The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-1297, in the name of John Park, on the upper Forth crossing. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament welcomes the progress being made in constructing the Upper Forth crossing; looks forward to its planned opening in 2008; recognises that when both crossings are operational this will greatly improve the road infrastructure and cut journey times around Kincardine; is concerned that increasingly the Forth Road Bridge is closed to high-sided vehicles, placing a burden on the A985, A907 and A997; accepts that the existing Kincardine crossing is planned to close for a maintenance period following the opening of the Upper Forth crossing; is concerned that Kincardine will suffer severe traffic congestion as vehicles are diverted through and around the village to the new crossing, and is further concerned that the villages situated on the A907, such as Oakley, Blairhall, Carnock, Saline and Gowkhall will also be subjected to unprecedented levels of traffic congestion.
I am pleased to open the debate. I am also pleased that representatives of the communities of west Fife have made it to the Parliament to watch at first hand MSPs take an interest in the issue.
One advantage of being a regional member is that it allows one to talk about issues that cover a wider area. Developments around Kincardine have an impact on roads not just in Fife, but in Clackmannanshire and Perth and Kinross, which are all areas that I represent.
I welcome the excellent improvements that have been made in and around the Kincardine bridge area in recent years and, like many people, I look forward to the upper Forth crossing opening soon. The eastern approach road, which opened in 2004, has delivered improved journey times, particularly for people who travel from east to west, and has greatly improved the lives of people who live in Kincardine who, for many years, were subjected to a constant stream of traffic from the east side of the village. As someone who has crossed the Kincardine bridge countless times over the past 30 years, I am the first to acknowledge the benefits that those improvements have brought.
When both bridges are operational, the only traffic that goes through Kincardine will be generated by local people going about their business or people who are travelling between Clackmannanshire and Fife. The net result will be the transformation of Kincardine, significantly less
However, there is a problem, which I have highlighted in my motion. Road developments in the area are important not only for the people of Kincardine but for those who live in the surrounding towns and villages. Tonight's debate is designed to ensure that the minister and the transport department are fully aware of the possible implications for Kincardine and the surrounding area of the temporary closure of the existing bridge for planned refurbishment, following the opening of the new crossing.
There are three main factors that must be borne in mind when we consider the implications of that closure. The first is the impact on Kincardine of most of the traffic that crosses the existing bridge going through the village to get to the new crossing. The second is the attractiveness of alternative routes, particularly those that are adjacent to the west Fife villages. The third is the effect on all routes that lead to Kincardine when the Forth bridge is closed to high-sided vehicles—I know that the minister is fully aware of that issue.
When the existing bridge is closed, the first thing that will happen is that there will be a significant increase in the number of vehicles that pass through Kincardine, which will lead to increased pollution, increased noise and increased congestion. In addition, the local school, Tulliallan primary, is virtually next door to the main route for the diverted traffic.
In an effort to avoid going through Kincardine and having to navigate the complicated traffic light systems in the village, commuters will look for alternative routes. For people who travel from Dunfermline and the east, one of the most attractive alternative routes is the A907, which passes through the heavily populated villages of Carnock, Oakley and Blairhall. Carnock and Blairhall have primary schools on the route.
The third factor is outwith our control, as it relates to inclement weather. Over the past few years, the Forth bridge has been closed to high-sided vehicles numerous times. The vast majority of those vehicles use the Kincardine bridge as an alternative. As anyone who has travelled the route between the Forth and the Kincardine bridges knows, delays of between half an hour and an hour are not uncommon when such diversions are in place. The impact on the west Fife villages and Kincardine cannot be underestimated in any way, shape or form.
The A977, which brings traffic down from the M90 at Kinross, will also be an attractive alternative route. In effect, the road connects the M90 and the M876. According to Transport Scotland, traffic volumes on the road are expected
One of the main reasons for constructing the new bridge and improving the surrounding road network was to alleviate the social and environment impact on Kincardine. I hope that the minister will take the points that I have raised in the spirit in which they are intended. It would be helpful if he could indicate what steps are being taken to alleviate any problems that might arise from the closure of the existing bridge; perhaps he has had discussions with officials on the matter. I would like the minister, in the time that is available before the new crossing opens and the existing bridge closes, to consider options other than full closure. Perhaps he can give us some detailed views on that.
