Edinburgh City Bypass (A720)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 31st May 2018.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-12304, in the name of Miles Briggs, on improving Edinburgh city bypass. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament believes that good transport links, including trunk roads such as the A720 Edinburgh city bypass, are key to future economic development; understands that studies have shown that parts of this bypass are now among the most congested in the whole of the UK, at significant cost to the area’s economy; is aware of the reported concerns of residents, commuters, businesses and business organisations, such as the Federation of Small Businesses, regarding delays and frequent and lengthy tailbacks being experienced on the route, especially at peak times; understands that the draft orders for the long-awaited plans to introduce grade separation at the Sheriffhall Roundabout will not be published until 2019; believes that, compared with the 2014 figure, the Scottish Government expects that an extra 10,000 vehicles per day will be using the bypass by 2022, with an extra 20,000 vehicles predicted by 2032, and, in light of this, notes the calls for the Scottish Government to prioritise further improvements to the bypass, assess how it can expand capacity and to develop innovative, long-term solutions that will keep traffic moving on what it considers is a key national trunk road.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative

I thank colleagues across the chamber for supporting my motion and allowing the debate to take place.

I will start with a quote:

“Be warned—City Bypass is a nightmare today! Been on it for an hour so far”.

That palpable frustration, vented yesterday on Twitter, was from the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, Paul Wheelhouse MSP. I am pleased to report that I spotted Mr Wheelhouse in the chamber yesterday, so I know that he managed to escape the congestion on the bypass.

The future of the A720 city bypass, which is the key trunk road that serves our capital, is important not only to Edinburgh and the wider Lothian region, but to all of Scotland. I have been pressing the Government to improve the bypass since my election, and I will continue to do that.

As a Lothian MSP, I continue to be contacted—almost daily—by frustrated constituents and business people who face frequent delays when using the bypass to commute or transport goods, especially, but not exclusively, at peak times or when there has been an accident on the route. The Federation of Small Businesses has also voiced concerns over many years about the situation in Lothian.

Many drivers tell me that the tailbacks and traffic jams are becoming more regular. Indeed, some drivers tell me that they are choosing to drive through Edinburgh city itself rather than risk being stuck on the bypass, which adds to the pressures on local roads in the capital.

In late 2016, Inrix, the transport information company, identified the bypass as the most congested trunk road outside London, with four of the United Kingdom’s worst bottlenecks located on the route. It suggested that drivers faced the worst delays at the westbound section near Dreghorn barracks, and it predicted that bypass congestion would cost the economy as much as £2.8 billion by 2025. With Scotland’s economy facing sluggish economic growth over the next five years, the Parliament must take the issue extremely seriously. We cannot allow that cost to be incurred.

Transport Scotland’s transport model for Scotland uses 2014 as the base year for the total number of vehicles per day using our trunk roads, and it indicated that 78,000 vehicles used the city bypass west of the Dreghorn junction that year. The model predicts that that figure will grow by an extra 10,000 vehicles to 88,000 a day by 2022 and by a further 10,000 vehicles a day by 2032, with 102,000 vehicles a day using the bypass by 2037. In addition, the percentage of heavy goods vehicles using the bypass will also increase, and about 14,300 lorries and heavy goods vehicles will use the route each day by 2037 compared to the 2014 figure of about 9,400.

Constituents and businesses are rightly alarmed about those increased usage predictions, given that the road cannot cope with the current volume of vehicles using it. Furthermore, the projected increase may well be an underestimation of the number of extra vehicles that will use the route if Edinburgh, Midlothian, East Lothian and West Lothian continue to experience fast-growing populations and if new housing developments such as at Shawfair continue to appear along the route of the bypass.

Edinburgh and Lothian are the only parts of the Scottish economy that are growing. We are now the powerhouse of the Scottish economy. If we are to sustain that growth, we must invest in the infrastructure to allow areas to continue to attract businesses and inward investment in key sectors such as the life sciences, with Edinburgh’s BioQuarter, Queen Margaret University and the proposed film studio at Straiton located just off the bypass.

