Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill: Final Stage

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:33 pm on 14th March 2007.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid None 2:33 pm, 14th March 2007

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5685, in the name of Scott Barrie, that the Parliament agrees that the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill be passed.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour 2:34 pm, 14th March 2007

The Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill was introduced on 16 March 2006. It seeks powers to provide the promoter, Transport Initiatives Edinburgh Ltd, with statutory authority to build a new railway station at Edinburgh airport, and to construct 16km of new railways to connect said station to the national railway network, with connections at Winchburgh, Dalmeny, Gogar and Roddinglaw.

The bill has far more aims than just that of connecting Edinburgh with its airport. Its full aims are to stimulate economic growth, not only in the Edinburgh city region but throughout Scotland; to assist with the delivery of social inclusion to Scottish towns and cities by providing them with direct access to the airport; to assist with further growth of Scottish tourism through the provision of such direct access; to offer a sustainable public transport alternative for accessing Edinburgh airport, which will reduce congestion and provide environmental benefits; to assist with the provision of a sustainable basis for growth at the airport; and to facilitate a public transport interchange hub at the airport.

One of the major difficulties that the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill Committee has experienced throughout its consideration of the bill has been the existence of a fundamental misconception that the bill's sole purpose is to provide for the construction of a railway link from Edinburgh airport to Edinburgh. It will do that, but it will also do a whole lot more.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

The member says that the bill will do a lot more than just provide for the building of a rail link to the airport, but has the committee fully considered the implications of the proposal, especially for the Glasgow to Edinburgh line and the three minutes that it might add on to that journey? Does he agree that it is important that, before the project proceeds, it is established that there will be no detriment to existing services and that such issues have been properly resolved so that all commuters can be satisfied that the provision of an essential service to Edinburgh's airport will not affect the continuation of their journeys as before?

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour

The committee examined fully the effect that the proposal might have on services in the central belt and further afield. We put Pauline McNeill's point to Network Rail. The RailSys summary showed that EARL would not disadvantage the running of services between Edinburgh and Glasgow every 15 minutes. It might also be useful to draw the Parliament's attention to the fact that the grade-separated junction at Roddinglaw was designed deliberately to enable Glasgow to Edinburgh trains to operate, as well as to facilitate the new Airdrie to Bathgate services. I hope that that reassures the member.

Once it is operational, EARL will enable Edinburgh airport to be accessed directly from 62 stations across Scotland. Passengers will be able to jump on a train at Carnoustie, Croy or perhaps even Tweedbank and hop off at the airport, without having to change at Waverley or Haymarket. Journeys to the airport will be speeded up and congestion on our roads will be reduced. It was because of that high level of connectivity that the committee rejected the vastly inferior option of a station at Turnhouse or Gogar, both of which are on the east coast main line. Passengers would have had to get off a train and get on a bus that would have travelled around the airport before they got to the terminal. Those inferior options would have been time consuming and off-putting and would not have provided the modal shift for which the present scheme caters.

The building of an airport station offers more than just better links to the airport. It will provide a public transport interchange at the airport: train to train; train to bus; and train to tram. It will allow for far greater east to west and west to east train connectivity because no extra time will have to be spent changing at Haymarket. All in all, it provides an opportunity to create a modern transport interchange, which will be crucial to addressing the predicted growth in car usage over the next 20 years.

EARL will provide such an interchange; the other options would not. By 2026, it is predicted that EARL will have prevented 1.7 million car journeys and will have reduced the number of people accessing the airport by car or taxi from 78 to 56 per cent of airport users. The inferior train/bus interchanges at Turnhouse or Gogar would never achieve those results.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

In the evidence that he gave on behalf of Network Rail, Ron McAulay said that, if the EARL project is constructed,

"that will have an adverse impact and ... we will need to recast the timetable."—[Official Report, Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill Committee, 19 December 2006; c 326.]

Can Scott Barrie confirm that that is the case?

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour

I think that I addressed that point, in part, in the response that I gave to Pauline McNeill. Although some journeys that are diverted via the airport may take a few minutes longer, the advantage is that people will have a direct connection to the airport.

I want to put on record my thanks to the promoter and the objectors for the conciliatory and professional manner in which they conducted themselves. The bill attracted 48 objectors, of which 18 remained by the time the committee reported at consideration stage. Many of the withdrawals were secured not only as a result of the transparent and inclusive way in which the promoter worked with the people affected by the bill's provisions to resolve their concerns, but through the hard work of the objectors to identify possible remedies and to work with the promoter to achieve them.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

Some concerns remain. The committee has said that there should be a code of construction practice and local construction codes. Will the member give us more detail on how those will be enforced and who will enforce them?

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour

The committee was satisfied by the fact that the requirement for a code of construction practice is incorporated in the bill. We will thus be able to ensure that the promoter has a timetable to work with; hopefully, it will be able to work with the people affected along the route. I will return to that specific point later.

The committee was impressed by the effort objectors put in to preparing their cases; we believe that the bill has been improved by their hard work. The approach taken by both promoter and objectors is a template of good practice in private bills, which I commend to future participants—promoters or objectors. I would particularly like to thank Professor Hugh Begg, the assessor for the committee, for all his hard work. His forensic approach to the scrutiny of written and oral evidence is to be commended. His report to the committee was clear, detailed and of an extremely high quality. It greatly assisted us in reaching our final views on our consideration stage report. The assessor process was of considerable benefit to the whole committee.

In its preliminary stage report, the committee agreed to seek further evidence on a number of issues, including whether EARL would be subject to premium fares, and clarification on the detail of the funding of the project. I will update Parliament on both those issues. At the preliminary stage, the committee heard conflicting evidence about whether premium fares would be charged. Unfortunately, further evidence from Transport Scotland and the Minister for Transport provided us with little more clarity. Although Transport Scotland noted that social inclusion is one of the national transport strategy's principle objectives, the committee remains concerned that a premium fares policy has not been totally ruled out. Any premium fares policy will reduce dramatically the benefits that EARL can deliver, will limit the socially excluded from accessing jobs at the airport and could prevent Edinburgh airport from being used as a transport interchange. The committee believes that a premium fares policy for EARL would be divisive, given that the cheaper option of buses and, particularly, trams is not available to passengers outwith Edinburgh. On behalf of the committee, I would welcome confirmation by the minister that premium fares will not be levied on EARL services.

At the preliminary stage, the committee expressed concern that the Minister for Transport and Transport Scotland could not provide the detail of the sources of funding for the EARL scheme. I can now report to Parliament that the information provided at consideration stage is sufficient to meet the requirements of standing orders. The minister confirmed that the EARL project would be funded in its entirety, with the majority of funding coming from Transport Scotland. Other contributions include up to £13 million from Edinburgh Airport Limited to construct the pedestrian link and transport interchange, as well as changes to the south-west pier. The committee was assured that savings in the region of £42 million to £52 million have been secured by leasing land from Edinburgh Airport Limited; in addition, risk reduction has arisen from EAL's involvement in the project and, in particular, the construction of the tunnel.

I am sure that Parliament will be pleased and relieved to learn that the committee has no concerns about the effect of the scheme on local wildlife. Otters, bats and great crested newts—should any appear—can sleep easy, as their interests under European and United Kingdom law have been fully protected. Likewise, the noise and vibration policy will ensure that those living next to the workings and the operation of the railways will be properly protected from undue noise and disturbance.

I thank my fellow committee members for their hard work, diligence and good humour throughout our work on the bill and for putting up with me during our meetings. I am sure that we all learned something during the progress of the bill—and not just about trains. Some members, such as Charlie Gordon, came with a good deal of prior knowledge but, for the rest of us, learning about railway construction and operation was more of a learning curve. I am sure that that knowledge will live with us for some time—perhaps we are all better people for it.

I also thank those who provided us with written or oral evidence, and I express my personal thanks to the private bills unit and David Cullum, Carol Mitchell and James Burton for their hard work. In particular, I thank our clerk, Jane Sutherland. I certainly could not have got here without her hard work and perseverance. It was a pleasure to work with her and I am exceedingly grateful for all her help and assistance.

I believe that the bill will bring many benefits to Scotland and represents the vital long-term investment that we should make in public transport to address the future impacts of congestion on Scotland's economy and environment. I am deeply sorry that the bill does not command unanimous parliamentary support. I am sorry that some members cannot see EARL's potential to contribute significantly to Scotland's long-term benefit. It is up to them to justify their position, not only in the chamber today, but to the travelling public of Scotland.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill be passed.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 2:45 pm, 14th March 2007

I thank the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill Committee and its convener, Scott Barrie, for their work on the bill. I pay tribute to the committee clerks, the promoter, the advisers and my team for the progress that they made in bringing the bill to its final stage today.

The construction of a direct rail link to Edinburgh airport from throughout Scotland is a key commitment in the partnership agreement. The Government whole-heartedly supports the motion and we will deliver this exciting project for Scotland as we grow our economy.

