Edinburgh Waverley Station

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:02 pm on 31st October 2002.

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Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 5:08 pm, 31st October 2002

First, I thank all the members who supported the motion and I thank them particularly for staying for the debate. Having been lobbied by several of those members, I know that they will be using Waverley station later tonight and I suspect that some of them will have points to make in the debate.

I am grateful for members' support because I think that we should speak with one voice on the Waverley upgrading project, which is critical for the expansion and improvement of our rail services, throughout not just Scotland but the United Kingdom. The project is certainly central to Labour's ambitions in Scotland.

This is a time of opportunity for our railways in Scotland. The first new stations in Edinburgh for years have opened—the Gyle, Newcraighall and Brunstane, in Susan Deacon's constituency. In a few months, Edinburgh Park station will also open. However, Waverley station is the crux of all the new railway developments and we urgently need new capacity to enable the expansion that we desperately need.

There is scope for us to debate the issue and, I hope, encourage the prioritisation of the project, which is of UK importance. In terms of the main east coast line between London and Inverness and Aberdeen, Waverley station is a critical UK railway junction. It is important in terms of its Scottish location on the east coast, for central Scotland's capacity and particularly for the Edinburgh to Glasgow capacity. Further, it is of regional importance for those of us who live in the Lothians and Fife, and I know that many members want new services to come through the ScotRail franchise. It is important for the opportunities in the Borders and, locally, Waverley is central to the development of crossrail projects and the council's plans to integrate a network of trams.

I acknowledge that there has already been progress. I know that the Scottish Executive has allocated resources to help to work up the project options and I am aware that the Strategic Rail Authority has included the project in its list of important projects and that Network Rail has started a two-year programme of signalling renewals in the area to improve reliability. However, the next steps are vital and time is of the essence. We cannot afford to let this project slip. We need to get a scheme agreed.

First and foremost, there has to be a clear priority for better services and a better experience for passengers. In that context, it is important to recognise that the destination for passengers coming to Waverley is not the station but somewhere else. Therefore, the proposals have to provide better interchange facilities and links with buses, taxis, bike routes and pedestrian routes. We also need an improvement in the quality and the range of services for passengers who use the stations. Many tourists' first experience of Scotland is Waverley station and there has to be proper information and easy transfers. For passengers with disabilities, we need a modern station that is fit for the 21st century, not the old-style Victorian experience that people have to suffer at the moment. Regular commuters—many of whom are here today—want to be able to pass through the station as if on autopilot, picking up a paper and a cup of coffee on their way to a train that departs on time.

It is important to acknowledge that the station's beautiful location is one of the most historic in Europe. It contributes to Edinburgh's world heritage site designation and that means that we need a design of the highest possible quality.

Partnership is vital if we are to deliver those objectives as there are a range of stakeholders. The Scottish and UK Governments are important, as are Great North Eastern Railway, Virgin and ScotRail, local authorities, passengers and businesses.

The next step is for the SRA to push ahead on the selection of the project. It is important that the management of the project is thought through well in advance. The last thing that any of us wants is for Waverley station to close down during the first week of the Edinburgh festival. I am sure that that would not happen, but I mention the possibility to illustrate the fact that a lot of thought is required.

I urge members to think about the relationship between Waverley and Haymarket station, which also needs to be refurbished. That is not as sexy a project and it is certainly not as expensive. However, the station needs disabled access and lifts as well as bus, taxi, cycle and tram access. Depending on the shape that the Morrison Street development eventually takes, the station could have to deal with 1,000 extra workers every day. We need to take action on Haymarket now so that we can minimise the disruption to passengers when work on Waverley starts.

I understand that everybody is thinking about this issue. The council is planning the interchange. Network Rail has plans for the lifts, but no timetable. Further, the Disability Discrimination (Scotland) Act 1995 kicks in in 2004 but, having met the key parties, I do not think that the issue is at the top of anyone's agenda. That has to change.

The next few months are critical. I would like the Waverley and Haymarket projects to be included in the next Strategic Rail Authority update in January. I would like there to be consultation on the project selection and capacity. Let us fix the station not for the next five to 10 years, but for the next 50 years. The issue of railways is about long-term investment.

We must get on with this project and support it in our Parliament. I do not underestimate the challenge that it represents. Pulling together the railway industry after the experiences of the past couple of years will be difficult but can be done. There will have to be work by the Scottish and UK Governments and I hope that the minister will put on record tonight his commitment to action taking place at Waverley and Haymarket as part of an overall vision of expanding railways in Edinburgh and east and central Scotland.

