I am pleased that we have been able to bring forward in Labour business the issue of tackling congestion at the Haudagain roundabout, because it is a vital transport priority for Aberdeen. We should all agree that, because Aberdeen is of critical importance to the wider Scottish economy, we must have a transport network that is fit for purpose for a city that is the energy capital of the United Kingdom and a global energy hub. The Scottish Government should certainly agree that that is the case, because its plans for separation—faltering and unpopular as they may be—are predicated on having a thriving oil and gas industry based in Aberdeen. Therefore, it is as surprising as it is frustrating that successive Scottish National Party ministers have failed to make the issue the priority that it needs to be.
The Haudagain roundabout rarely features in newspaper headlines without words such as “bottleneck”, “notorious” or “nightmare” attached to it, and with good reason. Day after day, rush hour after rush hour, motorists in Aberdeen have had to endure long delays at the Haudagain, which have sometimes doubled their journey times.
The problem is manifested not just in frustration for motorists—it comes at a cost to the north-east economy. In 2006, the Institute of Directors estimated that congestion at the Haudagain cost the Aberdeen economy between £15 million and £30 million each year. We can expect that estimate to be significantly higher today. That is why the issue was identified by Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce as a key priority for the organisation in its recent campaign on transport policy.
Our airport is particularly affected by congestion at the Haudagain and unacceptably long journey times into the city centre. We have seen significant growth in passenger numbers and flights, and significant investment by the airport’s operators in its infrastructure, but the continuing congestion at the Haudagain is clearly a threat to the airport’s laudable ambitions for growth.
Of course; I am happy to accept that point. We all agree on the importance of the AWPR but, through today’s debate, we want to move the Haudagain roundabout up the agenda, because it, too, is crucial to improving access to the airport.
What will happen to traffic to the airport if Mr Baker’s request for immediate action is granted? If the Haudagain is redone, we will have chaos on the roads of Aberdeen.
That is both a poor excuse and a gross misrepresentation of the issue. I will specifically address the ludicrous press release that Mr Stewart issued yesterday later in my speech. That will give him time to reflect on just how idiotic that contribution was.
It is vital to our business reputation that visitors can have ease of access to the city centre for the meetings that they are in Aberdeen to attend, but all too often they encounter long traffic jams at the Haudagain, with the result that their journey from the airport into town takes almost as long as their flight. Because of Aberdeen’s importance to oil and gas and the wider energy industry, it receives thousands of business visitors each year. If Aberdeen is to secure its future as an energy hub and to have businesses that want to base their operations in the city, there has to be better access from the airport.
In 2005, the feasibility study into proposals for improvements at the Haudagain that was commissioned by the then Labour-led Scottish Executive was published, but when the SNP came to power the Haudagain was notable by its absence from the party’s first infrastructure investment plan. That was despite the fact that in previous parliamentary sessions SNP members had lodged a number of motions calling for immediate action at the Haudagain, some of which were lodged as long as ago as 2005 and 2006 and included notable signatories such as Mr Swinney and Mr Neil, who, during his tenure as Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, failed to lift a finger to get on with work at the Haudagain.
Despite the SNP’s calling for immediate action nearly 10 years ago, I note that when I lodged a question to ask Mr Brown for the latest timescale I was informed that work at the Haudagain would not begin until after the completion of the AWPR and would take nine months to complete. At the most ambitious end of the Scottish Government’s timetable, it will be 2019 before work at the Haudagain is completed. We know now that when SNP members call for immediate action, they mean action some time within the next 20 years.
At the heart of SNP ministers’ appallingly sluggish approach to this transport policy has been their refusal to begin work at the roundabout before the AWPR’s completion. Refusing to start work on the Haudagain before the bypass has been completed has allowed the protracted court process over the AWPR to lead to more years of delay on the Haudagain. That situation was entirely avoidable; indeed, before they were in government, SNP members specifically called for work on the Haudagain to take place before the AWPR’s completion, not least because when the project is completed the Haudagain will be entirely on detrunked roads that are the responsibility not of Scottish ministers but of the local council and local council tax payers.
I am sure that Mr Stewart will want to speak later, so he will have his chance then.
Despite the Scottish Government’s verbal assurances that it will pay for the Haudagain after the new trunk road is completed, my understanding is that it has not entered into a legally binding obligation to do so. Although ministers should enter into such an obligation if they are to stick to their current plans, it would be far better for them to take the action that is called for in the motion and move forward immediately with the planned improvements.
Substantive work towards that goal can be achieved now. Kevin Stewart’s comments in this morning’s press display what I believe to be a wilful misrepresentation of the plan for improvements that has been put forward and, indeed, the plan that he voted for when he was on the council. Of course, we cannot rule out the possibility that he did not understand what he was voting for. The plan falls some way short of the flyovers that the SNP proposed when in opposition, but because we believe that time is of the essence we accept that this is the plan that must proceed.
However, Kevin Stewart must be aware that no one is suggesting that the roundabout needs to be closed for the duration of this work, because the solution that he endorsed means that the work will not take place at the roundabout itself. As the appraisal under the Scottish transport appraisal guidance indicates, the main features of option 5—the plan that has been agreed—are the retention of the existing roundabout at Haudagain and a new dual carriageway link road connecting North Anderson Drive with Auchmill Road. That work will take place away from the roundabout itself. Of course, the plan for improvements chosen by the SNP will involve rehousing some residents in Logie and other plans for regeneration in that area.
The council stands ready to move forward with this work now and to enable work to commence on the improvements well in advance of the Scottish Government’s current plans.
I have been listening carefully to Mr Baker. Will he confirm whether Labour is committed to the construction of a third Don crossing any time in the near future?
The member is aware that Aberdeen City Council proposes a third Don crossing. As I have said, the council stands ready to move forward with this work now and to enable work to commence on the improvements at the Haudagain well in advance of the Scottish Government’s current plans.
