could produce a motion on transport in the north-east without mentioning the western peripheral road. I was delighted that Elaine Thomson developed her motion slightly in her speech and went on to discuss that. As Stewart Stevenson said, the western peripheral road is about a lot more than simply developing transport in and out of Aberdeen. It is about clearing the roads in and out of Aberdeen by taking away the traffic that did not want to come into Aberdeen in the first place. However, it is also about more than that. It is about providing fair access to UK and European markets to a range of primary industries and modern manufacturing industries in the area north of Aberdeen, which do not at present have fair access to the marketplace in the south.

It is possible to drive from the Bridge of Dee southward and access the motorway system through the dual carriageways that were so kindly constructed by the Conservatives during 18 years of Tory government. However, from that point north, lorries are diverted through a tortuous route of junctions, traffic lights and many other obstacles, which adds enormously to the cost of transporting raw materials in and goods out.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

Does Alex Johnstone recognise that it was the Conservatives who designated North Anderson Drive—the very route that he has just described—as a trunk route?

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I apologise for introducing a political element. I knew that somebody would get me for it. We must realise that there is a desperate need to deal with that problem. Although a balanced programme has been proposed—and the Conservatives will support the fight to find funding for that programme—the western peripheral road remains the key, but not only for transport reasons.

We have spent much of the day discussing priorities in respect of developing industry in Aberdeen. If Aberdeen is to continue to develop, it requires access to new development land. Through development of the western peripheral road, Aberdeen will be able to consider its new priorities in respect of allocating land for that purpose.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The member has a minute left.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

With your indulgence, Presiding Officer, I will close by saying that the western peripheral road will always be industry's priority in the north-east. The routes in and out of Aberdeen may be equally important to those who work in Aberdeen, but industry throughout Aberdeenshire requires that road.

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat 5:30 pm, 29th May 2002

I, too, support Elaine Thomson's motion, which commends the work of NESTRANS. The modern transport system is an exemplar of good practice. There are balanced proposals for road, rail and public transport provision and there is consideration of the needs of cyclists and pedestrians, which we should not forget. There is also good practice in how proposals have been developed through Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire councils working together, with Scottish Enterprise Grampian, with the business community and with the chambers of commerce.

I am about to entrust myself to the north-east's transport system, as I must be in Fochabers for 7 pm. I must get through the congestion in Aberdeen and proceed up the A96, which is dualled only as far as Inverurie. Eventually, we hope that the road will be dualled from Aberdeen to Inverness. I apologise for not saying more, but I am sure that I can rely on my north-east colleagues to advance cogent and compelling arguments. I commend the work of NESTRANS to the minister and hope for a positive response and real money shortly.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Keeping the contribution brief was helpful.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party 5:31 pm, 29th May 2002

We arrived in the city on Monday night and received a wonderful reception from Aberdeen City Council, the Aberdeen Harbour Board and the other sponsors. We were given a little booklet in the Doric that told us how to deal with people in the area. An interesting part of the booklet tackled how to deal with "fit"s, "fan"s and "far"s. For example, "Far's the bypast?" or "Fit's the Executive gaan tae dee aboot it?" or "Fan's the Executive gaan tae come up wi the money fur oor bypast?" The Executive has come up with money for everybody else's bypasses and it is high time that we did more than simply discuss self-congratulatory motions on how wonderful a strategy document is. At this stage, we have absolutely no commitment from the Executive to build the western peripheral route or deliver the crossrail. Some other public transport alternatives have been put in place, but we need both those significant elements to complete a transport strategy.

It is all very well to commit several hundred thousand pounds to a consultation exercise or an investigation, which has happened over many years. I believe that close to £12 million has been spent on investigating what we will do about Aberdeen's traffic problems. Proposals may well have appeared in the latest Government document as one of 10 priorities, but whereas there have been commitments to act in other areas, there is only a commitment to consider the issue here. We have faced that situation for far too long.

I received an e-mail from a constituent who lives in the Bridge of Don—I do not know whether other members from the north-east received it. She issued a challenge to the leader of the local council.

"Last week, the Council Labour Group rejected a bid for Grandholm Bridge to open for another six months, despite the fact that not a single house has yet been built on the site of the old Grandholm Mills.

If you believe that the measures you have introduced will be sufficient to reduce the traffic chaos in the North of the city, I challenge you to lock the gates to the Granholm Bridge this coming week on the dates when the Scottish Parliament will be sitting in Aberdeen, and in particular on Tuesday 28th May."