Public transport has suffered years of neglect, but our record of investment in it is strong. The Larkhall to Milngavie line carried 325,000 people in its first year; the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line will open in the summer; and substantial work on the Waverley station upgrade is under way. Other projects include the Borders railway, the Airdrie to Bathgate line, the Edinburgh tram project and the Glasgow airport rail link. All those have completed their parliamentary process or will have completed it by the end of March.

As Scott Barrie said, the benefits of the Edinburgh airport rail link are clear. The project has a benefit to cost ratio of 2.16:1, so for every £1 that is invested we will get back more than £2. That will amount to £1.35 billion over 60 years. The airport will be linked to 14 local authority areas with a total population of 3.2 million people, which is 64 per cent of Scotland's population.

Some 62 stations throughout the network will be directly linked to Edinburgh airport.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I put to the minister the same point that I put to Scott Barrie. Before I vote on the bill this evening, I would like an assurance from the minister that he, too, has pressed the promoter, Network Rail, and others to confirm that there will not be an adverse effect on other west coast lines. Is the minister confident that any such effects can be resolved?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

We considered the matter closely and we do not envisage that there will be anything other than a very minimal impact in relation to the Glasgow airport rail link. I am sure that Pauline McNeill was hinting at that. It is important to note that Glasgow and Edinburgh airports serve different markets and have different routes. In many cases, they complement each other rather than being in competition. I hope that the assurances in respect of both the aviation market and the rail industry are understood. They were clearly laid out in the evidence to the committee.

The Edinburgh airport rail link will remove 1.7 million car trips from the roads, which will help to tackle the environmental and economic impacts of congestion. Scottish businesses that compete in global markets, such as those in tourism, financial services, biosciences and life sciences will find that there is easier access into and out of Scotland. EARL will make Scotland a more attractive place to visit and do business.

To oppose, prevaricate or dither is not an option. The Government will not do that. We will act and deliver. The project's importance has been recognised by many, but I will quote just three. The chief executive of the Inverness chamber of commerce said that he sees

"benefit coming to the North of Scotland from the EARL project. EARL should improve the competitiveness of businesses in the North".

BAA's Edinburgh airport manager said:

"It is an exciting and ambitious project and we look forward to continuing our work with TIE and Transport Scotland to help take the plans forward."

David Parker, the independent leader of Scottish Borders Council, said that the Borders rail link

"will connect us with the rest of Scotland and Edinburgh's international airport".

The number of passengers who use Edinburgh airport is predicted to grow from 8 million in 2004 to 23 million or more by 2030. That estimate might be optimistic, but the airport will undoubtedly grow, so we need a genuine public transport alternative to the car. This rail link is the only rail option for the airport that represents value for money and meets our transport objectives of promoting economic growth and social inclusion and creating sustainable transport alternatives. The other options that were evaluated did not have the same benefits as the current proposal. They increased the journey times, fewer people would have used those options, and leaving the car at home or in the office car park would have been less attractive.

As the committee's convener rightly said, the EARL project will create an important transport interchange at the airport, and people will be able to transfer between air, rail, tram and bus for their onward journeys. The easier it is to move between different forms of transport, the more that will happen. It will also mean quicker journey times between Fife and Glasgow, as it will avoid the need to change at Haymarket.

The rolling stock—in which members have shown an interest—is available to meet our requirements. Companies that make trains have the production capacity to meet our needs. The rolling stock programme—which is not about just this project, but spans the whole rail network—will meet the internal cabin layout needs of the new trains that will serve the airport. That is a point that the committee focused on extensively. The new trains will have luggage space, will be easier to access and will deliver on the timetable aspirations to which Pauline McNeill referred.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

As the minister is now expressing confidence about the capacity of the industry to deliver the new rolling stock, can he tell us precisely what the additional costs of the rolling stock—which are not included in the figures that we have been given so far—will be?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I cannot give Mr Adam that answer today, as we have only just entered the rolling stock procurement programme—as I have said repeatedly in written answers to parliamentary questions and in the chamber at question time. He will know from the answers that I gave earlier that the procurement exercise is under way and will be formally resolved early next year, when we will lay out exactly what is to happen. Of course, Parliament will be fully involved in that process.

The projected outturn cost of the Edinburgh airport rail link is £497 million at 2004 prices, and the projected outturn will be in the range of £550 million to £650 million, depending on inflation. The current anticipated cost is £610 million. There has been no real-terms price increase in the cost of the project. We will deliver to budget, and the budget is dependent on a robust business case now and at every stage in the future. For the avoidance of doubt, I make it clear that the form of contract will be completely different from that which was used for the Holyrood project—I thought that members would want that firmly on the record. A rigorous process of change control is in place, and there will not be the same outcome. As the committee's convener said, the Government will fund the major part of the project; however, important contributions will be made by Edinburgh Airport Limited, a crucial partner in the project, and through trans-European network funding from the European Union.

Airport rail links are vital to any European city and any country that must compete. The list is long: London, Paris, Barcelona, Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen and, soon, Dublin. Edinburgh is no different. The Opposition can talk down Scotland, our engineers, our capital and our ability to get things done—that is for them; it is not for this Government. Today, Parliament can proclaim its confidence in the future of rail or it can be negative, insipid and defeatist. This Government wants Scotland to compete, and I urge Parliament to vote for the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill, for better public transport in Scotland and for a successful Scotland.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 2:53 pm, 14th March 2007

I will set out the SNP's position on EARL—I hope not in an insipid way. We offer a clear alternative to what all the other parties offer on the issue. We do not believe that the proposed project represents the best value for the taxpayers' money that we are entrusted to invest on their behalf.

The minister said that the cost is estimated at £610 million. He did not say that that was the estimate in 2005. That estimate is already two years out of date. It is fair to say that there are few commentators who expect the project to be delivered for less than £1,000 million.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

It is the SNP's view—despite the minister's habitual running commentary, which we enjoy during these debates—that the money can be better spent on other projects. For example, we urgently require to improve our rail and road systems. Just the other week, the Local Government and Transport Committee heard evidence from local authority roads engineers that the tally just to bring our roads up to standard is a cool £2,000 million and rising.

From the excellent work that was carried out for the recently published route utilisation strategy, we know that Network Rail is proposing a series of changes that will benefit not simply an airport but all rail users in Scotland. Network Rail has identified gaps in the network around Scotland. We believe that our duty to invest the public's money wisely would be best discharged by addressing the needs that have been identified in Network Rail's route utilisation strategy.

We also need to tackle the second problem, which is the capacity of the rail network in the central belt—

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

In a moment.

At present, our rail network is running at or near capacity. The SNP's view is that we must invest to increase that capacity. Otherwise, we will see gridlock early in the next decade, with no more room on trains and no more routes.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

Does Mr Ewing believe that Network Rail is wrong to have made the Edinburgh airport rail link part of its route utilisation strategy?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

We do not believe that EARL is a pivotal part of Network Rail's route utilisation strategy. A more important part of the strategy is to reduce journey times between, for example, Inverness and the central belt by around 30 minutes. In discussions with Network Rail, the SNP believes that we can go further than that by cutting the journey time for that key route by around 45 minutes. I am quite sure that the Inverness chamber of commerce will welcome that SNP policy.

We desperately need to bring our roads up to standard—

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I will finish this point, if I may.

We need to effect major improvements to our road network throughout Scotland. Plainly, it is not possible to make all improvements overnight, but I have never suggested that.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The minister says, "Yes you have," but the record will show that we have clearly stated that the SNP recognises that long-term objectives must include, for example, the upgrading of the A9 and A96 to dual carriageway. We always welcome converts to the cause, no matter how late, so I was delighted to read in this morning's edition of The Press and Journal —an excellent organ that, as we all know, publishes only the unvarnished truth—that the First Minister now agrees with the Scottish National Party that the A96 requires major upgrading.

Politics is about making choices; government is about making hard choices. The SNP has made hard choices before the election. One of those hard choices is that, if we have the opportunity to form the next Government—if we are entrusted with that privilege by the people of Scotland at the next election—we will not proceed with the EARL project but instead proceed with projects that will benefit the whole of Scotland.

There remain a number of flaws and unanswered questions about the EARL project. Network Rail said that EARL will have an adverse impact on its timetable. Scott Barrie said that EARL will add only a few extra minutes to people's journeys. If those who travel from Edinburgh to Inverkeithing work 48 weeks per year, they will spend 40 hours more in the train each year even though they may want to go to the airport only once or twice a year.

The rolling stock has not been included in the balance sheet. Perhaps that follows some of the curious accounting practices we learned about during the Holyrood project fiasco. They may have been okay for Sir Muir Russell, but they did not fool the public.

