Official Report

  • Scottish Parliament Wednesday 27 June 2007
    • [The Presiding Officer opened the meeting at 14:30]

    • Time for Reflection
    • Point of Order
    • Business Motion
    • Transport
      • The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): The next item of business is a statement by Stewart Stevenson on transport. As the minister will take questions at the end of his statement, there should be no interventions. Given the fact that a debate on transport follows on from the statement, I make it clear that, as I have intimated to business managers, questions should be for clarification only.

      • The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I want to tell members about how the Government is going to manage and take forward our capital investment programme for transport to ensure that it is ambitious, achievable and, above all, value for money.

        We must continue to invest in our transport infrastructure. The Government is committed to doing exactly that to support sustainable growth. We are committed to a programme that must be founded on sound justification and robust business cases. With that firmly held belief, we consider it our duty and our responsibility to assess the major transport project portfolio for trunk road and rail that we have inherited. With this statement to Parliament, we bring that process to a close. We are absolutely certain that taxpayers in Scotland expect nothing less from the new Government.

        Members are aware that we invited the Auditor General for Scotland to review procedures used for the proposed Edinburgh trams and Edinburgh airport rail link. Audit Scotland's work is complete and the report has been published. We have taken on board the Auditor General's comments in our review of major projects and our decisions on next steps. Based on the report's findings, I am all the more convinced that what we inherited is neither sustainable nor sensible.

        The overall programme has not been prioritised. Many projects are likely to start at the same time, creating a high risk of overheating the market and making it difficult for contractors to plan properly. That approach is storing up problems for us. It is, quite simply, old-fashioned boom and bust. We need a better approach. We need to plan—and we will plan—our programme in a more sensible and sustainable way to attract world-class construction firms to bid for what is by any measure an ambitious and world-class programme. That means bringing forward a programme that is properly prioritised and that matches industry's capability to deliver efficiently, sustainably, affordably and on time. The programme that I am outlining to Parliament meets those objectives.

        I now set out our priorities for rail and road and what that means for the current programme. Our priorities for rail investment are to improve connectivity, to maximise the contribution of the rail network to our sustainable transport system and to improve services for commuters. Having reviewed the existing programme for rail, we have reached some conclusions. Last week, I attended the start of work to double the track from Bathgate to Newbridge. We will press forward with the delivery of the full Airdrie to Bathgate scheme by December 2010, and I expect costs to remain in the outturn range of £300 million to £375 million. The project will connect communities in North Lanarkshire and West Lothian with employment, education and leisure opportunities in Edinburgh and Glasgow. It will provide a real alternative to the M8, and the early works on the Bathgate branch will improve reliability of the already popular commuter service.

        Transport Scotland is continuing a due-diligence review of the Borders railway as it prepares to take on the role of authorised undertaker for the railway—a role that it is assuming at the behest of the previous Administration. However, we have learned that the Waverley railway partnership's proposed funding package will not be sufficient to deliver the project and that opening in December 2011 is not achievable.

        We expect Scottish Borders Council and Midlothian Council to work hard with developers to close the funding gap. We reaffirm the Scottish Government's commitment—which we inherited from the previous Administration—to provide £115 million in 2002 prices towards the scheme. Our continuing support depends on the project meeting the three remaining funding conditions that the previous Administration set. First, the assumptions underlying the business case must hold. That condition includes the achievement of patronage levels, the containment of costs, the active management of risks, and housing growth projections that are achievable and based on identified market demand. Secondly, a clear and comprehensive risk management strategy must be developed and delivered. Thirdly, the railway must be integrated with local bus services to ensure that it has the widest possible impact in the Borders and Midlothian.

        Glasgow airport rail link will provide an easy, dedicated, reliable service between the airport, Paisley and Glasgow city centre. The way forward on procurement is clear: Transport Scotland will lead the project, Strathclyde partnership for transport will deliver the civil engineering for the new railway and Network Rail will deliver the track and systems.

        SPT and Network Rail are working together to combine GARL with necessary signalling improvements on the existing railway to Paisley. Earlier this year, it became apparent that, if those projects were delivered separately, there would be a need to rip out newly installed infrastructure, which would create unnecessary disruption for passengers. Therefore, we have decided that the best way to proceed is to combine the two projects, the consequence of which is that GARL will be delayed by about a year.

        We expect the core of the current work on Waverley station—which will increase capacity and ease congestion at the station—to be completed on time at the end of 2007 and within budget. However, Network Rail continues to work with the Balmoral hotel to reach agreement on proposed improvements to the Waverley steps. Network Rail is now planning a new approach, which will still deliver escalators and lifts to Princes Street, combined with further improvements to the station itself.