I note that that was not done.

The e-mail continues in similar vein. The challenge shows the feelings in the area. People feel that the Labour party is ignoring the problem and that Labour members are burying their heads in the sand and making no commitment. They are kicking the issue into the long grass until after the election.

I promise the chamber that this will be an election issue in this area and that I will hound the Labour and Liberal Democrat members for failing to deliver on this matter for the north-east of Scotland. This is not a regional problem; it is a national problem. Unless we sort out the transport difficulties in the north-east, they will have a significant impact on the national economic well-being of our country. We must address the problem.

I look forward to the plans for the northern leg of the western peripheral route being put in place, but I issue two challenges. One is that we ought to fund that project principally through planning gain. If we get the northern leg in place fairly quickly, the required development of commercial and industrial land at Murcar can take place, because people will go north out of the city and not come into the city centre. The same principle applies to housing development. I also challenge the people of the north-east to use their contacts in national organisations to lobby the Executive.

Up until now, the Executive has given us warm words. We need to persuade the people of Scotland that it is in the interest of the whole of Scotland that we have the western peripheral route, the crossrail and all the other elements of NESTRANS, not only the parts that relate to public transport.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour 5:36 pm, 29th May 2002

I suspect that I will probably be the only member—constituency member or list member—to speak in the debate who does not have a local interest in the issue.

I want to speak because the issue is very serious and deserves the attention of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive. I commend Elaine Thomson for bringing the matter to the Parliament's agenda while we are in Aberdeen. One of the strengths of the Scottish Parliament is that it brings government closer to the people. What better way of doing that is there than bringing the transport and economic interests of Aberdeen to the fore when we are in the city? I congratulate Elaine Thomson on doing that.

I also congratulate Councillor Len Ironside, the leader of Aberdeen City Council who, as Stewart Stevenson said, clearly put across at the dinner last night the case of the city council and the broader partnership that it has formed with Aberdeenshire Council and many other organisations in the north-east to promote the transport infrastructure needs of the area. Councillor Ironside has been a strong advocate on behalf of his city and his region. I think that the campaign that he and others are engaged in will prove successful in bringing about improvements to the transport infrastructure in the area and in securing additional funding to assist the area in making improvements.

The Transport and the Environment Committee has considered the NESTRANS proposals on several occasions. We first did so when we held a meeting in Aberdeen and took evidence from a number of people involved in the partnership. We have also taken evidence since then from the Deputy Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning, following the publication of the transport delivery report. The conclusion to which the committee has come, on which we are in the process of corresponding with both the minister and NESTRANS, is to give broad support for the proposals that NESTRANS has developed. In our response to the Executive, we will encourage it to bring forward, in its development of the transport delivery report, a robust appraisal of each project. As Elaine Thomson said, the Executive should introduce ranking of the projects and set out time frames. During the next spending review in which the Executive is engaged, it should consider the resources that can be made available from Executive sources to support the investment programme.

I am confident that the work that has been done will not be wasted. Aberdeen is vital to the Scottish economy, as are our other major cities. That is recognised in the transport delivery report. I am confident that the Scottish Executive, working in partnership with NESTRANS, will deliver for the area.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 5:39 pm, 29th May 2002

This is not the first members' business debate on this matter: Brian Adam has had a debate on it, and so have I. I am delighted that Elaine Thomson now appears to have joined us in looking to get some progress on the project.

In the debate that I secured, Sarah Boyack offered money to get the preliminary research work done. That is nearly coming to an end. What was the point of that work and investment if the Executive had no ambition and no commitment to putting the proposals firmly in place in the pecking order?

In my members' business debate on the subject, I mentioned the improvement that is required on the roads to Banff and Buchan. Those roads have a tremendous effect on the Peterhead economy. There are problems along the Buchan coast; the relocation of businesses, which will take jobs out of the area, is now a serious issue. There are also problems on the A96 and within Aberdeen from increased pollution and congestion. Some members went with me to Robert Gordon University today. It took about three times as long as normal, even though we used the main trunk road through the city.

NESTRANS has done a wonderful job by pulling together and by displaying a unity of purpose in all the agencies and communities involved. As Stewart Stevenson said, we must be inclusive and consider the small issues, such as loading ramps on buses and community transport, but the primary need is to sort out the principal investment requirements of the transport infrastructure, which helps to drive the economy. A lot of land could be released and developers want to be involved.

