That the Parliament notes what it sees as the strong support that the Levenmouth Rail Campaign has achieved; believes that this has been demonstrated by it organising a petition that has been signed by over 12,500 residents from the area, which calls for the re-opening of the rail link from Thornton to Leven; welcomes the Fife Council report,
Levenmouth Sustainable Transport Study – Final Stag Report
, which was published in January 2017; understands that this study included a strongly positive cost-benefit analysis for the link and suggested that its reopening would lead to major economic benefits; believes that, although the Levenmouth area faces high levels of economic deprivation and problems with connectivity, it has substantial opportunities for employment and economic development; considers that this project could help deliver this; understands that passenger numbers on other reopened services, including the Borders Railway and the Airdrie-Bathgate line have exceeded predictions, and notes the view that a strong case has been made for ministers to give serious consideration to the re-opening of the Levenmouth line for passenger and freight services.
I begin by welcoming to Holyrood this evening members of the Levenmouth rail link campaign group and colleagues from Fife Council. I thank my fellow members from across the political spectrum for their support on the re-establishment of the Levenmouth rail link.
What is it that makes Leven different? Levenmouth is the largest conurbation in Scotland that is not directly served by rail. The track in question is 5 miles in length and was still in use as a freight line until 2001.
Let us compare our line with the situation in the Borders, which has 30 miles of new railway. In February 2013, the final business case for the Borders railway showed a benefit cost ratio of just 0.5:1. The Institute of Economic Affairs branded the decision to build the Borders railway
“exceedingly poor value for money”.
Yet, during its first month, 125,971 passengers travelled on the Borders line. Demand far outstripped expectation, with the line carrying 19.4 per cent of its predicted annual footfall in just one month and visitor numbers surging at the nearby National Mining Museum in Newtongrange.
The method that is used to prioritise transport schemes is the Scottish transport appraisal guidance—or STAG—method. We had one STAG report in 2008 and another in 2015, but the Network Rail Scotland route study that was published in July 2016 made no reference to the Levenmouth rail link. In December 2016, Fife Council submitted the revised STAG report to Transport Scotland, which responded to Fife Council’s technical review on 18 July this year. I say to the Minister for Transport and the Islands that, quite aside from any rail link application, the process involved is tiresome, lacks transparency and, I believe, is an antiquated approach to public engagement.
The issues that Transport Scotland raised included a forecast of low passenger numbers for the Levenmouth to Edinburgh route. I gently suggest to Transport Scotland that it is rather difficult to estimate footfall on a rail line that has not existed since the 1960s. To be blunt, there is no culture of travelling to the capital for work because there is no rail line. Let us compare Leven with Dunbar. In Levenmouth, 3 per cent of the population work in Edinburgh, compared with 22 per cent in Dunbar. The towns are a similar distance from Edinburgh, and there are no prizes for guessing which has the rail link.
Transport Scotland also raised concerns about the apparently limited number of personal and business responses to the public survey. That is a quantitative look at the data. I like to do my homework, so here is some qualitative feedback that I gathered prior to the debate. Donaldson Timber says that it is
“sure that rail connectivity to the central belt and further afield would help with employment opportunities”.
Pfaudler, the engineering firm, says:
“We are in support of the proposed rail link. It would give us access to a wider pool of employees and the option of bringing materials and by rail”.
Transport Scotland claimed:
“Diageo and their logistics provider WH Malcolm are the largest identified opportunity for rail freight. No evidence has been provided with regard to their current views and their likelihood to use such a facility”.
However, W H Malcolm told my office today that it has a rail division. It says that it is
“not averse to switching from road to rail”.
Similarly, Diageo says that it would
“give serious consideration to the option of transporting materials via freight train”.
The biggest employer in Leven would naturally consider using freight. That sounds like pretty compelling evidence to me.
On employment opportunities, does Jenny Gilruth recognise that there is a shortage of good-quality employment opportunities for young people in particular in the Leven area, and that, as a result, too many have to leave the area? Does she agree that creating the rail link might help to address that situation and encourage more young people to stay in the area?
I absolutely agree with what Murdo Fraser says. I will come to that issue later in my speech.
Much as in the Borders, opening up the Leven rail link would not only be about driving investment and job creation. It is about more than that; it is about tourism. When the rail line first opened in the 1960s, it helped Leven to become a tourist destination. My granddad, who is from Springburn, used to come on holiday to Leven with his family from Glasgow.
To the east of Leven sits Lundin Links, which is the home of the oldest women’s golf course in the world. Of course, Murdo Fraser’s boss comes from that area as well. Beyond it is Lower Largo, the birthplace of Alexander Selkirk, the real inspiration behind Robinson Crusoe. Scotland’s answer to Nelson, Sir Andrew Wood, a Scottish sea captain who went on to become the Lord High Admiral of Scotland, came from Upper Largo.
What now of Fife’s proud history? What of our vital contribution to the coal industry? Transported from the Methil docks, not far from where the line would run, that unclean fuel helped to build the British empire but the hollow gap that the industry’s implosion left continues to scar Levenmouth today.
Since I was elected last May, we have lost jobs in the High Street at the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Clydesdale Bank and—just last weekend—W H Smith. On Saturday, I took a wander down the High Street. There were nine closed shops, three charity shops, two bookies and an arcade.
One child in three in Levenmouth lives in poverty. For children growing up in my constituency, the opportunities are geographically curtailed. As they are isolated from transport links, their aspirations can take them only so far.
I am extremely proud that the Scottish Government backed the new Levenmouth academy with £25 million of investment. The school, which opened last year, is a state-of-the-art building and a partnership with Fife College. Here is what the headteacher, Ronnie Ross, had to say:
“I firmly believe, as do most of my staff and pupils, that the rail link is an essential ingredient to reviving the fortunes of Levenmouth and also for enabling people to travel in and out of the area for work purposes.”
As the constituency member for Leven, I was extremely disappointed that the Edinburgh city region deal made no provision for the Levenmouth rail link. That was an opportunity for all levels of Government to grasp. Instead, the deal has focused on the capital to the detriment of the originally intended region. As Edinburgh booms, Levenmouth is beginning to contract.
However, there is an opportunity. In his most recent correspondence to me on the Levenmouth rail link, the Minister for Transport and the Islands states that
“a new pipeline system is now being proposed for rail enhancement projects”.
Levenmouth is not like other rail links. We have a well-established campaign group, cross-party support and a length of track that is just sitting there, ripe for development. We have already been through two STAG appraisals. Therefore, if there is to be a new approach—I will now shamelessly steal an idea given to me by Ross Bennett from the campaign group—let us try it. That is my first ask of the minister.
My second ask is that the minister commits Network Rail to a governance for railway investment projects 4—or GRIP 4—study of the Leven rail link. That is the only way that we can arrive at a definitive business case. It will also help to develop a single option for the line. My final ask is that the transport minister comes to Leven to walk the line—I might even cook him his tea if he is lucky.
At the top of Leven High Street, above what is today Leven library, is the symbol of the co-operative movement, a beehive. The image for the movement suggests united co-operation. One bee cannot survive on its own, but with others it can. To quote the great Jimmy Reid,
“whoever takes the important economic decisions in society ipso facto determines the social priorities of that society.”
The Leven rail link has the potential to change lives in my constituency and beyond: it will bring jobs; it will bring investment; and it will widen the horizons of the next generation. It just needs the green light from Government.
I take the opportunity to personally thank Eugene Clarke, Allen Armstrong, Ken Haig, Ross Bennett, Mary Reilly, Elizabeth McGuire and everyone who has been involved in the Levenmouth campaign group. Their resolute, professional determination has kept the Levenmouth rail link alive to us politicians. I think that it is high time that we rewarded their tenacity and committed to getting Leven back on track. [
I thank Jenny Gilruth for securing the debate. I particularly thank her because it is important that we have forceful all-party support, but I also caution her: I do not think that Ruth Davidson has ever been Murdo Fraser’s boss.
I also thank the Levenmouth railway campaigners for their energetic campaign to reinstate that very short line from Leven to Glenrothes with Thornton.
I apologise to the chamber, to the minister and to the people in the gallery, because I have to leave early, before the conclusion of the debate, as I have a speech to make at 6 o’clock at the university. I offer my apologies for that, but the project is so important to Fife and to my constituency that I wanted to mark my support with a small contribution.
We have heard all the arguments. Leven is the largest town without a railway, and Levenmouth is a significant area of deprivation and post-industrial decline. There are big businesses with a lot of heavy goods vehicle traffic on narrow access roads. The environmental, social and economic benefits of the rail link are pretty obvious. The studies have been carried out, local support has been secured—as we have heard from Jenny Gilruth—and local people proactively raise the issue as an important priority. We do not have to encourage them to support the campaign; they are already there. Fife Council regards it as a priority, and it has put its money behind the project.
The railway still exists. It is a short line and none of it has been built on. The cost is not insignificant, but in comparison with other major projects it is still quite small. The environmental, economic and social returns will be significant, but there is frustration with the process—with the fact that it takes too long and that the answer to any question is to commission a further report, study or investigation. It is almost as if the decision is being put off for convenience. What we need is a bit of speed in the process to deliver a project that everybody is behind.
I hope that, through the debate, the minister will get an understanding of the strength of feeling in the community and from all parties. I appreciate that he has hard choices to make, but to govern is to choose. I hope that he chooses to confirm in the not-too-distant future that the Levenmouth rail link will happen and that trains will be running on that line within the next few years. That would be a sound investment and it has my support. I hope that it has the minister’s too. [
The Presiding Officer:
I appreciate that there is warm support for the debate in the gallery, but I urge members of the public not to clap. You may show your support at the very end of the debate by applauding when we close.
I will not be offended if people do not clap after my speech. I congratulate Jenny Gilruth and thank her for bringing the debate to the chamber this evening. I also pay tribute to the rail campaigners for the work that they are doing to bring a local issue to the forefront of debate in the Scottish Parliament. I am also aware, as I have been reliably informed, that my local Fife Conservatives group is in favour of the reinstatement of the line.
As we look forward to consider how to improve Scotland’s national railways, much of the discussion in the chamber is around the big-ticket items and connectivity between our main cities. It is very important that we consider the positive impact that small railway lines can have on communities. It is important that we always remember that at the heart of the debate is the fact that railways are not just modes of transport, but are key parts of local, regional and national economic development. They enhance trade, encourage investment and create jobs and prosperity. Better connectivity in Scotland will spur growth and help to facilitate a collaborative economic environment among our cities, regions and towns. That is why I believe that there is a strong case for what is suggested in the motion.
I admit that I naturally approach calls for new railway lines and links quite cautiously. They are substantially expensive infrastructure investments and, as we all know, all Governments are tightening their purses.
I think that any major infrastructure spend—on a road, a railway line, an airport or a bridge—has to be looked at based on its merits and on the advantages that that investment will bring to the communities that it serves at both ends. A road is no different to a rail line. There is a very obvious business case for the line that would merit the substantial investment that it clearly requires—although
I say “substantial”, we could argue that, in the grand scheme of things, it is not substantial.
As I said, I naturally approach such things quite cautiously, but campaigns for projects are often led by local people, and I am very taken by the energy that has come from the local campaign for the line, so I am pleased to participate in this debate.
The estimated cost of about £80 million would not just connect Leven, Buckhaven and Methil locally but would improve access from those towns to the wider area including Glenrothes, the rest of Fife and even the capital. About 50,000 people who live in the catchment area would benefit from the line. It would also present significant transport and connectivity improvements that would benefit any new house building or business expansion in the area.
For example, I have heard that access for freight to key industrial sites would be provided. We are all keen to get as much freight off the road and on to rail as we can, and this is a perfect opportunity to do so.