I hope that we hear a commitment from the minister to help to drive the project forward. We need to keep up positive pressure on the SRA. We also need to continue to work with my Westminster colleague Alistair Darling. He is the local MP and the Secretary of State for Transport. We need to ensure that everybody works together. I know that the will exists, but we need progress.

I thank members for coming tonight. This is the start of the debate in the Parliament about Waverley station. The SRA is coming along with its next project and, next week, the Rail Passenger Committee is meeting in Scotland, which is another chance for us to push ahead on railways in Scotland. The ScotRail franchise is coming up for renewal soon. We have a time of opportunity, but only if we grasp the moment, work together and ensure that our colleagues at UK and Scottish level work together. The project can be delivered. I know that the will and determination exist.

Waverley station is nearly full up. When I look round the room, I see colleagues who have aspirations for improved railways—whether totally new railways, longer trains or more frequent trains. If we are to fulfil those aspirations, we need to fix Waverley station sooner rather than later.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

We have quite a full house for a members' business debate. Thirteen members have requested to speak and they will not all fit in. I am prepared on this occasion to take a motion without notice to extend business to 6 o'clock.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the meeting be extended until 6 pm.— [Mr Murray Tosh.]

Motion agreed to.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

That will work, but only if members keep their speeches to three minutes.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 5:16 pm, 31st October 2002

I congratulate Sarah Boyack on securing the debate and on an excellent speech. I heartily endorse much of what she said.

Sarah Boyack is correct to identify the development of Waverley station as a vital infrastructure project. There is a great myth among the general public that the project is a retail development and a simple upgrade or tarting up of Edinburgh's primary station. The project goes beyond that. It is not simply about improving the station for passengers; it is about improving capacity for the network. It is not simply about improving transportation for the city of Edinburgh; it is fundamentally about improving transportation for the whole of Scotland, and certainly the whole of the east of Scotland. It is important that we realise that.

It is also the case that the project is not simply about passengers, but about freight. Improving the infrastructure at Waverley station will allow the opportunity for freight to be throughput, as opposed to having to go on the south suburban line, which slows matters up. It would also allow a far better distribution system. Rather than having to unload at out-of-town depots, we could allow goods to be brought into the city centre and distributed. That would save road miles and consequent pollution.

We must also hear from the minister on various matters. We have various pledges from the Strategic Rail Authority. It has made some efforts, but we must see delivery.

The first question that must be answered is on responsibility. I accept the points that Sarah Boyack made on partnership—I would be the first to criticise the Executive if it were not involved—but who is in charge of the project? It is certainly not ScotRail and it is certainly not Network Rail. Ultimately, the SRA must be in charge of the project. Consequently, it seems to me that it is the body that will have to fund the project. We must have a clear statement from the Executive that the project is an SRA project, that the Executive will seek to ensure that the SRA delivers it in a reasonable time scale—sooner rather than later—and that the SRA will fund it. Considering the project's nature, it is correct that the Executive should contribute seedcorn money, as it has done. However, it is about time that the Scottish taxpayer and rail user saw some delivery from the SRA as opposed to seeing their money going into investment south of the border. We will not neglect that investment, but we must ensure that investment is also delivered in Scotland.

We need to know who is in charge. The SRA must be in charge. If that is not the case, we will go round and round chasing our tails. The Executive's role is important, but the SRA must realise that actions speak louder than words. It must deliver a key infrastructure project for Scotland. Moreover, notwithstanding whatever comments the UK Secretary of State for Transport makes, we must be convinced that the SRA will have more than a brass plate and one member of staff in Scotland. We must have confirmation that the SRA will deliver the project in a reasonable time scale and that it will pay for the project.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 5:20 pm, 31st October 2002

I warmly congratulate Sarah Boyack on her success in obtaining this significant debate, which is of importance to Scotland as a whole. I whole-heartedly support her motion. The redevelopment of Waverley station is the key to increasing rail capacity for the whole of Scotland. As Sarah Boyack suggested, it is of supreme importance for citizens, passengers, disabled people and tourists alike. With the future rail link, the station will be very important for the Borders and the south of Scotland. That development will help with many services in the future.

Waverley is vital to the economic prosperity of Edinburgh, and its upgrading has the potential, in our view, to achieve real social and economic benefits. There is a strong business case for the infrastructure project, which I am glad to support.