        We are disappointed and concerned that the important project to reconnect Alloa to the national rail network, provide a more efficient route for coal trains to Longannet power station and free up capacity on the Forth bridge has run late and over budget. We will implement a simpler project structure to strengthen governance and take the project through to opening in the spring of 2008 at a cost of £80 million to £85 million.

        I will move on to my response to the Auditor General's findings on the Edinburgh airport rail link and the Edinburgh trams scheme, which were published last week. The Auditor General highlighted that EARL is not in as good shape as he would have expected for a project at the current stage of development. He confirmed that EARL is unlikely to be delivered by the target date of the end of 2011, has no clear governance framework and has no procurement strategy in place. He also confirmed that the project board did not meet between April 2006 and February 2007, that it has met only twice since then, that its membership and role are no longer agreed between the main stakeholders, and that there is no date for the next meeting. That is a litany of unfinished work and incomplete governance, and the Government has been utterly vindicated in its decision to invite the Auditor General to review those projects. [Interruption.]

      • The Presiding Officer: Order. Best of order, please.

      • Stewart Stevenson: As a result, I have no confidence in the projected timescales.

        The Auditor General found that the tram scheme had more of the features that we would expect in a well-managed project. However, he highlighted TIE's own assessment that phase 1b to Granton is not affordable within current funding. The affordability of phase 1a depends on successful value engineering and negotiation with bidders. We will not know whether that has succeeded until January 2008—fully four months after TIE originally promised. In that time, TIE proposes that we invest a further £60 million on top of the £79 million that has already been spent—£140 million without a single metre of track laid.

        We are being asked to take significant risks with Scottish taxpayers' money on two all-or-nothing projects. Quite simply, I cannot recommend that we do so, given that there are other more important priorities for the use of funds on that scale.

        Edinburgh airport needs an effective public transport link, but it does not need a tunnel under its main runway. I have therefore asked Transport Scotland to investigate alternatives to EARL and the trams project and to report back to ministers in the autumn.

        I want to consider the most cost-effective way to improve public transport in Edinburgh. The city already has a strong bus service, and excellent value can be achieved from investment in bus, which is flexible and reaches across the city. We can do a lot to work with operators and with City of Edinburgh Council to consider further guided bus routes, improved waiting facilities, greener vehicles and enhanced park-and-ride facilities, and I want to do that over the summer.

        I want to focus on our priority for the rail network, which is to improve the reliability, attractiveness and journey time of the Edinburgh to Glasgow route, which will improve significantly the connectivity between those two fine and important cities. Transport Scotland will work with Network Rail and First ScotRail on a package of measures, including infrastructure improvements such as a new station at Gogar as an alternative link to the airport, improvements at Dalmeny and firm proposals for the most cost-effective ways to improve reliability, bring down journey times and provide capacity for the expected continuing growth in rail passenger numbers.

        I am pleased to announce that Transport Scotland has today published its initial assessment of the electrification of the Glasgow to Edinburgh rail line. The Government is absolutely determined to attach the highest priority to achieving that truly strategic project, which will establish greater connectivity between the major central Scotland cities. That is the type of project that should command scarce resources to improve significantly our transport connections.

        For roads, our priorities are: first, maintaining and operating the existing network safely and efficiently; secondly, managing demand to reduce congestion at key locations to minimise the impact on the economy; and finally, investing in new capacity where it has been demonstrated through robust appraisal that it is appropriate to do so.

        Having reviewed the existing programme for major strategic trunk roads, we have reached the following conclusions. We are committed to the completion of the motorway network. The extension of the M74 will reduce congestion on the busiest stretch of the M8 through Glasgow and provide links into key regeneration projects of national significance in Glasgow's east end, which will bring much-needed new investment in homes and jobs.

        The M74 project has only one preferred bidder, which makes the need to demonstrate value for money more challenging and all the more essential. We expect to award the contract later this year and to complete the project by the end of 2011. However, we will award the contract to the bidder only if the bid is clear value for money—we will not be held to ransom by a single bidder, and we will benchmark the single bid against an independent cost comparator. That will be a tough and robust process to protect the public purse.

        The case for the M80 Stepps to Haggs project is also clear: it will complete the missing gap between Stirling and Glasgow. Two major consortia are bidding for the scheme as a public-private partnership contract. We are committed to continuing with the competition. Changes to the tendering process would add delay to this much-needed improvement. Subject to value-for-money tests, I expect contracts to be concluded soon and the road to be opened in 2011.