As I said, the final result will make a real difference for Kincardine. It will significantly reduce congestion on the A985, the A977 and the A876. Let us think about what that will mean for the village, which I know very well. House prices will go up and the school will no longer have to suffer a significant level of transport going past it on a daily basis. It will improve the air quality and the environment, and ease congestion around the school. It will enhance the possibility of comfortable living for everyone in the area—I have no doubt about that. People are watching the issue with interest.
What plans has the Scottish Government put in place to mitigate the impact of the full closure of the bridge? What would that mean for the routes in the surrounding area? Is there any alternative to full closure of the existing Kincardine bridge when the upper Forth crossing opens? Any such alternative would be beneficial for everyone concerned, and I would certainly support that. Could any other traffic-calming measures be introduced on the A907, bearing in mind the fact that villages such as Carnock and Blairhall have primary schools?
A year or two down the line, I would take no pleasure from saying "I told you so" to the minister if nothing happens at this stage, and I do not think that anyone in the affected communities in Fife would do, either. I would appreciate it if the minister, in summing up, could provide some comfort and assure us that those concerns are being considered and thought through by the Government.
I thank John Park for bringing the issues of concern for debate. While he raised issues that impact on many constituencies around the upper Forth
The need for a replacement upper Forth crossing and a new crossing at or near Queensferry has been known about for many years, not least to the commuters and holidaymakers for whom life moves at a snail's pace whenever the road infrastructure loses a main link. Fortunately, the previous Administration advanced the case for a new upper Forth crossing, and the present Administration made the right decision on the location of the new bridge at Queensferry and its type. However, major problems arise when the Forth road bridge is restricted or closed. Where does that impact more than anywhere else? Kincardine is where the greatest impacts of any Forth road bridge problems are focused. Not only now, but for the foreseeable future, Kincardine will carry the bulk of the diverted traffic.
No one, including Kincardine residents, disputes the requirement not just for the new bridge but for the refurbishment of the 1936-opened bridge. However, my constituents are right to be concerned that when the new upper Forth crossing is opened later this year, and the existing Kincardine bridge is closed for 18 months for its refurbishment, there will be a major impact on the west Fife villages that I represent. Not only will very large volumes of traffic—particularly heavy goods vehicles—go through the centre of Kincardine again, but many of the smaller villages in west Fife will be adversely affected as people go to and from the new crossing.
I have recently tried to get answers from the Scottish Government about the steps that it will take to minimise the traffic chaos that is bound to result in west Fife in the 18 months or so from the autumn when the old bridge closes for refurbishment. Other than the fact that the traffic coming off the new crossing and going towards the Gartarry roundabout—which is about 2 miles north of Kincardine and less than 50yd into Clackmannanshire—will be advised by the Government to take the A977, which will be signposted as the preferred route, the Government is ignoring all the associated problems.
Yes, it is true that much of the traffic that will come across the upper Forth crossing will be heading north and that the A977 will be a sensible link, as it takes traffic towards the M90 and Kinross, but the vast majority of the commuter
However, when drivers come across the new upper Forth crossing and find that neither the suggested A977 nor the likely A907 is the best route for their destination, many will go south before the Gartarry roundabout and back through Kincardine. Before the current Kincardine bypass was built, Kincardine was one of the most polluted places in Fife. Thousands of extra vehicles a week going through the town—right past local primary schools, as John Park outlined—will only put lives at risk again.
Usually, member's business debates are non-contentious. I am grateful to Mr Park for bringing the matter to the Parliament. It only helps to highlight the traffic nightmare that is coming to west Fife in the next few years.
I congratulate John Park on securing the debate and the motion that he lodged to get it, which I was happy to sign. He has taken exactly the right approach in raising matters of real concern, but I disagree in large part with Jim Tolson. The bridge project was advanced not only by the previous Administration but by many people in Clackmannanshire, different councils and other groups. However, it is worth bearing in mind the fact that we are dealing with a scheme that was advanced by the previous Administration.
