The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-4279, in the name of Richard Baker, on Aberdeen crossrail. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament notes the economic, social and environmental benefits that Aberdeen Crossrail would bring to the city and other areas of the north east; welcomes the announcement by Network Rail in April 2006 that an additional £40 million is to be invested in the Scottish rail infrastructure network; considers that this additional investment should be used to help develop projects like Aberdeen Crossrail; welcomes the Scottish Executive's "Transport for Tomorrow" consultation as a valuable chance to debate the future of the Executive's transport strategy, and believes that the Executive should, through that strategy, move beyond a feasibility study of the crossrail project and progress towards a commitment to construction with a clear timetable for completion.
I am pleased that we have the opportunity to hear the case for the development of Aberdeen crossrail. I thank my colleagues from across the north-east and across the parties represented in the chamber who have supported my motion, which urges the Executive to build on its support for the feasibility studies of the project by committing to its construction.
I am aware that there has been long-standing support from many people in the north-east, as well as in the chamber, for the development of Aberdeen crossrail. The proposal is being actively promoted by the north-east Scotland transport partnership. It is not surprising that it has such widespread support, given the clear benefits that the scheme would bring to our region. If our part of Scotland is to have the kind of integrated transport network that we want to see throughout the country, Aberdeen crossrail must be an essential part of that.
Aberdeen crossrail is a project that is designed to upgrade, improve and extend rail links between Aberdeen and communities both north and south of the city. It is an innovative and ambitious part of the strategy to provide more public transport options for commuters and to cut congestion in the centre of Aberdeen. It is widely agreed that there must be concerted efforts to address that issue.
An incremental approach to delivering crossrail is proposed. First, services from the south, which currently terminate at Dyce, would be extended to terminate at Inverurie. In the medium term, a half-hourly cross-Aberdeen service would be achieved,
The timescales for completion of the stages range from the end of next year to beyond 2012, for the full scheme. However, I hope that we can have a more ambitious timescale for implementation. There is no doubt that action is needed if we are to tackle the problem of congestion in Aberdeen in the years to come. Even with the construction of the western peripheral route, traffic forecasts suggest that car usage is set to increase, which will impact on congestion. Measures such as improved rail services in the area are crucial. We have sustainable transport schemes to encourage car sharing and cycling, but we need to give commuters more options—specifically, a rail service that complements the bus network. That works in other parts of the country, and I have no doubt that it will work well with Aberdeen crossrail.
Improving passenger numbers could lower the costs of travelling by rail, which would significantly increase the use of public transport in the north-east. The crossrail project could involve park-and-ride facilities, bus stops and access for cyclists and walkers beside each station. We need to take that kind of approach if we are to have a multi-modal, sustainable and integrated transport policy that will tackle congestion.
One might ask why I have raised the need to go ahead with the construction of crossrail before the feasibility studies have been completed. Although those studies are important, I believe that there is an overwhelming case for crossrail to go ahead, and the Executive is consulting right now on its national transport strategy. It is vital that we flag up the importance of this project at an early stage of that process. I will certainly be making a submission in support of the crossrail project, and I have today launched a petition that I hope will command a high level of support for the scheme.
When I asked a question on crossrail recently, people queried whether the minister's response showed a weakening of the Executive's commitment to the scheme, as he said that crossrail would have to compete with other transport projects for priority in the transport strategy. That seemed a perfectly reasonable answer. As the Executive embarks on its consultation, it is up to us in the north-east to
In other parts of Scotland, the Executive is making the biggest investments in new rail services for decades. I know that from my own happy experience on the private bill committee that considered the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine Railway and Linked Improvements Bill. There are also the new stations in Edinburgh, the airport rail links and the Borders railway, to name just some of the projects. The Executive knows the value of investing in new rail services in other parts of Scotland.
It is very clear that new rail projects are proving to be very successful, as can be seen with the new services in Edinburgh, where passenger numbers on the crossrail service have risen by up to 72 per cent on last year. The stations at Newcraighall, Brunstane and Edinburgh Park have taken hundreds of cars off the roads, with 42 per cent of people who use the trains saying that they used to drive to work. That indicates that the level of investment that would be required to construct Aberdeen crossrail would have an excellent return.
I believe that Aberdeen crossrail will be hugely successful. Not only will it make a valuable contribution to the development of the transport infrastructure in our part of Scotland, but it will be crucial to our ensuring that we have an effective transport network in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. That is vital to the people of the area and to our economy.