Gridlocked trunk roads create a bad impression on inward investors and those who want to visit our area. Edinburgh is the showcase for the whole country, and we need a modern and efficient transport infrastructure to ensure that that continues.

I am sure that, when the minister closes the debate, he will refer to the Scottish Government’s investment in the Sheriffhall roundabout. The final plans for the much-needed grade separation and flyover will be revealed sometime this year. I hope that he will be able to give a firmer timetable for that.

The introduction of grade separation at that notorious bottleneck is, of course, welcome, but it is only one action. Over many years, we have been campaigning for further action and more improvements. Commuters have faced such tailbacks for more than a decade, and they now want real action on the whole bypass.

It is vital that the Scottish Government receives the message from Lothian residents and businesses that, although the improvements at Sheriffhall are important, they are only one part of what needs to be done in a far broader long-term and co-ordinated programme of improvements to the bypass to ensure that traffic is kept moving in the decades ahead. That means looking at innovative solutions, assessing whether extra lanes will be needed, looking at the possible use of hard shoulders in some situations and utilising technology so that the bypass can become a smart motorway, as it should be.

It also means considering genuinely effective public transport options as an alternative to using cars. I regularly receive complaints about bus services in West Lothian, and it is clear that residents in that part of my region do not have much confidence in their bus services and therefore do not use the public transport that is available to them. That issue needs to be seriously considered.

In responses to written questions of mine, the minister has said that the Scottish Government is looking at further measures to improve traffic flow on the bypass and reduce congestion. However, beyond that, we have seen no further information. I hope that today we have an opportunity to start the debate and look towards how we can improve our bypass. I hope that the minister will also provide clear assurances that the Scottish Government recognises the strategic importance of the city bypass, considers that improving it is a national transport priority and is fully committed to ensuring that the trunk road is fit for purpose.

I am calling on the Scottish Government to undertake a feasibility study into widening the city bypass and to consider new options to address the growing and unacceptable congestion. That is what the Lothian residents and businesses that I represent deserve, and I will continue to press the Scottish Government on it.

Photo of Colin Beattie Colin Beattie Scottish National Party

I thank Miles Briggs for bringing forward this important issue as a members’ business debate.

The Edinburgh city bypass is the most used road in my constituency of Midlothian North and Musselburgh, whether that is for commuting to work, family travel or even sports fans travelling to grounds to play or to support their team. That means that, at any time of the day during any day of the week, there are vehicles using the road, causing delays and queues. The people of Midlothian North and Musselburgh meet the queues of traffic heading on to the bypass on the main roads around my constituency before they are even near the bypass, which causes more congestion and air pollution around Midlothian and Musselburgh.

I note that my colleague who represents the adjacent constituency of Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale is unable to take part in the debate, as she is in the chair. However, I put on record her continuing concerns, which she has raised frequently, regarding the proposals for the Sheriffhall roundabout, which cyclists call “the meat grinder”, and I ask what measures will be put in place during the upgrade to give cyclists safe passage.

On the early morning radio traffic news, there are always reports of delays on the Edinburgh city bypass, because of an accident or just the sheer volume of traffic. The fact that that happens daily is a clear sign that a change needs to happen as soon as possible. One of the more drastic options that could be considered is the approach that was taken in Bangkok, where the main roads are double stacked, meaning that cars travel in one direction on one level and in the other direction above them. When those changes were made, the level of the cross-city light train track was also raised—the trains and the stations that serve them were suspended well above ground to make commutes quicker and to allow trains to move faster.