With the right co-operation from ministers on issues such as compensation orders and with key decisions taken now, the relocation of residents that is required by the plan can take place at an appropriate and sensitive pace. Even the previous SNP council said in 2008 that that work could be done within three years. For the SNP to suggest that we can be a separate nation years before we can resolve the rehousing of residents who will be affected by the Haudagain improvements is patent nonsense.
Last week Barney Crockett, Labour’s leader of the administration in Aberdeen City Council, announced that the city council was moving forward now with plans to link Dyce Drive to the A96 trunk road, with the improvements to be completed in 2015. That project will significantly improve surface access to the airport and to areas in the north of the city, where significant new office developments for businesses in Aberdeen are being developed.
Today, we call on the Scottish Government to show the same kind of initiative with the Haudagain roundabout and not to subject motorists and businesses in Aberdeen to more years of traffic congestion misery. We ask ministers to think again and work with the council to give the green light to this project and to take the actions required to get it under way.
If ministers fail to do that, that will mean not only years more of traffic jams, but years more of tens of millions of pounds of costs to our local economy and local businesses. That is entirely avoidable. Not acting now would mean that ministers would have failed to listen not only to the local councils, but to local businesses and local people. It is time for ministers and the SNP to listen and think again about their refusal to give the work at the Haudagain roundabout the priority that it needs, otherwise the charge will justly be levelled at the SNP that Aberdeen is its forgotten city. Aberdeen deserves better than that. We all agree that the city is vital to the whole of the Scottish economy. That is why I ask members to support our call for immediate action at Haudagain.
That the Parliament notes the ongoing concerns expressed in the north east over the continuing chronic congestion at the junction of the A90 and A96 trunk roads at the Haudagain roundabout; believes that, as it is the energy capital of Europe, Aberdeen requires a more efficient and effective transport network; recognises the views expressed by local business organisations, Aberdeen airport and local authorities that the traffic problems at the roundabout are detrimental to the local economy and cost it in the region of £15 to £30 million a year; notes that, although a feasibility study on improvements at the roundabout was commissioned by the former Scottish Executive and that Scottish Transport appraisal guidance was published in 2008, under current Scottish Government plans, work on the improvements will not begin until 2018 at the earliest and the Scottish Government has given no formal assurance that it will carry out this work after the completion of the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, when the Haudagain junction is no longer a Scottish Government responsibility; congratulates Aberdeen City Council on its announcement that it is investing in a £5 million project to link Dyce Drive to the A96 trunk road, which will be completed in 2015 and significantly improve surface access to the airport; believes that the Scottish Government should show the same urgency with work at the Haudagain roundabout, and calls on ministers to commence significant work on the project immediately so that road users in the city do not have to wait until the end of the decade for these much-needed improvements at the roundabout to be completed.
The Scottish Government recognises, of course, the important contribution that Aberdeen and the north-east make to our wider economy and that an effective transport network is vital to economic growth. It is a shame that we did not have that decades ago, when we should have had it. The AWPR and Balmedie to Tipperty project, improvements to the Haudagain roundabout and the new Inveramsay bridge on the A96 form a core part of our commitment to improving transport in the north-east, along with the proposals to dual the A96 between Aberdeen and Inverness by 2030. We have stated on a number of occasions our commitment to funding the design and construction of the road improvement, which will include associated land and compensation costs for the delivery of the Haudagain scheme.
The resolution of the legal issues surrounding the AWPR has allowed us to progress without delay the procurement of a design consultant for the Haudagain improvement. Work has commenced on the design of the improvement with the appointment of Jacobs UK Ltd as consultant. The design work is necessary, and it will ensure that construction of that much-needed project can begin immediately after the AWPR and Balmedie to Tipperty project is completed in 2018. It is worth reminding Richard Baker that both the north east of Scotland transport partnership—Nestrans—and the council have explicitly said on a number of occasions that the benefits of the Haudagain project will be realised only after the AWPR and the third Don crossing are complete. That has been repeated a number of times.
Perhaps Richard Baker has forgotten that there has been a protracted legal challenge on the AWPR. Nestrans and the council that he has lauded have said a number of times that the Haudagain improvement will produce benefits only when the AWPR and the third Don crossing are complete. The simple fact is that Richard Baker did not answer that point; it would have been good if he had come back on it. Labour has had a conversion to the idea of supporting the third Don crossing, of course, which in itself is welcome.
No. I want to make some progress.
The funding of the regeneration proposal for the Middlefield area is a matter for Aberdeen City Council, but Transport Scotland and our consultants will work closely with the council to ensure that the programming of both projects is in tandem. As is the case with all our schemes, landowners, including the local authority, will be compensated for any land or property that is required to enable the construction of the road improvement.
We have said that we will look at opportunities for opening parts of the AWPR and Balmedie to Tipperty project as early as possible to maximise early benefit to the people in the north-east in advance of the full scheme opening in spring 2018. The airport has already been mentioned. That is one area that we have looked at to see whether there is a possibility of bringing forward that work. That has been discussed with the consultants and the council. Whether the Balmedie to Tipperty project can be brought forward has also been considered.
As I have said, the Haudagain improvement will work only following the predicted reduction in traffic volumes when the AWPR and the third Don crossing are operational. That and the associated disruption during construction is why the project cannot commence now, and that has been made clear a number of times.
There is very little in Richard Baker’s motion that calls for any action at all. If we want immediate construction action now, of course, it will have to be done in advance of any public inquiry or paying compensation to landowners. It seems to me that there is an incredible lack of knowledge about how the projects have progressed.
I will do so in just a second.
The forthcoming by-election and Labour’s need for a fig leaf to hide every major construction project that it has delayed explain the motion better. The M74 was never completed, and excuses were made for that. The Borders rail line was not completed, and the Forth road project was known about for years, but Labour did nothing about that. An SNP Administration has been required to take forward those projects, as we will do with the Haudagain roundabout.