For many people in the area, commuting by rail is too often an unrealistic option. I believe that if they had that option, people would welcome the service and make full use of it. That is why I believe that developing an improved rail service should be not only a local transport priority, but a priority for the Executive.
I commend Aberdeen crossrail to the chamber and to the minister, and I hope that we can look forward to the Executive pledging to make it a key part of Scotland's national transport strategy.
I welcome the fact that we are debating the crossrail project today. It is useful that Richard Baker lodged the motion. Crossrail will help those of my constituents who commute to Aberdeen from Stonehaven.
This is not just about rail. Some of my constituents in Stonehaven in the northern part of Kincardineshire commute daily to Aberdeen, and the western peripheral route will be a great boon to them. The whole approach to a transport strategy for the north-east has to involve a
The crossrail project will be really good news for my constituency. After all, it is not just about speeding up our citizens' daily journey to work by shortening journey times; the re-opening of stations such as Newtonhill, which is something that has been long argued for by members from across the parties, will also be very important. At this point, it would be remiss of me not to mention the re-opening of Laurencekirk railway station, which is a little further south. I realise that this is not strictly on the topic of the Aberdeen crossrail project, but that development, which is something that I have been pressing for, has been given every green light to proceed. I look forward to the minister's response when NESTRANS submits its application.
However, with the crossrail and western peripheral route proposals, we must have an effective integrated transport strategy in the north-east that brings together the train, the car, park-and-ride facilities and other elements, because that will be important for the investment that is being—and will be—made in the north-east. I am pleased that the Scottish Executive is moving forward in that respect.
Finally, I have been inundated with representations and correspondence from constituents who are unhappy either with elements of the western peripheral route or with the whole project. However, it forms part of the north-east integrated transport strategy, which we need to get right. The investment for it is available, and more is coming. In that respect, the Scottish Executive must be applauded.
I welcome this debate not because I want to praise the Executive—which is what Richard Baker no doubt intends—but because I want to highlight some barriers that hinder the development of an integrated transport system in the north-east.
I should point out that the Aberdeen crossrail project is only one strand of the work of NESTRANS. Given the focus of the public and media on the western peripheral route, the Executive should fund some public relations work
Any objectors to the western peripheral route whom I have met think that the road—wherever it might go—is the Executive's only answer to Aberdeen's traffic problems. The coalition has only itself to blame for that state of affairs. It is unfortunate—actually, I would call it an act of downright incompetence—that an important part of the north-east integrated transport strategy has been so mishandled by successive Liberal Democrat transport ministers and that there has been no informed debate on the other strands of the work of NESTRANS. As a result, the general public do not really know about the plans for an Aberdeen crossrail project; for rail freight; for access to Aberdeen airport; for bus services; and for the provision of cycleways and walkways. The 13 strands of the proposal for a modern transport system in the north-east have largely been ignored.
We welcome the additional £40 million investment. However, although that sounds like a lot of money, it does not amount to very much if we are talking about investment in transport infrastructure. In any case, much of the money seems to go on umpteen feasibility studies and work for consultants instead of on tangible change, and it is little wonder that the public get frustrated when they see no obvious signs of progress.
Much of the investment that will be required to make the Aberdeen crossrail project a success will be used to make right successive Governments' underinvestment in the Inverness to Aberdeen line, which has been neglected for years. Indeed, passing loops will have to be installed at many places on the line before the frequency of trains on the section of the Aberdeen crossrail between Inverurie and Stonehaven can be increased. Mike Rumbles is probably glad that the re-opening of Laurencekirk station has not been considered as part of the Aberdeen crossrail project, because much faster progress seems to have been made on that proposal.
There seems to be an overriding focus on opening up stations in areas where people live, rather than areas where people work. It is all right to take people into the centre of Aberdeen, but only a fraction of them work in the city centre and there are no good, fast links to the industrial estates. I know of many people who want to take the train into Aberdeen from various points on the Inverness line, but it is difficult for them then to go on to Tullos or Altens. As a result, they are put off using public transport.
I seriously believe that, in order to realise the true potential of Aberdeen crossrail, the opening
I would like the minister to tell us what importance he attaches to rail freight and what has happened to the proposed freight terminal at Raiths Farm. Little freight seems to be moving through Guild Street and Craiginches at the moment. Waterloo Quay is mentioned in the NESTRANS document, yet the link is to be ripped up to make way for a retail development at Guild Street railway station. That hardly makes for integrated transport.