Following on from that thought, and continuing consideration of the changes that are required on the Edinburgh city bypass, I believe that the real solution is to more carefully examine our public transport services to see whether there is any way to improve and extend those services and reduce the number of cars that are using the bypass. Quite simply, having fewer cars means less congestion. Public transport in Edinburgh and in Scotland as a whole is of a very high standard, but there is always room for improvement. To ease congestion on the city bypass, it may be worth considering extending the route of the Edinburgh city trams to include towns with larger populations such as Musselburgh and Dalkeith. That would give commuters a fast and direct link into Edinburgh without having to sit in traffic on the bypass. It may even be more cost effective than building new roads, double stacked or not, and putting in place expensive flyovers that will only move traffic more swiftly into the next traffic jam.

The bypass currently has two lanes in both directions. That has been its configuration for 30 years, since it was built. The cost of expansion to three lanes would be eye watering. We would have to pay landowners to give up land to enable the extra lanes to be installed. There would also be the construction costs, of course. Expansion would take away scarce arable land that is at the side of the bypass and would threaten the already endangered green belt in Midlothian.

As we look into making any of the changes that might be required, it is important that we consult different agencies, including Lothian Buses, ScotRail and Borders Buses, as well as our constituents who are most affected by the current issues with the bypass.

I am pleased that the Government has announced that a flyover is to be installed at the Sheriffhall roundabout, which is often the scene of congestion and significant queuing, particularly at morning and evening peak times, as I have experienced. The flyover will improve road safety and journey times for many people who travel on the bypass every day. However, more improvements need to be made along the full stretch of road.

A possible idea is the introduction of a bypass bus. The bus would take a route along the bypass from Musselburgh to the Gyle, stopping at the park and rides at Sheriffhall and Straiton and then at Hermiston Gait before terminating at the Gyle. Such a bus route could reduce the number of commuters taking their cars along the bypass and help people to reach their destinations more easily without having to change buses. Discussion with many different bus companies would, of course, be needed, and Government officials would need to look into the matter.

Given that we have a fast-growing population in Midlothian and Musselburgh, we must take a serious look at the situation on the bypass and put in train the changes that are required as soon as possible, so that the bypass can handle the volume of traffic, which seems to be increasing drastically each year.

There is a problem on the Edinburgh city bypass, which, given the growing population and the increase in car use, can only get worse. We must take a sensible approach and look at all the ways in which we can improve the current situation on the bypass and help our constituents to travel safely and securely.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Beattie, I understand that you have a constituency meeting and will have to leave the debate early. You have given me your reasons for leaving early, which are perfectly acceptable.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

Miles Briggs has set out the problem, and Colin Beattie has provided the solutions, so I do not know what to say. I am stuck in the middle and might repeat what has been said.

The debate is a good opportunity to raise awareness of the issue. Edinburgh is our capital city and a huge focus for business, tourism and inward investment, as Miles Briggs said. It is important that we get this right.

On the bypass at the moment—where do I start? I do not know about other members, but for me, leaving the Parliament at decision time on a Thursday and attempting to use the bypass is not an option; it is a no-brainer to leave earlier or to wait for a few hours in town—not that I ever leave early.

The reality is that many people are in the same situation. Commuters, businesses and others who do not just use but rely on the road get stuck there, day in and day out. As Miles Briggs said, radio traffic reports talk about congestion almost by default—it is always in the first line of the script.

Nearly 80,000 vehicles use the road every day, and the number will increase by 30 per cent over the next 10 years. That is dire. Edinburgh is Britain’s second most congested city. Can members guess which city is third? It is Glasgow. I was surprised to learn that the second and third most congested cities in the UK are Edinburgh and Glasgow, not Manchester and Birmingham, given their populations. Miles Briggs talked about bottlenecks, and four bottlenecks in Edinburgh are on the list. They are all on the A720 westbound. I have not mentioned the A8 route into Edinburgh, which is also a mess.

The cost of the congestion is huge. Drivers spend about 31 hours a year sitting in traffic in Edinburgh. When a small business owner loses 31 hours, that represents a tremendous amount of lost revenue and time wasted sitting in the car instead of running the company.