I give way to Lewis Macdonald.
I am grateful to the minister for giving way, even if he has done so when I was not seeking to intervene.
Will the minister confirm that the STAG report actually says, on the connection between the Haudagain and the third Don crossing, that if the crossing is not built, the Persley bridge would require to be dualled by 2027 in order to have the same traffic impact? Does he not recognise that a good deal could be done, with or without the third Don crossing, before 2027 and that that is precisely what Labour is calling on him to do?
I think that I have just said what is being done. We have employed design consultants to work on the design at this early stage in order that we can be ready to go immediately.
We can of course revisit all the arguments. For example, I have had a letter from somebody in the Aberdeen City Council administration asking whether we would reconsider the whole AWPR and put in a tunnel instead. There seems to be no end to the reasons that the Labour Party and its allies will produce to delay the projects rather than get on with them. What was most interesting was the reaction of Aberdeen City Council when we said that we would give it the cap that it had asked for on its contribution: the council wanted to continue the argument over the contribution, which was first agreed with the Labour Administration back in 2003, then agreed with us in March. However, the council wants to go back and argue about the question of its cap.
The difference is clear between Aberdeen City Council, which wants to continue to argue about that point rather than get on with the scheme, and Aberdeenshire Council, which said, “A deal is a deal. Let’s get on with the project.” Would that Aberdeen City Council would take a leaf out of Aberdeenshire Council’s book.
The simple fact is that there are too many projects in the north-east, which obviously needs the projects, not least, as Richard Baker said, because of the economic activity in Aberdeen. However, the north-east should have had those projects years ago. There was a lack of investment in Scotland’s transport infrastructure for decades when the Labour Party was in control and did nothing and when the Conservatives were in control for even longer. That was the situation at Scottish Office level, devolved Administration level and council level. Members should not forget that Haudagain and the AWPR started as a council project and that the previous Scottish Executive said that it would get involved in it.
The fact that we are contributing 81.5 per cent of the costs—there is of course a substantial cost to the taxpayer of providing the local authority’s money in the first place—means that we are committed to the scheme and bringing it forward. I do not think that anybody, apart from Richard Baker, questions the fact that we had to observe the legal challenge that was made and try to see that through first. We had no control over that. If the scheme had been started many years ago, perhaps it would not have been started from where we are now. However, it was not started many years ago. The Labour Party talked about it, just as it talked about the Borders railway and the M74 but did not complete them. The difference between the Labour Party and the SNP is that we will get on and complete the projects in a way that the Labour Party never did.
I move amendment S4M-06657.1, to leave out from first “notes” to end and insert:
“welcomes the end of the legal challenge against the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) and the progress that is being made to construct this vital route, with a swift move to procurement and the undertaking of essential preparatory works; commends the Scottish Government for confirming that it will pay for the Haudagain improvements, including the necessary compulsory purchase and compensation for those properties required to construct the improvements; recognises that attempting to re-engineer this junction prior to the opening of the AWPR would result in traffic chaos, severely constraining the economy of Aberdeen and the north east during construction; notes that all potential solutions identified by Aberdeen City Council require the delivery of a third Don crossing, something that has been opposed by Labour councillors and MSPs; further recognises that, in order to undertake the works at Haudagain, existing households will be relocated and the Scottish Government is working closely with Aberdeen City Council to ensure the relocation of vital services, such as the Middlefield Community Project and the Middlefield Healthy Hoose, to appropriate accommodation, and believes that this needs to be done sensitively and with compassion in a realistic timescale and with appropriate consultation.”
It is wonderful what a by-election will do to focus Parliament on issues that are important to the people of Aberdeen, and the Aberdeen Donside by-election is living up to expectations.
So far, it has been said by the proposer of the motion and the proposer of the amendment that Aberdeen is the oil capital of Europe and a city that needs infrastructure and desperately needs its infrastructure to be developed. That of course is why a previous Conservative Government back in the 1980s began the process of ensuring that the road connections to Aberdeen and in the Aberdeen area were improved. That Conservative Government dualled the A90 all the way to Aberdeen. That same Conservative Government began the process of dualling the A96 with major work at Inverurie, and its final act before the 1997 election was for my old friend James Douglas Hamilton to take responsibility for cutting the first sod for the construction of the Kintore bypass.
The bypass was eventually opened by Henry McLeish. He took the opportunity to do that, but then unfortunately presided over a change in policy that meant that investment in road networks was downgraded and remained so for a full 10 years. That unfortunate circumstance has led to many of the problems that we see in Aberdeen today. However, Aberdeen’s bottlenecks are more than simply the Haudagain roundabout, because there is of course the Brig o’ Dee and the Bridge of Don, and the desperate need for a third Don crossing, which challenge has been taken up by the Conservative councillors on Aberdeen City Council. It was a motion in the name of that fine young councillor, Ross Thomson, that eventually led to the city council’s commitment to build the third Don crossing, although the major partner in the council was very reluctant to take that on. However, progress is being made.
However, there is sense in some of the arguments in the motion. The idea that we might have to wait until 2018 before work can start on the Haudagain roundabout fills many of Aberdeen’s road users with dread. My concern is to ensure that if we get nothing else out of this debate, we get some understanding from the Government about this priority.
In debates in the Parliament, much is said about shovel-ready projects. I have often asked whether an individual project is regarded as shovel ready, and I guess that the Haudagain roundabout is not a shovel-ready project. If the opportunity comes along and funding becomes available to this or another Government before 2018, I like to think that the project could be prioritised.
If the member had listened to what I said, he would have heard me say that we have started on the design work, which is the necessary first step. Over and above that, we have given a commitment that we will fund all the compensation that must be provided in relation to the land assembly. A start has been made. However, is it not wise to wait until we are ready to go ahead with the project before doing so?