I welcome the debate that Richard Baker has initiated. I will use my position on the Local Government and Transport Committee to press the matter as much as I can, and I look forward to hearing the minister's response.
I congratulate Richard Baker on securing the debate and I welcome him on board as he joins those of us who have campaigned for the crossrail project for a long time. We now have a full set of MSPs who support the project. Obviously we have yet to hear from one or two of the local members who are ministers, but I understand their difficulty.
I have always argued that the starting point should be a station at Laurencekirk. The minister might care to reflect that, as and when the crossrail comes on stream, Laurencekirk might actually be connected and put into the pot. I suspect that there is great demand for the crossrail, and I agree with Maureen Watt that it has to go where people need to go, so the siting of stations is a major issue. There are also timescale issues. If we have a station at Laurencekirk, will there be enough parking? Stonehaven station desperately needs more parking; it is already difficult to park there because it is so busy.
Connectivity with local bus services is an issue, as is the involvement of smaller bus services, which could take people to their industrial estates once they get to a station that is reasonably near their destination. That is all part and parcel of the solution. Richard Baker mentioned park-and-ride facilities, and I have also raised the issue of parking. There are areas, particularly rural ones, where there is a desperate need for such facilities.
The biggest question, of course, is who will fund what. Maureen Watt reeled off her shopping list,
Traffic timetabling is a major issue that I recently discussed again with Network Rail. It has £40 million for an eight-year programme under its rail utilisation strategy, to make better use of what we have got and tidy up signalling. I am not sure how the timetabling can be done to achieve a 15-minute service, but if the crossrail were developed properly I am sure that most people would be quite happy with a half-hourly service. We would then have to see how that worked out.
The north-east needs to get its fair share of resources. If the minister can get his act together on the consultation on the Stonehaven fastlink, we hope that we will get the AWPR on time. I believe that the commitment exists, although the final funding figure has not been given. However, we have not been given a real commitment to anything other than investigating the crossrail project. The project is vital not only to Aberdeen but to the economy of the north-east. People must be able to travel from where they live to the city to access, for example, work opportunities, education, medical care and leisure and recreation facilities.
It is a lot more comfortable for the disabled to travel on a train than it is for them to travel on a bus, on which they are likely to be thrown about. In addition, there might be room for only one wheelchair on a bus. There is a good inclusion case for the scheme.
All members have mentioned the airport link, which Network Rail says is not its problem. I do not know exactly whose problem it is, but no doubt it is the airport's and the city council's problem. We must get a partnership going. I would like some clarity from the minister today on some of the issues that have been raised in the debate.
I congratulate Richard Baker on securing the debate at such an opportune moment.
The Aberdeen crossrail project is hugely important to achieving a long-term sustainable solution to Aberdeen's congestion problems. It will address the problem in a far more practical and cost-effective way than could any western peripheral route.
The economic and business case is surely self-evident. Taking commuters off the roads will free up the city centre and surrounding areas for the traffic that will still need to use the roads. Why is the crossrail scheme not the top priority in creating a modern transport system for Aberdeen? Why is it facing bureaucratic delays at every turn? Why is it not receiving high-profile political and media support in the way that the WPR is? The WPR is a costly distraction from an eminently sensible, much cheaper and less damaging alternative.
The question must be asked: is the Executive serious about tackling climate change, reducing greenhouse gases and developing sustainable transport options? It will be interesting to see how effective Transport Scotland is in working with Network Rail to address timetabling and infrastructure issues. Transport Scotland also needs to address other issues, such as time penalties, which constrain progress. Network Rail seems to have a considerable amount of power over those matters. It may prove to be rather too inflexible in its willingness to address local initiatives.
To increase frequency and manage capacity more effectively, Network Rail and Transport Scotland need to decide whether they really want to provide a first-class rail system that will attract the huge number of travellers who want to travel by train.
The crossrail project must be brought forward in its entirety. A timetable is laid out, but it must be progressed more quickly. Implementation of the first stage requires a modest investment, which is not automatically forthcoming.
Planning for extra stations, particularly the one at Altens, must begin soon if we are to encourage a modal shift from car to rail in time to disprove the already flimsy economic case for the wildly extravagant WPR proposal. I am sure that the crossrail project would be delighted to receive some of the millions that have already been wasted on WPR route options.