Public transport is an option, and modal shift is important. The Parliament spends a lot of time talking about how to achieve a shift to public transport, but some people have to spend time in their cars, vans or other vehicles. Congestion represents wasted time that is costing the economy in Edinburgh nearly £3 billion a year.

The answer is not simply to ban cars. It is not simply to widen the road. It is not simply to build a flyover or enlarge a roundabout. The answer is a bit of all of the above. There needs to be a joined-up approach to the measures that we take.

We need to look at improving the road. The amount of traffic on it has grown immensely since it was built. I think that it was built in 1980—which is the year in which I was born—so it is not a huge surprise that the volumes have increased at the rate that they have. There should be a feasibility study into widening the road, but that should be part of a bigger conversation about how we address demand in the decades to come, when traffic volumes will increase by hundreds of thousands of vehicles, and about the nature of what our roads do and what purpose they serve.

In the future, we could have smart roads and implement more dynamic lane management systems, variable speed limits and the use of lanes by buses and cars, variously, at different times of the day. That happens to a certain extent at present, but I get the impression that we have not been particularly forward thinking compared with other countries across western Europe or parts of Asia, as Colin Beattie mentioned.

I will not repeat the statistics that we have heard. However, given that the volumes of traffic are going to increase and that the populations of Edinburgh and Midlothian are going to increase dramatically, we need to have a sensible and frank discussion about how we can future proof our transport network to meet the needs of tomorrow.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

I welcome any opportunity to debate Scotland’s transport infrastructure, so I am grateful to Miles Briggs for lodging his motion on improving Edinburgh’s city bypass.

The bypass is unquestionably one of the most important trunk roads in Scotland. It circles the south side of Edinburgh, enabling access from one end of our capital to the other, and, crucially, it links the city to key routes to the rest of Scotland and the north of England. Although there have been improvements such as the Dalkeith bypass and lane widening at Sheriffhall, it is fair to say that the A720 has remained largely unaltered since its construction in the 1980s. It has not really adapted to either Edinburgh’s growing population or its rising visitor numbers, which has impacted adversely on the economy of the city and indeed Scotland as a whole.

Recent studies imply that parts of the bypass are among the most congested stretches of trunk road anywhere in the United Kingdom, and the Scottish Government’s figures suggest that that will get worse, with an anticipated 20,000 more vehicles using the bypass per day within 20 years. As a result, there have been long-standing calls for major improvements, not least at Sheriffhall—a place name that sends a shudder down the spine of any commuter into Edinburgh who tunes into the traffic news first thing in the morning.

I hope that, when the minister sums up, he will update the Parliament on what progress is being made in moving forward the planned upgrade at the Sheriffhall junction from choice of preferred option to an actual timetable for construction, and whether there is an option to bring the project forward. I also hope that he will outline, as Colin Beattie asked, what improved opportunities there will be for cyclists and indeed pedestrians as a result of the Sheriffhall proposals, including whether road-segregated cycle routes will be built into approach roads and all six axes of the junction, as that is unclear.

There have been calls for the use of smart motorway technology—which Jamie Greene mentioned—to allow, for example, the hard shoulder on the bypass to be used at peak times. Again, I hope that, when he sums up, the minister will update members on whether there has been an assessment of that proposal, which would replicate the use of the smart motorway system on the M42 near Birmingham, in relation to both whether it would reduce congestion and what the safety implications would be if such a scheme was implemented.

In the past, an Edinburgh orbital bus route has been proposed to help to take cars off the bypass. In 2012, feasibility studies were undertaken to ascertain how a route from the end of the Forth road bridge to Queen Margaret University via the A720 would function.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

The member makes some valid points. Does he accept that technology is going to play a big part? The ability in real time to monitor traffic volumes, levels and directions somewhere centrally and make instant decisions to alter the flow could be very useful in Edinburgh.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

Absolutely. That is why it is important to assess such schemes and look at examples elsewhere in the UK. Of course, we have to look carefully at any safety implications of, for example, using the hard shoulder during peak times, but such options must be looked at. We cannot simply build our way out of congestion.

