It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Austin. I congratulate Caroline Flint on securing the debate. There is clearly a lot of interest in it, which I assume is why there are so many Members on these Benches, rather than it being part of any further breakaways from the Labour party.
On a serious point—this is a serious subject—the right hon. Lady correctly set out the problems of connectivity in rural areas, and how towns and villages, and the people in them, can be left behind. I was particularly struck by her saying that that can entrench poverty. My constituency covers many rural villages and towns. I actually stay in a village 5 miles from the main town of Kilmarnock, so I know all about the problems with bus services, the cost of bus fares and bus companies changing timetables without proper consultation with or consideration of the paying public.
On a more positive note, today saw the opening of the final stretch of the Aberdeen peripheral bypass, which was first planned 65 years ago and has finally been delivered by the Scottish National party Government. That is typical of the Union dividend that Scotland has had to deal with over the years and that it now has to rectify, post-devolution. We also had the last single-track trunk road—the vital trunk road to Mallaig—in the UK, which was only upgraded to allow traffic each way in 2009.
There has also been the Pulpit Rock upgrade on the A82, with a viaduct replacing what were supposed to be temporary lights but which were left in place for 30 years. The Crianlarich bypass on the A82 opened in 2014. There are ongoing upgrades to the A9, A96 and A75, and the M8 has been completed, as have the M74 and M80 extensions. Bill Grant will welcome the Maybole bypass, which is now receiving funding. That was first mooted in Westminster in 1989 and is now being delivered by the SNP Government.
The SNP Government also delivered the borders railway, which has been transformational. The rest of the UK could look at that when thinking about reconnecting the towns and villages left behind by the Beeching cuts. Since its reopening, we have seen new businesses on the borders, the creation of travel hubs and a massive increase in tourism and the associated increase in tourism jobs. Such developments create jobs and people do not necessarily need to travel once the connectivity is in place for visitors.
The Urban Transport Group published a particularly relevant document, “About towns: How transport can help towns thrive”, which states:
“Now, in a post industrial age, transport has a key role to play in putting these towns back on the map. After all, it is transport that can plug towns into larger city regions and national economies, and in doing so widen labour markets;
meet housing demand;
draw in investment;
and open up access to opportunity.”
We would all welcome that. It continues:
“Transport can also shape the way towns look, and the way they feel about themselves, through creating better and healthier streets;
though the sector’s employment, procurement and community involvement practices, and through the quality of new or transformed transport infrastructure.”
We cannot argue with those key findings. Others are using transport to open up new housing and commercial development opportunities in long-term master planning.
I was particularly struck by the document’s case study of Kilmarnock train station, under the subheading, “more than just a station”. It rightly covers the transformation of previously unused, partially derelict rooms in basement areas into vibrant community hubs in Kilmarnock train station. That was undertaken with Kilmarnock Station Railway Heritage Trust. That group is spearheaded by another Allan Brown—it feels like he is a more dynamic Allan Brown than me, given his achievements.