The most effective way to generate growth is through the provision of a fast, efficient transport system. The proposed investment in infrastructure simply has to be a priority of the Government. The harsh reality, however, is that there will be a significant funding gap. We are yet to receive a costed time frame for delivery by the Executive, despite the fact that the proposed redevelopment of Waverley station was mentioned in the September spending review. We are still no closer to knowing exactly how much funding will be allocated by the Executive. Perhaps the minister could kindly enlighten us on that matter.

The continuing delays before the Executive clarifies its intentions do little to convert our transport system into one that is fit for the 21st century. It is significant that Sarah Boyack, supported by many colleagues, has lodged the motion before us, urging the Executive not to delay in redeveloping Waverley station, a project that is vital for the planned rail upgrading in Scotland.

The Executive has stated that the number of trains using Waverley has increased from 380 per day in 1988 to 575 per day in 2000, which means that it will soon reach full capacity. That means that it is essential

"to accelerate the delivery of this vital project", as Sarah Boyack has requested in her motion.

In March, Wendy Alexander's vision for transport was published. It stated that

"increasing capacity on the rail network in and around Edinburgh through the re-development of Waverley Station, Edinburgh" was one of the Executive's top 10 priorities. I think that Wendy Alexander also stated that expanding the capacity of Waverley station was vital in order to deliver better services all over Scotland.

The process started with Sarah Boyack; could we have an assurance from the current minister that the Executive will help to deliver the redevelopment of the station? Sarah Boyack has given and is giving support to what is a national project, and I appeal to the minister to respond as favourably as possible to the motion by making certain that Waverley station will be redeveloped.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

That was a perfect three, Lord James. Thank you.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 5:23 pm, 31st October 2002

I am happy to speak in support of what is an excellent motion. A transport network is only as good as its weakest part. At the moment, Waverley station is one of the weaker parts. It really needs attention. This is not just a parochial issue, as some people have suggested; it is of national importance, and we must take account of that. For example, the people whom I seek to represent in Central Scotland would benefit greatly if Waverley was much better.

From long experience in Edinburgh, I would urge the people developing the proposals to try to carry along with them the various heritage groups. Anyone who finds themselves head to head with the preservation people in Edinburgh is, honestly, on a loser—or at least on a great delay. Some of them carry their views to an extreme of purism, but if the commonsense, ordinary preservationist-type people can be carried along with the proposals, that will greatly help them to progress.

I greatly regret the fact that Alistair Darling ruled out any new fast rail service between central Scotland and the south of England. That is very mistaken. There are some good proposals—I was studying one this afternoon—for new, high-speed, continental-gauge lines that would join Glasgow, Edinburgh and central Scotland to London, the midlands, the Channel tunnel and the continent with both freight and passenger services. That would do the Scottish economy an enormous amount of good on the freight side, and it would help diminish the number of aeroplanes that whiz between Edinburgh and Glasgow and London, to the great pollution of the atmosphere.

I strongly urge the Executive to re-examine proposals for a better connection between Scotland and England, and to encourage the Secretary of State for Transport to do something about the matter. If we are serious about having an integrated transport system, being green and preventing pollution, we must make much greater use of trains and less use of planes. We must make greater use of freight trains and less use of lorries. Let us get into that.

Photo of Angus MacKay Angus MacKay Labour 5:25 pm, 31st October 2002

I join colleagues in congratulating Sarah Boyack on securing this evening's debate.

I want to take a more parochial approach to the debate. As has been said, Waverley station is a very important national transport hub for Scotland. However, it is also a very important local transport hub for Edinburgh—in particular, for south Edinburgh.

My parochial angle is the Edinburgh south suburban line, which has been a chestnut for people in south Edinburgh and the rest of Edinburgh for many years. Hopefully, that chestnut is about to ripen and fall off the tree. Non-passenger services have run for many years on that line. Passenger services were introduced much later. From the moment that they first ran, those services faced competition from other forms of transport, such as Edinburgh's first-ever tram—a horse-powered tram that was introduced on 6 November 1871. From that date, there was competition between different forms of public transport. As recently as 1958, diesel locomotives were introduced on the south sub passenger service, giving a 10-minute journey time from Blackford hill to Waverley station. Such a journey time is almost unimaginable for any other form of transport, even today.

Sadly, the passenger service was closed on 10 September 1962—two years before I was born. The stations along the route closed in 1964—the year in which I was born. For obvious reasons, the reopening of the south sub is important. It is also very relevant. Proposals have been made from a number of sources to engage actively with the issue—not necessarily by using public funds—and again to run suburban passenger services on the line. That begs the question whether there will be further competition between public services—I am sure that there will. Any proposal to reopen the south suburban line will depend on our having an integrated approach to public transport across Edinburgh.