        On the M8, we are committed to completing the key link between Baillieston and Newhouse as well as carrying out associated improvements and upgrades to the notorious bottleneck at Raith. We will continue to take those projects through the necessary statutory processes and, in relation to the M8, we will publish orders later in the summer. Previously published draft orders will be republished to comply with recently implemented European legislation. A decision on how those projects will be funded will be taken within the year.

        The Aberdeen western peripheral route is vital to the north-east and we are committed to its delivery. The project has entered its crucial statutory consultation phase and it is important that we proceed with that. As with the M8, draft road orders will be republished over the summer, to comply with recently implemented European legislation, along with compulsory purchase orders. It is clear that the original timetable for the project cannot be met, and we are looking at the project being completed around the end of 2012. We will continue to work with our local authority partners to deliver that.

        An update of the full trunk road programme covering the other important planned projects was published on the Transport Scotland website earlier today.

        As members know, we are committed to making decisions on the new Forth crossing. The reports that were discussed by Cabinet yesterday recommend the option of a bridge close to the existing crossing. We are pleased to announce to Parliament that a programme of public information exhibitions will be held during the summer on the proposal and on the possibility of a tunnel upstream from the existing bridge. Those exhibitions will present the full facts that have informed the reports. A decision will be taken in the autumn, alongside decisions on finance, legislation and governance.

        The reports have been published today. At 2016 outturn prices, the estimated cost of the bridge option is between £2.5 billion and £3.5 billion, and the estimated cost of the tunnel is £3.6 billion to £4.7 billion. Those figures demonstrate that Parliament must be careful and prudent when considering the projects. The eyes of the world will be upon us as we proceed to construction of this major project that will deliver benefits not just for the people of Fife but for the economy of Scotland. I am determined that the world will witness the delivery of a world-class project in a world-class way.

        We have set out for Parliament today an ambitious transport investment programme. Because of the time that we have taken to review the projects, I believe that we can assure Parliament that the programme is achievable.

      • The Presiding Officer: The minister will now take questions. I will close this question-and-answer session at 5 minutes past 3. I remind members that their questions should be ones of clarification only.

      • Ms Wendy Alexander (Paisley North) (Lab): In justification of the proposed cancellation of EARL and the trams project, the statement notes that there are more important priorities for the use of funds on this scale. What are those more important priorities?

        I understand that the Scottish National Party has called a press briefing immediately following the conclusion of today's debate. Will the party honour this place by making the same case behind closed doors at 5.15 that it will make in the chamber all afternoon?

      • Stewart Stevenson: Having spent 15 minutes describing a wide range of projects, I would have thought that the member would recognise the significant number of priorities that I delineated. [Interruption.]

      • Stewart Stevenson: In particular, I am sure that people throughout the central belt will welcome our support to progress the electrification of the Glasgow to Edinburgh railway line. That is an example of a project that meets the needs of many people in central Scotland and, along with the Aberdeen western peripheral route, to which we are also committed, shows our support for projects throughout Scotland.

      • Tavish Scott (Shetland) (LD): Will the minister confirm that he is pushing ahead with Airdrie to Bathgate, the Glasgow airport rail link, Waverley station, Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine, the M74, the M80, the M8 and the AWPR but that he plans to ditch EARL and the trams and is backing away from the Borders railway? Will he confirm that at the recent election, every SNP candidate north of the Highland line, including his good self, said that a nationalist Government would switch expenditure away from the central belt and towards the north? Where is that switch?

      • Stewart Stevenson: I hope that the member heard me restate the commitment to the Borders railway. If he did not, I say it again. [Interruption.]

      • Stewart Stevenson: I draw the member's attention to an interesting point about the amendment that he appears to wish to support at 5 o'clock. The amendment would delete support for the Government's statement and therefore delete support for the Aberdeen western peripheral route, the M80 and all the projects that he wishes to progress.

      • Tricia Marwick (Central Fife) (SNP): I welcome the minister's commitment to a new Forth crossing. Is he aware of the concern, particularly among businesses in Fife, that there could be a gap between 2013, when it is possible that the existing bridge will close to heavy goods vehicles, and 2016, when it is expected that the new crossing will be complete? Does the minister agree that the gap would have been shorter if the previous Government had acted more quickly? What comfort can he give that he will do all that he can to ensure that this vital link for the whole of Scotland is completed before 2016?