That is not to say that there are no potential problems, as John Park said. I will concentrate on the areas in my constituency that will be affected: the Gartarry roundabout, which has been mentioned, and places along the A977, such as Crook of Devon, Blairingone and Forest Mill, which will experience a substantial increase in traffic and, along with Kincardine, currently experience a huge effect when the Forth road bridge is closed to high-sided vehicles.
It is important that the required refurbishment of the Kincardine bridge is carried out. I will wait to hear what the minister says, but I am not convinced of the feasibility of not having a full closure. The better solution might be traffic calming measures, as has been mentioned. I hope that they will be considered.
It is right to raise those issues, but this is a great day for Clackmannanshire, the area surrounding it
The bridge will have a huge impact on traffic. Looking further down the line, we could have four bridges, but there will inevitably be disruption in the meantime as one of them is constructed or substantially refurbished. Having spoken to the local councillor for Kincardine—or the chap who was the local councillor; his ward is now larger—again this morning, I appreciate that the town has seen the benefit of the bypass of late, but that it will face a surge of traffic when the bridge closes.
Despite that, I am delighted that the new bridge is being built. I am hopeful that the minister will take the right decision and call it the Clackmannanshire bridge. We have been asking for that for some time, but we will have to wait and see how the decision goes. I am sure that it will go the right way if it is down to the efforts of people in Clackmannanshire, who have written in. We will see.
I know that this does not address the precise point that John Park raised, but I hope that, in the longer term, the passenger service that now runs from Stirling to Alloa will go right the way through Kincardine and on to Rosyth and Dunfermline. I have not addressed that point to the minister as yet, but I am sure that he will hear about it. If we can create an integrated transport system that takes people and goods from west to east and vice versa right across the north side of the Forth, it will have a huge impact on Kincardine and all the other places that John Park and Jim Tolson mentioned.
I am happy to have taken part in the debate. John Park has raised some issues of real concern, and I am hopeful that the minister will deal with them as well as they can be dealt with. I look forward to the opening of the bridge and the easing of the current traffic congestion, which, like John Park, I experience virtually every day on the Kincardine bridge as I come to the Parliament.
I, too, congratulate John Park on securing the debate, which is important because it considers the consequences of an important decision that Donald Dewar made during the election in 1999. At that time, he came to the constituency for which I was seeking election and confirmed that we would have a new upper Forth crossing. That was welcomed by everybody in the area. It was one of three projects that, when I served as the member for Ochil, I and others regarded as vital to opening up
Members may not remember, but there was something called the road to nowhere, which involved two Europe-funded roads that failed to meet by a matter of a mile and a quarter, which was appalling. If they had been connected, Stirling would have been joined to Alloa with a decent road. I was glad that Jack McConnell, when he was Minister for Finance, quickly agreed to fund a project to join them. So we got the decision on the bridge, followed by funding to connect the Alloa road to nowhere.
As Keith Brown said, today, Stewart Stevenson opened the Alloa to Stirling passenger rail service and the freight service to Kincardine. I do not agree with Keith Brown on many issues, but I agree that we must think carefully about having a passenger service right through to Dunfermline. We must consider that in the context of the overall situation of the new Forth crossing, the lower Forth crossing's problems and possible closure, and the impending closure of the old Kincardine bridge. With a link to Dunfermline, we could get freight and traffic off the road relatively quickly, because the lines already exist. I urge the minister to consider that.
On the closure of the old Kincardine bridge, is 18 months the shortest period of time possible? Can funding be provided to enable the work to be done in a much shorter time? That obviously would benefit people in Kincardine, who undoubtedly will have to endure yet another period of significant traffic pollution. I hope that doing the work in a shorter time is possible, if we cannot keep one lane on the bridge open while the maintenance is carried out. I hope that the minister will give people in Kincardine some help on that.
As Fife and Clackmannanshire open up and more and more people go to live in the area, the need for effective transport across the Forth will increase. As members have said, the pressure on the villages to the north of the Forth, in both directions, will increase. I hope that, at some point, the minister will produce plans for traffic calming in the area, as part of a comprehensive plan to deal with the possible problems with the lower Forth crossing. If we get into the worst possible scenario with that crossing, those villages will be in a much more desperate situation than they have been up to now or will be as a result of the closure of the old Kincardine bridge.