For that reason, it is critically important that Waverley station and those who control it take a very broad view—not just nationally but locally—of the importance of the improvements that they can make and how those can help. The proposals privately to reopen the south suburban line do not depend on public subsidy. They do not depend on significant improvements being made to Waverley station. It would be possible to run services with a 30-minute frequency. That is not good enough for those of us who want regular services, but it is a good start.

As the Transport and the Environment Committee recommended in the report on its inquiry into the rail industry in Scotland, we want the improvements to Waverley station to be completed within five years. Were that to happen, the frequency of services on the south suburban line could be increased to between 15 and 20 minutes. Improvements to Waverley station would bring into play communities in south Edinburgh such as Gracemount, Southhouse, Burdiehouse, Gilmerton, Hyvots and Moredun, where social regeneration and housing improvement are taking place, and access to employment is improving. We now want genuine inclusion of those communities in the rest of the city.

I ask ScotRail and those who control Waverley station to remember the importance of Waverley to the south sub.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 5:28 pm, 31st October 2002

I congratulate Sarah Boyack on securing this evening's debate. As members have emphasised, the issue is very important. It does not affect Edinburgh alone; it is a matter of national importance that Waverley station should be improved.

Donald Gorrie spoke about competition with air travel. There is no reason for us not to use technology that is already being used in Europe and that would provide us with a train service to and from London that is not only competitive with air transport, but faster and more convenient. Such a service would allow people to work and dine in comfort on journeys between Edinburgh and London. If they booked far enough in advance, they would be able to travel more cheaply by rail than by air. That is achievable if we set our minds to it. It is ludicrous that so many people fly between London and Edinburgh. Occasionally I have had to fly between London and Edinburgh, but I bitterly resent that, as it is a total waste of time. On a train one can always do some work.

Sarah Boyack mentioned the links with buses. It is important that the Executive makes absolutely sure that, as well as all the improvements that are carried out at Waverley station, the links between the station and bus services in Edinburgh are improved. At the moment the links between Waverley station and bus services are tenuous.

The second important point that Sarah Boyack raised related to Haymarket station. We must not lose rail passengers while Waverley station is being improved. It is critical that the Executive should be prepared to spend a lot of money on upgrading Haymarket before we start on the improvements to Waverley station. That might include putting in some sort of cafeteria facilities on platforms 1, 2 and 3, as the only facilities that we currently have are the cafeteria on platform 4 and the little coffee bar at the top of the stairs. We could improve and extend the seating for people who are waiting for trains.

We could also improve access for taxis and buses, which will involve changes to the car parking facilities at the back of the station. We might even make modifications at street level and to traffic flows outside the station so that people can access buses easily and frequently. We need to consider the fact that people have to cross the road to get on buses if they are going eastwards into the city and into other parts of Edinburgh.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I call Bristow Muldoon, to be followed by Margo MacDonald. I apologise to Bristow Muldoon for not having called him earlier as convener of the Transport and the Environment Committee, but his card shows him to be Maureen Macmillan.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour 5:31 pm, 31st October 2002

I am sure that Maureen Macmillan will be even more distressed than I am at that news, Presiding Officer. I hope that my card did not show me to be Maureen Macmillan at decision time tonight, or I might get a carpeting tomorrow for not having been present.

I congratulate Sarah Boyack on bringing the issue before the Parliament. Everyone in the chamber acknowledges her personal commitment to railways in general and to the expansion of Edinburgh Waverley's capacity, both in her time as the minister with responsibility for transport and as the member for Edinburgh Central.

Several members have mentioned the strategic importance of Waverley, which I fully acknowledge—perhaps more than most members, given that I spent about 10 years of my working life based there. We should put the greatest emphasis on the fact that Waverley has the potential to unlock a lot of railway capacity on all the major routes into Edinburgh.

One of the Scottish Executive's key objectives is to stabilise congestion in the city. I contend that that will be impossible unless the project at Edinburgh Waverley is completed early. Anyone who travels around the Lothians and Fife will acknowledge that all the major road arteries into Edinburgh are fully congested. That problem is compounded by the condition of the A71. If we are to give more people the opportunity to use rail, we have to be able to run more train services into Waverley station.

Certain projects will be worthy of support once the capacity at Waverley is delivered. Perhaps not surprisingly, from a West Lothian perspective, I think that the expansion of the Bathgate line all the way through to Glasgow is worthy of support. I acknowledge the commitment that the Executive showed in its recent award of £500,000 to a study of engineering works in relation to the line. That is important, because the reopening of the Bathgate to Edinburgh line back in the 1980s was one of the major drivers of the economic resurgence of West Lothian. It enabled many people in West Lothian to access job opportunities within the city and people from the city to access job opportunities that emerged in West Lothian. Extending that line through to North Lanarkshire and connecting other towns in West Lothian would create new opportunities for many people living there.