It would be helpful to know what happened to the proposals for an Edinburgh orbital bus route. They seem to have been parked somewhere despite the fact that increased public transport must be at the heart of any solution to the current congestion on the bypass.

I confess that when I travel into Edinburgh I do everything that I possibly can to avoid bringing my car, and I take the train from Lockerbie. However, despite the fact that they are only an hour apart by train and the route is an important commuter one, there is no direct early-morning rail service from Lockerbie into Edinburgh. The transport minister will be pleased to know that, for once, he is off the hook on that one, because the franchise rests with the UK Government. Perhaps Miles Briggs can have a chat with the Secretary of State for Transport who handed out that franchise and have it changed. Better still, the route could be nationalised, because, as we have seen in relation to the east coast main line, the UK Government has a taste for that particular policy. [

Interruption

.] Members are saying that we should support that, and I say absolutely—let us extend that.

A key part of tackling congestion on the bypass must be to invest in alternatives to the car, such as a railway system in which passengers—and, frankly, not profits—are the priority. The Borders rail link has shown that when we build railways, passengers will come. Instead of making people drive along the A1 and the A7 to Edinburgh, adding traffic to the bypass, let us extend that rail link to Carlisle, through Langholm, and reach more passengers. Alternatively, imagine how many cars we could take off the bypass if, for example, we reopened the Penicuik to Edinburgh Waverley rail link or we revived the Edinburgh south suburban railway.

We also need to invest in our bus network and regulate it properly. In this city, Lothian Buses is a good example of what our bus services can do and can be. Therefore, let us aim to replicate municipal bus ownership across Scotland and avoid decisions such as the recent one from the Conservative-run Borders Council to cut funding to the Dumfries to Edinburgh bus service, which is putting that very service at risk and, in turn, could add more cars to the Edinburgh bypass.

Road improvements are badly needed on the bypass. I hope that we will see more than just what is proposed for Sheriffhall. However, we also have to accept that we will not be able to build our way out of congestion. Better buses, trains and improved active travel opportunities also need to be at the heart of any solution.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I have been quite liberal, but I do not want to have to extend the debate with a motion without notice, so members should please try to be neater with their speeches.

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

I am pleased to speak in this afternoon’s debate on improving the Edinburgh city bypass, and I thank Miles Briggs for bringing the debate to the chamber. I remind the chamber that I am the parliamentary liaison officer for the rural economy and connectivity portfolio, and I thank members for their contributions so far.

I agree with the wording of the motion that

“good transport links, including trunk roads ... are key to future economic development”.

Members have mentioned being stuck in traffic. Nobody wants to be stuck in congestion, delays or lengthy tailbacks on any road, especially when we all have places to be—we all have to get to work, to commute, to attend to business or even travel as visitors or tourists to our country, our region or our capital city. I have experience of driving in Los Angeles, where there are five lanes on each side of the 405 freeway network that is sometimes known as the giant car park. Sometimes it took me two and a half hours to drive 18 miles to work. That meant that I avoided driving during the rush hour, which often lasted many hours. I am not suggesting that everybody should avoid the rush hour—it was just the way in which I was able to achieve a 35-minute commute instead of one of two and a half hours—but I empathise with people who are stuck in traffic.

Today’s motion focuses on improving the A720 Edinburgh city bypass. As a member of the Scottish Parliament for the South Scotland region, I am frequently on the bypass, depending on which northbound road I use to approach the capital on my way to Parliament. I am also quite familiar with the Sheriffhall roundabout, although I avoid it. With its six entrances and exits, it is quite challenging to navigate the lanes, and, as the motion mentions, the roundabout is busy, especially at peak times.