I want someone to explain why the north-east is the only major economic area in Scotland that does not receive support from the public purse for transport infrastructure such as the bypass the routes to the north and the crossrail, which will help people get to work. I would prefer the crossrail to go as far south as Laurencekirk.

A park-and-ride facility at Laurencekirk would substantially benefit those who have to commute from a distance and reduce pressures on the city. Park and ride has not worked: when one of my colleagues passed the Kingswells park-and-ride facility this morning, there were hardly any cars there; the facility at Ellon is not well used and the proposed facility at Mintlaw is a waste of investment. We must focus on the priorities. If the roads are sorted out, the economy will get going, which will provide money for the public purse. The holder of the public purse must recognise that investment is needed.

We want a commitment from the minister—not a statement that something will perhaps be done sometime after a review—that the Executive wants to deliver the western peripheral route, the crossrail and the measures that will radiate from them. If, as it seems from the announcements in today's debate on the oil and gas industry, the economy is to be hit by taxation on the oil and gas sector, it is vital that the area receives something to generate the new opportunities and diversity it needs.

Members are united. I congratulate Elaine Thomson on coming out of the closet, which gives cross-party commitment on the issue. All we need now is for the minister to agree with the cross-party support for the motion, which is on behalf of the region.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 5:43 pm, 29th May 2002

The minister will by now be aware that there is full cross-party support for the NESTRANS proposals. Aberdeen is Scotland's third city, but it has no bypass and no integrated transport system. I want a good and effective commuter crossrail link between Inverurie in the north and Stonehaven, which is the harbour centre for commuters in the Mearns, to allow people to get in and out of Aberdeen in reasonable time and without hassle. I am delighted that David Davidson has joined the campaign to reopen Laurencekirk railway station, which is in my constituency of West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine. Laurencekirk is a developing town in the Mearns, just south of Stonehaven. The allocation of money for the reopening of the station would be effective. I have asked NESTRANS to address the issue of reopening the station.

Unlike David Davidson, I passed the Kingswells park-and-ride facility at 10 minutes past 8 this morning. I confirm that two of the three big car parks were completely empty, except for one car. We must get real. I do not want to belittle park-and-ride schemes, but they are not the answer to the north-east's transport problems.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

Does the member agree that, although park-and-ride facilities are used, they are not used fully at peak times and that many people who use the facilities are simply doing their shopping?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

That is the point that I am making. We need a new bridge over the Don—that is clear. I am amazed at the number of times that the issue has been ducked. We need that bridge. Brian Adam, who is a resident of Bridge of Don, will be aware of the problems. We also need a bypass and an effective crossrail link between Inverurie and Stonehaven.

I applauded Brian Adam's speech. The only thing that I did not agree with was what he said about hounding Liberal Democrat members who represent the north-east if the developments are not delivered. I assure Brian that I will join him in hounding the person who is responsible for the delivery of the developments—Lewis Macdonald, who is with us today. May 2003 is 11 months away, and it would be inappropriate for him to announce the funding just before the elections. I am sure that Lewis Macdonald would not do that; in fact, there are civil service rules that prevent that. Therefore, a decision must be made to announce the investment of £247 million in the not-too-distant future. If that announcement is not made in the not-too-distant future, it will be delayed until after May 2003, and members who represent the north-east would not find that acceptable.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Conservative

Given the importance of the western peripheral route to Aberdeen, and given Mr Rumbles's constant support for it and recognition of the need for it, when—I should say if—the Executive is renegotiating its future coalition, will he make building the route a condition of his support for that coalition?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

As I was saying, I expect the announcement to be made sooner rather than later, so that we will not have to wait until after May 2003 for it.

I agree with what other members have said. We want action—it might not be "action this day", as Winston Churchill used to say, but action fairly soon—and £247 million, please.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 5:47 pm, 29th May 2002

Mike Rumbles said that he passed a park-and-ride car park that was empty. He should have got out of his car and used the bus to get into town—that is why it was empty.

Although I welcome this debate, I do not think that Elaine Thomson is in touch with her constituents. No one can write a motion about transport matters in the north-east of Scotland and not mention the western peripheral route or the Aberdeen bypass. I do not know whether that was an oversight or whether Elaine Thomson is utterly embarrassed. She knows fine well that the Labour party's credibility in the north-east of Scotland on transport matters is in tatters. It is three years since my SNP colleague Brian Adam raised the matter in a members' business debate and virtually nothing has changed since then. At this rate, it will be decades before we get a western peripheral route, if we ever get one at all.