The minister went through a list of projects that were not completed earlier because of a lack of funding, but lack of funding is not the only problem that we face. In the context of the Aberdeen western peripheral route, we know the problems that are associated with a project that requires people to be moved from their houses, property to be purchased and land to be cleared if the project is to be completed.
For that reason, I fear that failure to advance the Haudagain project to shovel-ready status at the earliest possible opportunity will leave us exposed to further challenges, delays and damage to the Aberdeen economy. A simple commitment to take the project to shovel-ready status as quickly as possible is the best thing that the minister could provide today.
The Aberdeen economy has an enormous amount to deliver for the people of Aberdeen and the rest of Scotland. The creation of wealth in the north-east is there for all to see in the area’s economic statistics, but support for the economy through the provision of effective infrastructure remains vital to the future of not just Aberdeen but the whole of Scotland.
I have talked a lot in the Parliament recently about common sense—“gumption” is the word that we use in the north-east. Today, we see mair gimmick than gumption in the motion that the Labour Party has lodged. We should not be surprised, because on transport policy Labour never seems to listen to the experts—the roads engineers, who know how things work. I would bet members a pound to a penny that Mr Baker has come to the chamber without looking at any of the modelling work that has been done on traffic in the great city of Aberdeen.
“We have been made aware by our officials that the Haudagain roundabout and Third Don Crossing comes as a package at the moment. That may be the situation and we may have to go along with that.”
However, there has always been talk of daft alternatives, including from the current depute leader of the Labour-led Aberdeen City Council. She wants tunnels everywhere. How much will tunnels cost and how long will it take to get them into action? Does she know about the geology of the great city in which I live? I think not. Again, it is gimmick, not gumption.
That is what we have had all along. The debate is a knockabout one in some regards, and I am sad to see that everybody has put in their wee bit about the by-election. Were Brian Adam here, he would not be happy about some of the things that have been said.
Let us put all the knockabout to one side and look at the realities. My main concern is the realities that people face. At the end of the day, the Labour Party wants immediate action, but what will it do with the 200 households in Middlefield that will need to be rehoused? What will it do about the traffic disruption that will ensue should that immediate action take place? The traffic disruption would be massive.
Lewis Macdonald sits there and sneers. Apparently, he said on the radio this morning that building work at the Haudagain would cause no traffic disruption. I had a phone call from a constituent not so long ago who asked me to tell Mr Macdonald that that was chronic stupidity. I agree.
What about the vital services in Middlefield, such as the Middlefield Community Project and the Middlefield healthy hoose? What will happen to those services if immediate action is taken? The Labour motion is nonsense. It would see traffic disruption galore, the decimation of the north-east economy and the destruction of people’s lives. I urge everyone in the chamber to look carefully at how they vote today.
Although Kevin Stewart offered to move on from the knockabout, he went on to produce one of the most comical speeches that I have heard. He asked a number of questions of the Labour Party but would not listen to a single answer. That sets a poor example. I am sure that Christian Allard will make a more positive speech.
We all know that investment in Aberdeen’s infrastructure has been delayed too long. The question is what can be done to accelerate that investment. There is no dispute over the responsibility of Scotland’s devolved Government for moving forward what are vital infrastructure projects.
The decision to build the Aberdeen western peripheral route as a trunk road was made by Jack McConnell more than 10 years ago. SNP ministers took office in 2007, with clear commitments on the WPR and the Haudagain, although their first big decision, as Stewart Stevenson will recall, was to push back the WPR’s planned completion date to the end of 2012.
The Haudagain is part of the trunk road network and therefore the Scottish Government’s responsibility.
I heard a little heckling from a sedentary position. I remind SNP members of Stewart Stevenson’s commitment to the Parliament on 27 June 2007. He said that he could not meet the then programme for the WPR, which he pushed back to the end of 2012.
Three of the 22 most congested routes in Scotland converge at the Haudagain roundabout. All three are trunk roads under the stewardship of Scottish ministers. Journey time delays per vehicle mile are among the worst in Scotland. However, as we have heard again today, the SNP has not at any time—and certainly not since it came into government—accepted the case for urgent action on the Haudagain. Even when the WPR was held up by delay after delay in the courts, Keith Brown and his colleagues refused to accept that there was any merit in first sorting out the existing trunk road bottleneck.
To answer Bruce Crawford’s question, let me explain exactly what the evidence is. Unlike the WPR, no protracted legal challenges have been brought by objectors to improvements to the Haudagain junction. There are no third parties for ministers to blame. Inaction on the Haudagain is entirely ministers’ choice and responsibility.
We have heard again today that the SNP’s only explanation is that
“attempting to re-engineer the junction prior to the opening of the AWPR would result in traffic chaos”.
Because ministers take that view, we must all wait until at least 2018 before work is even started on this trunk road junction, for which ministers are responsible.
I went back to the STAG report, which recommended progress. The STAG report was commissioned by Aberdeen City Council, which was led in 2008 by the SNP. I read it again from cover to cover. The report does not say that work on the Haudagain has to wait until the WPR is open. The report describes in detail what is now the preferred option, which is
“retention of the existing roundabout at Haudagain and a new dual carriageway link” between North Anderson Drive and Auchmill Road. The
“retention of the existing roundabout” does not sound to me as if there should be any need for traffic chaos, far less any need to close the roundabout, as claimed by the SNP earlier today.
The report says:
“It should be possible to construct the new signalised junctions on Anderson Drive and Auchmill Road by using lane closures without the need for contra flows ... delays will result from the need for lane closures but should be of short duration.”
For the avoidance of doubt, and for those who do not understand road engineering language, the report summarises the preferred option at the end. [Interruption.]
“This option is implementable, but would cause some minor disruption during construction.”
“some minor disruption during construction”— that sounds like good advice to me.
Advisers advise; ministers decide. There is no good excuse for continuing inaction at one of the worst pinchpoints on Scotland’s transport network. SNP ministers need to fix the Haudagain, as they have promised, and they need to do it now.