The final issue to which I will draw the minister's attention relates to the Transport and the Environment Committee's recent report. I ask the minister to consider how we can ensure in the next year or two, as we move to the ScotRail refranchising, that there is no hiatus in investment in railway capacity, particularly in rolling stock. I urge the minister to examine the possibility of introducing rolling stock investment before the franchise is relet. That could have immediate benefits for areas such as Fife and West Lothian, as well as for the Glasgow to Edinburgh line.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

In relation to Bristow Muldoon's phantom Maureen Macmillan persona, the records indicate that Mr Muldoon did not vote this evening. I accept his assurance and will write it into the record that he was present at and voted in decision time.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 5:35 pm, 31st October 2002

If you would like, Presiding Officer, I will be John Swinney—he is not here either.

I express my gratitude to Sarah Boyack for lodging the motion and I thank my fellow southsider Angus MacKay for tackling what he described, somewhat disparagingly, as the parochial point of view. From where I am sitting, there is nothing parochial about south Edinburgh.

I will think globally by reminding members of the attraction of New York Central station, which is an integral part of the city, its society, its culture, its tourism and its day-to-day life. We should aim for that for Edinburgh. It can be done. Franco's station in Barcelona, which was in a state of ruin—its condition was much worse than the present state of Waverley—was completely refurbished for the 1992 Olympics. Its refurbishment was considered to be central to the drive to ensure that people saw Barcelona on the world stage. Members should see that station now.

I point out that the Barcelona refurbishment was done quickly. We must concentrate on the urgency of the issue. We should not wait until 2008, when it appears that all sorts of things will happen. We must start to put in the services that will get people on the railways, keep them there and keep Edinburgh's economy turning over. It is self-evident that we need to facilitate the new services to the Borders and the airport. We must get those projects through the planning stage as quickly as possible.

It is also self-evident that the Strategic Rail Authority must prioritise Waverley. Kenny MacAskill asked who the lead agency would be. About three weeks ago, Iain Gray told me that the SRA would be the lead agency, which was very good. He saw no reason why things should not be scheduled for 2008, but he did not say who would pay. Kenny MacAskill asked the right question. Will the SRA pay, if it is nominated as the lead agency?

Kenny MacAskill was sensible in suggesting that the SRA should have an office in Scotland. The SRA needs an office in Edinburgh, because construction firms in Edinburgh are experiencing huge difficulties with the supply of skilled tradesmen in the local labour market. To do the job, we need an organisation that is on top of the local market situation. That suggestion is a good one, which we should push.

Let us not throw the baby out with the bath water. We have a responsibility to maintain our world heritage site status. Waverley could be a beautiful station. We should investigate keeping operations under the glass roof. That can be done—it was done with the Reichstag and with Scottish Widows up the road. I am told that similar attempts are being made at the bottom of Holyrood Road, but I am waiting to see. We start with something good and we can make it better. Development to the west of the station should not even be contemplated; we should develop to the east, by using the ground off Market Street. That is my plea and I hope that someone listens to it.

Photo of Susan Deacon Susan Deacon Labour 5:39 pm, 31st October 2002

I congratulate Sarah Boyack on securing the debate. I acknowledge the work that she has undertaken in relation to Waverley, both in her time as the minister responsible for transport and in her capacity as the member for Edinburgh Central. Many members are grateful for her work.

I am delighted that my constituency has benefited directly from the progress that there has been in our rail network. I was delighted that not one but two new stations opened in my constituency this year as part of the £10.5 million crossrail development. I recognise that those stations at Newcraighall and Brunstane must be part of a wider development of crossrail, which must continue through into Midlothian and ultimately to the Borders. They must also be part of wider links to the west of the city, so I am glad that the Edinburgh Park station is planned for next year. However, I recognise that all those connections require improvements in the capacity at Waverley, where the bottlenecks must be addressed. Those are real and immediate questions to me and to my constituents.

The same is true of the services at Musselburgh and at Wallyford, which serve my constituency and John Home Robertson's constituency of East Lothian. Those have been welcome developments over recent years, but they are now being hampered by the unreliability of services that is caused by the bottlenecks at Waverley about which we have heard so often.