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour

WiIl Richard Lochhead acknowledge that the fact that, next week, we will see the concrete plans for the northern third of the western peripheral route and the fact that, next spring, we will have the best information that we have had for building up the strategic case for the western peripheral route, not to mention the other things that we are seeing, signal real and concrete progress?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Elaine Thomson knows fine well that we still have no commitment for a bypass for Aberdeen. That is a gross injustice. Aberdeen is almost the only city in the UK that does not have a bypass, yet it is the centre of the oil and gas industry. Over the past 25 years, £170 billion has gone from this region's natural offshore resources to the London Treasury. That £170 billion is just the revenue from oil and gas and does not include income tax, VAT and revenue from the other industries that generate wealth for the Treasury. All that we want for a western peripheral route is £247 million, spread over 15 or 16 years. We are asking for £247 million after the Treasury has taken £170 billion in oil and gas revenues. Yet here we are, still campaigning and tearing our hair out just to get a bypass like those we see in every other city in the United Kingdom.

It is not just a bypass that we are lacking in the north-east of Scotland. We lack general transport funding. I received an interesting parliamentary answer a couple of days ago. About four weeks ago, on 26 April, I received an answer from the Government saying not only that we are near the bottom of the transport funding league, out of all Scotland's regions, but that we are at the bottom of the league by far and that the second-bottom of the league is miles above the north-east.

When I raised that matter with the Executive, the response I got was, "Well, look at that answer if you want, but it does not take into account extra spending commitments since November 2001." I tabled another parliamentary question asking for a recalculation that included all spending commitments in transport in north-east Scotland from November 2001 to the present. Guess what? The situation is even worse. We have gone down from 58 per cent of the national average to 57 per cent. Things are getting worse, not better. North-east Scotland is getting an even less fair share of transport resources.

The minister and, indeed, the First Minister—who has, unfortunately, left the chamber—should read The Press and Journal supplement "A New Dawn", which I highly commend. All the supplement's articles refer to transport and infrastructure and the need for their development in the north-east. The Government's job is to intervene where appropriate. In some regions of Scotland, that might be done for the skills base or for restructuring. The north-east needs Government interventions in transport and infrastructure—that is the number one priority. The Government will lose all its seats in this neck of the woods unless its starts to stand up for an area of the country that happens to generate just about more wealth than any other part of the UK for the Government's coffers.

The minister must give a commitment that he supports a bypass and other necessary transport improvements for the north-east. That is the only way in which we will get a new dawn and turn the vision outlined in the supplement "A New Dawn" into a reality.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I call Ben Wallace for a quick, two-minute contribution.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Conservative 5:51 pm, 29th May 2002

I will not go on about the western peripheral route. Members are aware of the cross-party commitments on that. I want briefly to expand on the important role that Laurencekirk station could play in future transport links. People often talk about the crossrail route finishing at Stonehaven. Anyone who goes canvassing or visiting in Laurencekirk will see that it is a massively expanded region of Kincardine. In fact, it is perhaps the bottom of the north-east. Nearly every steading is now converted and more people are moving south from Aberdeen or even Stonehaven, as it expands. They would like to use a station such as Laurencekirk to commute to Aberdeen or Dundee.

If Stracathro hospital is saved and there is increased use of that hospital, people will not need to be referred elsewhere or have to drive all over to get to Stracathro. They could just get on a train from Dundee—where there are more diagnostics—or Montrose to travel up to Stracathro. They would not be contributing to more traffic pollution and congestion. That is important.

As part of the campaign for the reopening of Laurencekirk station, I took one of the community leaders from Laurencekirk to meet ScotRail, which gave us a commitment that it would be able, within its timetabling, to stop a train at least twice a day at Laurencekirk. Railtrack gave me a similar commitment; it said that, given the money—of course, it would say that—it would find Laurencekirk station feasible. Laurencekirk has a disused platform; it has not been demolished, so it is not as if there never was a station. It would be feasible and simple to reopen the station. The cost of doing so has been estimated at between £100,000 and £250,0000. There is a considerable gap between those figures. However, compared with the amount of money that the north-east generates, as Richard Lochhead said, and the £247 million that he said it would cost to build a bypass, even £250,000 to recondition a platform is not much. However, I am not naive enough to think that that would be the only cost.