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. In the tradition of this Parliament, I will change the tone of this debate a little.
I thank everyone at the Scottish Parliament for welcoming me to this wonderful place. The kind words that I have received, from the cleaners to the Presiding Officer, testify that this Parliament is truly the people’s Parliament.
My three daughters were very impressed by the reception that their French-born father received from every member sitting in the chamber last Wednesday, and I thank all members for that. It meant a lot to them and it meant a lot to me.
However, back home not everyone agreed with my choice of language. Back home, in Garioch, many told me that they would have preferred to hear me take the oath in Doric. I listened and pledged that my maiden speech would reflect the lives of the people who live in the north-east. I thank Richard Baker for giving me the opportunity to speak on a matter that the people of the north-east care about most: road infrastructure.
I take members back a couple of weeks to when, in the real world—a turn of phrase that is often used in the chamber—I braved the Haudagain roundabout every day to commute from Torry in Aberdeen to Kintore in Aberdeenshire. Let me be absolutely clear: in the real world, we all welcomed the end of the legal challenge against the AWPR and the progress that has been made since.
I will not repeat Kevin Stewart’s excellent and logical reasons for delivering the AWPR and the works at the Haudagain to minimise the disruption to the many commuters in the north-east. Instead, I will take members on a journey across Scotland and beyond.
Many years ago, a major European haulage company asked a young French loon to come to Scotland to open an office in Glasgow. I take this opportunity to point out that we have made significant progress in road infrastructure in Scotland since, particularly in the central belt.
With the legal dispute behind us, it is now our turn in the north-east. I trust that we can deliver the same progress that we have seen delivered elsewhere in Scotland, with projects such as the completion of the M74 delivered under budget and ahead of schedule. It is right that our road network should reflect the energy boom that we are experiencing in the north-east.
Prosperity and growth have brought full employment in and around Aberdeen. The unemployment rate in Garioch is lower than 2 per cent, and in my home town of Westhill the rate is less than 1 per cent. I am proud to live in Westhill, which is the global centre of excellence in subsea engineering. Despite the constant efforts of all members who represent the north-east, that success story is still Scotland’s best-kept secret. I am thinking about changing that.
The can-do attitude of the people of the north-east who work in the energy sector is respected across the world, and Doric is becoming an international language in the industry. Let us celebrate our achievements and match that can-do attitude with a positive message from the chamber today. We can and will deliver the AWPR, just as we will deliver the works at the Haudagain roundabout.
Brian Adam put the needs of the people who live in the north-east first when he represented the same region that I have the privilege and honour to represent today. He went on to represent the constituency of Aberdeen North from 2003 to 2011, and thereafter he represented Aberdeen Donside. No other politician in the north-east can claim to understand better the people’s needs in respect of the Haudagain roundabout. It is no coincidence that Brian’s constituency office is just a few yards away from the Haudagain roundabout. Like Kevin Stewart and other members who have spoken in the debate, I stopped many times at that office and was always made very welcome.
I am delighted that the improvements to the Haudagain roundabout will start on completion of the Aberdeen western peripheral route, because that is common sense. [Applause.]
I am pleased to contribute to the debate. Apart from Kevin Stewart, who has lived in Middlefield for most of if not all his life, I am probably more aware of the problems at the Haudagain roundabout than any other member, having worked out of an office at the roundabout for five years from 2006 to 2011 and having visited regularly both before and after that.
I cannot understand the thought process that went through the heads of the Labour Party members who thought that this would be a good subject for debate for them. It begs the question that if making improvements to the Haudagain roundabout before completion of the AWPR was such a good idea, why was it not taken forward by the Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration in Scotland any time between 1999 and 2007?
Why does the Labour Party think that it knows better than Nestrans, Transport Scotland and the local authorities’ infrastructure departments? Labour members must understand that the AWPR needs to be in place before work on the Haudagain roundabout can begin, otherwise the congestion and disruption to commuters will be much worse than at present. Perhaps Lewis Macdonald, or whoever sums up for Labour, can tell us on what basis he claimed this morning on the radio that the building work at the Haudagain can happen without any traffic disruption. He said in his speech that there would be traffic disruption because of lane closures. I do not know how often he goes to the Haudagain roundabout, but if even one car breaks down anywhere near the Haudagain roundabout, there is massive traffic disruption. Where else in Scotland can he demonstrate that roadworks have not disrupted existing traffic flows?
I accept that some disruption is caused if lanes must be closed in order for traffic lights to be installed. In the case of the Kessock bridge, some 17 weeks of disruption have been caused. That has been a matter of regret for the drivers who have been stuck on the bridge but, in the long term, it was the right decision to press ahead and install those traffic lights. It would be the right decision to install traffic lights on the new link road at the Haudagain, too.
On the radio this morning, Mr Macdonald said that that can happen without any traffic disruption—I quote him word for word. Perhaps he will retract that later today.
If Mr Baker had any idea of what drivers face, he would know the number of cars that come down through Manor and Logie to join the A96. For him to say that work would not disrupt that part of Middlefield shows how little he knows about the geography and traffic flows to the north of the city—a city that he is supposed to represent.
Following no action on transport issues in the north-east after the Labour-Lib Dem coalition got themselves into an almighty legal wrangle because of legal action, the SNP Government has wasted no time in procuring a design organisation to carry out preparatory work on improvements to the Haudagain roundabout.
Transport Scotland announced a £3 million design contract that was awarded to Jacobs UK Ltd as soon as the legal wrangle was concluded. Essential ground work on the AWPR began immediately, with Soil Engineering Geoservices Ltd winning a £1 million contract for six months’ work. Agreement about funding has been reached, although the Labour Party in the city continues to wrangle.
I admit that I was not previously in favour of the third Don crossing. However, I have listened to transport experts, and it is needed. Perhaps the city council will fulfil its part of the bargain and begin immediately to put in place that part of the transport infrastructure for the north-east of Scotland.