I make a plea to the minister, and to those others who have a say in such developments, for the needs of the east of the city to be borne in mind as the Waverley station project develops. Wider track-capacity issues must be considered. Given the continued growth that is taking place in the east of the city and through into East Lothian, those are immediate concerns.

In the brief time that is available, I want to add a few words on a couple of my hobby-horses, which are germane to tonight's debate. As the Waverley station is developed, which will happen in the near future, I hope that the issue of integration is considered. I strongly echo Robin Harper's comments about the need to integrate rail services with bus travel.

As part of that, I hope that there will be a continued effort to integrate ticketing systems by supporting and promoting such schemes as the one-ticket south-east Scotland transport partnership initiative. The SESTRAN initiative is now in place, but I believe that it needs to be promoted much more actively than it has been.

I hope that the opportunity is taken to address fare collection issues. Surely, with the technology that is available, it should not be beyond the wit of man or woman greatly to improve our capacity to collect fares. The redevelopment of Waverley station should form one part of a process to ensure that we do just that. Such an improvement is in everyone's interest.

For now, I am pleased simply to add my voice to those of other members. Those who have the money and the decision-making powers to make the Waverley project happen should ensure that it does so quickly.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 5:42 pm, 31st October 2002

As a South of Scotland member, I am delighted to support Sarah Boyack's excellent motion.

I am aware that we must be close to the point at which the Scottish Executive must make a decision in principle on whether to support and fund the construction of the Borders rail project. That decision must come before the promoters can lodge the parliamentary order, which they hope to do in the early part of next year. I am also conscious that, when that order is placed and the project begins its path towards delivery, it will in effect book the one remaining pathway into Waverley from the east and south-east of Scotland.

As a member of the Borders rail forum, I am only too well aware that the Borders rail project is not the only project that is in the pipeline. Midlothian Council is close behind the Borders in looking to develop services down the Loanhead line. I am also aware of aspirations for improved rail services along existing routes in East Lothian, such as to Haddington and perhaps inevitably to the substantial new settlements that are expected to arise in East Lothian as a result of the land releases that are instructed in the current Lothian structure plan. There is also the Edinburgh south suburban line, which Angus MacKay mentioned.

For some of those services, it is reasonable to expect through services, but one cannot do that unless additional track capacity is created between Portobello and Edinburgh Waverley and unless additional platform capacity and capacity for through routes is made available in Waverley. The point that Sarah Boyack made at the beginning of the debate—that the Waverley project would serve to meet the aspirations of many different projects—is very pertinent. We require a clear decision to go ahead with the Waverley project.

The project has been identified as a priority by the Scottish Executive and the SRA. However, we still do not know what that means. It is clear that the SRA is taking an increasingly firm grip of the railway network and all forward planning. It is also clear that the SRA's focus is on making the existing network work. The SRA is plainly talking down some of the aspirations for funding for major rail infrastructure projects, some of which have been described in the mood music as grandiose and futuristic. We need to know where we stand vis-à-vis the SRA and the Waverley project.

It is critical, politically as well as financially, that, in a major area of funding where the Barnett formula does not apply and where bids must be made by project, the Scottish Executive is able to demonstrate that it can operate the system and the funding and work with the SRA to deliver investment to Scotland where it is needed for its current and prospective rail services.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour 5:46 pm, 31st October 2002

Like other members, I am delighted to take part in tonight's debate. As the member of the Scottish Parliament for Midlothian, I fundamentally agree with Sarah Boyack about the urgent need for the Waverley development in order to develop the range of important rail projects about which she spoke.

Let me be parochial, and I make no apology for that. The development of the Waverley, Penicuik and Loanhead line is essential for my constituents in Midlothian. Currently, 60 per cent of people who live in Midlothian travel to Edinburgh to work. They can only do that by road. Increasingly, people from Edinburgh are travelling out to the Roslin Institute, the Pentland science park and to the veterinary school at Easter Bush and they, too, can only do that by road.

Midlothian is the only constituency close to Edinburgh that does not have rail access in and out of Edinburgh. The project is vital for my constituents. Those members who have struggled with the Sheriffhall roundabout or the A701 at rush hour will understand the urgency. We also understand the urgency because of the traffic congestion in Edinburgh.

People in Midlothian want to get out of their cars and get on to the railway. That was shown by the results of the Waverley project consultation, which came out a few months ago.

I have a few points about the new plans for Waverley station. As the parent of a daughter with ability difficulties, I echo Sarah Boyack's plea that developments at Waverley and Haymarket should be friendly and appropriate for people with disabilities. I mention in particular the beautiful, white—probably false—marble floors. Those floors are an absolute nightmare. The issue is not just as simple as putting in lifts. We need stations that are friendly and appropriate for people with disabilities.