The benefits that it is said will derive from the scheme have been calculated over a period of 60 years. How many projects in the commercial world are judged on not making a proper return for up to 60 years? Few of us, if any, will be around to carry out the audit in 60 years' time.

I find the Conservatives' position rather curious. They support the project, but only if the costs are pegged and some kind of guarantee is sought. Well, they will wait as long for that guarantee as they will for a guarantee that there will be no rain in Fort William next year.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

Does the member accept that if Scotland's capital is a great deal less competitive in communications than other European capitals, that will be to Scotland's disadvantage?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I accept that point in principle. Indeed, the SNP has developed policies to tackle that very problem. For example, we will provide substantial opportunities for businesses by setting corporation tax at a lower rate than it is in England.

I will respond directly to Lord James Douglas-Hamilton's point. If the SNP earns the public's trust to form a Government in May, it will invite Network Rail to suggest alternative proposals for a surface rail link to Edinburgh airport. We made that clear in the previous debate on the bill. In fact, I have made that point consistently throughout the passage of the bill, and I am happy to repeat it again this afternoon.

As I said earlier, I am grateful to the minister for his constant stream of remarks and comments. They have been very helpful to the debate.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Does the SNP support EARL? The answer is: no, no and no. Instead, we will invest the money for the good of the whole of Scotland.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 3:01 pm, 14th March 2007

In the preliminary stage debate on the bill, I said that inadequate information on the project's funding and on alternative and more cost-effective methods of establishing a rail link to the airport had been provided to the Parliament, and I requested that the promoter and the Scottish Executive provide further information on those matters for the later stages of the bill. I make no apologies for doing that.

The Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill Committee also expressed frustration at the lack of funding information. It is only now, with a settlement of BAA's contribution to the project, that the picture has become clearer. I note from the consideration stage report that the value of that contribution is significantly lower than the £80 million that was being bandied about at one point. That suggests that BAA's negotiating strategy of branding EARL "desirable but not necessary" has, from its standpoint, achieved the desirable result of ensuring that its contribution has been slashed to a fairly token level, which has consequently increased the cost to the taxpayer.

As Mr Andy Kerr demonstrated only yesterday, it is amazing what largesse is available in the weeks and months leading up to the dissolution of a Parliament. As the Minister for Transport, Mr Scott, has confirmed, 99 per cent of EARL's costs will be borne by the Scottish Executive's budget. A very firm believer in the principle that money grows on trees, he has assured the committee and this Parliament not only that the Scottish Executive will fund almost the entire EARL project but that the money is in place for all the other major transport infrastructure projects that the Parliament has approved to date—not forgetting, of course, the Cabinet's recent commitment to a second crossing over the river Forth, which, as far as expenditure is concerned, will dwarf them all.

I remain highly sceptical about whether all of this can be achieved and whether having a rail link and a tramline to Edinburgh airport can be justified, given the excellent service that Lothian Buses already operates to the airport.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

Does the member accept that the major benefit of the rail link is that it will serve people who travel from elsewhere in Scotland, whereas the proposed tramline and the current bus service serve only people who travel from the centre of Edinburgh? At the moment, people have to get into the centre of Edinburgh to get back out to the airport.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I entirely accept the member's point that the rail link will serve not only people who travel from the city centre, but I question whether we need a rail link and a tramline in addition to the current excellent bus service.

The duplication of services is one area where expenditure on the tram project, for example, could be pruned. However, given the spending commitments that have been made, I suspect that there will be other transport project casualties after Prime Minister Brown scraps the Barnett formula and finally decides in the interests of his re-election that the Scottish gravy train needs to hit the buffers.

At preliminary stage, I drew attention to the promoter's failure to consider fully more cost-effective options. In particular, I drew attention to the option of a station at Turnhouse, which in capital terms would cost barely a quarter of the projected cost of the tunnel option that is promoted in the bill. I said that the initial Scottish transport appraisal guidance assessment of the Turnhouse option was based on highly dubious assumptions about a lengthy, circuitous bus journey as opposed to a secure route within the perimeter of the airport. The minister told me that such a route was not possible and that BAA would not permit it. He challenged me to speak to BAA about the matter. I did. There is nothing from BAA that says it could not be done. That is hardly surprising, given that in every airport in the world buses operate within the perimeter to convey passengers from terminals to planes.

In fairness to the promoter, it revisited the figures for the Turnhouse option and made the revised calculations available to members of the Parliament's Local Government and Transport Committee, such as Mr Ewing and me. I acknowledge that, even on the revised calculations, the tunnel option represents a better overall outcome in terms of what it delivers, although the capital cost is far higher than the Turnhouse option.

Having raised such concerns at preliminary stage, we must now come to a final decision on the matter. I note that the main drivers of the project are connectivity and the linking of our airports to the national rail network, which is highly desirable for the development of a properly integrated transport system in Scotland. I am also conscious of the part that connectivity can play in encouraging air travellers to shift from cars to trains when they travel to airports.

I am somewhat disappointed by the attitude of the Greens, because they have often spoken in the Parliament about the need for an integrated transport policy, about the need to encourage modal shift and about climate change and the growth in greenhouse gas emissions from aviation. All are perfectly valid concerns. Indeed, my party has just launched a consultation on the taxation of aviation that has attracted quite a deal of attention in the past few days. That demonstrates our willingness to tackle, in a responsible manner, issues relating to climate change. In my view, it is quite wrong to oppose the rail link to Edinburgh airport and to have passengers struggle along the M8 in their cars, rather than take the train. That is tantamount to saying that we will tackle climate change by increasing congestion, which would be a very perverse policy. We cannot turn the clock back. The Wright brothers did not get it wrong—what we need is a sensible and balanced approach.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

The member is too late—I am moving on to the SNP.

If I am disappointed with the Greens, I am not in the least surprised at the latest U-turn from the SNP. In the journey of its transport policy from Mr MacAskill to Mr Ewing, the SNP position has turned from enthusiastic support for EARL into a depressing negativity. That change reflects the fact that one spokesman represents Edinburgh and the Lothians and the other represents a Highland constituency. Let us make no mistake—the SNP policy on the rail link and trams is hostile to the interests of our capital city and its role as a driver of the Scottish economy. The SNP is an anti-Edinburgh party, and its transport policy speaks volumes about its parochialism and provincialism.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

May I give way to Mr Ewing, Presiding Officer?

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

Yes: it is an important point but you will have only one minute left after you have taken the intervention.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

David McLetchie knows that Kenny MacAskill has pointed out that, if the money for EARL were used for another purpose, it could replace every bus in Edinburgh and run the new buses for free for five years.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

With due respect, that is not what Mr MacAskill said when he was the SNP transport spokesman.

I have voiced many reservations about the project today and in the past, but this is make-your-mind-up time. On balance, I will vote for EARL because, in the last analysis, it is about the integration of our transport system, connectivity, tackling congestion and encouraging people to make sensible and sustainable transport decisions. I fear that there may not be sufficient money in the pot to do everything the Parliament has approved to date, but I am satisfied that EARL is a higher priority than some other projects and deserves to be seen through to completion.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour 3:09 pm, 14th March 2007

I congratulate the bill's promoter, TIE, and members of the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill Committee, who gave up much of their time to scrutinise the detail of the bill.

As I said in the preliminary stage debate, Edinburgh and Glasgow airports are the main airports that serve the majority of the Scottish population, but they have no direct rail links, which puts them at a disadvantage in relation to many competitor airports in the UK and throughout Europe. David McLetchie was right to say that the absence of rail links puts pressure on the roads around airports and on the limited public transport options that are available. The absence of rail links increases congestion and has a negative impact on the tourists and businesspeople who travel to and from the airports.

The EARL project is ambitious but deliverable and it will bring benefits across a substantial swathe of Scotland. As the minister said, the project will have a positive benefit to cost ratio of 2.16 over 60 years. We should acknowledge that it will also have a positive BCR over the first 30 years of operation. The project will link Edinburgh airport not only with the city of Edinburgh but with every other major city in Scotland. Glasgow, Stirling, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness will all benefit from direct rail links to Edinburgh airport, as will 62 rail stations in Scotland. An intermodal transport hub at Edinburgh airport will also be established, which is important. People will be able to change between rail, bus, car, bicycle, tram or airline when the EARL project and tram project come to fruition.

Members mentioned the alternative routes for the rail link, which the promoter considered. I welcome the fact that David McLetchie took account of the information that members of the Local Government and Transport Committee were given, which indicated that the other options represented a less optimal solution than EARL and would have less connectivity, poorer patronage and a lower BCR.

Most members who have contributed to debates on transport have talked about the need for Scotland to improve its transport connectivity if we are to enhance the country's economic prospects, so it is sad that the Scottish National Party has withdrawn its support for EARL. Mr McLetchie was right to focus on the fact that the change in SNP transport spokesperson is a major factor in that decision, but we should also note the SNP's abandonment of investment in our capital city.