This debate is Labour’s call for the Scottish Government to end the years of frustration felt by thousands of motorists throughout the north-east who have waited far too long for action to be taken on the Haudagain roundabout.
Many members will be aware of the delay that the roundabout causes for commuters daily. It sits on one of the busiest roads in Aberdeen, on the main route from the north of the city heading south to cities such as Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh and beyond.
The Haudagain connects the south of the city to Dyce, which has grown to house hundreds more jobs over the past eight years, and Aberdeen airport, which has seen a 4 per cent increase in passengers since last year alone. It also links local communities in Donside to the city centre, the beach, parks and leisure facilities throughout Aberdeen.
For those communities, each journey is marred by delays caused by traffic jams at the hectic roundabout. At peak times, queues of more than 20 minutes are not uncommon and, as Richard Baker pointed out, studies show that the economic cost to the north-east economy of those delays amounts to tens of thousands of pounds every year.
Labour is clear that action needs to be taken now. Commuters, families, air passengers and the north-east economy cannot afford to wait another seven years for work to be completed. If they have to wait that long, by the time the improvements are completed, we could have paid for them seven times over with the amount lost from Aberdeen’s economy. We cannot justify that in tough economic times. While families throughout the north-east bear the brunt of SNP cuts to local services, it is complacent of the SNP to cost them more through its lack of action.
The current proposal to wait until the Aberdeen western peripheral route is complete makes no sense, as Lewis Macdonald outlined. As we heard, when it is complete, the Haudagain will no longer be the responsibility of the Scottish Government; instead, it will be the responsibility of the local council and Aberdeen taxpayers. In the absence of a formal commitment by the SNP that it will stick to its promise of paying for the improvements, there is a risk that, by the time 2020 comes around, Aberdonians will bear the brunt of the cost.
That is complacency and is letting the north-east down.
Last week, Labour-led Aberdeen City Council showed its commitment to improving the roads around the Haudagain by bringing forward new plans to link Dyce Drive to the A96 trunk road by 2015. Today, we ask that the SNP show its commitment, too. It has the opportunity to halt the drain on the north-east economy and end the years of frustration felt by commuters and local residents by tackling the Haudagain roundabout now. I hope that it sees sense and commits to that.
One or two references have been made to events that I thought I had been at, but members’ recollection appears to differ fundamentally from mine.
I am reminded of what one American President said when he came into office. It is apposite to the situation that the Scottish Government found in 2007. He said:
“We were astonished to find that things were even worse than we’d been saying they were.”
When we came into office in 2007, in relation to the AWPR, for which there had been great fanfares of announcements, not a single day of preparation had taken place. The fantasy target for completion was dead in the water before the first vote in the 2007 election had been cast.
It is worth reminding members to the left of me of one of the very first actions of those who opposed that new SNP Government. The very first vote that the 47 members on the Government benches lost to the 82 on the Opposition benches was a vote against our policy, so £500 million was to be spent on trams in Edinburgh rather than spread to other parts of Scotland, including, in particular, to fund improvements to road networks in the north-east of Scotland. That decision was made by the Labour Party and was supported by the Liberals and the Tories. We opposed it. That money could have been invested in the north-east, and we said so at the time. I continue to say so today.
In her speech, Jenny Marra—a North East Scotland MSP—talked about Dyce Drive creating a new and improved link to the airport. I am not quite sure that she knows where that is in relation to the Haudagain roundabout—she may not have been there, so we have to forgive her for her lack of geographical knowledge.
Jenny Marra also spoke about the north-east paying the price for Scottish Government cuts. Let us not debate the original source of those cuts—we have done so on many previous occasions; let us focus on the financial management of the Labour Party in the north-east. When the Scottish Government came into power in 2007, Aberdeen city had the highest band D tax of any cooncil in Scotland. We have had the privilege of being able to protect the people of the north-east from further increases—would that we had the economic powers to do even better.
Lewis Macdonald rose—
Of course, we know what the Labour Party’s policy on that matter is today. Bernard Ponsonby, interviewing Willie Young, extracted the confession that it was not good enough that Aberdeen was merely the highest-taxed local authority area in Scotland. He wanted the council tax to be higher there. He wanted to raise it even more.
Elaine Murray (Dumfriesshire) (Lab) rose—
We know that the Labour Party took money from the north-east to pay for the Edinburgh trams. Then, in Glasgow, it campaigned to say that the north-east was getting all the money instead of Glasgow.
I, too, congratulate Christian Allard on a very good speech.
This afternoon’s debate raises a number of issues of very real importance to the citizens of Aberdeen and its hinterland, but much of what has been said is a reiteration of what we have heard in the chamber on many occasions in recent months and years. Apart from raising the profile of the Aberdeen Donside by-election, I am not sure what the debate is expected to achieve.
No one denies that the continuing congestion at the Haudagain roundabout is a serious problem for drivers in Aberdeen and that it is detrimental to the local economy. The current argument is whether improvements at the roundabout should be put in place before or after the completion of the Aberdeen western peripheral route. There is a clear difference of opinion between Labour politicians and the Scottish Government, which this debate is not going to resolve.
I understand why Labour keeps hammering away at the issue. I, too, am disappointed that more immediate work is not being undertaken to solve the problems at the A90/A96 junction. To continue with Alex Johnstone’s plea, I urge Keith Brown and his officials to reconsider the feasibility of bringing forward the timescale so that the Haudagain improvements can be completed very soon after the north leg of the AWPR is in place. I see that as the earliest possible opportunity.
The Government has confirmed its intention to pay for the improvements, which is welcome and reassuring. Welcome, too, is the recent commitment of the Labour-Conservative coalition in Aberdeen City Council to the completion of the link road between the A96 and Dyce Drive by 2015, as is mentioned in the Labour motion.