Any new plans must be of the highest possible architectural design. Margo MacDonald raised that issue. Waverley station is right slap-bang in the middle of a world heritage site. Any development must be sensitive and add to rather than detract from Edinburgh's wonderful built heritage.

I take this opportunity to ask the minister to restate his commitment to the Waverley line. I would also like to finish by congratulating Sarah Boyack on bringing the motion before the Parliament. As the MSP for Midlothian, I am delighted to support it.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

We have time for Scott Barrie and Nora Radcliffe. It would be helpful if the length of their speeches could be nearer two minutes than three.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour 5:48 pm, 31st October 2002

I will try to keep my comments brief. Like everyone else, I congratulate Sarah Boyack on securing the debate on an exciting, worthwhile and well overdue project.

In her opening speech, Sarah Boyack indicated that the redevelopment of Edinburgh Waverley is on the agenda of many different organisations; however, it is not necessarily at the top of any of those agendas. I hope that if tonight's debate achieves anything, it will help to push the redevelopment of Edinburgh Waverley much further up the agendas of those organisations—particularly the SRA, which has a key role to play in the redevelopment.

We should be honest. Edinburgh Waverley has been redeveloped over the past few years. The facilities in the station are considerably better than they were 20 years ago, but better waiting facilities, bars, coffee shops, a Boots and a WH Smith will not get people home quicker and will not necessarily make their enjoyment of rail travel any better.

Clearly, we have to achieve an increase in the capacity of Edinburgh Waverley. We have heard that that is of national importance. Other members have declared their parochial interest, and it will come as no surprise that I wish to do exactly the same and make a special plea for the hard-pressed commuters north of the Forth who have to endure the Fife circle. I say endure the Fife circle, because this very morning my train was cancelled at 9.05 and there was not another one until 10.05, which I had to wait for at Dunfermline Town station.

Rail capacity improvements have been made. We have seen new stations opened not just in East Lothian, as Susan Deacon said, but at Dalgety Bay and Dunfermline Queen Margaret in Fife.

Platform 18, in particular, at Waverley is a cold, lonely place to have to wait at night, rivalled only by the experience of waiting on platforms 2 or 3 at Haymarket. It is draughty and awful. As Margo MacDonald said, we must have a much more exciting vision of what can be achieved at Edinburgh Waverley and Haymarket stations.

Signalling problems are a key issue. The problem—which I have encountered often—is that trains have to wait outside the Waverley tunnel for other trains to come through before they can get further along the line. The issue is not just the redevelopment of Waverley station; as Murray Tosh said, it is also one of increasing capacity.

The project is long overdue, and I hope that the minister will give a commitment on the part of the Scottish Executive this evening.

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat 5:51 pm, 31st October 2002

I commend Sarah Boyack on her excellent, comprehensive and well-argued motion. I could almost say, "Ditto," and sit down, but I am afraid that I am not going to.

Waverley station is of strategic importance. Its development is fundamental to many other projects, as we have heard tonight. As somebody who regularly sits admiring the shrubbery in Princes Street Gardens while on a train waiting for a platform space, I have no difficulty in endorsing the assertion that the station is at or near capacity. The development of Waverley station is a key infrastructure project, as Kenny MacAskill said. It should be accorded priority status, done properly and done soon.

I will take a couple of seconds to highlight the people-related aspects and opportunities of the redevelopment, which include proper accessibility for all sorts of disablements, good information, planning for effective onward journeys, and an attractive, safe and welcoming gateway to Edinburgh and Scotland.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Thank you. That leaves the minister with seven and a half minutes. We have no discretion to go beyond 6 o'clock.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour 5:52 pm, 31st October 2002

I thank the last speaker for her brevity.

I am particularly pleased to congratulate Sarah Boyack on lodging the motion and providing us with the opportunity to discuss such an important issue. I know that Sarah will understand as well as anyone that the Scottish Executive has long recognised the strategic significance of Waverley as a station that provides a hub for regional and local services. It is central to our aspirations for an enhanced Scottish railway network. As Sarah Boyack said, whether the issue is existing long-distance services, central Scotland services, the proposed new services that a number of members have mentioned, or the existing commuter services from places such as Fife, Waverley is the strategic hub that allows them all to be meshed together, which is why it is right at the top of our list of strategic priorities and is one of the key projects that we recognise must be delivered over the next few years.

