New Forth Bridge

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:01 pm on 2nd November 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 5:01 pm, 2nd November 2005

The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2758, in the name of Scott Barrie, on a 21 st century bridge for a 21 st century Fife. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the decision by the Forth Estuary Transport Authority to support the construction of a further bridge across the Forth at Queensferry; accepts that, even with improvements in public transport, the existing Forth Road Bridge is incapable of coping with the current level of traffic; believes that the limitations on the existing bridges into, and out of, Fife are seriously affecting the economic regeneration of the Kingdom; notes that improvements to rail services to Edinburgh are essential but that these alone will not resolve the transport difficulties across the Forth, and hopes that the new bridge will be multi-modal, allowing for future light rail developments from Fife.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour 5:03 pm, 2nd November 2005

I am glad to have secured this evening's debate on transport across the Firth of Forth and, in particular, on why we need another bridge at Queensferry. I am also pleased that there is such a good turn-out from the Fife mafia to discuss what will be an important issue for us Fifers.

Everyone knows that the current road bridge is severely congested. There is no argument about that. However, tonight, I want to highlight not just the case for a new crossing but the reason why we need to start planning now. The Forth road bridge is one of Scotland's most important transport arteries, but it is no longer fit for purpose. It operates well in excess of its design capacity; last year, it carried more than 23 million vehicles. The two Severn bridges together carry only one million more vehicles than our single bridge. The Forth road bridge is more than 40 years old and we know that it cannot last for ever. It may well not last for another 20 years, so the time to get serious about planning a second crossing is now.

In a recent Edinburgh Evening News article, Mark Ballard suggested that the current difficulties can be solved simply by reducing traffic on the bridge, but that is just wrong. I share his hope for a sustainable Scotland that is served by an increasingly sustainable transport network, but surely we need a dose of realism. Ferries, car-sharing lanes and increased park-and-ride facilities are part of the solution, but they alone will never meet Scotland's need for efficient cross-Forth travel, and reductions in freight transport on the bridge would only kill the Fife economy.

We should be clear about the fact that traffic on the Forth road bridge is not an Edinburgh issue or solely a Fife issue; it is very much an issue for Scotland. We should forget now any idea that increasing bridge capacity would increase congestion in Edinburgh city centre because, at peak times, 84 per cent of the traffic that crosses the bridge does not go there. That means that the bridge is of far greater importance to places that are less well served by public transport alternatives.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour

I am sorry; I really want to make the case for a new bridge.

Most southbound traffic goes to places in the wider Lothians region, Lanarkshire or further afield.

We have had recent successes in attracting new businesses to Fife, such as Kwik Save in Dunfermline in my constituency and Amazon's distribution centre in Glenrothes in Christine May's constituency, but bridgehead congestion is a major disincentive to businesses to locate north of the Forth.

Opponents of a long-term solution suggest that planning for a new bridge would waste taxpayers' money. I argue that not planning for a new bridge would do exactly that. Postponing the inevitable will succeed only in damaging the Scottish economy. More parochially, postponing the inevitable will only add to bridgehead congestion. A new bridge that is fit for purpose is vital for the well-being of the whole of Scotland. A new bridge that was fit for purpose would link the local economies of Fife and Edinburgh as a central component in growing the whole of Scotland's economy. For Edinburgh to continue to grow, close association through a physical link is needed with Fife and the north.

Opponents of a new bridge say, "Let the train take the strain." However, anyone who knows the first thing about trains will say that more stations mean longer journey times, which mean that more commuters are tempted into their cars. The Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway line will free capacity on the rail bridge, but it will do nothing for commuter transport across the Forth. The problem is not the rail bridge, but the terminus. Until capacity at Waverley is substantially increased, no additional passenger trains can run from Fife at peak times.

The Forth road bridge is a vital link in Scotland's supply chain. In the past few months, freight traffic has increased by more than 3 per cent, which outstrips the rise in the number of cars. Heavy goods vehicles have doubled in weight since the bridge opened in 1964. The traffic load that the bridge carries is double what it was designed for. The strain on the bridge clearly shows. The life of the surfacing on the carriageways has decreased from 25 years when the bridge first opened to eight years now. That means that, for 16 weekends every four or five years, the bridge will operate on a single carriageway. That work must be undertaken in the summer months when bridge traffic is at its heaviest, which has a severe impact on business in east-central Scotland and on the wider Scottish tourism industry. Queues of an hour plus in both directions are hardly a good advert for a modern Scotland.

More worrying than increased wear on the carriageway is the integrity of the main suspension cables. They are safe for the time being, but investigations have highlighted corrosion of the wires, which reduces the main cable's strength. The Forth Estuary Transport Authority has embarked on a more than £1 million five-year monitoring programme in an attempt to predict the cables' remaining life in economic service, but who knows what the results of that will be?

What is increasingly likely is not another bridge across the Forth, but a replacement bridge. A new multimodal bridge, which FETA supports, is clearly the way forward. The south-east Scotland transport partnership led an integrated corridor study that concluded that, by 2011, the palliative effects of the short and medium-term recommendations to reduce bridge congestion would be exhausted. SESTRAN's long-term recommendation within a balanced strategy is the provision of a new multimodal crossing that incorporates road and light rail traffic. That is the only credible way forward. From concept to completion, a new bridge would take at least 10 years to deliver. Given concerns over the existing bridge, simply doing nothing is no longer an option.