Notably omitted from the motion, however, is the delivery of a third Don crossing, which was finally agreed this year after many fruitless years of Labour opposition to it. I was a city councillor in Aberdeen for 11 years between 1988 and 1999, and, if my memory is correct, during that time I and my Conservative colleagues voted three times for such a crossing but the proposal was always defeated by Labour. The arguments were always the same from the local councillor, backed by his group. He said, “You’re not putting a crossing through my Tillydrone”, as if that part of the city was Labour’s by right. Never mind the greater good of the rest of the city, notably the improvements that such a crossing would make to the lives of the residents of Bridge of Don and the many commuters who enter the city from the north.
Until the Conservatives on the council made the third Don crossing a non-negotiable part of their coalition agreement with Labour, the arguments continued. Thankfully, there is now a commitment to the structure, although the Labour group in the Parliament is clearly reluctant to acknowledge that. I just wish that there had been the same resolve on the proposals to continue with the city garden project—an issue that is still infuriating local residents, as I have found when campaigning in the current by-election.
It is good that we are now seeing some progress on the holy trinity of the third Don crossing, the Haudagain and the AWPR, and I am glad to say that roads engineers are finally being listened to, which is logical.
We all have to listen to experts before we take decisions, but at the end of the day, decisions are political.
Aberdeen and the north-east of Scotland undoubtedly need major infrastructure improvements, and it has taken far too long to put them in place. I have been campaigning for an Aberdeen bypass of some kind for a quarter of a century but, if I am correct, it was only in 2003 that the then Labour and Lib Dem coalition Executive agreed to the proposed AWPR being a trunk road, and since then costs have escalated after many legal challenges to the proposals. Recently, I have been pressing the Minister for Transport and Veterans to cap the costs that the local authorities will have to pay for the new road, and I am delighted that he has agreed to do so.
I will, Presiding Officer.
I reiterate my disappointment that there will be no action until the completion of the whole AWPR. I ask the minister whether that can be brought forward to the completion of the northern leg. Labour’s record cannot be without criticism, but I urge all sides to put aside party-political differences and work for the good of Aberdeen.
I want to pick up on Nanette Milne’s final points, because they are instructive in this debate. She perfectly exposed the Labour Party’s failures in relation to infrastructure in the north-east over many years, and also the hypocrisy around some of the schemes that have been mentioned. It struck me before Stewart Stevenson mentioned it that the trams and the projects that we are discussing have something in common. The price that we are paying for the trams—the best part of three quarters of a billion pounds—is roughly equivalent to the price of the Balmedie to Tipperty/AWPR scheme. Alex Johnstone mentioned that the issue of money is—obviously—very important. To me, spending that level of finance on a tram project for Edinburgh is very much second best to the option of investing in the north-east, which I would much prefer to have done.
It was also interesting to hear Mr Johnstone talk about Henry McLeish and shovel-ready projects, and the 10-year hiatus under the Labour Party during which there was not the required investment in roads. We all remember that period. He asked me quite seriously to make sure that the project is as shovel ready as possible by 2018. I think that that was the point that he made. Of course, if we were able to do it earlier than that, that would be great as well, but I think that his point was that we should go through the various processes, legal and otherwise, that we have to go through as quickly as possible to ensure that the project is shovel ready as quickly as possible.
I am happy to give Mr Johnstone that commitment. We are trying to do that. We started it off with the design process, but we realise that there are many other processes that have to be followed through. In particular, we need to consider the rights of the people who live in Middlefield. Kevin Stewart made that point. They really should have their interests taken into account. The idea of just bulldozing it now, before doing that, is nonsensical. It is important that we follow the processes through. However, I take the point that we want to ensure that the project is shovel ready at the point when we are able to do it.
I want to make one other point first.
The point has been made to me by Nestrans, the local authorities and the experts in Transport Scotland that we will cause substantial disruption if we do it now and we will not get the benefits unless we do the AWPR and the third Don crossing first.
I simply seek clarification of a comment that the minister made a moment ago. I think he said that, if it could be done sooner than 2018, that would be great as well. Is that a commitment to look at bringing forward the target date for the project? If so, will he spell that out, please?
No, the commitment that I made to Alex Johnstone just now is that we will do all that we can to make the project happen as quickly as possible. I went on to say that I agree with Transport Scotland, Nestrans and local authorities that it cannot be done and should not be done until the AWPR is completed. In a perfect world, if the AWPR was completed and it could be done two years early, that would be fantastic, but we have to take the advice of experts on the project.
The speech by Christian Allard was excellent—he managed to strike a much better tone than most of the rest of us have done during the debate. It was an excellent maiden speech and he is very welcome to the Parliament.
It is worth saying a few words about the motion. It is a shambles of a motion. Richard Baker must really regret having put the motion together. In fact, his colleagues on the Labour back benches behind him—although they will not say it just now, of course—must think that Richard has dropped them in it once again. The motion totally exposes the lack of activity from the Labour Party over many years. It has obviously been dreamed up because a by-election is taking place. There is no other rationale for it. [Interruption.]
I read a comment from Richard Baker that Mark McDonald had never raised the issue. Mark McDonald raised the issue with me all the time. I had a number of conversations with him about it. When has Richard Baker raised the issue as a debate before? He has raised it because there is a by-election, which shows how flimsy, nonsensical and unserious the debate is.
I have just said two or three times that we will try to ensure that all the procedures are done before 2018. I cannot help it if the Labour Party does not listen. I cannot help it if Jenny Marra does not listen to me say in my opening speech that we will bear the costs that are associated with the scheme and then goes on to demand that I make clear what I have just said it a few minutes before. I cannot speak for what the Labour Party does not want to hear.
When the matter was discussed by the council in 2008, Councillor Neil Cooney, who is a Labour councillor, described option 5—the route through Middlefield—as the Middlefield clearances, yet last week, Councillor Cooney, who is now also the chair of housing and environment in the city, watered down the proposals that were meant to ensure that moneys were ring fenced to regenerate Middlefield and to ensure that people were properly rehoused. What does the minister think of the hypocrisy of Councillor Cooney and is that the same hypocritical stance that we see from Mr Baker?
