Ayrshire (Transport Objectives)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 5 September 2019.

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Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party

2. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the work being undertaken by Transport Scotland and the regional transport partnerships in Ayrshire to identify new transport objectives for the region. (S5O-03482)

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The draft south-west Scotland transport study, which was published on 27 June, covers part of East and South Ayrshire, and it includes a list of potential strategic transport interventions for the region. Once final, those interventions will be the subject of more detailed appraisal in the second strategic transport projects review, which is under way.

As part of STPR2, an Ayrshire and Arran regional transport working group has been formed, which covers a larger area. Most recently, it met on 29 August to discuss the emerging outcomes from the initial evidence gathering and stakeholder events that were undertaken in May and June.

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party

I welcome the recent news that a new direct ferry link is to be established between the east of Scotland and Europe—the Netherlands—and remind the cabinet secretary that, in the west of Scotland, more than 1 million passengers still choose to fly between Scotland and Dublin. Does he see the possibilities in developing a direct ferry service to Dublin from our ferry ports in Ayrshire, not only to provide a direct ferry connection for businesses to Europe, but to open up the huge potential for further tourism expansion between Scotland and Ireland that such a service would offer?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

We will always be keen to see an expansion of direct ferry connections between Scotland and Europe, but any such ferry connection would have to be commercially viable. It would have to operate in commercial terms and in a way that complies with state aid rules.

Willie Coffey referred to the 1 million passengers who choose to travel by air between Scotland and Ireland. A key element of making sure that any ferry service is sustainable is ensuring that it has sufficient levels of freight traffic. That is critical to its baseload and making it commercially viable. Any party that is considering establishing a ferry route between Scotland and Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands or Scotland and anywhere else would have to ensure that it would be commercially viable and would have a customer base that could sustain it.

We will always engage with parties that are interested in direct ferry links between Scotland and other parts of Europe, but that will always be on the basis that the operation needs to be commercially viable.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

We already have a viable ferry option between Scotland and Ireland out of Cairnryan, which is the busiest port in Scotland, but it is being hampered by poor road and rail infrastructure in the south-west of Scotland. Given that investment in the south-west of Scotland is far less than that in the rest of Scotland, if the cabinet secretary looked at the A75, the A77, the A76, the A70 and the rail link down there, that would resolve a lot of issues, especially around the need for infrastructure, given the Ayrshire growth deal. Where are those considerations?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Brian Whittle will be well aware of the south-west Scotland transport study, which has looked at a whole range of interventions to improve the transport infrastructure in the south-west of Scotland. That will feed into the STPR process. We have consulted on that over the summer months. There was a request for that consultation to be extended, and we have extended it for a further four weeks to ensure that as many members of the public and interested stakeholders as possible have an opportunity to feed into the process in order to get it right.

I do not accept Brian Whittle’s characterisation that we prioritise other parts of Scotland over the south-west of Scotland. Work is being undertaken to create the Maybole bypass, for example. That is a very good example of infrastructure investment in the south-west of Scotland.

It is important that we ensure that, for the decisions that we make on where our priorities for transport investment should be—whether in respect of road, rail, bus or any type of active travel measure—we go through an evidence-based process to ensure that we make the right type of intervention to support the local area. That is exactly what the south-west Scotland transport study is about. It will feed into the process through the STPR, and that will ensure that we make the right types of interventions to deliver the right type of transport connectivity to all parts of Scotland.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

The programme for government gives a welcome commitment to decarbonise Scotland’s passenger rail services by 2035. However, the cabinet secretary will know that only diesel trains run on rail routes on the ScotRail network in Ayrshire and other parts of south-west Scotland, such as Dumfries and Galloway. Does he therefore agree that full electrification of those routes should be considered to deliver faster, better and more sustainable rail services for passengers in south-west Scotland, and not least to support the ferry ports in Cairnryan?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

It is important that we take an ambitious approach to decarbonising our rail network. That is why I welcome Colin Smyth’s comments on the ambitions in that particular area that we have set out in the programme for government.

He will be aware that significant technological advances are taking place in the propulsion for trains. Electrification is the option that we choose primarily at present. More than 70 per cent of all daily passenger journeys now take place on electrified routes in Scotland, and we have given a commitment to look at further electrification in Scotland.

However, there are also advances in battery-powered trains and hydrogen-powered trains, and we are already working with a number of parties to look at how we can explore their use within the Scottish network. Electrification will be part of the plans and different types of propulsion in the form of hydrogen and battery will be in the mix to make sure that we decarbonise our rail network by 2035.