Edinburgh City Bypass (A720)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 31st May 2018.

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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—