The SNP's position is astonishing. We would expect any self-respecting nationalist party to want investment in transport infrastructure that would make the country's capital city fit to compete in the 21st century, but the SNP opposes not only EARL but the Edinburgh tram project, thus denying one of Scotland's key economic drivers a transport system of a quality that would enable the city to continue to have a growing and dynamic economy. The question that is emerging from the debate is not whether the SNP supports EARL but whether it supports Edinburgh. In Mr Ewing's words, the answer is no, no and no.

SNP members should be ashamed of themselves. It is clear that they have based their decision not on what is good for Scotland but on what they perceive to be good for the SNP. They have abandoned projects in Edinburgh, where historically the SNP has little support, so that they can run round Scotland promising to deliver other projects, in a cheap and cynical attempt to garner votes. The SNP's position on EARL shows the party at its cynical and opportunistic worst. It is no wonder that businesses are worried about the prospect of the SNP gaining power.

The minister said that the introduction of new rolling stock is under way. A procurement plan is expected to be completed by the end of the year, which will be followed by tendering and build. It is expected that the new rolling stock will be in place in time for the commencement of the service in 2011.

Scott Barrie mentioned pricing, which I agree is important. We must ensure that the route is affordable and that people are not priced off it. Full consideration will be given to the matter in the context of the next rail franchise, because the First ScotRail franchise runs until 2011—just before the Edinburgh airport rail link opens. It will be for the Parliament to resolve the matter in the next session.

Electrification of the Edinburgh to Glasgow route is being examined. I hope that, later in the year, when Transport Scotland has assessed the options, the Executive will consider backing electrification. The concerns that BAA raised have also been resolved satisfactorily.

It is just as well that Labour and Liberal members have ambition for our country, as that quality is sadly lacking among Scottish National Party members. The Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill should be supported, because it will have a positive benefit to cost ratio and will contribute to the development of a major intermodal transport hub at Edinburgh airport, the continued economic growth of Edinburgh and Scotland and the alleviation of road congestion, thus providing environmental benefits, too. I therefore encourage members to show their support for the project, which is imaginative and forward looking. I assure the Parliament that Labour members will continue to give the project their full backing.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

We now move to the open debate, for which there are five potential speakers. If members keep their speeches closer to five minutes than to six, I will get everyone in.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 3:15 pm, 14th March 2007

As the member for Edinburgh West, which includes Edinburgh airport, I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. The Edinburgh airport rail link will put Edinburgh airport at the heart of the Scottish railway network and will give 64 per cent of Scotland's population a direct connection to the airport. The railway is for the whole of Scotland, not just for my constituents. The tourism and economic benefits will be for the whole of Scotland to grasp, from Aviemore to Glasgow.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

What benefit will there be to people in the north and north-east, who will have longer journey times as a consequence of the scheme?

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

The committee found that any delays will be marginal—no more than five minutes—and that delays are more likely to affect local journeys than longer ones. Frankly, if the member has to ask what possibilities the scheme has for his area, that tells us more about his lack of vision than about any lack of vision on the part of the Executive.

I thank Scott Barrie and the committee for their work on the bill. I was a member of the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Bill Committee, so I know that the private bill process can be challenging for members who do not have a civil engineering degree. The Edinburgh airport rail link is an important national project and a key part of the Executive's transport investment programme, which is the biggest such programme for a generation. The project is important for improving Edinburgh's competitiveness on the European and international stage, which is an integral part of the Executive's vision for the future of our capital city.

I welcome the comments that colleagues from various parties who represent Edinburgh and the Lothians have made, but it is particularly disappointing to hear what the SNP has to say. The SNP's 2003 manifesto made a commitment on the issue. Alex Salmond's leadership election manifesto called for a train link between all three central belt airports. Kenny MacAskill commented that the rail link was a major priority. However, the SNP has U-turned on the issue. Fergus Ewing tells us that that is because of cost, but how did he think we were going to pay for it? Did he think we could use air miles? As usual, the SNP is trying to ride two horses at once. The surface-access option was shown not to deliver in relation to congestion, patronage, connectivity and a link to Edinburgh Park station. The proposed rail link offers estimated economic efficiency benefits of nearly £920 million over 30 years, improved employment, reduced congestion, the removal of 1.7 million car journeys, better air quality and, crucially, an interchange opportunity at the airport.

The project is good for Edinburgh, but it is also good for Scotland. It is good for tourism, the environment and business, which is why the Confederation of British Industry wants it—that may be why the SNP does not want it. Edinburgh airport is expanding whether we like it or not. I have queried passenger numbers and urged the Executive to keep the expansion of the airport under review. Passenger numbers will undoubtedly go up and people will continue to come to the airport, thereby causing congestion on what are, to my constituents, local roads. That is why we need to build the rail link.

The vast majority of my constituents will benefit from the project. They will benefit from better access to the rail network, from less congestion and from the economic benefits and jobs that the rail link will bring. However, the residents who will be most directly affected will not benefit. Many will have their quality of life affected by heavy goods vehicle construction traffic, the loss of views, land take and possibly even the loss of family businesses or farms. The promoter and the assessor have addressed some concerns, but concerns remain for constituents in Carlowrie, Almondhill, Freelands, Roddinglaw and elsewhere. I welcome the code of construction practice and the five local construction plans. I also welcome the fact that the promoter must consult local residents further and must get the local authority's approval before work can be undertaken. If I am in any position to assist those residents, I will undoubtedly do so.

I have raised several concerns with the promoter over the past few years, and a major one remains. It is to do with the Burnshot Road. I hope that the changes made to the road will allow the local authority to enforce a 50mph speed limit. I sought guidance on the point but was told that I was unable to lodge an amendment to the bill to require such a speed limit.

At preliminary stage, many colleagues expressed concerns about fares, rolling stock and funding. Many of those concerns were addressed in the consideration stage report and in the minister's remarks. I share the committee's view that premium fares should not be introduced on the route, because such fares would be wholly counterproductive. At preliminary stage, I put it to the minister that it would be prudent to have the maximum possible involvement from BAA, because of its experience of delivering airport projects and because of its clear and direct interest. I am pleased that BAA has agreed a package of support that will result in its having a greater hands-on involvement in the part of the project that directly affects the airport. BAA's experience will greatly reduce the risk—although I have to say that I share David McLetchie's view that BAA is getting a bargain with this project.

I welcome the bill. The rail link will greatly benefit the Scottish economy and the travelling public, it will help to reduce congestion in west Edinburgh, and it will link Edinburgh airport with the rest of Scotland. The project is forward looking and ambitious. Perhaps that is why the SNP is against it.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 3:21 pm, 14th March 2007

My preliminary remarks are directed at the powers that be and my fellow committee members. We were a motley crew—Iain Smith, Charlie Gordon, Jamie McGrigor, the goodly chair Scott Barrie and me. One cannot get more motley than that.

I am thankful that the procedures for private bills are being reviewed. The procedures are wholly inadequate for committing to the building of a railway line and the spending of some £610 million and rising.

The motley crew were akin to castaways or housemates in a stuffy committee room but, considering our pedigrees, we got on reasonably well with what was a worthy but very technical exercise. I defer to Charlie Gordon's extensive and intimate knowledge of transport and, in particular, rolling stock.

It is important to remind everyone in the chamber that this is not an Edinburgh rail link. The link is badly named; the name is a misnomer, because the link is supposed to be for Scotland. Any comments that I make are made on that basis and on the basis that the link was sold as being a link to a transport hub.

Early on in our work, I had fundamental concerns—which, I can assure members, Fergus Ewing knew nothing about—to do with this particular rail link. I stress that when I refer to "this particular rail link", I am not talking about the principle of having a transport hub or the principle of having a link from Edinburgh to the airport; I am talking about this particular link, built in this particular way, with the particular engineering difficulties that it faces.

If I may say so, I find Mr McLetchie's Damascene conversion to the project rather unconvincing. I wonder whether it has anything to do with an election to the Edinburgh Pentlands seat looming on the horizon.

Let us consider the realities of this rail link. There are huge engineering difficulties—diverting the Gogar burn; diverting the River Almond; and constructing a tunnel, complete with interchanges, under a live, working runway, as opposed to constructing a surface link. There are other engineering problems that I do not think have been addressed. If we have longer trains, what do we do about extending the platforms at Glasgow Queen Street station to allow trains to pull in? Are we going take the line right up into Queen Street itself? There is no room to expand the station.

Timetabling is another issue. I recall the precious understatement of Network Rail when it was asked about timetabling: it said that timetabling would be "very challenging". The length of some journeys will be increased. I am sorry that Margaret Smith is not in the chamber to hear this, but if we add up lots of five-minute delays such as the one that she mentioned, the compounded impact on the whole network timetable is substantial.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I hope that this is not a technical question, because I do not want anything technical.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour

Does Christine Grahame accept that her slight red herring about all journey times being increased is offset by the fact that only every other journey from Glasgow and Fife to Edinburgh will go via the airport? Not every journey will be extended by five minutes.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I did not say "all"; I said "some". The issues have not been resolved.