The Scottish transport appraisal guidance report that I think was published last year recommended the project. I will quote from it, because one thing struck me specifically. It said:
“The scheme has the potential to provide a step change in the economic performance of a large population area. As well as helping to regenerate economic activity this will provide a gateway to significantly boost tourism.”
It is very important that we bear it in mind that it is not just about commuters, but about encouraging people from other parts of Scotland to come to Jenny Gilruth’s area.
The report also noted the potential to attract inward investment and support increased business activity in the area. The net cost to benefit ratio was estimated to be around 1:3, which sounds good to me, from a business point of view.
I am aware that the line would also have some environmental repercussions. It could reduce CO2 emissions in the Fife area and decrease levels of road congestion, which I think is something that we all want.
So, there is a business case for reinstating the link, but in order to move things forward we need to have an open conversation about the funding—who will pay for it and how will it be paid for. Also, as with all such projects, it is very important that the scope is set out properly from day 1. Such projects have a tendency to go over budget due to poor scoping in the first place, so any cost analysis that we do on the total cost of the project should be quite succinct so that the minister is able to take a view on the project with all the facts in hand. I am intrigued to find out whether he will, in his speech, give us more rationale on why it was not included in the Edinburgh city deal. I think that there is general disappointment across the chamber with that decision, and it has also been noted in the local press. Any comments that he can make on that would be welcome.
I wish Jenny Gilruth well in her pursuit of the link. Conservative members are happy to be a constructive part of the dialogue, and I look forward to seeing some results.
I congratulate Jenny Gilruth on securing this debate on one of the most pressing issues that affect our two constituencies. I welcome members of the Levenmouth rail campaign and local councillors to our Parliament.
Transport links have served as a symbol of modernisation since the beginning of human civilisation, and rail has been an important means of transport for people and materials for decades. No other industry has promoted change of the scale and scope that has been brought about by the invention and adoption of the railway. Transport has always affected economic and social development, and continues to do so.
That is why it is unacceptable that Levenmouth is the largest urban area in Scotland that is not directly served by rail. As influential policy makers, it is our job to raise awareness of the 37,600 residents of Levenmouth who continue to be disconnected from key areas of Scotland.
Levenmouth rail campaign has brought to our attention issues of economic, social and environmental inequality. It is, fundamentally, a campaign for justice for the community. The most recent statistics show that Levenmouth is in the top 20 per cent most-deprived communities in Scotland. Several areas in the region are in the top 5 per cent.
Levenmouth’s transport links have been neglected for years, yet the area continues to show great potential for regeneration, investment in business and tourism development.
I have been involved with the
Levenmouth rail campaign
for six years
. Its members must be congratulated on their enthusiasm and dedication and on taking every opportunity to highlight the issue. There has not been a summer fête or gala in the area that the campaign has not attended. In addition, the campaign has run many street stalls in the area, which have resulted in more than 12,500 residents signing a petition in support of reopening the rail link from Thornton to Leven. Jenny Gilruth and I recently presented the petition to the Minister for Transport and the Islands, Humza Yousaf.
It is evident that communities with transport connections prosper. Transport investment creates a web of links and relationships between producers and consumers, which promotes efficiency and provides the means to expand, through economies of scale and scope.
As Fife Council’s report “Levenmouth Sustainable Transport Study—STAG Report” showed, reducing the costs of, and time taken by, passenger and freight movement greatly contributes to economic growth. In an area that has one of the highest concentrations of deprivation in Fife, it is crucial that we revive the rail link to enhance employment opportunities for the struggling workforce, given that alternative modes of transport are costly and inefficient.
Alongside the economic benefits, there are environmental benefits of rail, as opposed to road transport, and the reopening of the railway would be in line with Scotland’s leading environmental role. Modern railways, when they are managed strategically, offer significant environmental and land-use benefits because they are usually more energy efficient than road transport and generate lower emissions per traffic unit than any other mode.
It is obvious that there is significant support for reinstatement of the
Levenmouth rail link. During my long time in politics, it is one of the few issues that has received cross-party support. The two main political parties in Fife Council fully support reinstatement of the link and have made that their number 1 transport priority.
For that reason, I found Willie Rennie’s comments in the local papers over the past few days, in which he attacked both SNP and Labour Administrations of Fife Council, extremely disappointing and unhelpful. It was cheap political point scoring, which did nothing positive to advance the case for reinstating the Levenmouth rail link.
Does David Torrance find it rather odd that I received a letter from the minister that directly contradicted what the council leader had said about the city region deal? Does he think that rather than argue among themselves, people should come together to take the project forward? Does he find the minister’s comments rather confusing and think that the issue needs clarity and unity?
If Willie Rennie had attended many of the meetings that I have attended over the past six years, he would have found that MPs, MSPs, councillors and council leaders have come together to support the Levenmouth rail campaign. His comments in the paper were not at all helpful to our case.
Our next step is to develop a detailed reform programme. “Levenmouth Sustainable Transport Study” is an excellent start to the process.
If we disregard the campaign, we disregard economic progress in a country that is leading on reducing carbon emissions, and we disregard our duty to serve the most deprived communities in Scotland. Levenmouth and the wider community are suffering, and we need to raise awareness and help individuals and communities who have been denied access to public space.
Reinstatement of the Levenmouth rail link will address the problem of poor transport links in the area and will bring economic benefits. It also has the potential to make a significant contribution to reducing the carbon footprint of businesses in the area.
I thank everyone who is involved with the
Levenmouth rail campaign for all their hard work. Without them, we would not be debating the motion today. I look forward to working with the campaigners in the future, so that one day we can all travel on a train to Leven.
It is nine years since I first spoke in a members’ business debate on the Leven to Thornton Vale rail link. Looking back on it, I see that I am the only MSP who spoke in the open debate who is still here to support the campaign further. I recognise the tenacity of the Levenmouth rail campaign group, which is promoting its cause with rigour, good nature and energy. It has held conferences, gathered signatures and produced sound evidence to support the campaign. I will highlight some of its arguments.
Nine years ago, there was unanimous support around the chamber for the project, but there was a fairly mild response from the then minister. I hope that the minister this evening can give a stronger and more positive response to the debate. The campaign has political support in Fife.
Since I was first elected to the Scottish Parliament, Fife has had first an SNP-led council administration, then a Labour administration, and now a coalition of the two. All have been consistent in their support for the project. The timeline that has been provided by Fife Council to MSPs demonstrates the work that it has undertaken to promote the reopening of the line. The reopening of the line was also in the Scottish Labour and Scottish Green Party manifestos for the 2016 election, and I recognise the commitment of Fife MSPs of all the other parties. Nevertheless, it is not within the powers or the finances of the local authority or Fife MSPs to deliver the project.
The economic, environmental and social benefits that the rail link can deliver are clear. It would expand employment, educational and economic opportunities for an area that would benefit very much from the investment. Reopening the line would also offer opportunities for freight, thereby adding further benefit to the proposal.
I know the Levenmouth area well, and it has seen investment with the Fife energy park, the hydrogen office project, the new Levenmouth academy and the commitment of Fife College. There are many dedicated support organisations, and the area still has the community spirit that was fostered in its history as a mining community. However, it is an area that lives with high deprivation levels, higher than average unemployment, health challenges and a low car-ownership figure. The positive signal of intent that reopening the rail line would give to the area is difficult to overstate.
It is a fairly straightforward proposal. I accept that there is a process to go through and that there must be clear evidence of benefits and affordability, as well as a robust business case. Nevertheless, as other members have said, there is frustration around that process. We have had two STAG reports, the most recent of which was commissioned by Fife Council in 2015. I know that Transport Scotland has a job to do, but there is growing concern that it is not making the STAG process smooth or being clear in its expectations.
There is now a need for a GRIP 4 study, which is recognised as a complex and relatively expensive study. Is it proportionate for Fife Council to pay for that when we know the pressure that local authorities are under? Although the council has invested in the STAG process and has budgeted for expenditure, it is now being expected to fund a GRIP 4 study with no indication that the project is likely to be considered favourably or that it is a worthwhile undertaking.
Political commitment from the Scottish Government is crucial to making the project a reality. The success of the Borders rail line, for which passenger numbers are considerably higher than predicted, should inspire confidence in future projects. There will always be an element of risk with such infrastructure projects, and we can never fully guarantee the outcome, but the Levenmouth rail project is as good a project as the Scottish Government could wish for to deliver economic, social and environmental benefits to an area that needs them.
Today, the minister must demonstrate commitment to the project. He could start by committing to real support for the GRIP 4 study, which is the crucial next stage in making the project a reality.
I thank Jenny Gilruth for lodging the motion that we are debating tonight. It is very welcome and has attracted a lot of cross-party support. I am delighted to be able to speak in the debate.
I highlighted the case for reopening the Levenmouth rail link in my members’ business debate back in 2007—I think that Tavish Scott responded to the debate for the Government—and it has been satisfying to see how the argument for reopening the line has evolved into a compelling case over the past decade. The quality of that case is reflected in Jenny Gilruth’s motion, which is supported by all parties. The Levenmouth rail campaign deserves our thanks and congratulations for their professional and passionate work which, in recent years, has also been supported by Fife Council.
When the Methil power station finally disappeared from the skyline and the big demonstration wind turbine went up, a picture was painted of a strong economic future for Levenmouth communities, in which the skills of the past would be built on to deliver the world that we need for the future, but missing from that picture was a rail link connecting Levenmouth with the rest of Scotland.
For decades, the Levenmouth rail line has languished under weeds, yet it is vital for the area’s regeneration. We have heard members’ contributions about the challenges and the grinding exclusion that young people face, and we have all heard constituents’ stories about how difficult it has been to access the job market, education opportunities and even, in some cases, healthcare.
In the remaining time, I will focus on the way forward and the process for getting the line reopened. First, it is important to remember that the line exists. It may lie mothballed, but a commitment falls on Network Rail to maintain it. If Diageo’s freight operator were to request that it be used again, Network Rail would have to open it within 12 months. That would obviously make a significant contribution to the full upgrading required for passenger services, so the Scottish Government needs to back dialogue with Diageo and the Malcolm Group on the freight question.
Secondly, the completed STAG appraisal did not count up the wider economic benefits that would flow from reopening the line. If it had, the cost benefit ratio would have come in well ahead of that of the Borders railway line. The regeneration potential of the Levenmouth rail project is real and it needs to be understood and factored into what will be a political decision for the Scottish Government on passenger services rather than a decision for Network Rail.
Thirdly, the new pipeline approach to bringing forward rail projects and a move away from the five-year control periods will bring flexibility for the Government to back winning projects, but I remain concerned about blockages in that pipeline. If Levenmouth is to move from the business case stage of the STAG process to the technical feasibility stage under GRIP, that will require investment, including for the physical clearance work on the line that will be required for the technical assessment to take place.
Other members have reflected on where the investment will come from if it is not written into the Edinburgh city region deal or it is not within the budget capacity of Fife Council to deliver on its own. There must be a role for the Scottish Government to marshal the resources that are needed to help move the project down the pipe.
Lastly, I appreciate that co-ordination between the proposals to reopen rail lines and stations and the wider rail network needs is required. Furthermore, Levenmouth is not the only reopening that Fife needs, and the completion of the Queensferry crossing should signal increased investment in public transport in Fife rather than less investment.
There are questions about the timescale of the proposed projects in Fife, but there is the opportunity for synergy between them and for a much-needed rail renaissance in Fife and across Scotland, if the Government prioritises capital budgets for infrastructure.
The prize for the communities, the economy and environment is great, but political will and vision will be needed to turn it into a reality. We look to the minister to provide that.
I am delighted to have the opportunity this evening to participate in the debate, and I pay tribute to Jenny Gilruth for bringing it to the chamber.
As has been mentioned, Levenmouth is Scotland’s largest urban area not directly served by rail, despite the presence of the mothballed original line between Thornton on the east coast main line and the historic stations of Cameron Bridge and Leven—a distance of only 5 miles as the crow flies.
The Levenmouth rail campaign is running a strong campaign that seeks to raise awareness and to apply pressure from the local community for change. I pay tribute to that local community for its strength of feeling, commitment, dedication and enthusiasm, which have ensured that the issue has moved further up the agenda.
Although I have been a member only since last May, I was aware of the campaign prior to coming here. It is paramount that this neglected community is reconnected—there is a commercial need, it makes common sense logistically and, ultimately, justice requires it. It will help the economy, it will help with investment, it will secure jobs and it will give youngsters the opportunity to move freely around the area. The area desperately needs a robust reinforcement of its rail services so that advantage can be taken of the opportunities that are there. At the moment, the people of the area have poor connections, as a result of which they suffer on a daily basis. Better freight links by rail would aid motorists by removing from the roads the present heavy goods traffic. There would also be an opportunity to carry passengers.
If we turn back the clock, we find that there was a similar situation in the area 170 years ago. In 1847, the Edinburgh and Northern Railway opened part of its main line with a station at Markinch. In 1848, a station was opened at Thornton, which immediately emphasised to the people of Leven the magnitude of the railway connections that were taking place in the community.
Today, it is acknowledged that there are poor road connections. If the heavy goods vehicles that move back and forth from the Diageo plant and others in the area were taken off the road, that would create opportunities for much better logistical connections.
It is time for the Scottish Government to sit up and listen to the locals. It cannot just ignore the depth of feeling. I have been sincerely impressed by the reports that have been produced and the events that I have attended over the past year and a bit, which demonstrate the community’s commitment. The strong commercial case for the reopening of the line, not to mention the common sense of the proposal, the locals’ determination and the business sense that it would make, must prevail. The Levenmouth rail link campaigners deserve to succeed, given the amount of effort that they have put into their campaign.
If we believe that the connections are poor, it is vital that the Government puts its money where its mouth is and supports the business community and local residents. The campaign has been going on for years and a great deal of effort has been put into it. Lots of reports have been produced, but there has not been much progress. That is not because MSPs have not participated in the campaign; I can see that they have. The project simply has not materialised.
Therefore, I ask the Government to support the proposal, which would unlock the area’s potential and give real opportunities to communities across Fife. I am happy to fight the corner of the people of Levenmouth and to stand shoulder to shoulder with MSPs across the chamber to ensure that they are given the opportunities that they deserve. They have fought long and hard for the reopening of the line, and I am immensely impressed by the work that they have done, but it is up to Network Rail, Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government to stand together, too, to ensure that the community is respected and given the opportunities that it rightfully deserves.
I wish the campaign well, and I hope that, during my time in Parliament, we can work together to ensure that this dream becomes a reality for the communities that deserve it.
I commend Jenny Gilruth for securing the debate, and I thank members for their contributions. I will try to address some of the issues and concerns that have been raised, and if I miss anything out, I would welcome interventions.
As many members have done, I thank the Levenmouth rail campaigners, many of whom are in the public gallery. Not all 12,500 of those who signed the petition are here, but we have been joined by a fair number of those who have driven the campaign, whom I have met on a number of occasions, most recently when I collected the petition from Jenny Gilruth, David Torrance and a number of other MSPs. I am sure that all of us will have collected petitions on many different issues, but to gather 12,500 signatures is a mightily impressive achievement, particularly given the population of the Levenmouth area—we are talking about a third of its entire population. The gathering of so many signatures is an extremely impressive achievement, and I thank, congratulate and commend the Levenmouth rail campaigners. I know from personal experience that whoever does their Twitter account is persistent and I salute their indefatigability—somehow, they always manage to bring anything that I tweet about back to the Levenmouth rail campaign.
I can advise Jenny Gilruth and others who have passionately articulated their case that the debate has been helpful and informative. It has been an opportunity for me to hear and reflect on the issues, observations and concerns that have been raised. After due reflection, I intend to float a proposition on how we might address some of the needs of the community at Levenmouth but, before I do that, let me set out some of my assessments of the issue.
First, nobody, be it the Government or Transport Scotland—and I think that perhaps I can even speak for Network Rail on this—has ever the doubted the passion, commitment, desire and depth of feeling, as I think Alexander Stewart described it, of those who live in Levenmouth and the surrounding area to have the rail link up and running. That has never been in any doubt.
Members were right to say that there have been a number of studies, so I can understand their frustration. I can also understand the frustration around the STAG process in some respects. Jenny Gilruth and others are not the only people to have raised that with me. I am speaking to my officials at Transport Scotland about looking at the STAG process in general, not just for rail projects but for a number of our infrastructure projects. That said, members will know from the Fife Council study report—of which I have a copy, of course—that from within the guidelines two potential transport options emerged: a bus option and the rail link option that is favoured by the majority.
There is also the context that Government will rightly be held to account for every single penny of taxpayers’ money that it spends. That is really important and Jamie Greene reflected on it very well in his contribution. Therefore, there has to be an absolutely robust business case and rationale that has to be scrutinised to the nth degree. Finding the balance between not frustrating the process and yet going through the due diligence is sometimes difficult. I am not saying that we get it right every time, but I can certainly hear what members are saying on that.
When it comes to the cost benefit ratio, which Jamie Greene also mentioned, if we look at the rail link purely in terms of value for the pound invested, there is still some work for the study to do. On the flip side of that, a point that was made by all members and on which Jenny Gilruth was very strong was that, if we just look at the project from a business case point of view, we will be ignoring the regeneration and socioeconomic impacts and so on. Those points were very well made by all those who contributed to the debate.
That point is also made very well in the recent booklet that was produced by the Levenmouth rail link campaign, which I read yesterday and again this afternoon before coming to the debate. That latest booklet is a really helpful contribution and, if members have not seen it, they should look at it. It illustrates how improved connectivity can make a real difference to the lives and opportunities of people in Levenmouth. The booklet also raised points that need to be explored further relating to the level of costs and the identification of benefits that could be achieved.
It is for all those reasons, and the reasons that Claire Baker and one or two other speakers touched on about the GRIP 4 process—the financial burden as I think it was described by the local authority—that, subject to the agreement of Fife Council, I am minded to instruct my officials at Transport Scotland to take on responsibility for the study, in close collaboration with the council, of course. It will be imperative to have the evidential base when we start to spend taxpayers’ money.
I am not going to prejudge the outcome of Transport Scotland’s deliberations. I have told it to look above and beyond the basic cost benefit analysis to the wider socioeconomic and regeneration impacts. It would also be helpful and useful if Jenny Gilruth could present me with some of the qualitative information that she articulated. That said, I still expect Transport Scotland to be absolutely robust in its scrutiny of the project.
With that in mind, I will re-engage with the members who have taken an interest, with the Levenmouth rail campaign and, which is important, with Fife Council.
One or two members asked about the city deal. As they will know, it would be for local authorities to come forward with their priorities for city deal projects. However, there is an opportunity, as Mark Ruskell touched on, with the pipeline approach for control period 6: the 2019 to 2024 control period. The opportunity is subject to funding from the United Kingdom Government, but we have not got that confirmed yet and it is going to and fro between us and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Notwithstanding that and taking on board Mark Russell’s points about a possible blockage in the pipeline, the point of the pipeline—I hope—is for it to remain flexible to projects that have a robust business case and a robust case in terms of socioeconomic advantages so that they can make their way through the pipeline.
Incidentally, the tagline for the Levenmouth rail campaign is
“Much more than a transport project”, which I think is a great tagline for any transport investment, because we seek to make investments that strive to deliver economically vibrant, well-connected and inclusive communities across Scotland.
On that note, I thank the Levenmouth rail campaigners, thank Jenny Gilruth for initiating the debate and thank all members who spoke in it for their contributions. I think that we potentially have a way forward on this. I hear very clearly what members are saying very loudly and I promise to keep them updated on any further developments.
Meeting closed at 17:46.