Serious long-term planning issues arise. I am sure that the minister and his department are addressing them, but they must rapidly reassure the people of Fife and Clackmannanshire, particularly those in the villages to which Keith Brown referred, and ensure that we do not have long-term suffering as well as the short-term suffering that inevitably will occur.
John Park is to be congratulated on securing tonight's debate. His interest in transport in Fife is well known. It sometimes seems that Fife is the forgotten kingdom when it comes to road transport—I gently remind John Park that, under the previous Labour-led Fife Council and the Labour-Liberal Executive at Holyrood, those of us who live in the north-east of the kingdom used to remark jocularly that we could always tell when road journeys northwards left the then Labour heartlands of mid and west Fife, because the main roads immediately switched from dual carriageway to two-lane traffic. We were only partly joking.
I hope that the member is not going to tell that to people in Cupar, St Andrews and elsewhere.
It is early days yet for the new administrations at Fife House and Holyrood, but I hear no encouraging noises from either administration about the possibility of upgrading the A92 beyond Glenrothes—which, in terms of accidents, has been the most dangerous road in Scotland over the past five years.
Of course, we welcome the progress that is being made in constructing the upper Forth crossing, and we look forward to its planned opening later this year. Shaped by a geography that saw two great firths separate it from the north and south of Scotland, the kingdom of Fife has, to achieve prosperity, always had to rely heavily on its transport links by land, sea and bridge.
I share John Park's concerns that the Forth road bridge seems to be closing more frequently to high-sided vehicles these days, which places further burdens on the A985, the A907 and the A977. Furthermore, as we have heard, the existing Kincardine crossing is to close for refurbishment following the opening of the upper Forth crossing. Kincardine will suffer even more traffic congestion as vehicles are diverted through and around the village to the new crossing.
I have to accept that the minister's mind is fixed on a bridge rather than a tunnel for the new crossing of the Forth, but I remain unconvinced that it would not have made more sense to go for a tunnel. Let us hope that the existing bridge will be able to continue to operate, although a new bridge is as likely to be susceptible to high winds as the old one is. I would have thought it strategically sensible to have a crossing that would not be affected by extremes in climate, especially since diverted traffic will continue to cause congestion problems in the villages along the A907.
Of course, I welcome the fact that—with the creation of the new upper Forth crossing at Kincardine, and with the rerouting of traffic away from the town centre—through traffic is expected to drop from 16,000 vehicles a day to fewer than 3,000 a day, which will improve air quality and reduce noise. Anyone who travels regularly through the village, as I do, knows what a blight the traffic has been on locals for years.
I also welcome the fact that—with the new bridge taken along with the existing bridge—the current road capacity across the Forth at Kincardine will be more than doubled. Economic development in the Forth valley area will be encouraged by vastly improved transport links.
All those developments are positive, but people sense a lack of joined-up thinking on predicted traffic flows towards Kincardine—particularly in the next 18 months, but also in the period leading up to the opening of the new Forth crossing, which we hope will be in 2016. There is also uncertainty, because of deterioration of the cable system, as to whether the existing main Forth road bridge will be able to carry heavy goods vehicles after 2014. That could put huge pressure on the roadway system through to Kincardine.
However, I am sure that a man as resourceful and far-sighted as the minister is will be able to provide the reassurances that John Park is seeking in tonight's motion. As a fellow Fifer, the minister might also give us his preferred name choice for the new Kincardine crossing. Given the very real transport problems that Fife has endured and continues to endure, does he agree with me that the Kingdom bridge has a certain ring to it?
I, too, congratulate John Park on securing this debate. I also echo the welcome that has been given to the different contributions.
I feel as if I am entering into a special place. All the previous speeches have been from Fifers, or from people from the central region who know the roads in the area and the traffic issues much better than I do. I will not, therefore, give a list of the A roads in Fife and point out how congested they are: I would like instead to discuss the need for interim planning.
We welcome the coming of the new Kincardine bridge, and we welcome the Scottish Government's decision on the lower Forth crossing. It seems that we will end up with a superabundance of bridges in a few years. However, in the interim, between now and 2016, the Government will have to address a lot of traffic management issues.