To end on a more positive note—
The planned gauge enhancement to allow greater use of the track for freight is welcome. The railways have an important and positive role to play in meeting the future
I thank Richard Baker for giving us the opportunity to debate the Aberdeen crossrail proposals. The project is important to the north-east, but it is also important to Scotland. If our rail infrastructure could carry more passengers, that could only be good for the train operating companies, for Network Rail and for the economy as a whole. It is also important in the much wider context of climate change, which is acknowledged to be the greatest challenge that we face; the focus for climate change mitigation is on electricity generation, but that is a tiny part of our energy demand compared with transport. On all counts, therefore, the crossrail project is important.
As other members have said, the project is part of the modern transport system, which is an integrated set of proposals that NESTRANS developed and which the Executive endorsed in 2003. The proposals incorporate road, rail, park-and-ride, cycling and walking provisions. It is a substantial project, but it can be achieved incrementally. Indeed, nobody has mentioned so far the four additional shuttle services that are already in place between Aberdeen and Inverurie, which are the first services on the ground in the initial part of this extended project. That is great, but we must keep the ball rolling.
The detailed feasibility studies that are under way, which should be completed next March, are not a way of putting off developing the project. They are a necessary part of identifying in detail the practical steps, including the dynamic loops that we need to achieve the medium-term goal of extending services from the south to Inverurie and services from Inverness south of Aberdeen to Stonehaven, using the trains that are already running to achieve a half-hourly service.
There is tremendous potential for getting cars off the road. We can see that in the volume of cars that process into Aberdeen daily and out again at night. When the fuel protest was on, I turned up at Inverurie station to catch a train to Edinburgh and found that the platform was thronged with commuters who had opted to use rail to get to work. That just shows the potential market and the number of people who could choose to go to work by rail but do not do so at the moment.
I am pleased that we will be opening a station at Kintore again. It is a community that is growing exponentially. However, I would endorse what others have said about the necessity of opening stations where people are going to work. I can
I would endorse the long-term ambition to move to a 15-minute service, because that will have an effect on usage. I note that when the frequency of the bus service between Inverurie and Aberdeen increased, usage increased. People want to know that they do not have to wait hours for a bus and that if they miss one, they will get another one quickly.
Aberdeen crossrail is an excellent project and part of a coherent transport plan. I look forward to it rolling ahead in good time.
I, too, am pleased that Richard Baker secured the debate though, given his many sleepless nights since his daughter's birth last December, I would not have been surprised had he chosen sleep deprivation rather than transport provision as a topic for debate.
Aberdeen crossrail is, as we all agree, an extremely important and integral part of the modern transport system that is planned for north-east Scotland. At a time when most of the publicity is about the Aberdeen western peripheral route, it is appropriate that we should discuss another part of the infrastructure.
If the debate receives the coverage that it deserves in our local north-east newspapers, it should highlight to those many citizens who seem to be unaware of it that the western peripheral route fits into an overall plan to ease congestion and speed up traffic flow in and around Aberdeen, to the ultimate benefit of the economy of the entire north and north-east of Scotland.
I will focus briefly and solely on the proposed new station at Kintore because I have had several representations on the matter in the past few weeks from people who have recently moved to Kintore or who are considering buying a house there. Kintore must surely be one of the fastest growing villages in Aberdeenshire. In just five years, its population has grown from just over 1,600 to over 2,500 and the village has completely changed its character from a traditional north-east village to an urban satellite of Aberdeen, with tightly packed streets of modern houses clustered round the historic village centre.
I had a look round the new developments last weekend and I saw at least two cars parked
Surely it should be a priority to build a new station at Kintore and relieve pinchpoints on the outskirts of the city. A new station could be costly, because a passing loop of track would have to be installed alongside the existing railway line. However, I am pleased to see from the helpful NESTRANS briefing that NESTRANS classes the opening of Kintore station as a medium-term objective, which could be achieved by 2009—just three years from now—provided that resources are committed to the development.
When feasibility studies have been completed and NESTRANS has made the case for Scottish Executive investment to enable its proposed improvements to be implemented, I hope that Aberdeen crossrail will feature prominently in the Executive's proposed strategic projects review and that the Executive will approve the proposal. I hope that a station at Kintore will be an integral part of the project.
The benefits for local people and businesses, the easing of congestion in the city and the benefits to the environment would be significant. I urge the minister to enable Aberdeen crossrail to be constructed at the earliest possible opportunity.
I thank Richard Baker for bringing the matter forward. I will be happy to bring to the attention of my colleague Margaret Curran his keenness to serve on private bill committees, which she will note with great interest. I am sure that serving on a private bill committee would also help him with his sleep deprivation problems.