When reading the background papers from Transport Scotland on the Sheriffhall roundabout improvements, I noted that there has been a consultation that started with eight proposals, which were reduced to three. The agreed option—option B—was to introduce grade separation, which involves overpasses and underpasses. On grade-separated roads, junctions are typically quite space intensive, complicated and costly, which might be due to the need for large physical structures such as tunnels, ramps and bridges. The height can be obtrusive, which, combined with the large traffic volumes that grade-separated roads attract, tends to make them unpopular with nearby landowners and residents—hence the need to consult with road users, businesses and residents to ensure that any infrastructure proposal is optimal. The proposed grade separation for Sheriffhall roundabout will consist of two bridges so that bypass traffic is separated from local traffic.

I note that there are unique design challenges for the work. The area sits on top of historical mine workings and a geological fault zone with possible mineral seams. Although mining has long ceased in the area, the work that is still to be carried out needs to take into account the ground conditions, which are complicated. The Borders railway, which goes through the South Scotland region—right past your area, Presiding Officer—is also very close to the Sheriffhall roundabout, which is about 300 metres away.

In the Scottish Government’s programme for government, a commitment was made to review the national transport strategy and carry out a second strategic transport projects review. STPR2 will examine the strategic transport infrastructure interventions that will be required to support the delivery of the national economic strategy and it will ensure the delivery of a transport network that is fit for the 21st century and for future economic development.

It is interesting to note that everyone is lobbying the minister, and I am one of those people. He is well aware that STPR2 in the South Scotland region is looking at the A75, A76 and A77. We all have infrastructure needs that we are asking for, especially regarding the roads to Cairnryan and the ferry port near Stranraer, and I warmly welcome the review of the roads in the South Scotland region.

I welcome the progress that has been made by the Scottish Government on infrastructure improvement across Scotland and I look forward to hearing from the minister on progress on innovative long-term solutions that will keep traffic moving, especially on the Edinburgh city bypass.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I want to give later members a fair crack of the whip, and I appreciate that more members wish to speak in today’s debate. I am minded to accept a motion without notice to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes. It is up to 30 minutes, but it is not going to be 30 minutes.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[

Miles Briggs

.]

Motion agreed to.

Photo of Gordon Lindhurst Gordon Lindhurst Conservative

Presiding Officer, I am delighted that I will now have much longer than four minutes. I am only joking, of course.

The dreaded radio traffic reports are a daily headache for the commuters of Edinburgh and Lothian. The Edinburgh city bypass is a standing fixture of those reports, whether it is congestion at Hermiston Gait heading east, a tailback at Dreghorn, queues at Straiton or, of course, lengthy delays at the Sheriffhall roundabout. A lot of those are not newsworthy for the people who are familiar with those places; indeed, one would have to be an uninformed visitor from the moon to be surprised at any of that, sadly.

As a Lothian MSP, I am all too familiar with the A720 arterial road and how it is crucial to the service and transport links in this area but is such a stumbling block to getting anywhere. That has been referred to by Miles Briggs and other colleagues across the chamber. The situation is not surprising, because the bypass was built in sections starting in 1980 and was completed in 1989. I am not saying that Jamie Greene is old, having been born in 1980, when it started, but 1980 is ancient in terms of transport and the increase in traffic that we have experienced in Scotland since then, which has come about not just because of the increasing use of cars for transport requirements but the house building that has taken place.

Hundreds of n ew houses are being built in

Frogston, and the A720 as it is now, having been constructed at the time when it was, is no longer in a fit state for what is required.

The Scottish Government has a number of urgent challenges, first and foremost of which is to deliver the Sheriffhall grade road separation project, which has been referred to.

D raft orders are not published for it yet, but it will mean even longer queues and more frustration for the drivers who have no option but to go through there. We have already heard from Colin Smyth about the lack of public transport links, even for those who wish to use them. People have to use the A720 to come that way into Edinburgh.