Ted Brocklebank mentioned the prospect of there being a limit, or even a ban, on heavy goods vehicles using the lower Forth crossing. I am not sure about that, but the phrases seem to have entered into people's thinking recently. Perhaps because of the superabundance of bridges, or perhaps because of its well-known maintenance and structural problems, the Forth road bridge could be used less in the future than at it is present, particularly by heavy goods vehicles. That would necessarily impact on feeder roads to the Kincardine bridge and on much of the road network in Fife.
We need a considered, co-ordinated plan that would anticipate the problems and manage them away, so far as possible, by linking the lower Forth crossings and the Kincardine bridges. However, the problems could be managed away only partially because having a temporary limit on the number of crossings over the Forth would constrain possible options for routing and rerouting vehicles during that time.
Road traffic management has reached a level at which it should be possible to minimise the disruption to businesses and car commuters from foreseeable problems. What is obvious from John Park's motion and from what he has said previously on the issue is his belief that we need to think now about how to anticipate and offset traffic problems in the future.
Let me offer a parallel thought. I represent a constituency that has been affected, in some ways positively, by the removal of tolls from the Erskine bridge. However, that has had an impact on traffic north and south of the Clyde, but particularly on the north because the north bank of the Erskine bridge does not lead into a motorway system, as the south bank does. There are acute congestion problems in the Hardgate area, which I represent, and in adjacent areas because roundabouts need to be modified and widened. That will not require huge expenditure, but such matters must be addressed. I hope that the minister, as well as addressing the general issues in Fife, will cast an eye at Clydebank and assist us in dealing with the traffic problems that we face.
I congratulate my colleague John Park on lodging the motion for the debate. The crossings across the Forth are crucial to the economy of my region of Mid Scotland and Fife. It is therefore pleasing for me to see that the upper Forth crossing at Kincardine is coming close to completion and I look forward to its planned opening later this year. The new crossing will improve the road infrastructure in the area and cut journey times from both sides of the Forth.
However, I am concerned that the recent closures of the Forth road bridge, which were due mainly to poor weather, might mean that we would be taking a risk in having only one upper Forth bridge operational when the old Kincardine bridge is closed for refurbishment. I back John Park's calls for the minister to look long and hard at whether the old bridge needs to close entirely, and to consider whether other options can be explored and whether contingencies can be put in place to mitigate the effects on residents in the surrounding area.
Also, with a question still hanging over whether HGVs will be able to cross the easterly bridge from 2013, planning for contingencies around the upper crossings now could help in coping with increased HGV traffic in the future. It is crucial that we do what we can to prevent a gap in HGVs being allowed to cross the easterly bridge, or at least minimise the gap, not just for the sake of hauliers and the economy but because Kincardine residents will feel the brunt of increased freight coming through their villages.
However, a more long-term approach is required to get freight off our roads and out of our villages. I support the reopening of the Leven to Thornton rail link, which could go some way to reducing the demand on the two current and two new Forth bridges. As well as reducing traffic flow on the bridges, getting more freight on to rail could help to reduce emissions and tackle climate change. The south-east Scotland transport partnership is considering the feasibility of reopening the rail link, and I hope for positive news on that in the near future.
As well as dealing with freight, I believe that we can make improvements to the transport infrastructure in the east that would ease the pressure on the two upper forth bridges. A great priority in Fife is to make improvements to the Redhouse roundabout outside Thornton, which serves traffic from the Levenmouth area and beyond. Also, just this week a petition was lodged with the Scottish Parliament to improve the A92 around the Glenrothes area.
Of course, Presiding Officer. I will try to draw what I say into an overall Fife strategy.
I have, along with my Fife MSP colleagues, spoken to Fife Chamber of Commerce, which believes that transport improvements such as I have described could play a crucial role in growing the economy not just of Fife, but of the east of Scotland in general.
If we can improve traffic flow for the easterly bridge and cut journey times for the buses, freight and cars that use the bridge, we can also reduce demand on the bridges on the upper Forth, which will reduce congestion in the villages around Kincardine. I hope that the minister will look seriously at the proposed transport improvements when they come before him.
It is crucial that we have contingencies in place around Kincardine to cope with increased traffic flow in the short term, when the old bridge is closed for refurbishment; in the medium term, in the event that the easterly bridge is closed due to weather restrictions; and, in the longer term, looking ahead to any gaps in the ability of HGVs to use the easterly Forth bridge.