I was just going to come to how the Labour Party seems to face two ways on so many issues these days. This is a perfect example of that. It is like somebody who is about to cross the road who looks left, looks right and then decides to stay exactly where they are rather than go across the road and get the job done. That has been borne out, for example, by the M74 and M90 projects, which have been completed under this Administration, and by the delays that there have been over the Borders railway. Also, even though we knew for years that the Forth road bridge was going to reach its capacity in 1994, nothing was done by the Labour Party. It delayed committing any finances to the Forth crossing project until it was thrown out of office. The same was true of the Conservative Party. We knew that those projects had to be undertaken.
The AWPR should have been taken forward many years ago, and in the various excuses—the need for a cap, which I was happy to agree with; the proposal that we look again at the contribution of the councils, which I am not happy to agree with; and the challenges that we have had from the Labour Party about the legal challenges and how they could have been dealt with—we see that there is always a reason for not making progress. It is not so much the Haudagain as, “Haud me back again”—finding a reason not to do something, rather than cracking on and doing it, which is what this Administration will do.
As a resident of the far south of Scotland, I am not a frequent driver on the trunk roads around Aberdeen. However, on those few occasions when I have driven between Inverness and Elgin and Aberdeen and to the south, the Haudagain roundabout has certainly made a lasting impression on me. It has been a surprise to me that a city the size and importance of Aberdeen has such a poor ring-road system.
The delays since the preferred route was announced in 2006 and the legal challenges, culminating in the decision of the Court of Session, must have been immensely frustrating to all concerned, but the lack of action on the Haudagain itself must surely have added to those frustrations.
Not just now, Mr Stevenson—I will come to you later.
I congratulate Christian Allard on his maiden speech, and on paying tribute not only to Brian Adam but to the people of his region. As far as I am concerned, he can go on and speak in French, as I would like to hear it.
As we heard in Richard Baker’s opening speech, there have been many motions and parliamentary questions about improvements to the Haudagain roundabout since the Parliament was established. On 31 May 2005, Brian Adam, who was then the MSP for what was at that time the Aberdeen North constituency, lodged a motion noting that the Haudagain roundabout had been labelled the worst roundabout in the country and that, as it was part of a trunk road, it was the responsibility of the then Scottish Executive, and calling on ministers to make its improvement a priority.
It is not at all surprising that a diligent constituency MSP such as Brian Adam would lodge a motion that demanded action on an issue of concern to his constituents. However, the motion was also signed by John Swinney and Alex Neil. The former became Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth two years later, and the latter served as Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment for a period. If the improvement of the roundabout was a priority in May 2005, why did it cease to be a priority when they could do something about it?
They are both important—one cannot be singled out. What is the most important project for the SNP? We all have a list of important projects, and some of us may disagree with each other about which ones are more important.
Eight years later, the roundabout improvement is still just part of a commitment to improve transport in the north-east, and we are awaiting the completion of the Aberdeen western peripheral route before an improvement scheme can even commence.
It is no wonder that Stewart Stevenson talked about anything other than the Haudagain roundabout in his contribution, because it constitutes a U-turn by his Government. In January 2008, when Stewart Stevenson was Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change, he apparently pledged—according to the Aberdeen Evening Express—that he would have the roundabout “fixed” by the time the bypass was built.
He told the Aberdeen Evening Express that he was confident that congestion could be cracked without a flyover.
In that publication on 31 January 2008, Mr Stevenson was quoted—it may be a misquote—as saying:
“The sooner we fix this, the happier I’m going to be, not just as the Minister for Transport, but also as someone who drives the Haudagain.”
If we take those vehicles away, we then have the space to fix the Haudagain roundabout. That is why I have always said that the sequence should be the AWPR and then the Haudagain.
However, Mr Baker has lodged a number of questions. He was told first that the AWPR was due to be completed in 2018, and that the Haudagain would not be started until at least nine months later, which takes the project into 2019.
I ask the minister to listen to what my colleagues in the Conservative Party are saying in this instance about making the roundabout a shovel-ready project. Why could the planning application not be submitted now? There is surely more that the Government could be doing to ensure that the project gets off the stocks.
The Government already has the route, and it has committed £3 million to the design of the project. It should get a move on and submit the planning application.
My colleague Jenny Marra referred to the need for a commitment on costs if the roads are to be detrunked in the sequence that the ministers are proposing. I heard the minister say that the Scottish Government will pay for that, but has he made that commitment in writing to Aberdeen City Council so that it is legally binding?
The minister is committing a future Government—not himself—to that timescale. Has he made that a legally binding commitment? [Interruption.]
Delay is frustrating for the hard-pressed users of the roundabout and those who live in its vicinity. In 2011, it was the only Scottish entry to be included in the shortlist for something called “Roundabout Idol”—which I had never heard of before—as one of the worst roundabouts in the UK. That is hardly something to be proud of.
Even Nestrans confesses that it takes between seven and 22 minutes to cross the roundabout. As Richard Baker mentioned, the Institute of Directors estimates that such delays cost £15 million to £30 million a year in lost time, environmental pollution, fuel consumption and productivity. As Jenny Marra said, the amount of money that we are losing could pay for the scheme several times over, so we must ask how much more cost there will be to the local economy. Indeed, given the way in which the costs of capital projects escalate, how much more will the final cost be due to such delays?
Presiding Officer, sorry, do I have seven minutes in total?
I hope that Kevin Stewart listened carefully to Lewis Macdonald’s speech, which explained in great detail what option 5 meant and what the STAG report—as opposed to the scaremongering that has been put about—actually said about lane closures causing minor disruption. For example, on the A75 in my constituency, a very welcome project is under way that everyone knows will cause some delays, but constituents are prepared to tolerate delays for a short period if they will get a far better result in the longer term.