      • Stewart Stevenson: We are, of course, working with all possible speed. I assure colleagues that, in exploring the continuing possibility of one of the tunnel options, no change has been made to the timescale. It is important that Parliament understands that we remain on the same timescale—2016 is the best and earliest opportunity to deliver what the people of Fife, the Lothians and wider Scotland need.

      • Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central) (Lab): Will the minister clarify whether the new Forth road crossing will be a replacement bridge or additional to the existing bridge? Has he considered the public transport component of the new bridge? What modal split does he envisage? In the light of last week's statement and debate on climate change and carbon offsetting, has he factored in the carbon emissions of the various options that are before him? I would have looked up the answer but, although the minister said in his statement that the information was published on Transport Scotland's website today, it was not available before we came into the chamber.

      • Stewart Stevenson: When we consider the strategy and we have the details, we will consider all aspects, including environmental aspects such as carbon.

        On the issue of replacement, the member must recall that we do not know the lifespan of the existing crossing. All efforts are being made to extend its life. We have to protect the link between Fife and the Lothians. In doing so, we wish to enhance the public transport options. We also want to consider the use of multi-occupancy vehicle options to ensure that people who use their own transport to cross from Fife to Edinburgh and vice versa do so in an optimal way.

      • Derek Brownlee (South of Scotland) (Con): The previous Government instituted quarterly reviews of projects against time and cost. Will the minister clarify whether, in any of those reviews, the concerns that he has outlined today were picked up? If so, when were they picked up and what was done about them?

        On the Borders railway, will he clarify whether the conditions and financial contribution that he has outlined today are in any way different from those of the previous Administration?

      • Stewart Stevenson: Derek Brownlee should perhaps direct his question on what happened before this Administration came in a few weeks ago to someone sitting rather closer to him. The important point is that we have—as is normal, natural and necessary—reviewed what we have inherited. I spelled out the financial commitments in relation to each and every project, and we propose amendments only in the cases of the Edinburgh trams and EARL. I also indicated our support for some new strategic projects, and I hope that the member was listening when I did so.

      • Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD): I welcome the minister's comments about the Forth crossing. Will he give us more information about the consultation? Will he be interested in hearing public opinion, or will it simply involve exhibitions telling people what is going to happen? Will he confirm which type of tunnel he will consider? Will it be a bored tunnel or a submerged tube?

        Crucially, given that geological site investigations have not taken place at all sites, what is the basis for the costs that have been outlined today? Can the minister explain how the cost of a bridge has leapt from £330 million in a Faber Maunsell report to the Forth Estuary Transport Authority in 2004 or from the £1.2 billion that he quoted to me in our meeting last week to up to £3.5 billion today?

      • Stewart Stevenson: Margaret Smith's first question was on what we will do over the summer with the communities. The consultation will be about engagement and discussion, and a vital part of the process will be to hear the views of the people who will be affected by any or all of the proposed developments.

        On the tunnel, we have not yet concluded whether it would be a deep tunnel or a semi-submerged tunnel. On costs, to ensure that it is possible to compare projects coherently, I have used outturn prices throughout. The prices that were quoted previously were for the outset of projects. It is important that we understand what projects are likely to cost in 2016 as well as what the budget might be today. I am making a fair comparison today.

      • Christopher Harvie (Mid Scotland and Fife) (SNP): I have three detailed questions for the minister. Costs have already been covered by Margaret Smith, but can I ask for the minister's attitude to the fact that the number of bus passengers in Scotland—an awful lot of emphasis has been placed on bus carriage as an alternative—fell by 16 per cent between 1993 and 2003? That figure comes from Kenny MacAskill in 2004.

      • The Presiding Officer: Can we have a question, please?

      • Christopher Harvie: I want to know the minister's attitude to the bus as an alternative.

        Second is the question of a multimodal tunnel. Will that multimodality include the possibility of high-speed rail links through the tunnel? Thirdly, how do we plan for the expected explosion in oil prices when we hit peak oil, with the $200 barrel and the £12 gallon? Those considerations must be factored in.

      • Stewart Stevenson: I am sure that the bus passenger figures that Chris Harvie used are correct. It is worth making the point that, since 2003, bus patronages have risen somewhat. They are now at approximately half the level that they were in 1960, but they are heading in the right direction.

        On the multimodality of the tunnel, no options have been ruled in and no options have been ruled out.

        On oil prices, the member may be interested to know that the power requirement for the electrified line between Edinburgh and Glasgow may be 10MW. That is equivalent to five wind turbines. I have made the connection.

      • The Presiding Officer: I apologise to the many members who wanted to ask a question but whom I have been unable to call.

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