Given the statements of ScotRail and Railtrack and the fact that the local authority agreed to include Laurencekirk in its transport strategy—I caution that we now find Laurencekirk dropping off from those initial commitments—I ask that we do not forget Laurencekirk. It can be developed as a useful future link to Aberdeen and perhaps the county of Angus. We must not overlook Laurencekirk and must keep up the pressure on that issue. I ask the minister to bear that in mind as one of his priorities.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour 5:54 pm, 29th May 2002

I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond to the debate. The motion is a positive one and there has generally been positive debate about matters in which there is common interest across the parties.

I am, of course, delighted to contribute to the debate in Aberdeen. As we heard during an earlier debate, much has been achieved by the four partner organisations in NESTRANS—highlighted in Elaine Thomson's motion—which are Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce and Scottish Enterprise Grampian. Those groups have worked together, initially through the north-east Scotland economic development partnership and now through NESTRANS, to focus on transport as a key priority in enhancing the economic competitiveness of north-east Scotland.

The achievements for which NESTRANS can take credit include: the development of a coherent and integrated regional transport strategy, called the modern transport system; the obtaining of substantial community support for the strategy, and national recognition of the transport needs of the north-east as signalled in the transport delivery report a few months ago; the establishment of a significant and unique public-private sector transport partnership, which one or two members have suggested other parts of Scotland could usefully follow; and the support of the Scottish Executive for the delivery on the ground of significant elements of the strategy. I want to focus on the first of those achievements, which is the development of an integrated transport strategy.

It is impossible to overstate the need for integrated transport strategies. Significant benefits to travellers, in terms of reduced and more reliable journey times, will accrue only through the combination of individual projects across all modes of transport. We do not believe that there is a crude choice to be made in Aberdeen or anywhere else between being pro-road and being anti-road. We recognise that a solely roads based or a solely public-transport based solution will not deliver long-term sustainable solutions. The trunk road network, for which Scottish ministers are responsible, is an important part of an integrated transport strategy for the north-east and the rest of Scotland. We have made, and will continue to make, significant investment in the trunk road network.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

Will the minister give a commitment tonight that the proposed western peripheral route will be the trunk road?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

He did, and I am sure that he will continue to do so. I will cover his important point during my speech.

In the light of some of the comments that have been made, it is important to note the money that has been invested since 1999. We have invested almost £70 million in a series of important schemes on the A90 and the A96. We have invested more than £28 million north and west of Aberdeen on initiatives such as junction improvements and climbing lanes. We are committed to delivering a bypass for Fochabers. We have invested almost £18 million between Aberdeen and Dundee on initiatives such as proposed new junctions on the A90. We have invested nearly £24 million on the A90 between Dundee and Perth, which serves travellers from the north-east. Those improvements are important in their effects on safety, journey times and journey-time reliability, with obvious benefits for business and leisure travellers. That is why I was pleased to inform Parliament earlier today of my intention to progress two of the priority trunk road projects in or near Aberdeen that are contained within the proposed modern transport system.

The Executive will undertake a multi-modal Scottish transport appraisal guidance assessment—STAG—of the Balmedie to Tipperty stretch of the A90, which is a significant part of the trunk road network north of the city. That study will explore the change in traffic levels since original proposals were made some years ago, and the impact of park-and-ride sites and other measures in the north of the city. The appraisal will be conducted using the Aberdeen sub-area transport model, which we have developed for application to the western peripheral route, and will report in the course of this year.

In partnership with NESTRANS, we will undertake a feasibility study on the provision of stacking lanes on the A90 at Bridge of Don, along the parkway between Scotstown Road and Ellon Road. As well as having obvious safety benefits through assisting vehicles to make right turns, that will mitigate some of the problems of congestion in the area. We expect the study to be completed quickly and are committed to acting on the recommendations of the study.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

The minister is talking about what is essentially a single carriageway. Can he put an end to the speculation that the top part of the bypass will not be two lanes, but proper dual carriageway?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

When the routes are published, which I expect to happen in the next few days, I expect that they will be based on dual-carriageway solutions, because that has been the focus of the studies that have been conducted.