I was grateful for David Davidson's appeal to the Scottish National Party to show a degree of financial responsibility and I am sure that all members were interested to hear that Maureen Watt wants Government to spend more money on public relations—I presume in the pages of the Daily Record.
We are committed to delivering a more accessible transport network in Scotland and we are willing to consider proposals to enhance
I am grateful to members for giving me the opportunity to comment on the Aberdeen western peripheral route, which was inevitably going to be mentioned in the debate. I am particularly grateful to the Greens for placing so firmly on the record their utter opposition to the scheme, despite the fact that it is the number 1 priority of NESTRANS, the local authorities concerned and many local people, including a great part of the business community. The Greens' strong opposition to the scheme is firmly on the record.
I suspect that it is inevitable that there will be a local public inquiry into proposals for an Aberdeen bypass, which will correctly scrutinise the decision-making process and the robustness of the business case. It will be important that members and organisations that support the scheme make the case at the inquiry. Conspiracy theorists—it is disappointing to note that they include a number of members of Parliament—and political opponents can look forward to that opportunity to put up or shut up.
I have nothing but the utmost sympathy for individuals who might lose their homes as a result of the route that has been identified. Nineteen homes, along 47km of the AWPR, will be removed, which is a considerably better outcome for a road that must go somewhere, as many people in the north-east have observed. I quote from—
Let me finish the point. I thought that I had dealt with the Greens rather firmly.
An editorial in the Aberdeen Evening Express on 15 May said:
"The city bypass, combined with the dualling of the A90 north will create what this area needs—a modern, efficient road system. One that will see traffic flowing freely from north to south. Everyone will benefit from that."
The editorial also acknowledged the importance of the road in the context of the entire transport system of the north-east. Richard Baker and other members made that point.
Some people—a vocal, articulate minority—oppose the Aberdeen bypass.
I will do that once I have dealt with the issue that members raised—one of them was the member who raised the point of order. I know that she does not want to hear this, but she will just have to sit there and take it.
Road Sense is a campaign body that should admit that its real purpose is to oppose the road. Where was it when the First Minister, Jack McConnell, and the then minister with responsibility for transport, Lewis Macdonald, announced early in 2003 that we would build the road? That was the time to make its case, but it was not there.
I will deal with some of the issues that have been raised about the crossrail project, which, as I and several members have said, is part of the proposals for the overall transport system in the north-east. Those proposals have been developed over several years and a number of processes have been gone through. NESTRANS took over development of the project and promotes the scheme as part of its modern transport system, which includes the western peripheral route. NESTRANS has developed both schemes as part of an integrated package of measures to improve the economy, accessibility and environment of the region.
Two Scottish transport appraisal guidance reports have now been produced and have built an approach that splits the proposals into the short, medium and long term. In June 2005, just one month after receiving the STAG 1 report, we awarded £400,000 to NESTRANS for the development of detailed feasibility work, which is being done properly. NESTRANS recently submitted the first of three reports as part of that detailed work. To deal in part with Nanette Milne's point about the strategic projects review, I can say that the estimates from that, which we received in recent weeks, are that the capital cost to Government for delivery of the medium-term proposal is in the order of £40 million to £90 million, with additional operating costs to the franchise operator of about £3.2 million. For the long term, the capital costs are estimated to be £140 million to £215 million, with additional annual operating costs of £6.5 million to £8 million. That serves to show the need for a proper and full assessment of the business case. The arguments
On a wider point, we are committed to the Mossend to Elgin rail freight enhancement scheme, which Nora Radcliffe and others mentioned and which will be wholly funded from our transport funds. The project is already under way—a construction contract has been awarded to Jarvis Rail and is progressing to schedule—and will transfer 12.3 million vehicle kilometres per year from road to rail. That is a substantial improvement for north-east businesses and for the environment. The project goes hand in hand with a number of station investment proposals, and improvements that are being made throughout the network. Mike Rumbles and David Davidson mentioned Aberdeenshire Council's proposals for Laurencekirk station and there are several other investments.
I assure members that Transport Scotland and my officials are working on the crossrail project, in conjunction with the regional transport partnership, NESTRANS, to ensure a thorough assessment of the associated benefits, costs and risks for consideration as part of the strategic projects review. They will continue to do that and we will ensure that we deliver a range of important projects for the north-east.
Meeting closed at 18:14.