The minister says that he is busy buying rolling stock now and making his bid for it, but on only 19 December 2006, Ian Mylroi of Transport Scotland said:

"The perfect train that we would like does not exist today."—[Official Report, Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill Committee, 19 December 2006; c 332.]

It is pretty good to have produced that suddenly in two and half months so that it can be ordered for leasing. I would like to hear details about that—where the stock will come from, when it will be delivered and so on—from the minister in his summing-up. That would be handy.

Scott Barrie referred fairly to ticket pricing, which has not been resolved. Will commuters be charged premium prices? Pricing was a big selling point in relation to social inclusion. The Scottish Parliament information centre briefing says that the rail link is

"to assist in the delivery of social inclusion to Scottish towns", which it lists. By the way, that list includes no towns in the Scottish Borders, which were all forgotten about. It is not made plain that if a premium fare is charged, we can say goodbye to social inclusion—the link will be simply for Edinburgh and will benefit only Edinburgh and close surrounding areas, if I may paraphrase Karen Whitefield. It will not benefit the rest of Scotland.

I base all my comments on points that were made to the committee. Away from the quasi-judicial shackles, I can now compare the rail link's cost with that of other major transport projects, to which David McLetchie fairly referred, such as the Borders railway, other rail links, roads, the crucial Forth crossing and Edinburgh trams. People talk about our billion-pound gap, but I do not know where the Executive will obtain all the money for those projects.

Who on earth is carrying the insurance premiums for accidents and damage in the tunnel, which will go under a live runway, that mean that the airport cannot function? I would like the minister to add that to the list that he is making for his answers. What will be the cost of such insurance? Will the taxpayer bear the cost? If not, who will bear it?

For all the reasons that I have given, and having heard all the evidence, I do not support the bill. However, I will end on a lighter note. My colleague Scott Barrie referred to the great crested newt, which I had the privilege of asking a question about—I have always wanted to do that. I say to him that perhaps the great crested newt will stymie the project by abandoning its fear of hard hats and making an appearance by demonstrating. I also say to him that his poems about that are in my safe custody for the time being.

Photo of Chris Ballance Chris Ballance Green 3:27 pm, 14th March 2007

Normally, the Scottish Green Party enthusiastically supports rail developments and proposals to encourage modal shift to rail and public transport throughout Scotland. However, we do not support the Edinburgh airport rail link. We remain absolutely unconvinced that it is a priority as a way to connect Edinburgh airport to the rail network or as a missing link in the national rail network. We are unconvinced that it is the best use of anywhere between £600 million and £1 billion of public money.

In addition, as we have heard, the project will increase the journey time on some routes, including the Edinburgh to Glasgow route. It may necessitate further capital works that the current documents do not account for, to remedy the situation. In addition, the whole development may be prone to flooding.

At a capital cost of more than £610 million at least, the project represents significant expenditure that could easily be spent otherwise on a multitude of small local schemes that have the backing of local communities—schemes that local people want to use, campaign for and support. The Executive is ignoring such schemes throughout Scotland.

The Greens were not represented on the committee. We volunteered to supply a member, but we were excluded from the committee. Although we have endorsed some of the committee's comments on the proposals, I take the opportunity to remind Parliament that we were enthusiastic about serving on the committee and interested in considering the evidence in detail. That was probably the first example of a member volunteering to serve on a private bill committee but being excluded by the main parties.

I turn to the substantive issues. This is not a debate about an airport extension, but the EARL project is predicated on such expansion. It is predicated on a Department for Transport progress report—"The Future of Air Transport"—which entirely ignored questions about climate change, peak oil, oil shortages and reductions and, more specifically, the projected rise in the cost of oil. It is inconceivable that we will bring about significant reductions in climate-changing emissions while we treble airport capacity, which the report suggests. It is also ridiculous to base such expenditure on a proposal that takes no account of global oil projections. I strongly question the assertion that the link would save 1.7 million car journeys a year.

Paragraph 21 of the "West Edinburgh Planning Framework, 2006: Background Report" states:

"As the Airport grows from 8.6 million passengers per annum in 2005-06 to up to 26 million passengers in 2030, the tram and rail links are forecast to increase the public transport share of surface access to the airport from about 20% currently with bus to 44% in 2021. While that is a significant contribution to sustainable transport access, it still means that car access will grow on a person-trip basis by around 100%" over the next 25 years. It continues:

"One of the issues to be addressed by the West Edinburgh Planning Framework 2006 is therefore how to plan for double the number of cars seeking to access the Airport, given the congestion on the current road network."

The EARL scheme will mean that car access will increase in the years to come.

Our concerns about journey times on key rail routes, which were acknowledged during the stage 1 debate, have been mentioned. Members of various parties have made the same point that we have made: that claiming that the project will benefit all Scotland's rail network is overegging the pudding. The same applies to the public benefit to cost ratio that has been claimed. We think that various small to medium local improvements that have been proposed in the rail route utilisation strategy offer a far greater public benefit, but those improvements appear to be inexplicably unpopular in the Parliament. The Executive appears not to be interested in smaller schemes that would benefit people throughout Scotland.

We congratulate the committee on its painstaking work, but we remain convinced that there are far better ways of spending the money to serve Scotland's transport network. Therefore, we shall not support the motion. EARL seems far too much like a vanity project that is taking precedence over more effective ways in which the money could be used.

We support rail development, but we want properly costed schemes that are based on strong business cases, that have local community support and that improve rather than lengthen journey times. We support schemes that local people want and for which they have campaigned. We cannot support the waste of money that has been proposed.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 3:33 pm, 14th March 2007

I will vote in favour of the EARL project because I am not—unlike the Greens, I regret to say—thinking small and locally. I am trying to think strategically. We need to join up Scotland.

Scott Barrie, Bristow Muldoon, the minister and David McLetchie said more than I can say, sometimes from a very informed point of view, about the connectivity that the EARL project will introduce. Sixty two stations will be linked. Do we have to say anything else? It sounds like a slogan, but the connectivity will be real for people who live near the stations, who may even use those stations for local purposes.

I concede that the cost of the project remains a bit of a concern. However, I tend to put my trust in the minister because he is ambitious enough not to tie his career to a promise that cannot possibly be met. I am sorry if that sounds cynical, but I, too, am aware that there are forthcoming elections.

I thank David McLetchie for being as straight as he was, about his conversion to the tunnel project from the Turnhouse project. I castigate those who unexpectedly suggested that we couldnae dig a tunnel and that nobody would provide the insurance for it. Who held the insurance notes for the tunnel that has already been dug under a functioning airport?

I am really concerned about the folk in Inverkeithing, because, by my reckoning, they will have to spend an extra eight minutes a day travelling—four minutes each way—if they happen to use EARL. I can see why Fergus Ewing was terribly upset about that.

I can also understand Fergus Ewing's concern about whether his constituents would benefit from the project, so I seek to put his mind at rest. I have a letter from Sandy Cumming, who is the chief executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise. He tells me:

"As an agency we are wholly in favour of a direct rail link between the Highlands (and the rest of Scotland) and Edinburgh Airport. This would enhance Highlands and Islands connectivity, offering opportunities for straightforward links to and from new and existing destinations. The integrated nature of the proposal, facilitating easy transfer of passengers between modes, is seen as important. In addition, the higher performance rolling stock proposed for EARL would bring further benefits."

Sandy Cumming probably knows what he is talking about, and I am prepared to trust him.

I am concerned about the premium fares policy, which I suggest to the committee and the minister needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. However, I am grateful—because I feel empathy with them—that old bats will be protected under the scheme.

I thank Scott Barrie's committee, which I think had a thankless task. It tried to reconcile the irreconcilable, given that an election is fast approaching. For example, members should look at the position that Kenny MacAskill has been put in. I notice that he is not here. I wonder whether he will be frog-marched in tonight to vote against his conscience or whether some folk will have the humility to allow the man to use his common sense and either abstain or vote for EARL, which he knows makes sense, not just for the capital but for the whole of Scotland.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 3:37 pm, 14th March 2007

I am pleased to speak in support of the bill. My only regret is that I cannot say that this is the last time that we will go through this private bill procedure, because the final stage debate on the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill, which will be the last bill to go through that procedure, will be held next week or the week after. The Transport and Works (Scotland) Bill means that we will not have to go through the procedure again in the Parliament.

I support the bill, because I have long supported the case for a rail link at Edinburgh airport. Every day, I get on the train from Fife, which goes past the end of the runway at the airport, and I wonder why on earth it has taken so long to get to this point. I have supported the argument for a rail link for many years as a councillor and an MSP and I am delighted that today we are taking a step towards achieving it.