I hope that the minister can assure us that contingencies will be in place to deal with those consequences and to ensure that the villages around the upper Forth bridges do not suffer the severe traffic congestion that they fear.
I commend John Park for lodging the motion and for using the opportunity that it presents to highlight local issues. That is precisely the kind of action that I would expect to see from a committed and energetic member who is representing his area in the proper manner. I congratulate him on what I believe is his first members' business debate, and I hope that he will have more.
We are all looking forward to the changes that we will see at the end of the work that is currently in progress, when the new bridge opens and the existing bridge has been re-engineered. As Keith Brown mentioned, I was in Alloa earlier today, and crossed the existing bridge, which enabled me to once again note how integral the traffic flow from that bridge is to the village of Kincardine. Indeed, my two visits to the new upper Forth crossing have allowed me to become familiar with what is happening in the village. I have a long-term familiarity with what has been happening in Kincardine and, indeed, in many of the surrounding areas. I absolutely respect and acknowledge the concerns that John Park and other members have expressed. We will, of course, get to the point at which we have resolved those problems, but how will that happen?
John Park and others referred to closures of the Forth road bridge. It is proper to make reference to that because of the effect of diverted traffic from there to the upper Forth crossings. Some 80 per cent of goods traffic crossing the Forth already does so via the upper Forth crossings. Nonetheless, the addition of the other 20 per cent
To mitigate the effect of the occasional closures of the lower Forth crossing and the works in the upper Forth area, we hope to ensure that the diversion signage is placed further away from the crossing than has been the case to date. That will ensure that some of the traffic can anticipate the closure of the Forth road bridge and go north via Stirling, which is an effective diversion route that uses motorways and dual carriageways.
Reference has been made to the fact that the lower Forth crossing has experienced more closures and accidents this year than in previous years. I draw that gently to Ted Brocklebank's attention. However, the numbers are small, so it is difficult to be clear what the effect is each year. Clearly, bridges can be designed so that they are not closed by weather. The new Severn crossing, which uses wind protection of the kind that the replacement Forth crossing will have, has not closed since it was opened, while the older bridge, which is parallel to it, continues to experience significant numbers of closures. That enables us to see the direct effect of the mitigation measures.
There was a call for traffic calming on the A907. I understand that there is a weak bridge on that road, which makes it particularly important that, as far as possible in planning for new traffic flows, we direct traffic away from there. My officials are actively engaged in considering alternative routes. We need to consider changing the ways in which we direct people during diversions, so that rather than having a constant flow of diverted traffic through one route, the routes are changed over time. In other words, that means sharing the pain, which I regret, but it will give relief to communities while we carry out the work on the existing crossing, which was opened in 1936.
Continuing engagement with the communities that will be affected is also important, so that their experience can feed directly into our plans. Members have made reference to further extensions of the railway network, which of course takes traffic off bridges throughout Scotland. I am very keen on railways, as members know. However, that is a subject to which we will return on another occasion.
All the work on the upper Forth should be completed by 2010, some two years from now, which is encouraging. We are preparing a route action plan for the A985 that will look at a series of short, medium and long-term improvements that will accommodate not only bridge traffic, but east-west movements. That study will be completed shortly. It is estimated that the existing bridge will be closed for 18 months—a number of members have referred to that—but I hope that it will be closed for a somewhat shorter period. We will
I will engage with officials to consider whether we can keep one lane open, although I am not optimistic that that option is available to us, as there are considerable engineering difficulties with the existing structure, which could be exacerbated if we put traffic on one side of it. I am, however, open to considering that further.
I welcome the fact that representatives of those communities are in the public gallery, hearing what we have to say. They are hearing that we are continuing to work, and that we wish to work, with communities to come up with the best of all possible options. However, it is worth saying there will be some disruption, which we will have to plan for carefully.
I very much enjoyed my visit to Fife; I was brought up there, as members have mentioned. I hope that the Scottish Rail Preservation Society successfully completed its three planned trips between Alloa and Kincardine today, hauled by steam traction—but let us look forward. As well as preserving the best of the past, I hope that we will be able to deliver for the communities of Fife.
Meeting closed at 17:43.