We have extended an invitation to NESTRANS officials to meet us to discuss the remaining trunk road priorities for the A90 and A96 corridors. I note that one or two priorities were identified by members. That follows on from our continuing commitment to support NESTRANS in developing its strategy. That commitment was reinforced in March with the provision of a further £585,000 in match funding for development of the route and detailed studies on the western peripheral route. That built on previous commitments.

The modern transport strategy considers the western peripheral route and transmodal or modal shift opportunities. We acknowledge the strong case that can be made for the western peripheral route. That is why we have developed an Aberdeen sub-area model for traffic assessment. NESTRANS will use that model and STAG to assess that case and to assess traffic flows in the coming months.

Members suggested that such studies are nothing more than studies. In fact, each study that we have undertaken has been a necessary step in the progress of the project. On the basis of assessment of the traffic in and around Aberdeen, we will be able to sit down with NESTRANS and the local partners and discuss the way in which the Executive and the local partners will work to advance the proposals for the western peripheral route. Only once that work is complete will ministers be in a position to take decisions.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

I am sorry; I need to press on.

I have a word of caution, which reflects some of the content of the motion. The construction of the western peripheral route cannot, on its own, be the panacea for all traffic and transport problems in the north-east. Car ownership continues to grow. Road traffic is predicted to grow by 27 per cent nationally over the next 20 years and by 33 per cent in the north-east. Unless we do something to curb that road traffic growth, any new road that we create—no matter how good, no matter how effective—will soon become heavily congested in the way that the M25 around London has.

Building ever-wider roads with more lanes does not of itself solve traffic congestion—particularly not in an area of strong economic growth, such as the north-east of Scotland. That is why NESTRANS's approach—developing park-and-ride sites, improving public transport, creating bus priority measures and promoting walking and cycling—is the right approach. We acknowledge that public transport options would be available to almost half those who travel to work by car but that, for them to take up those options, public transport must be made attractive, effective in delivering decent journey times and reliable.

That is why we regard the Kingswells park-and-ride scheme, which has been mentioned, as a success. Its usage growth rate exceeds the rate that has been achieved at the Bridge of Don park-and-ride site in a similar time. The Bridge of Don facility now removes 2,500 cars a week from Aberdeen's roads. That is a significant step forward. I believe that the Kingswells park and ride will follow that pattern.

It is interesting to read some of the comments from local residents. They have moved from great scepticism at the outset to increasing enthusiasm in recent weeks. Such facilities are not optional extras: they are what we require to achieve the modal shift that we need. Such development must go along with the expenditure on strategic roads that we have discussed.

The Aberdeen crossrail has been raised. We continue to seek progress on that project. At this stage, it is premature to give precise dates, but we have already invested a significant sum—nearly £0.5 million—in making progress. We hope to achieve level 4 costs for that scheme in the autumn. The key points of contact for members who have an interest in Laurencekirk and who talk about including it in the Aberdeen crossrail are NESTRANS and Aberdeenshire Council, which are the lead sponsors of the scheme and with which members will want to work.

A number of other points were made. Brian Adam asked the important question of whether the Executive would undertake to trunk a western peripheral route. It is important to recall that the bypasses and equivalent roads in Scotland's other three cities—Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee—were built by local authorities and later adopted as trunk routes. There are a number of ways in which issues can be addressed.

We are keen to address the range of transport issues in the area. Stewart Stevenson mentioned accessible transport in the rural north-east. He will be aware of the significant expenditure on dial-a-bus in Buchan, of this week's launch of a similar scheme in Buckie in Moray and of the accessible community transport minibus that operates in Ellon, which supplement the scheduled bus services in those areas.

We recognise that we can no longer ignore the consequences of unrestrained traffic growth for the economy, the environment and the health of people living in urban and suburban areas. We also recognise that in areas such as north-east Scotland, the solutions to the problem are several and include road and non-road solutions and responses.

We have responded and have invested substantial sums in public transport and in trunk road improvements in the north-east. In the publication of the transport delivery report in March, we recognised the fixing of Aberdeen's congestion problems as one of our top priorities for the coming decade and beyond.

We are determined to go forward. Excellent progress has been made in the north-east because of the partnership approach that has been taken with NESTRANS at its centre. Ministers look forward to continuing to work with that partnership in delivering the many other improvements that are necessary if we are to tackle and resolve the problems that we face.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

That concludes today's business. I remind members that the University of Aberdeen is currently hosting its "New Horizons" event in Elphinstone hall.

Meeting closed at 18:06.