We have to bear in mind the fact that the tunnel proposal is much better than a proposal for just an airport rail link—it will be a transport link and a hub. Some members said that journey times will increase, but my journey time for getting from Fife to Edinburgh airport will be cut by at least an hour, because I will not have to come into the centre of Edinburgh, get on a bus and come back out again—I will be able to get off at the airport. If I want to go to Glasgow, my journey time will also be cut, because I will be able to get off at Edinburgh airport and change on to a train to Glasgow.

My journey time to Ladybank can vary between 45 minutes and an hour and five minutes, so I already take the option to go for the faster train if I want a shorter journey. People will be able to do that. They will look at the timetable and decide which journey suits them best. People are not stupid—they can work out the best options for themselves.

There will be benefits to people from north of the Forth. Journey times will not be a major issue. The improved rolling stock that will be introduced will benefit not just the airport rail link but the whole of the Scottish rail network, which will affect many people throughout Scotland.

The timetable issues are important. It is important to bear in mind the fact that the existing timetable is an incremental-change timetable, which has been in existence for 20 or 30 years, as far as I know. Network Rail has indicated that it is about time for it to take a complete look at the timetable. The EARL project gives it a great opportunity to do so, to ensure that we are getting the best out of the network. That is another benefit of the scheme.

I want to deal with the comments that were made by the Scottish National Party and the Greens in today's debate.

Fergus Ewing's speech was staggering. It was unbelievable stuff. One of the big things that Fergus Ewing always says is that money might be better spent on other projects. Of course, as a member of the SNP, he would say that, because the SNP spends the same money over and over again, as it makes various promises to various people. Today, he told us about all the things that the £610 million could do. First, it would provide £2 billion-worth of road repairs, apparently. It could be used to implement everything in the rail route utilisation strategy, increase capacity on the rail network in the central belt and cut the journey time from Inverness to Edinburgh by 45 minutes. Of course, the last time that that reduction was mentioned in a debate, the proposal was that it could be achieved by bringing Inverness closer to Edinburgh, but I am not sure whether that is still the SNP's proposal. The money could also be used to improve the road network throughout Scotland. Fergus Ewing said that the SNP is not going to do everything at once but the transport policy page on the SNP's website says that there is a pressing need to upgrade the A9, the A96 and the A82—we have not even left Fergus Ewing's constituency yet, for heaven's sake.

In addition to that, the SNP will use the EARL money to fund the new Forth road bridge and the 10 per cent of the high-speed rail link to London that will go through Scotland—it expects Gordon Brown to stump up the other 90 per cent. Further, it will use the money to fund an Edinburgh airport rail link—a mini-EARL—that will not provide the same economic benefits as the current proposal.

Frankly, the SNP's transport policy is like everything else about the party—the sums and the policy do not add up. It is complete and utter nonsense. The SNP promises everything to everyone and will deliver nothing to anyone.

The Greens say that they are normally enthusiastic supporters of modal shift, yet today we hear that they want to shift people back into their cars to go to the airport. The Greens policy on EARL is that they do not want a rail link because they think that it will lead to more people going in their cars to the airport. However, the important thing about EARL is that it will enable Edinburgh's planning authority to require a sensible parking policy from Edinburgh Airport Ltd that will reduce the use of cars to get to the airport. EAL has significant plans to expand car parking at the airport, but EARL will enable the council to force it not to implement those plans. The council will be able to say that because alternative means of reaching the airport are available, people will not have to take their cars to the airport, as many of us do if we want to catch an early flight.

The Greens' policy is ridiculous. They oppose EARL and they oppose replacing the Forth road bridge, even though the existing one is falling down.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I am in my last minute.

The Greens' policy is to cut Fife off from the rest of Scotland and the world. However, the people of Fife will not have that.

The proposal that we are discussing is important for Fife. The link will be vital for Fife's economy, will improve transport opportunities for my constituents and will improve economic opportunities for Fife. I whole-heartedly support the motion.

Photo of Charlie Gordon Charlie Gordon Labour 3:43 pm, 14th March 2007

The extent of my admiration and support for the city of Edinburgh is well known. When I was serving as a member of the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill Committee, I heard an early witness for the promoter say that the EARL scheme would make Edinburgh airport Scotland's pre-eminent airport because, as he put it, Glasgow airport is on the wrong side of Glasgow—members can imagine the depth of my emotion.

Taken in isolation, that witness's prediction could come true. Indeed, the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill Committee members received, courtesy of the Minister for Transport, a Department for Transport report based on SPASM—the sketch planning analysis spreadsheet model—which predicted that, if EARL was built but there was no rail access to Glasgow airport, there would be a reduction in the number of passengers using Glasgow airport and an increase in the number of passengers using Edinburgh airport. However, Glasgow airport cannot and will not be left without rail access. That is, no doubt, why Tavish Scott did not burden the committee by submitting the SPASM report as formal evidence.

Members have kindly referred to my railway knowledge. Indeed, I spent 19 years in the railway industry before it was privatised. Perhaps more relevant in this context is my five years' experience as chair of Strathclyde Passenger Transport, during which time I helped to develop the UK's second-largest suburban rail network. I am for railway development as a major part of an integrated transport strategy. Railways are good for the economy, the environment and social inclusion.

Scott Barrie rightly made the point that EARL is not just a rail shuttle between Edinburgh city centre and its airport. It connects Edinburgh to 62 stations throughout Scotland—but, alas, not to stations in Ayrshire and Galloway. Strictly within that comparative context, the Glasgow airport rail link, which was recently approved by the Parliament, is merely—in inverted commas—a rail shuttle between Glasgow city centre and its airport. The on-going success of Glasgow's economy—including its busy airport, which is still the busiest in Scotland—makes unanswerable the case for EARL's west of Scotland equivalent, known as crossrail. Crossrail would link not only Glasgow's airport to the rest of Scotland but Stranraer and Ayrshire to Edinburgh.

There are two paradoxes in Fergus Ewing's opposition to EARL. First, he advocates financial prudence on such a vital national project while his front-bench colleagues write lots of hot cheques for electoral purposes on every other subject under the sun. Secondly, he prefers an alternative strategy in the shape of Network Rail's quietist, unimaginative, route utilisation strategy. Network Rail is arguably the least devolved part of the public sector in Scotland, which frankly worries me. Mr Ewing does not see the irony but, then again, he never does.

The Greens astonishingly are opposed to this scheme for a rail link, but I must give credit where it is due to Chris Ballance. After a recent debate on road tolls, he kindly corrected my slight misquoting of Mahatma Gandhi. It was the first time that I had been wrong since 1969 and the first time that he had been right since 2003. Of course, he is wrong again today.

Most of what had to be said has been said, but I hope that, in summing up, the minister will tell us more about the rolling stock that will be required for the scheme. The beast that is required for EARL does not yet exist on wheels anywhere in the UK network. Will he also say more about electrification? Any residual worries that members have about the impact on current timetables could be swept away by an early commitment to an electrification programme, initially, at least, for the central Scotland railway network and the parts of Scotland that will be served by the EARL scheme.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Does the member agree that, although there is concern that the promised rolling stock might not even be on the drawing board yet—I do not know whether it is; I hope that the minister can tell us—that issue and electrification are challenges and not reasons for dumping a whole strategy?

Photo of Charlie Gordon Charlie Gordon Labour

Absolutely. Electrification will bring many benefits, including superior acceleration of trains, which will assist timetable issues. I am slightly more worried about the rolling stock, but that is merely based on my own operational experience. We are better to buy something off the shelf if it is fit for purpose than be the guinea pig for a new type of rolling stock. However, I fully accept that, given the constraints of the scheme, a brand new generation of rolling stock will be required to produce optimal benefits. Presumably, once the early bugs are ironed out, the benefits can be cascaded to the rest of the country.

With those caveats, I hope that members agree to future-proof Scotland's railways by supporting the EARL bill.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 3:49 pm, 14th March 2007

It has been an interesting debate, humorous in part. We have managed to cover newts, U-turns and a new railway line all thrown in together.

Our position was outlined by David McLetchie. We want the airport to be connected to Scotland, and we argued about the methodology of delivering that on a cost-effective basis. We did our homework and had our meetings, and we are now convinced that EARL is the best option—or least worst, if we want to put it that way. We need proper connectivity across Scotland—a point that has been made today by many members and not just David McLetchie.

I congratulate the committee. It has had a difficult task, particularly because a lot of technical information was involved. Of course, we are moving away from the old-fashioned procedure for private bills, as Iain Smith rightly said. The last one will be dealt with this week.

Many questions have been asked, but the minister has not answered them. Scott Barrie asked for clarity about whether there will be premium fares. That question was taken up by several members throughout the chamber.