There are also other considerations about the Sheriffhall roundabout. A number of campaign groups, predominantly from the cycling lobby, have voiced concern about safety, and cyclists are some of those who are trying to use alternative means to get to work. I have asked the minister about that previously, and I look forward to his updating Parliament on how cyclist safety will be incorporated into the favoured option for the Sheriffhall roundabout.

There are a few other things that I would like to hear from the minister about. Are there further ideas in the pipeline for increasing capacity at other points on the A720, such as increasing the number of lanes? Are there any other innovative solutions that might be available in the 21st century? If Scotland is to beat other countries in phasing out petrol and diesel cars, has the minister given any thought to how electric vehicle charging points can be incorporated into road improvement works on or near trunk roads such as the bypass, particularly in circumstances in which it can be a lengthy process for commuters to go on and off the roads at peak times? Will extra capacity be provided to make that a possibility? Those are considerations that could impact on Lothian and the whole of Scotland.

The residents of Edinburgh and the Lothians want to see improvements to their city bypass, and many of their concerns have been voiced today. I hope that those concerns have been heard and will be taken on board by the Government, and that the minister can give us some clues about how those points will be addressed in the near future.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Neil Findlay, who is the last speaker in the open debate.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I will be brief.

The bypass is the bane of many people’s lives. Tens of thousands of people drive along it every day, and it often becomes one of the biggest traffic jams in the country. The loss of economic activity, leisure time and family time, the increase in pollution and frustration, and the time that is wasted being stuck on that road are bad for the economy, the environment, the health of residents and the wellbeing and sanity of drivers.

The Lothians area has been experiencing significant population growth for some time. Demand for goods and services, housing, general practitioner practices and other public services is there for all to see. As it stands, the roads infrastructure is simply not fit to serve that growing area.

Edinburgh is the capital city and the economic hub of the region and country. The bypass is an essential link to markets in the north-east of England and beyond into the south of England, and to the west, the central belt, Fife and on to the north of Scotland. It is a key road for Scotland’s economy and for those who work in it to produce the goods and wealth that we enjoy. We need major investment and a comprehensive approach to tackle a chronic problem.

Many technical solutions have been proposed over the years. Some of the solutions that have been proposed today are very interesting. My appeal to the minister is to make the bypass a national infrastructure priority now. We have had feasibility studies and desktop studies, and all sorts of people have looked at this issue over the years, but we need action and progress.

I would rather pull out my teeth with pliers and with no anaesthetic than drive the bypass each day—

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

I am sure that the minister would volunteer, but he might be in a queue.

However, I have a choice. Many people have no option and have to endure that misery each day. I appeal to the minister to act with haste and help to release my constituents from the misery of the daily commute that many of them have to undertake each day.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Today’s debate has been insightful and useful; it has been a good debate all round. I thank Miles Briggs for bringing the debate to the chamber, and I thank members for their constructive contributions.

I will try my best to answer a number of the questions that I have been asked, but it is worth me emphasising one or two points on behalf of the Government. Since 2007, our investment in major national transport infrastructure has been £20 billion. The Queensferry crossing, the M8-M73-M74 motorway improvements and the continued investment in the Edinburgh to Glasgow rail improvement project have all been part of that. A lot of investment is going into transport, but the clear message from members is that they want to see more of it. I understand that.

It is worth touching on a couple of themes that were mentioned. Colin Smyth made a good point when he said that we cannot build our way out of congestion. That is very true indeed. We have to look at investing in public transport—I will touch upon that in a minute—and, as Jamie Greene, Colin Smyth and a few others have said, we need to look at technology, too.

In November last year, Transport Scotland published our “Future Intelligent Transport Systems Strategy”, which looks at how we can use technology in a smarter way. Smart motorways are absolutely a part of that and are very much a part of our thinking around how we progress intelligent transport systems across our infrastructure. Some of that is being done in relation to the Queensferry crossing. On the ideas that have been mentioned for the A720, I give an undertaking to look at smart motorway technology in relation to the A720 and report back to members on that.

On the Edinburgh and south-east Scotland city region deal agreement and the heads of terms signed, it is worth saying that the investment in Sheriffhall roundabout is not insignificant. There is £120 million for that grade separation, which is quite a hefty investment. Alongside that, there is £20 million for improvements to public transport in west Edinburgh. Public transport was mentioned by a number of members—£20 million has been committed to that on top of the £120 million.

I will try to address some of the issues that have been mentioned regarding Sheriffhall. A number of members asked about cyclists. Indeed, the Deputy Presiding Officer, Christine Grahame, has asked me about that in her role as a back bencher and as a constituency MSP. It is fair to say that there was a vocal backlash from the cycling lobby to the initial proposals. As I said at the time, it was important for the Government to listen to what the cycle lobby said; we have a good relationship with it. We have spoken to Spokes and Sustrans and listened to their concerns. They are very much part of our conversation and our engagement process. When those final proposals are made, I hope that cyclists will be satisfied—not just members of Spokes and Sustrans, but those who cycle routinely or for leisure as well. We are listening to what cyclists say on that.

A number of members, including Colin Smyth, asked whether we could bring forward the construction of that project in particular. We have statutory obligations that we have to meet. People sometimes roll their eyes and say, “It’s that old excuse about statutory obligations, processes and so on and so forth.” Having challenged my officials on that in relation to a number of projects, I would say that if we do not go through those statutory processes—if we try to bypass or shortcut them in any way—we could be susceptible to a legal challenge, which would of course delay the project even further.

I can give an absolute assurance that we will do everything within our power to deliver the scheme as quickly as we possibly can. We expect to publish draft orders in 2019 for formal comment. Because of the size of the scheme, there could be objections; I am not saying that there will be, but there could be. Depending on those objections, there may be a need for a public local inquiry. We will have to wait and see what happens.

It is impossible for me to give members an exact construction date when I do not know whether there will be a public local inquiry. I can give an absolute assurance that there is no need for a delay and there is no intention to have a delay. As Neil Findlay and others requested, we view this as an infrastructure project of national importance—not just the Sheriffhall roundabout, but the A720. I will come on to that in relation to STPR2 as well.

Members made some good points about reducing the number of cars. Jamie Greene spoke well about the fact that there is not one silver bullet or one magic solution. We have to look at improving the A720 and the Sheriffhall roundabout, plus other sections of the bypass, but it is also about reducing the number of cars. We are working on that through investment in our railways. Other members, including Colin Smyth and Emma Harper, spoke about the importance of buses and public transport in general, and it is hugely important that we continue to invest in those, too.

Gordon Lindhurst’s points on electric vehicles and their uptake were well made. I will take away his suggestion on how we can include electric vehicle charging infrastructure on the A720. He knows our commitment for the A9 in that respect. We have to ramp up seriously our infrastructure for electric vehicles if we want to meet the 2032 target, which we have every intention of doing.

Colin Smyth made suggestions on investing in railways and future lines, and this is a good time to be having that conversation. We are going into control period 6. There is a pot of funding available around which discussions can be had about future enhancements.

Finally, Miles Briggs suggested a feasibility study into widening the bypass. A lot of work is being done within Government on a variety of studies—the national transport strategy review and, importantly, the strategic transport projects review, which will be the overarching document for infrastructure investment in the future. I will take away his suggestion for a feasibility study and come back to him on that. I do not want to duplicate work if there are already a number of studies on-going; there would be no point in doing that.

The message from Mr Briggs, and from every member who has spoken, is clear and I agree with it entirely. The A720 is part of a trunk road network that is of national importance because of its location, the economy and, as Neil Findlay said, the sanity of people who are trying to do their everyday commute.

I will continue to keep Parliament and members who have an interest updated. There is a lot of work on-going. I thank everyone for their helpful and constructive contributions.

13:31 Meeting suspended.

14:30 On resuming—