That goes for the Scottish Executive, too. We need a new crossing and we have the opportunity to invest in our future—in a modern multimodal iconic bridge, not just for Fife, but for Scotland. If members want to see what could be achieved, they should look no further than Norman Foster's stunning new bridge over the River Tarn in the Massif Central. There is no reason why our new bridge could not be just as impressive and be a new symbol for a new Scotland.

Members might not agree with my solution, but they cannot deny the problem. Alternatives to car usage must be encouraged, but we must start planning for what is essentially a replacement Forth road bridge now. If we do not, we will be in serious danger of severing one of the main north-south routes in Scotland. Problems are associated with congestion on the existing bridge, but they are minuscule in comparison with the problems that would be generated by having no road crossing of the Forth.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

There is considerable demand from members to speak in the debate, so I will impose a three-minute time restriction.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party 5:10 pm, 2nd November 2005

I thank Scott Barrie for bringing the debate before the Parliament. I did not sign his motion because I am not yet sure whether the way forward is necessarily the multimodal option; we might need to consider the Forth railway bridge and there is always the option of a cheaper tunnel. I am glad that Tavish Scott—who is not in the chamber—is the Minister for Transport and Telecommunications, because he has shown that he will respond positively to well-argued and evidence-led proposals.

The decision on whether to proceed with the building of a new Firth of Forth crossing will be one of the biggest challenges—if not the biggest challenge—that Tavish Scott will face. I challenge him to commission the new national transport authority to begin work on planning for a new crossing as one of its earliest priorities. That early decisions are made is hugely important because, even if we were to decide today to proceed, it would take 10 to 15 years to get a new crossing.

Why should the new authority take on the task? The answer is staring us in the face. As Scott Barrie said, a new crossing is crucial to the whole of Scotland's economy. It is patently obvious that the importance of such a bridge goes beyond the interests of those who live in Fife or the Lothians.

The existing bridge is a fantastic engineering and construction feat, but we have allowed it to become abused and to be used well beyond its original design capacity. As Scott Barrie said, the capacity is going up. Originally, the capacity was envisaged to be 30,000 vehicles a day, but on average 66,000 vehicles now use it. The increased loads that the bridge is expected to take as a result of heavier lorries should be added to that figure—that would give a picture that the designers could never have imagined. The structure is tired and struggling and is dealing badly with our living life in the fast lane.

To make matters worse, traffic is expected to grow as Dunfermline expands by around a third. The carriageways on the bridge are being pounded in a way that was never envisaged and there are worrying signs that the main suspension cables may be more seriously decayed than they were originally expected to be.

The future for users of the bridge is depressing.

At best, there will be longer and longer delays as a result of vital bridge maintenance; at worst, if anything more essential needs to be done to the bridge's cables, the situation will be disastrous. The consequences of not beginning work on the crossing now are bad enough for daily users of the bridge and for the environment, but the failure to begin planning could prove to be asphyxiating not only for Fife's economy, but for the whole of Scotland's east coast.

I know that the Minister for Transport and Telecommunications and the Deputy Minister for Finance, Public Service Reform and Parliamentary Business will need to talk to experts, but work needs to begin now to get a realistic position in place to ensure that we can plan ahead. The national transport authority must consider a crossing for the Forth and develop a strategic, future-proof solution that will serve us well for the rest of the century. The Forth rail bridge must be considered at the same time.

Photo of Mr Andrew Arbuckle Mr Andrew Arbuckle Liberal Democrat 5:13 pm, 2nd November 2005

I ask members to look forward and to imagine that the year is 2015. The First MinisterNicol Stephen—has just made an announcement on the overall and continuing economic success of Scotland, but there is one black spot in the rosy arena: the Forth road bridge.

Ten years have passed since the first warnings emerged about the bridge's long-term viability. Corrosion was already creeping into its innards at that time. Problems with suspenders are often nice problems, but not if those suspenders are holding up a busy bridge platform. Even back in 2005, the bridge was being much more heavily used than had originally been planned and it was suffering from that 20th century disease: stress. Some discussion took place then about what should be done, but the opportunity for alternative action passed by in a flurry of worry over the capital cost and the environment. The good burghers of Edinburgh were worried about congestion—or, more accurately, about more congestion—so nothing was done other than members having a good debate in Parliament.

Then, around 2008, it was decided that it would be better to put weight limits on the bridge as there were fears that it was in danger of exceeding its safe limit. Although some freight was transferred to rail, the resulting diversion of heavy goods vehicles caused great problems in Kincardine and in the small communities along the A977. Just as the minor diversionary roads were clogged up, so were the phone lines and e-mail inboxes of local politicians and MSPs. People were unhappy—very unhappy. In fact, they were extremely annoyed about the congestion. Those who wanted to work in one location and live in another were annoyed that their elected representatives were not responding to their wishes. Businesses were annoyed that their work was being made much more difficult than it should have been with delays and extra costs.

By 2015, such is the damage that has been done to the economy in Fife that those who live in the kingdom find out that they are eligible for the highest level of European Union grants, because the area is extremely disadvantaged—higher even than the level of aid received by places such as Sardinia or the former Baltic states, which have been found to be in better economic condition than Fife. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the Forth road bridge has become a beacon of discontent among the local population. It is a means of crossing the Forth, but it does not provide people with a crossing that they want or need.

I thank Scott Barrie for securing the debate and for laying out cogently and comprehensively the arguments in favour of considering another option for the Forth crossing. I may have taken a different perspective on the matter, but my conclusion is the same as Scott Barrie's. I am sure that the Scottish Executive will rise to the challenge.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 5:16 pm, 2nd November 2005

I congratulate Scott Barrie on securing the debate. It is a strategic issue for Scotland; it is not just a case of moving people in and out of Fife. As Bruce Crawford rightly said, it is vital to link up the east coast, which will also allow linkages up to and including Inverness.

The state of the bridge is an issue. So many of the 1,600 wires are broken or corroded. We must consider the lifespan. The United States consultants are looking at a report just now. I presume that we will get an answer to that fairly soon. FETA suggests that it will take 11 years to get a new crossing in place. However, there is more to this than just considering a replacement road bridge and ways of tinkering. It is about how many people get in a car, and it is about the new lorries. They have doubled in weight—fine; however, the new superwheels are causing even more wear and tear to the bridge by increasing the loading, and the surface is wearing out.

If there is no new crossing and we have to do something about the cabling, there is a threat that the bridge will have to be closed completely. What would we do then? We must start planning now. As has been said, we must also consider what to do with the rail system. At the moment, there are problems with Waverley station. What about freight? We are trying to encourage freight to go from road to rail. How do we get more trains across the Forth or under the Forth? We need to think clearly about what we are trying to end up with. It is important that we hear what the minister has to say about how the Executive may take the matter forward.

At the moment, the tolls at the bridge are only creating a surplus, because work has been postponed. The tolls will not give us the answer; we need to consider a real capital construction. Where will the money come from? We are looking at an Edinburgh airport extension with rail lines going through it. How do we solve the conundrum of the Fife loop for the train not impeding the express trains and freight trains that go further north? We must increase the opportunity for rail to go across the Forth. We also need to consider all the other measures that will reduce the number of cars that go that way.

How do we fund the bridge? The solution is to abandon the tram link to Edinburgh airport. We should take that money and put it into the preparatory work that needs to be done for the bridge. The bus system is very flexible and can work for the airport. We do not even know what the tramline will cost, but which is more important: an extra tramline in Edinburgh, which could be replaced by buses, or a new multimodal crossing? We need a bridge that will take full rail, not light rail, as we do not know what the Forth rail bridge will be like in five or six years. There may be weight restrictions on it as well.

We need to do this holistically, using whatever money the Executive has committed to whatever it wants to do, and we should consider the issue as a national, strategic issue, not just one for Fife or Edinburgh.

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour 5:20 pm, 2nd November 2005

Like other members, I thank Scott Barrie for bringing his motion before the Parliament. The debate is important for the economy of Scotland. Like Scott Barrie, I believe that the provision of an additional or replacement bridge across the Forth at Queensferry is essential and that the decision has to be made now. Regardless of the life expectancy of the existing bridge, a new multimodal bridge is essential to protect and develop the economy of the eastern seaboard of Scotland. I do not confine that to Fife—I include from north of Aberdeen to south of Edinburgh.

We know that there is sufficient concern about the stress that traffic volume is putting on the bridge and its effect on the main cables to give rise to warnings of extended maintenance closures. Such closures cause chaos when they are limited to just one lane; total closure would devastate the whole of the economy of eastern Scotland. The economies of three major cities depend on effective transport networks—rail, bus, sea and road—serving the east coast. The economies of Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh depend on access to their city region economic blocs—a term that I believe is very much in favour in some economic development circles. Nevertheless, we must examine areas such as my own and their ability to attract industries that are less suited to the major conurbations; we must develop traditional industry and business in those areas; we must regenerate the economy in areas such as Leven and Methill; and we must build and grow Glenrothes.

I do not argue that a new bridge will meet all those needs; I argue that now we have an ideal opportunity to put the best principles of co-operative city region planning into practice and to examine the wider transport network improvements that could form part of the medium to long-term plan for the effective transport network of which I spoke.

A new bridge must not cater just for the motorist—it must link in with the Edinburgh tram system. The Leven rail link needs to be reopened to take cars off the road network. Investment in buses must be planned. Even if every commuter and shopper used public transport, that still would not meet the needs of industry, so we need an improved road network, the new bridge and the dualling of the A92, so that we have a dual carriageway from Edinburgh to Aberdeen.

Finally, we face a choice: we do nothing and write off the economic future of Fife and much of eastern Scotland; or we take the steps that are needed to build the sustainable 21st century economy that I argue everybody in this chamber supports.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 5:23 pm, 2nd November 2005

As a former member of the Forth Road Bridge Joint Board, as it then was, and as the member for South Queensferry, I am well acquainted with the history of the issue, the difficulties faced by commuters and the millions of vehicles that cross the increasingly congested Forth road bridge and surrounding area, and the increasing maintenance problems. The problems are big for my constituents, but they go beyond my constituency, Fife and our city region, as many have said, into the whole of Scotland. However, talk of a multimodal bridge is misleading when there are no plans for tram or light rail to go to or from the bridge, when wind shielding for such a bridge would benefit lorries more than any other vehicles and when such a bridge would simply spread increased capacity over two bridges, with all the environmental impacts that that would have.

Scott Barrie laid out many of the problems, of which three are key—maintenance, safety and capacity. We hear that the Forth road bridge is struggling to cope with current traffic demand. As David Davidson said, its use by lorries in the main has led to more frequent repairs, including resurfacing, which must now occur every seven years. That leads to delays. We also know that there is a significant problem with the bridge's cabling as a result of the increased volume of traffic. We must seriously examine whether we need a replacement now, but we should consider all the options. It should be a national debate that is led by the new transport authority and the Executive, rather than by FETA.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

No, I am sorry.

I ask ministers to address the question whether the problems can be tackled more efficiently and effectively than with a new bridge. I want certain questions to be answered. For example, how much HGV traffic could or would be rerouted to the planned second Kincardine bridge? Is it possible for roads to be resurfaced in a more durable way? Crucially, instead of replacing the bridge, is it possible to strengthen it with another main cable—as I believe happened with the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco? Such measures will incur costs, but they will be less than the up to £1 billion that it will cost to build a new bridge.

I agree with many of Scott Barrie's comments about rail. We must consider alternatives. However, SESTRAN has said that a second bridge will be at full capacity by 2031. What do we do then—build a third one?

Any new crossing would have a major impact on my constituents, because it would use land that the Scottish Executive has safeguarded. Our key job is, initially, to reduce demand; to consider all the options; and to recognise that this is a national priority. After all, FETA took its decision only on its chair's casting vote. No matter whether people come down on my side of the argument or on Scott Barrie's side, this is not some issue ping-ponging between Fife and Edinburgh. It is of national importance and must be approached in that way.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green 5:36 pm, 2nd November 2005

I thank Scott Barrie for lodging an interesting motion for debate. He recognises that we have a fundamental problem with traffic growth not just in Fife and the Lothians but throughout Scotland and the United Kingdom. That said, I find the motion a bit defeatist, because it implies that road traffic will spiral out of control; that we can do nothing about it; and that, at the very best, we can only slow down the acceleration in traffic growth. As a result, we need to build enough capacity to accommodate it. However, I am not ready to accept such defeatism.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

I am sorry, but I do not have time to give way. I am trying to build the argument against a new bridge.

I believe that we can tackle the problem of traffic growth, but only if we radically restructure our transport infrastructure. That will require some vision.

As Margaret Smith pointed out, the SESTRAN cross-Forth study clearly showed that the new road capacity that will be built across the Forth will alleviate congestion in the short term; however, in 10 years, the number of trips across the Forth will increase by 55 per cent on 2001 levels and, by 2030, the capacity of two road bridges will be exhausted and we will be in as bad a position as we are now. That is simply unacceptable. It is bad for business in Fife; bad for the quality of life of the people in Fife and the Lothians; and bad for the environment.

We should try to stop repeating our mistakes and start to think big. I suggest to the minister that, for example, we think about re-opening the stations at Methil, Leven, St Andrews, Oudenarde and Newburgh. As we would need the infrastructure to accommodate those re-openings, we would have to build not two but nine additional platforms at Waverley station.

We should also consider providing a direct railway line from the Forth bridges to Perth to improve the journey times between that city and Edinburgh, which are stuck at 1900 levels. Moreover, if we are to be serious about tackling the problem of traffic growth, we must increase the space on the entire central Scotland rail network. As I said, that means that we must think big. For example, we could extend the Stirling to Kincardine railway line to Dunfermline and Rosyth port. The minister could also consider taking more simple decisions such as upgrading the signalling on the Forth rail bridge, which has been long overdue and would give us more capacity on some rail passenger routes.

I realise that it is easy for Opposition members to come up with such ambitious shopping lists. However, at least I am not facing both ways at once on this issue. I know that hard choices need to be made—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Unlike the Scottish National Party, I know that hard choices need to be made. The nationalists are quite happy to argue for a massive expansion of the public transport infrastructure while calling for the dualling of the A96, the A82 and the A9; the M74 extension; and new bridges over the Tay and the Forth. We cannot have everything in the toyshop.

We must not support defeatism but find a solution to reduce traffic that is achievable and is within the minister's budget.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I hope to buy three minutes' silence on the SNP benches by calling Tricia Marwick.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party 5:29 pm, 2nd November 2005

I would not promise it either.

I genuinely thank Scott Barrie for bringing the debate to the chamber. Members' business debates are usually extremely supportive of the motion, but the remarks by Margaret Smith and Mark Ruskell in the past few minutes suggest to me that they need to get into the real world instead of the fantasy land that they are in at the moment. We have a road bridge that had a capacity when it was built of 30,000 vehicles a day. The number of vehicles is 65,000 a day and growing—that is already twice the original capacity and, quite frankly, the bridge cannot take it.

Without talking about an increase, the current levels alone mean that we need to do something about the crossings on the Forth. When I hear Mark Ruskell say that building a new bridge will somehow adversely affect businesses in Fife, I have to tell him that congestion and a bridge that cannot cope with it are already affecting our industry and businesses in Fife. [Interruption.] I ask members to stop heckling me from a sedentary position.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

The Forth road bridge is absolutely vital for the whole of Scotland. At the moment—Margaret Smith did not even refer to this—many people live in Dunfermline because Edinburgh's housing market simply cannot cope.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

I want to finish my point.

People already go to live in Dunfermline and commute to Edinburgh. The inescapable fact is that vehicle numbers and capacity on the bridge will increase. Doing nothing is not an option. The bridge is under severe stress at the moment. We simply cannot have a situation in which, over the next 15 years and beyond, the bridge closes regularly for work to be done. However, that will be the reality.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

I am aware of the constraints on Tricia Marwick's time, and I let her earlier comment about me go by for that reason. However, given that we have only three minutes each, I could not have been expected to talk about affordable housing, housing issues in Fife and everything else. I do not disagree with lots of the things that she is saying, but to ask why people do not mention all the issues when we have only three minutes is ridiculous.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

You now have less than three minutes, Ms Marwick.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

In my three minutes, I am making the point that, because Dunfermline is expanding, the number of commuters will increase. I am surprised that Margaret Smith does not think that there is a problem on the bridge because of that.

Other issues must be considered. I believe that, as Bruce Crawford said, the national transport authority should be charged with the responsibility for examining all the options to plan for the future. It simply cannot be the responsibility of FETA to do that. In the meantime, we need to improve the appalling rail service from Fife to Edinburgh. Of course, we need a cross-Forth ferry service—from Burntisland to Granton, I hope—and we must have car sharing and park-and-ride schemes. However, even if we have all those things, we still need some sort of replacement for the bridge. For example, we could consider the possibility of keeping the existing bridge, building another one and allowing westbound traffic to go over one and eastbound traffic to go over the other.

A number of options are on offer, but the one option that is not available to us is that of doing nothing. We might have disagreements and debates about what sort of bridge we should have, but we need further capacity and we need a new bridge from Fife.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I now call Helen Eadie. After she has spoken, I will accept a motion without notice to extend business.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour 5:33 pm, 2nd November 2005

I most strenuously support the motion in the name of Scott Barrie. I lodged a similar motion last year and I warmly welcome this evening's debate. I too was a member of the Forth Road Bridge Joint Board—I was vice chair at one time—so I know many of the arguments that have been made by those who manage the bridge. I believe that some members of the management team are in the gallery today and I welcome them. I note that they have had a mission impossible in the job that they have had to do, but they do that job very well.

When the Forth road bridge opened in 1964, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world outside the United States of America. We should be immensely proud of all our engineering capacity. Some of the Greens' arguments have been interesting, as was Margaret Smith's contribution, although I have to disagree with her. She has not explored the economic issues that were covered by my colleagues. We must consider the crippling and devastating effect on the economy of Fife and the north of Scotland if we were to wake up woke up one morning to find that the Forth road bridge—the lifeline to the north of Scotland—was suddenly closed. That is what we are talking about. We are talking about the potential for corrosion, which all the newspaper reports tell us is irreversible. That corrosion must be taken on board.

I must point out how hard hit Fife has been over the years. We have the biggest area of disadvantage outside Glasgow, and not enough jobs are being relocated north of the River Forth. It is imperative that, given all the housing that is being built north of the River Forth, the road infrastructure is able to cope.

I take Bruce Crawford's point about the new transport authority considering the matter, but I do not think that we can wait for that. We have to think about it now. It took 20 years to get the existing Forth road bridge from gestation in 1947 to opening in 1964. The same applies to the Kincardine bridge. We must act now. We need that bridge.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

At this stage, I am prepared to accept a motion without notice for an extension of up to 15 minutes.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended until 5.59 pm.—[Tricia Marwick.]

Motion agreed to.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I thank the minister for his willingness to accommodate the extension.

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP 5:36 pm, 2nd November 2005

I am grateful for that extra 15 minutes—I promise not to use it all.

I congratulate Scott Barrie, as other members have done, on securing the debate. I declare an interest at the outset. My grandpa Mackin built the Forth road bridge—he told me that he did it single-handedly, but I am sure that others were involved.

When he, as part of the Lanarkshire Welding Company, built the Forth road bridge in the 1960s, he had no idea of the volume of traffic that we would see 50 or 60 years later. All members accept that congestion on the Forth road bridge is a real problem and that the deterioration of both the road bridge and the rail bridge is an issue that we must consider in the debate.

I put it on record that my preferred option is for people to use the existing bridge more effectively. Currently, 70 per cent of the cars that go across the bridge have only one person in them. Surely there must be greater opportunities for car-sharing schemes and more usage of public transport—bus and trains. Surely there is a place in the debate for the discussion that took place in the Parliament a year ago about the prospect of a ferry from Kirkcaldy to Leith. That would remove some road traffic.

Like other members, I accept that the reality is that those measures are all likely to have only a marginal impact on the central problem. The figures from FETA and others show that only 12 per cent of the bridge traffic goes into the centre of Edinburgh, leaving 88 per cent of the traffic going to West Lothian, Midlothian, west Edinburgh and south Edinburgh. That puts before the chamber the question of the impact on public transport provision. If we are going to say that public transport is an alternative to using the road bridge, we must invest a significant amount of money—I mean hundreds of millions of pounds—in public transport in the other locations that I mentioned.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I agree strongly with the points that Colin Fox makes about the need for an integrated improvement in public transport across the bridge and the need to pick up on the journeys round and about not only the city of Edinburgh but the Lothians as a whole. Will he join me in condemning the suggestion from David Davidson that a new bridge should be built at the expense of the tram routes in Edinburgh? That is an outrageous suggestion.

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP

I will use my final minute to say that a multimodal replacement bridge would throw up some concerns of its own. If there are to be cars on top and trains or trams underneath, we would face the same problems that we have with current public transport provision: the train or tram that goes across the bridge must link into the existing network. That brings us back to the problem that existing and proposed train and tram networks do not adequately serve West Lothian, Midlothian or other parts of Edinburgh. My preferred option, which should be considered at least, is that in these debates we must try to make the public transport option the most attractive. Surely there is a case for saying that, if there is to be a multimodal bridge, it should be dedicated primarily to public transport use—of course, I hope that the train and tram system will be publicly owned. Perhaps there could be provision for dedicating part of the road to buses—for example, school buses and minibuses—or for high-occupancy vehicles. Wrapped up in the debate must be consideration of other options such as a ferry or a tunnel, given that we are talking about a figure that could be as much as £1 billion.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 5:40 pm, 2nd November 2005

I join colleagues in congratulating Scott Barrie on securing this important debate.

The importance of the Forth road bridge to the economy of all parts of Fife cannot be understated. In my constituency, the tourism industry relies heavily on the traffic that comes across the Forth and many of my constituents work south of the Forth.

I am just about old enough to remember the opening of the road bridge in 1964 and I am certainly old enough to remember being seasick on the ferry crossing before the bridge was opened. I also remember the debates that we had almost a decade ago on Fife Council about the present bridge reaching its operational capacity by, I suppose, about now and about the need for a second bridge.

However, I must say at the outset that I do not support, and never have supported, an additional Forth road bridge at Queensferry. I argued in Fife Council that that was the wrong approach. Instead, we need to develop a transport plan that includes an alternative crossing route for people going west and south via a new bridge at Kincardine, and we need to make a substantial investment in public transport to reduce the growth in traffic.

I argued when I was on Fife Council that we should not increase road capacity for cars and lorries at Queensferry. I still believe that, but I also believe that the time has come for us to examine fully the options for a replacement bridge. There is no doubt in my mind that the present bridge has serious structural limitations that mean that we must replace it. We have all heard the stories about broken cables; we do not yet know the full extent of that problem, but it raises the real possibility, as Andrew Arbuckle said, that at some point in the future there will be restrictions on the number of vehicles that will be allowed to cross the bridge at any one time.

There is also the problem of the bridge's road surface, which requires to be replaced with increasing frequency. That causes massive disruption—particularly to the tourism industry in Fife—through lengthy weekend delays, which we will see roughly every second year between now and 2012 and beyond. The disruption causes huge delays to bridge users and serious damage to Fife tourism businesses. If nothing is done to replace the present structure, we will end up with no bridge at all or a situation that is as good as having no bridge. I do not believe that anyone in Parliament—even the Greens—would argue that we should not have a bridge across the Forth.

Of course, I strongly support improving public transport links across the Forth. I have been one of the strongest advocates of improved rail services, which are thankfully now in the process of being delivered, although there is much more to be done. However, we are restricted in reality in what we can do to improve public transport because of the limited transport infrastructure across the Forth. There is a limit to how many trains we can put across the rail bridge and there is a limit to what we can do to increase bus priority on the existing road bridge, which is already at capacity. There is simply not enough capacity on the bridge to make the improvements to public transport that would make the significant shift that would start to reduce the volume of traffic.

That is why I want a replacement dual-carriageway bridge that is designed to have the capacity to deal with routine maintenance; for example, with breakdown lanes that can be used for contraflows and dedicated public transport lanes. As far as I am concerned, that should follow the existing bridge as closely as possible. We must start work on whether that is technically feasible now and it must be done through the Scottish Executive and the new national transport authority.

Photo of Marilyn Livingstone Marilyn Livingstone Labour 5:43 pm, 2nd November 2005

I thank you, Presiding Officer, for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. Many of the points that I wanted to raise have been covered, but I will make a few other points.

First, I congratulate Scott Barrie on securing the debate. He and many others have eloquently set out the problems that face commuters, of whom I am one, who use the Forth road and rail bridges. I concur with Scott Barrie's view that the Forth road bridge is one of Scotland's most important transport arteries. Members have outlined the work that the Forth road bridge does—for example, it carried 23 million vehicles last year. However, what is important is that the current traffic load is double the bridge's design load, which worries us all.

The life of the bridge's road surface has decreased from a projected 25 years when the bridge opened, to eight years. We have all seen the resulting weekend and summer work because of that, which will be repeated every four years. That will have an immeasurable impact on south-east Scotland's tourism industry and economy.

As Tricia Marwick said, the investigations of the main suspension cables are very worrying. Further, the SESTRAN-led integrated transport corridor study concluded that, by 2011, the palliative effects of the short and medium-term recommendations would be exhausted. Everyone has pointed out that a new bridge would take 10 years from concept to completion.

I would like to talk about the impact of doing nothing. As Scott Barrie said, we need to decide about a multimodal bridge, and we need to decide now. I am particularly concerned about the central Fife economy because my constituency sits right in the middle of central Fife. It has faced and is facing many challenges. One of our key strategies is to connect the communities of central Fife with the growth areas in the rest of Fife and Edinburgh, along with its wider city-region hinterland. I accept some of the points that were made by Margaret Smith, but I do not agree with her. To do nothing would have a horrendous impact on the central Fife economy.

We are considering other measures, such as sustainable development. We are considering a ferry from either Kirkcaldy or Burntisland to Edinburgh. All such suggestions are important, but they will not on their own provide the solution. I wish that they would; like everyone else, I wish that there was a quick fix to the problem, but there is not. We are considering park-and-ride services, ferry services and increased capacity at Waverley. All those things are necessary for the future economy of Fife and the whole of the south-east of Scotland. We must act, and we must act now.

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green 5:46 pm, 2nd November 2005

I join other members in thanking Scott Barrie for bringing this debate. It is vital that we debate the best way of getting people from one side of the Forth estuary to the other. I agree that doing nothing is not an option, but we must start by acknowledging the reasons why the current bridge is in trouble.

The bridge is deteriorating so quickly simply because there is too much traffic. There are too many heavy goods vehicles and too many cars carrying just a driver, so the bridge's life expectancy has been slashed. The bridge is congested because, at rush hours when congestion is at its worst, 70 per cent of the traffic consists of vehicles with a single occupant. What is the cause of the congestion? Is it the bridge or that pattern of vehicle occupancy? Is it value for money to spend huge sums on a new bridge to make it even easier for that pattern of vehicle use to continue?

Let us be clear. Scott Barrie talked about the 11 per cent of people who are going into central Edinburgh, but two-thirds of the traffic that goes across the bridge is going to the wider Edinburgh area. We have a clear choice ahead of us. What do we do? Do we build new road bridges? As we have heard, the traffic growth that we could expect from another bridge would mean that in 2031 we would have to have exactly the same debate again because that bridge would be congested and overloaded.

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green

No—I have to make the case against the bridge.

We will have the same problems of overloading and congestion. What will we do in 25 years? Are we going to have to make the really hard choice then to move into the real world? Will we then have to put real investment into the public transport system? That is the only sustainable way to get large numbers of people from Fife into Edinburgh—there is no other way. It is the people who argue that there is a solution based on ever-increasing car traffic who are not living in the real world.

Where will those people go? They will end up in traffic jams in Edinburgh unless we create the massive new road infrastructure in west Edinburgh that will be needed to get people through that area.

The Scottish Executive therefore faces a choice. As Margaret Smith does, I think that Scott Barrie's multimodal proposal is a red herring. Either the Scottish Executive accepts more cars and ever-increasing traffic growth and builds that new road network, obliterating large parts of west Edinburgh to accommodate it, or we invest in the public transport solution that is the only long-term way of getting people from one side of the Forth to the other. We have to invest in Waverley station and in ways of getting the train from Fife to West Lothian and Falkirk.

We should conserve the bridge that we have and we should use it better and more wisely. We have to decrease the amount of traffic on the bridge so that it lasts into the future, but we have to get real now and invest in the public transport solution that is the only long-term solution to the problem of getting people across the Forth.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 5:49 pm, 2nd November 2005

We should get back to the subject matter of the debate. No one is suggesting that we should start to build a bridge as of tomorrow. The funding and the construction workers are not there to do that. We are talking about a growing problem that could become a catastrophe, not simply for Fife and the area south of the Forth but for the whole of the Scottish economy.

Of course we should consider alternative action. As far as I am aware, all members support the concept of fast ferry solutions. We also support the expansion and enhancement of rail provision, but we recognise the difficulties that that will cause. Of course car sharing should be encouraged, but there is a limit to what we can do. As well as affecting commuting, the fact that we live in a much more atomised society has social and economic downsides. There is a limit to the extent to which we can manage to get people to car share and so on, so we must have a plan B. We cannot keep going in the direction in which we are heading; we must plan ahead. That is why I pay tribute to Scott Barrie for securing the debate.

Scott Barrie, Bruce Crawford and David Davidson were quite correct in the points that they made. We are talking about a national issue; it cannot be seen simply as a Fife issue or as a case of north of the river versus south of the river. The economy not only of Edinburgh and central Scotland but of Dundee, Aberdeen and the rest of Scotland will be affected if we fail to address the potential problem of the bridge.

I listened with incredulity to some of the remarks that Andrew Arbuckle made. However, he was correct to say that the issue is national, as other members have said, and that we must examine what has been done elsewhere. He mentioned the bridge that has been built across the Øresund, which has united the city of København and the ancient kingdom of Skåne, or Scania as it is described in relation to Shakespearean matters. That was done because it was essential for the economies of Copenhagen and Malmö to unite if those cities were to compete with North Rhine-Westphalia and the likes of Bremen and Hamburg, which act together, and to see off the growing threat of Poland and the Baltic accession states, never mind St Petersburg.

We must accept that there is a problem in east central Scotland. It does not affect only people who live north of the river because there are people who live in Livingston but work in banking in Dunfermline, for example. Our economy must be able to compete not just with North Rhine-Westphalia but with Copenhagen and Malmö. If we do not have the necessary transport links, we will not be able to do so.

We are discussing a plan B, which I do not believe should consist simply of a replication of the existing bridge, which funnels traffic into the city of Edinburgh. A multimodal option must be considered. We must also consider a bridge that will handle westbound traffic. However, we cannot have no plan because, if we do, the whole of the Scottish economy will disappear.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 5:52 pm, 2nd November 2005

I am very pleased to be able to respond to the debate and I offer the Minister for Transport's apologies. He could not be with us tonight because he had a family matter that required him to be elsewhere, so he asked me to step in. I give members an assurance that he will read the Official Report of the debate tomorrow and that I will pass on the passionate views that the many members who have a genuine interest in the matter have expressed. I congratulate Scott Barrie on securing a debate on his motion. The number of members who have stayed to participate in it shows what an important subject we are discussing.

As many members have observed, the Forth road bridge is one of the most important elements of Scotland's transport infrastructure. Its operation is central to the economic well-being of Edinburgh, the Lothians, Fife and the whole of Scotland. Although there is no consensus on the way forward, there is consensus on the fact that the issues relating to the bridge are of national importance, affect all of us and should be given the highest priority.

Since the bridge opened 41 years ago, travel, home-life and working patterns have changed radically. Many of us travel further for work or leisure than we could have imagined in 1964, when the bridge was built. As many members have pointed out, the volume of traffic has increased from 4 million crossings in the first year to 24 million crossings now. Bridge traffic exceeds the design capacity on every weekday of the year. Furthermore, the bridge has to carry much heavier loads than were originally envisaged. In 1964, the heaviest lorry weighed just 22 tonnes. Modern heavy goods vehicles are now twice that weight and a further increase in that tonnage is being considered.

To some extent, the bridge is a victim of its own success, probably because it is so pivotal to the whole of Scotland. The Forth bridge is a crucial transport link between the west, the south and the north-east of the country. Of course, many of us rely on the bridge for our daily commute, but it is also central to the movement of freight around the country and to tourism and leisure throughout the country.

Anyone who has travelled across the bridge in or around peak times will know the severe congestion that can be encountered. For example, more than 70 per cent of peak-time traffic on the bridge is single occupancy vehicles. That is not sustainable in the longer term. We need to be clear about what can be done to encourage people to think about and change their travel patterns. Many members alluded to that and made suggestions for measures that could be introduced.

The Scottish Executive has already contributed to building the Ferrytoll park-and-ride facility.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

Does the minister accept that, although the Ferrytoll park-and-ride facility was a good investment, the problem is that it is too close to the bridge. When traffic is backed up past junction 2—past Pitreavie—cars cannot get into Ferrytoll. Car drivers then try to find other ways of getting into the facility. We need another park-and-ride facility before Ferrytoll, perhaps around the Halbeath junction.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I take the point that Mr Crawford makes. I will relay it back to the Minister for Transport for his consideration.

We are also investing in longer station platforms and in newer trains. The Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway project will free up passenger capacity on the Forth rail bridge. We are spending £3.7 million on the construction of two new platforms at Waverley station in order to increase capacity from 24 trains an hour to 28. We also need to understand the contribution that more and better public transport can make to easing pressure on the road bridge in the short and longer term.

All the pressures on the bridge result in increased maintenance requirements, some of which lead to more lane closures. The matter is one that many members have touched on tonight. We are aware of the disruption that such works can create. However unfortunate the disruption, maintenance work is unavoidable if the bridge is to operate into the future.

More recently, FETA has been testing the main cables and the results of those tests are now emerging. FETA is keeping the Executive up to date on the results and we will continue to work very closely with it on this important issue. What is clear is that there are no safety implications for travellers; as always, the safety of bridge users is paramount. However, there are real pressures on the bridge.

The bridge master and his team briefed the Minister for Transport on all the issues this afternoon. I see that the bridge master has joined us for the debate and has listened to what members have said on this important issue.

Given the significance of the Forth crossing, it is critical that we do not rush into decisions without first evaluating all the options that are available to us. Tonight's debate has highlighted the fact that a number of suggestions are coming forward. It is important that we take the time to get it right.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

No one would deny that we should take the time to get it right, but does the minister acknowledge that we need to start the planning now?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I recognise the pressures and the need to address the issues, as does the Minister for Transport. As I said, I will relay to him the concerns that members have expressed tonight and the matters that were raised in the debate.

We need to know whether a new crossing is the best way forward. We need to assess the affordability and the environmental, financial and economic impacts of each option. We are looking at all the issues. We are working alongside FETA and once there is a clearer picture of how we should progress this vital matter, the Minister for Transport will inform Parliament on the way forward.

The Minister for Transport recognises that this matter is of vital importance to Scotland and will give it the importance that the members representing the areas around the Forth who have spoken in the debate have given it. The matter is extremely important to all of us in Scotland. It is a national strategic issue. We need to address it and to come up with solutions Meeting closed at 17:59.