The SNP's contribution was staggering. Over the years, the SNP has supported not just this project but the principle of connecting all Scotland's airports to the railway system. I was astonished that Fergus Ewing came to the chamber today to say no—the first time in a long time that the SNP has said no to spending money—and to hint that the SNP might rethink its position after the election. First, the SNP says, "Vote for us—we will cancel the project and cut capital funding" and then it goes on, "We might come back with a new proposal." Why was that new proposal not made during the bill's progress? It is staggering. I do not doubt that Mr Adam will tell us all about the new proposal when he winds up.

There are questions about the airport's growth. The figures are optimistic, but we must always look to the future and take into account the most expensive options. There are huge issues around fares. Many members have asked about longer journeys. Fergus Ewing and Christine Grahame were right to say that Waverley station will not be able to cope in the not-too-distant future. Perhaps the EARL project will divert some of the traffic that goes to Waverley station and trains might not have to go there in the future, but that is an issue for a future Scottish Executive.

The question about rolling stock will not go away. Charlie Gordon is right, and railway engineers will tell us that getting something off the shelf to cope in the meantime is one thing, but I am told that huge technical problems still need to be overcome in the design and structure of the link. However, I was pleased to hear the minister say that there will be luggage space, which is more than there is on some current trains. All this boils down to the fact that there will be franchise changes; we know that.

I am amazed at the Greens. I cannot believe that we are back to bicycles again. Imagine someone strapping their suitcases on the back of a bicycle to go to the airport. That is the Greens' solution to everything. I wish that they would come into the real world now and again.

Photo of Chris Ballance Chris Ballance Green

Is that why, when the member's leader, David Cameron, uses a bicycle, there is a car behind him carrying his bags?

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

The difference is that David Cameron is carrying secret documents. Would Mr Ballance carry such documents on a bicycle? As Mr Ballance will appreciate, it is dangerous to put things in an e-mail these days.

Margo MacDonald was absolutely right to say that we are all sceptical and we remain so. Where will the money come from?

The minister has not shared with us the priorities of the projects. We need a new Forth crossing; we need to do this; we need to do that. What will be the order of spend should the Executive be returned to power? I know that we are all trying to prevent that, but it would be nice if the minister could answer that question now. Fergus Ewing has been honest about what the SNP will do if it gets into power. We would like to know what the minister will do if the Executive gets back in; we are still a bit unsure.

To be fair, the committee did its best to struggle through many of the queries.

Timetabling is another issue that has arisen and which has been mentioned throughout the chamber. The important thing in that regard is the signalling. Members have been to Taiwan to see the twin railway line that goes round the island. It has four speeds of train and everything runs like clockwork. A French company with Scottish engineers is involved in that work and they would be available for this project. Will the timetabling be sorted out throughout Scotland by upgrading and saving a lot of time, not just by means of expensive electrification but by modernising the signalling equipment and systems that we use?

The debate has been colourful and the process has been long and hard. I congratulate the committee, the clerks, the promoter and everyone who has given information. I particularly thank BAA and TIE for the consultations that they offered and their willingness to revise their figures, which has allowed us to support the bill today.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party 3:55 pm, 14th March 2007

As far as the SNP is concerned, our position is that when the facts change, our views change. It is clear that the EARL project involves significant costs that do not justify the expenditure. In an interesting and, at times, amusing speech, David McLetchie was not terribly convincing about having been convinced of the case for EARL. Mr Davidson has made it clear that the Conservatives are reluctant supporters of the project and even a number of members of the Executive parties have asked serious questions about its validity. Pauline McNeill, among others, asked about the impact on the timetable for existing services. There is widespread concern about the disruption to the timetable that the additional connectivity that will be available on the system as a consequence of the project might cause; I do not think that that has been addressed.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour

Mr Adam mentions a timetable difficulty, but does he accept that both the Gogar option and the Turnhouse option would require trains to stop at those places, which would have an extra impact on the trains that use the east coast main line?

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

That might well be the case, but Network Rail has not been commissioned to examine such issues. We have had a report from the promoter, the interests of which are not necessarily Scotland-wide. Given that the promoter is an Edinburgh company, it will undoubtedly have an Edinburgh outlook.

I hear the argument that the project will benefit all of Scotland, but I have had no representations one way or the other from any of my constituents. I do not believe that EARL will offer the degree of connectivity that is claimed. Charlie Gordon's points about connectivity were well made.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

Businesses in the north-east of Scotland have regularly approached me to ask whether there will be more flights out of Scotland and have told me that, if the extra flights are to be from Glasgow or Edinburgh, they would like to have direct rail links to those airports.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

Members of the business community in the north-east have told me that they have no great desire to travel to the rest of the world from London, but none of them has said that they are desperate to get on a train to get a connection from Edinburgh or Glasgow; they want more direct connections out of Aberdeen. Rather than improving the situation for the whole of Scotland, the EARL project will undermine the prospect of further developments in the north-east.

Even if the deterioration in journey times is only marginal, the journey time from Edinburgh to Aberdeen is already so long that many people prefer to use their cars. Any further deterioration in the journey time, however marginal, is unlikely to encourage a modal shift.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

Mr Muldoon spent a minute and a half just attacking the SNP, so I am not minded to give him any further opportunity to do that. If he had wanted to make a sensible contribution to the debate, I might have considered his request.

I share the concerns about the possibility of the introduction of premium fares. The reality is that when new links have been built elsewhere in the UK, premium fares have been introduced to justify the costs and to finance the projects concerned. We have had no guarantee that there will not be premium fares. In his summing up, perhaps the minister might care to give such a guarantee.

There is still considerable uncertainty about the financial arrangements for the bill. Mr McLetchie rightly pointed out that the rail link will be almost 100 per cent funded by the Scottish Executive. The principal beneficiary commercially will be BAA Scotland, whose contribution, to say the least, is pretty marginal. We do not know the cost of the rolling stock, which is a significant capital cost. As the rolling stock will have to be tailor made, the issues that Charlie Gordon raised are perfectly valid. In the past 20 years, new technologies have been used in Scotland, although the problems associated with, for example, tilting trains took a long time to resolve. The best solution would be to buy something off the shelf, but there is no such shelf; there are uncertainties there, too, as well as risks and significant costs—

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The member is about to finish.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

I am not allowed to take any further interventions.

As Charlie Gordon pointed out, rightly, there could be further benefits if we were prepared to electrify other parts of the rail system in Scotland. However, it should be borne in mind that that would be another additional cost. That is one of the reasons why the SNP does not support this way of connecting Edinburgh airport to the rail network. We believe that it should be connected, but not in this way.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 4:01 pm, 14th March 2007

I congratulate all the members who have utterly routed the SNP today. Every argument from the SNP has been destroyed by members of all the other parties. The SNP's position, as just summed up by Brian Adam, is ridiculous.

Scott Barrie made a good point when he mentioned the fact that people will be able to jump on the train in Carnoustie and get off at Edinburgh airport. David McLetchie, Bristow Muldoon and I share a passion for golf. I hope that, the next time the open comes to Carnoustie, Tiger Woods might choose to join the rest of us in using the rail link. I rather suspect that he will not, but at least he will have that option.

Bristow Muldoon and Charlie Gordon talked about electrification. The current design of EARL allows for electrification, should there be a positive decision to electrify the line. I take colleagues' points on that. There are significant challenges to be resolved with the existing tunnels on the core route, as well as the programme of those works, but we will take that matter forward. The points that have been made in that connection are reasonable. I share Bristow Muldoon's analysis of the SNP. Brian Adam was unkind not to give way, because all that Mr Muldoon was doing—indeed, all that many other members were doing—was analysing the SNP's position, which has been found wanting.

The most pertinent point on tunnels was made by Margaret Smith. Members may remember Mr Ewing's big interest in tunnels in the previous debate on the bill. That interest remained until he proposed a tunnel for the Forth replacement crossing. He has been silent on the matter today.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

In a minute.

If Christine Grahame thinks that tunnels are difficult to construct under live runways and active airport conditions, she needs to get down to London Heathrow a bit more often, where terminal 5 has just been completed. The tunnelling and the extra links that have been made there show that it can be done. Perhaps Christine Grahame does not want to accept it, but the point of our involvement with BAA Scotland is that it has that expertise. It is part of the project, which will allow that aspect to happen.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I want the minister to address the issue of insurance liability: first, while construction is going on; and secondly, once the rail link is operational, in the tunnel, under a live runway. Will the minister simply tell me who will pay those premiums?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

As we would expect in any transport project, the promoter has been in dialogue with the insurance market.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

But who is liable for the premiums? The public purse?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

The member dismisses the factual way in which a commercial company has to operate. The SNP knows nothing about the commercial world. The promoter has done what any responsible organisation or promoter would do.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I am answering the point. The promoter has already received an indication that the project is entirely insurable in the commercial world. I hope that that deals with that.