Sarah Boyack rightly highlighted capacity as a fundamental issue. As Lord James Douglas-Hamilton mentioned, the number of trains that use the station has increased, even in the past three years, by something in the order of 65 per cent. That number is expected to increase yet further over the next few years simply given the projects that are planned, quite apart from any of the additional aspirations that we have heard about this evening. Other aspirations include: those of Virgin and GNER for increased cross-border services; the reopening of the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine link, which will free up space on the Forth Bridge for additional passenger services from the north-east and Fife into Edinburgh; the Edinburgh airport rail link; the potential line to Midlothian and the Borders; and the potential opening of the link between Airdrie and Bathgate. All those will have a direct impact on Waverley, which is central to delivering those aspirations.

The Scottish Executive and the Strategic Rail Authority recognise the capacity constraints and recognise that something needs to be done to address them. If we fail to do that, we will constrain the operational flexibility of the station, will cause passengers to spend time delayed in the Mound tunnel or in Princes Street Gardens, and will fail to achieve the potential of Waverley in promoting the growth of further services.

We are keen to make progress on the basis of the best available scheme. Many members will have seen the master plan that Railtrack presented last year for the station's redevelopment. Scott Barrie mentioned that. The master plan involved the construction of an upper storey to house a travel deck and a shopping mall, and important and essential requirements to address capacity issues in the station. Track and platform requirements are central, but Railtrack itself would concede that its master plan is a concept design only and that work was not undertaken behind the plan to allow it to be turned immediately into a detailed and fully costed proposal.

We acknowledge that other options might achieve the required capacity increase without the same superstructure requirements. Technical investigative work is needed. That may support Railtrack's master plan or flesh out other options that would achieve similar improvements and offer better value for money. Before a decision can be made about the final shape of the new, improved Waverley, that investigative work must be completed to assess site conditions and determine other technical factors, before work can get under way.

It is important to ensure that Waverley can handle the growth in train and passenger numbers that we foresee. That is why we must assess objectively all proposed developments at platform level and set them aside from some of the potential commercial developments.

To do that, a steering group was established to develop the project and consider all the options. The steering group, which is chaired and led by the Strategic Rail Authority and includes representatives from Railtrack, the City of Edinburgh Council and the Executive, provides a good example of the rail industry and central and local government working together to progress one of Scotland's key transport priorities. That priority is high up the list for all the partners. To do the work, the steering group created four sub-groups to consider the technical aspects, planning, the commercial aspects and the business case, to attract and produce a funding package.

In response to members' comments, I confirm that every option to be considered will include new and improved facilities for passengers who pass through Waverley. The chosen option will be planned and integrated to ensure that change is delivered with the needs of all station users in mind and with minimal disruption. Whatever is done will impact on Haymarket station, as one or two members said. The work that is being done on Waverley includes assessment of the impact of any potential projects on Haymarket. Like us, the SRA is mindful of the relationship between the stations. It is too early to discuss the impact in detail and whether Haymarket could become the terminus for some services, for example. It is recognised that the two stations depend on each other.

Angus MacKay talked about the south suburban line. The lead on that lies with the City of Edinburgh Council, as one or two members said. The matter is of some significance. We will continue to follow with interest the city council's proposals for the south suburban line and to work with the council on issues that relate to east Edinburgh and East Lothian, which Susan Deacon mentioned.

As a measure of Waverley station's importance to the enhancement of services under the new Scottish passenger rail franchise, we made available £1 million in May to fund the essential work that is being done.

The sub-groups that I mentioned are investigating several critical issues. Site investigation is being undertaken, which should not be underestimated. Waverley station lies in a glacial valley and geological work is part of what requires to be done. Assessments are also being undertaken of potential passenger growth and platform provision, and future traffic is being analysed. I expect the initial output from that work to be available as a basis for decisions early next year.

I cannot emphasise too strongly that that work must be completed before a final decision on the design can be made. Only when that decision has been made can we examine funding in detail. We will look to the SRA to be part of that picture, but the project is not for the SRA alone. I emphasise the SRA's commitment to several other railway projects.

It lies with the Waverley railway project partnership to produce the funding package for the Waverley line project—the Midlothian and Borders line project. We have given £2 million to allow that to happen. That is a critical matter in which Waverley station plays a key role.

Let me assure members that the work on the redevelopment of Waverley station is progressing as quickly as possible. It is doing so with our full support. The transport delivery report "Scotland's Transport: Delivering Improvements", which was published in March 2002, identified Waverley station as one of our top transport priorities. We will continue to proceed on that basis in partnership with the SRA and other partners.

Meeting closed at 18:00.