Charlie Gordon and others expressed concern about the type of train that will be used, but I assure members that the train manufacturers are considering the matter. Siemens has modelled the route with a train that is currently in service in the UK—it is the 185 Desiro, for those who are knowledgeable about such things—and Bombardier has also looked into the matter.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I thank the minister for the information on the technology that is involved and the work that has been done. I wonder whether it will help to reassure the sceptics about the possibilities of the scheme if I remind them that, in technological terms, we went where no one had gone before in relation to the North sea. I do not remember the same arguments coming from the SNP when we talked about opening up the North sea.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I bow to Margo MacDonald's knowledge of the North sea, the engineering expertise that was necessary there, and the cat fighting among SNP members as to their position on the project.

I thank David McLetchie and David Davidson for their support for the project. I take David McLetchie's point about the capital programme, but when the Parliament considered the overall capital programme in March last year, I made it clear that, if there is a significant change, ministers will report back to the Parliament. We made that commitment and I hold to it. Mr McLetchie was brave to mention David Cameron's air taxes, which possibly fall into the secret documents file that David Davidson mentioned. I have no doubt that the Tories' proposals for higher air taxes will be fully debated in the coming weeks.

We must finish with the SNP. We noticed that the party's list members from the Lothians were not here this afternoon to hear its dreadful arguments. It is extraordinary that the SNP's position on EARL is now that the money should be used for bus services in Edinburgh—that was Mr Ewing's argument. Before, the SNP was going to use the money for a replacement Forth crossing. As Iain Smith and others pointed out, it was also going to use the money for a number of roads throughout Scotland. Bristow Muldoon reminded us that the SNP would also cancel the trams project and spend the money on buses in Edinburgh. Gosh—we are going to have one heck of a bus network in Edinburgh under the SNP.

In a previous debate, Mr Ewing said that his number 1 priority was a replacement crossing of the Forth. He cannot spend his time in Inverness promising that the SNP would dual the A9, A82 and A96 and also promise a replacement crossing of the Forth, but that is Mr Ewing's ridiculous position. The SNP has U-turned on its support for the EARL project. It has lost the argument and its position is ridiculous. I urge the Parliament to listen to the reasoned arguments that were made by members of all parties other than the SNP, and to support the bill.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 4:08 pm, 14th March 2007

I thank my fellow members of the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill Committee for their hard work, Professor Begg for his valuable work in considering the evidence on outstanding objections, and the promoter for the conciliatory approach that it adopted in working with objectors. I also extend my thanks to the objectors, who played an important role in the process and whose high-quality evidence enabled the committee to enhance the protection that will be available to those who might be adversely affected by the bill. Thanks are especially due to Jane Sutherland and her clerking team—James Burton and Carol Mitchell—and of course to David Cullum, who always hovered in the background, for the invaluable support that they gave to the committee. Their hard work was greatly appreciated by us all.

This has been an excellent and sometimes emotive debate. Scott Barrie said that EARL will not affect the 50-minute Glasgow to Edinburgh service. He said that it will reduce congestion on the roads and bring greater linkage between east and west. Those are good points. I note his worries about premium fares and, like him, I welcome the assurances about the welfare of badgers, newts and other wildlife.

Tavish Scott said that Highland Council and Scottish Borders Council are supportive, which is a good sign. I agree with his wish to make rail travel more attractive throughout Scotland. Perhaps he could start by speeding up links between Edinburgh and Oban. That would be popular in Argyll.

David McLetchie said that 99 per cent of the cost of the EARL project will now be paid by the Executive. However, he wondered whether the Executive will keep all the transport promises that it has made, especially if Gordon the brown engine pushes the Barnett formula off the rails and into the troublesome truck department. He made the point that the promoter's revised figures improved the project, and he lauded the principle of connectivity and integration in our transport system.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton made a crucial intervention in which he said that Edinburgh must be kept competitive with other European capitals. I thought that that was a very good point.

Christine Grahame huffed and puffed effectively, a bit like Thomas the tank engine.

Chris Ballance only reinforced my theory that the Green party travels by TARDIS and is waiting for the age of "Beam me up, Scotty" to produce its next transport strategy.

Margo MacDonald made an impassioned plea in supporting the project. She read out a letter from Sandy Cummings, the head of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which contradicted many of Fergus Ewing's points representing the SNP's opposition to the EARL project.

Iain Smith made us laugh a great deal, and Charlie Gordon, who is definitely the fat controller of our committee, stood up for Glasgow and gave us an insight into the mind of Mahatma Gandhi.

For the remainder of my speech, I will focus on those areas that have been the subject of debate today and at the preliminary stage. The committee highlighted several areas of concern on which it agreed to seek further evidence at consideration stage. I was concerned that the route that had been chosen would not deliver the benefits that were stated in the promoter's memorandum; therefore, I dissented from the committee's preliminary stage report. I was especially unhappy with the STAG appraisal that had been conducted on the Turnhouse option because of the extremely dubious figures on comparative journey times that it contained. My concern at that time has been vindicated by the fact that the promoter has since conducted an entirely fresh appraisal of Turnhouse. I am, therefore, content to give the EARL project my support today.

I and my fellow committee members were concerned, at the preliminary stage, about the uncertainty surrounding the funding of the project. Our preliminary stage report stated that

"the Committee has major concerns that the Bill could be passed without the level of funding attributed to each source being identified."

I am, therefore, pleased that the minister was able to confirm on 19 December that Transport Scotland will cover all the outstanding costs of the project. Our report also detailed the financial input that Edinburgh Airport Ltd will make. The value of the airport's expertise in reducing the risks of the tunnel construction cannot be underestimated and will go a long way towards ensuring that the project does not impact adversely on the operation of the airport. That was a concern that many members, including me, previously expressed.

Another concern that was voiced at the preliminary stage was about the ability to provide the necessary rolling stock. We heard in evidence that rolling stock that meets the performance requirements for the EARL project exists and is currently operating in the UK—for example, the Virgin Voyager and the trans-Pennine express. The overall costs of the rolling stock have not been attributed solely to EARL because the rolling stock is being procured for the ScotRail network as a whole. However, I am pleased to report that the costs of leasing rolling stock and of the on-going maintenance relevant to the EARL section of the network have been included in the estimate of the cost of the EARL scheme.

The question of how the inside of the new trains will be configured remains an issue. As the committee recognised in its consideration stage report, the internal configuration of seating and luggage space will be extremely important. There is nothing more infuriating to passengers than not being able to stow luggage properly. That is especially true for the elderly and anybody who is disabled in any way.

The committee's concerns at the preliminary stage regarding the delivery of the timetable and the reliability of services are well documented. The committee therefore welcomed the confirmation by Network Rail that it could deliver the timetable of eight trains per hour in each direction. The committee acknowledges that some journey times may be marginally longer for trains that call at the airport. However, given the infrastructure changes and the results of modelling, most of those journey time increases may not materialise.

On the overall merits of the scheme, the committee was not charged with deciding whether the funding for EARL would be better spent elsewhere. That is a matter for the Local Government and Transport Committee, the budget scrutiny process and the Parliament as a whole.

The committee appreciates the high level of connectivity across most of Scotland that EARL will offer. It is true—as I pointed out during the preliminary stage debate—that the Turnhouse option would offer a similar degree of connectivity to EARL with the sole exception of Edinburgh Park. However, the huge popularity of the Edinburgh Park station means that there are obvious benefits from ensuring that, when services are diverted via the airport, they can continue to serve that station as well. Furthermore, the Turnhouse and Gogar options would entail significant four-tracking of the line between Saughton and the new junction that will link with the Dalmeny chord north of the airport. The fact that that would require the compulsory purchase and demolition of many homes along the Saughton to South Gyle corridor is an obvious disincentive.

Similarly, the committee was not charged with determining whether the predictions on air passenger growth that are made in the UK air transport white paper are accurate. The truth is that the number of air passengers at Edinburgh airport has risen dramatically over the past 10 years. Air passenger growth predictions would need to reduce by 55 per cent over the next 30 years, or by 70 per cent over the next 60 years, to reduce EARL's benefit cost ratio to 1.

I was among the first to acknowledge the legitimate concerns that members have had about the scheme, the costs of which are extremely high. In light of the large number of other heavy infrastructure projects that are on the books in Scotland, we all have an obligation to ensure that public money is well spent. However, having subjected the scheme and the promoter to the closest possible scrutiny, and having unearthed revised figures on the alternatives, I urge those members who still oppose the scheme to look afresh at the evidence and to reconsider their position.

The unique selling point that EARL has over and above the alternatives is that it will provide a genuine opportunity to create a transport interchange at Edinburgh airport where passengers from throughout Scotland can access the airport, bus and tram all from the one location. Air passengers will be able to access destinations throughout Scotland directly from the airport. That can only assist in growing tourism in Scotland. Such integrated public transport is important for the tourism industry, in which creating a good first impression with arriving passengers is vital. Therefore, I urge members to support the motion to pass the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill.