- The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman):
The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-7593, in the name of John Swinney, on the Forth Crossing Bill.
- The Minister for Transport and Infrastructure (Keith Brown):
It is important to reflect, at stage 3, on why we introduced the Forth Crossing Bill. The problems with the Forth road bridge are well known. Should the crossing be restricted or not available, there will be dire economic and social consequences. That cannot be allowed to happen. Our manifesto therefore committed us to a replacement Forth crossing, and we took action.
In 2007, we developed our proposal. In 2008, we confirmed retention of the Forth road bridge as part of a public transport corridor. In 2009, we introduced the Forth Crossing Bill, which, this year, has been subject to detailed public and parliamentary scrutiny. The bill withstood that examination. In 2011, we will build. In only four years we have gone from initiation to construction. The Government recognises the issues. We have acted quickly, and we have delivered.
Like other members, I never forget that we are making legislation for and on behalf of the people of Scotland. Accordingly, we must engage with those who will be directly affected by it, and we have done so. We have listened, and we have reflected. As the committee graciously acknowledged in its report, we have made a host of significant, positive changes. They include changes to improve design, changes to improve mitigation and changes to improve monitoring, reporting and community engagement.
The hybrid bill procedures, which were applied here for the first time, present undoubted challenges, particularly for objectors. Substantial periods of time have been given to investigating complex matters, some of which are deeply sensitive for individuals. I am sure that we can all learn lessons from the process. However, the process has been thorough and exacting.
It is important to acknowledge the contribution of those who have shaped the bill and its associated code of construction practice. Although I will mention him again in my summing-up speech, I mention first the efforts and diligence of Stewart Stevenson in getting us to this stage. I also thank publicly the many individuals, community councils, local authorities, businesses and associations that have actively engaged in the process. We might not always have agreed, but their contributions and advice were much appreciated, and our proposals are better for that engagement.
It would be remiss of me if I did not mention the people within the Parliament who have done a lot of hard work to improve the bill, including the Finance Committee, the Subordinate Legislation Committee and the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, for their considered analysis. I also acknowledge the leading roles of Mary Mulligan and Margaret Smith in representing their constituents in Newton and South Queensferry. I am sure that the Parliament will join me in paying tribute to the skill and rigour of the Forth Crossing Bill Committee, expertly led by Jackson Carlaw, in scrutinising the bill.
This is a good bill. Together with the associated code of construction practice, the bill is the better for the exacting scrutiny to which it has been subject. The code sets out precisely how the contractor should undertake the works, and it enables full scrutiny and transparency of actions. In so doing, it rightly provides the highest possible levels of protection for the public.
The construction task itself will be huge. It will be, as has been said many times in the media, the biggest single project in Scotland for a generation. The bridge construction will take between five and six years, and our code of construction practice addresses mitigation measures to minimise disturbance over that period. We are also investing in public transport measures. We will implement bus hard shoulder running on stretches of the M90 and M9, and we are working with Fife Council to deliver Halbeath park and ride. Those and other measures will assist traffic flows during the construction phase and beyond.
We will set very high standards in the provision of information. I can confirm that we will establish a contact and education centre at the current offices of the Forth Estuary Transport Authority at South Queensferry, which will be a focus for interested individuals. We are providing accessible engagement and information, because information and providing public protection will be at the heart of this vital project.
The bill is absolutely necessary. The Forth replacement crossing project is absolutely vital for ensuring Scotland’s economic wellbeing. Accordingly, I commend the bill to the Parliament.
That the Parliament agrees that the Forth Crossing Bill be passed.
- Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab):
I welcome the minister to his new brief. I echo the thanks that have been expressed in the context of the Forth Crossing Bill for the work of Stewart Stevenson. The first cut of the design for the crossing perhaps contained an element of overdesign, which can be an occupational hazard for engineers, and Stewart Stevenson played a particularly beneficial role in stripping away some of the less essential aspects of the project, focusing on something that would be more about fitness for purpose and better value for money.
As the minister said, the bill process has been lengthy and thorough. It has been a special process—a hybrid bill process—that right up to just a few minutes ago sought to meet the concerns of as many people who will be affected by it as possible, but of course the bill cannot please everyone.
We have heard opposition to the principle of the bill. Such opposition often fits into wider views that oppose most new road capacity, but in this case we are dealing not with new capacity but with the replacement of existing capacity that there is a real and present danger could be lost.
There are those who would rather that we did not have to take the decision, at least not now, but as a Parliament we cannot buck a big decision with major implications for Scotland’s economy. The long-term repair of the existing Forth road bridge may well involve many years of lane closures, and the opportunity cost per day of lane closures on the existing bridge is in the region of £700 million. That is the nub of the matter.
- Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green):
If—I acknowledge that this is an if—Charlie Gordon comes in a year or a year and a half to see dehumidification reports that suggest that either repair or closure of the existing bridge would not have been necessary for another five or 10 years, what would be his regret about the opportunity cost of committing to the extra bridge?
- Charlie Gordon:
In that hypothetical situation, I would say that hindsight is 20:20 vision, but if we do not take a decision today we will be taking an unacceptable gamble with our national infrastructure and therefore with our national economy.
I am not aware of another fix for the existing Forth road bridge. I am not aware that the Scottish Government or Transport Scotland has had for consideration alternative repair options that do not necessitate years of lane closures on the existing bridge, although I would be happy to take an intervention on that point.
There we have it: this is the nub of the matter. It is decision time, and we have to be clear. The last time that the bill team gave evidence at the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, it gave us the pretty convincing impression that it may be able to let the main contract for the project by April. I think that it will be a close-run thing, and the timeline might raise other issues, but I would not want members to be misled. There is no comfort option of voting for the bill with the thought that we can second-guess any decision about actually committing financially to the main contract. Labour is absolutely clear on that point.
Today is crunch time, and I do not think that we should be taking a gamble on our national economy.
- Jackson Carlaw (West of Scotland) (Con):
I, too, welcome Keith Brown to his new ministerial post. Although I am leading for the Conservatives, I will combine my remarks with observations as convener of the Forth Crossing Bill Committee.
The bill was introduced in November last year, passing stage 2 only last month. Now, some 13 months after its passage began, we will conclude stage 3. By most legislative standards, that is a long time for a measure, which itself is the first hybrid bill to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament.
Through its passage—until today at least—the bill has been led by the former minister Stewart Stevenson. On a personal note and for the record. I say that I found Mr Stevenson at all times to be courteous, well briefed and concerned for the communities involved, as well as being seized with an understanding of the importance and scale of a new Forth crossing. I am in no doubt that the bill could have foundered had an inappropriate approach been adopted, and it is a tribute to Mr Stevenson that he understood that and ensured its smooth passage. I think it is too much for him to expect that it may come to be known as the Stevenson bridge, but he should be content to know that his contribution was a vital component to holding it together, just as the steel will be in holding it up.
I also thank the clerks—Sarah Robertson and her colleagues—who managed the extraordinary volume of material at the various stages of our proceedings effectively and with aplomb. I point out the effective way that Sarah disappointed those members who, only partly in jest, thought that a tour of bridges around the globe would be the most appropriate fact-finding expedition. Instead, she substituted that with a minivan tour around the precincts of the likely route on a bitterly cold and windswept day.
I add my thanks to Hugh O’Donnell, David Stewart and Joe FitzPatrick—my colleagues on the committee. As the bill was a hybrid bill, it was necessary for all members of the committee to be present at all of its meetings, and they did that without fail.
Even more importantly, I pay tribute and offer my congratulations to the many individuals and community groups who actively engaged in the process throughout. For most, that involved a very substantial personal commitment. It was, in every sense, worth while. Much-deserved success was achieved in improving many of the bill’s provisions. A bewildering array of issues was outstanding at the conclusion of stage 1, but any comparison with the schedule that went before the assessor, Hugh Begg—whom I also thank—demonstrates the substance of that success.
In the event, not every objection or alternative proposal could succeed—many were contradictory. However, it was important to the committee that it facilitate an opportunity for everyone to challenge the promoter and present their case. The committee believes that, after a shaky start, the promoter—Transport Scotland—engaged in the process after stage 1 and it looks forward to that engagement continuing during the construction process if the bill is passed later this afternoon.
The Forth Crossing Bill was the first hybrid bill to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament, and the committee is keen that its experiences be communicated. Therefore, we will send a short report to the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee at the end of the parliamentary session.
On completion of the bridge, Scotland will have a new Forth crossing and will have three adjacent bridges from three centuries. That will be an extraordinary and physically visible testament to our nation’s engineering and construction heritage. I am sure that it will be an iconic location for observers and travellers the world over.
I will make one final and personal observation. At various stages, the committee was invited to argue for the inclusion of a public transport strategy in the bill. We resisted, but the future disposition of the existing Forth crossing will become the focus of a subsequent public debate.
In essence, we provide the new crossing not as a replacement, but in addition to the existing bridges. In short, it is required because it is not possible to undertake necessary remedial repairs to the existing Forth road bridge and keep it operational in any meaningful way during a prolonged period of at least seven years. However, those repairs can be initiated on completion of the new crossing, and the life of the existing Forth crossing can be extended by many decades at least.
What will the public expect from that further investment? For the moment, a proposal for a dedicated public transport corridor is loosely advanced. That proposition seems to me to be publicly unsustainable. The idea that the existing crossing will enjoy a future in which nothing other than a bus or two crosses over every half hour or so is patently ridiculous.
Of course, we have many years ahead during which the new crossing will be built and, thereafter, the existing crossing will, potentially, be subject to thorough refurbishment. Although the need to agree the future public purpose of the existing bridge is, therefore, not immediate, it should be the subject of an informed public debate.
Scotland will have a new Forth crossing that enjoys the support of all the main parties that are represented in the Parliament. How we pay for it is now for the Government to determine. Together with my Conservative colleagues and my colleagues on the Forth Crossing Bill Committee, I look forward to the project receiving the endorsement of the Scottish Parliament at decision time tonight.
- Hugh O’Donnell (Central Scotland) (LD):
I am pleased to open on behalf of the Liberal Democrats in this debate. We will support the bill at decision time.
Colleagues from the committee will perhaps recollect that I recounted a story about the history of the bridge of Arta in Greece in the early stages of our deliberations. The story simply concluded by saying that, if the bridge was not completed, the engineers who were responsible for it would be sacrificed to the appropriate gods. We are not quite at that point yet, so I mention that story to say that we should not let Transport Scotland or the contractors off the hook easily.
On a serious note—this begins to sound a little like an Oscar speech—I thank my colleagues on the committee although, for the most part, we were led very ably and constructively by the clerking team. I suspect that I now know more about the technicalities of bridge building and the geological structures and wildlife around the Forth estuary than any person would ever need to know, but it has been interesting and a steep learning curve.
The other thing that I need to do is to congratulate the objectors, as the new minister rightly did in his remarks. They were courteous and polite at all times, and notwithstanding the challenges that face objectors to a project of such a scale, some of whom are individuals, they were well informed, they had the technical knowledge, and it was impressive to listen to the evidence that they gave in the face of the range of expertise that was before them.
As colleagues have said, there is little doubt that the economic consequences for Scotland of not taking the bill forward would be as close to disastrous as we could get, and given the present circumstances, that is saying something. The evidence that we took made it clear that the uncertainty about the medium to long-term future of the existing bridge has made doing nothing untenable.
In fairness, we were impressed by the Government’s commitment to the bill and the project. There are one or two other things that we would have liked to have seen in it. Charlie Gordon mentioned a couple of those in his comments on access to public transport. We were particularly keen on the cycleways. There are reasons why they were stripped out, but on reflection that might have been a missed opportunity.
At current estimates, the cost of the bridge is tagged at £543 million. We know that some of the criticism has been about a £2 billion bridge. It is important to be clear that the difference between the two sums is because of the cost of the project and the cost of the bridge, but what has stuck in people’s minds is the £2 billion figure. In some ways, it is a moot point because, at current estimates, £2 billion is probably what we will have to spend, but there needs to be at least an attempt at some education to make people understand what we are getting for that level of expenditure.
To be fair to the Government, and in light of the general tendency for public projects to eat money, overly so, it has made a commitment to keep the costs as a level 3 item in the budget so that the Parliament’s Finance Committee can keep a close eye on things at every stage. That is to be welcomed.
As I said, the objectors are to be commended. Jackson Carlaw touched on that in his remarks. The promoter, Transport Scotland, has re-engaged with them, but initially it was not particularly clever about some of the engagement that it took forward. Provision of information and consultation are not necessarily the same thing, and initially at least the promoter was inclined to provide information that presented a situation in such a way that people perceived that it was a done deal into which they could have no input. Subsequently, the work of the committee, Transport Scotland and the objectors undermined some of that.
We are pleased that the bridge will be built. We believe that it will benefit the whole of Scotland’s economy. As Jackson Carlaw said, the bill is the first hybrid bill that the Parliament has seen. It has been a very steep learning curve for me and, I think, my colleagues on the committee. I look forward to seeing how the project progresses over the coming years.
- Tricia Marwick (Central Fife) (SNP):
It is a pleasure to welcome my friend Keith Brown to his new post and to acknowledge the work that Stewart Stevenson has done.
The passing of the Forth Crossing Bill at 5.20 this evening will end the uncertainty for our businesses not just in Fife but throughout the east and north of Scotland because, make no mistake, the crossing is vital for the whole of Scotland’s economy.
I thank the Forth Crossing Bill committee and clerks for carrying out their huge task so efficiently. I thank them, too, for coming to the right conclusion.
In 2004, FETA carried out its first internal inspection of the main cables on the Forth road bridge. It found significant corrosion and an 8 per cent loss of strength in the bridge. In December 2007, John Swinney announced that, having considered all the options, he had concluded that there should be a new cable-stayed bridge. In December 2009, a dehumidification project was undertaken to try to prevent further corrosion.
It is worth repeating some of that recent history of the bridge because, as John Swinney said in December 2007, doing nothing is not an option. That is true, because there is no guarantee that the dehumidification will work and, by the time we know whether it will work, it will be too late to start work on a new crossing. We simply cannot allow a situation to arise in which the existing bridge has to close to heavy goods vehicles or to traffic generally. If the bridge had to close completely or for remedial work to be carried out, as Alan Russell of Fife Chamber of Commerce said, it would cost the Scottish economy £1.5 billion a year.
The effect of closure on Fife would be devastating. Businesses would seek to relocate south of the Forth, and members of the public would not be able to get to work in Edinburgh and the Lothians. Congestion on other routes to the west over the Kincardine bridge would bring chaos to the towns and villages along those routes.
It is interesting that the people who have campaigned for years against a new crossing now argue that we should wait and see whether dehumidification works. We cannot wait and see. Even if dehumidification—that is the last time that I will attempt to say the word—works, the bridge has already lost more than 10 per cent of its strength. That strength cannot be replaced unless the cables themselves are replaced. Replacing the cables would mean closing the bridge to allow the work to be done, which is simply not an option.
Today the talking is over. Today is the day that the uncertainty ends. There will be a new bridge and work on it will start next year. That is great news for Fife businesses and the people of Fife, and it brings the debate to an end. Now the work needs to begin.
- David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab):
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate.
Of course, it is a truism that the new Forth crossing is a vital infrastructure project but, as I said in the stage 1 debate, we need to have a balance—a balance that takes account of Scotland’s strategic transport needs, the interests of residents of North and South Queensferry and beyond, and our climate change obligations.
I would like to focus my remarks on the financial aspects of the project. As we have heard, it is estimated that the bridge will cost around £543 million, which is approximately 26 per cent of the project cost. As Hugh O’Donnell said, the often-quoted figure of £2.3 billion is the estimated total, which includes the combined cost of the three separate contracts, risk allowance, optimism bias and VAT, which, as we all know, is to increase to 20 per cent in the new year. The original contract was priced when VAT was at 17.5 per cent. When he winds up, perhaps the minister could confirm whether the new VAT rate will mean a higher range of costs for the project. If that is the case, what will the new cost parameters be?
Optimism bias is an interesting concept, the definition of which should be pinned to the forehead of every new minister and official in charge of a public sector contract. Wikipedia defines it as
“the demonstrated systematic tendency for people to be over-optimistic about the outcome of planned actions ... Excessive optimism can result in cost overruns, benefit shortfalls, and delays when plans are implemented or expensive projects are built.”
- Keith Brown:
The member should be heartened by the experience with the Clackmannanshire bridge, which was delivered on time and on budget.
As I may have other points to address when I sum up, I confirm that the new VAT rate will be applied to the project, but we have reviewed the matter and are confident that expenditure can be kept within the present envelope.
- David Stewart:
I appreciate that, but I saw a slightly worried look on the minister’s face when I mentioned cost overruns. It was remiss of me not to welcome Mr Brown to his new position. In addition, as a member of the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, I put on record my thanks to Mr Stevenson for the important contribution that he has made through his work on the project.
The issue of cost overruns was raised during committee evidence sessions. As we all know from the history of many—but not all—large public sector projects, not least the one that involved the construction of the Parliament building, it is extremely difficult to keep costs within budget, particularly in transport. Other factors that should be borne in mind during the Forth crossing project are the impact of the variable inflation rate on the cost of steel in the world market and weather conditions during construction.
There are a variety of concerns and unanswered questions, some of which I have given the minister advance notice of. Financial issues are one such matter. On such a huge project, how can we determine value for money? There are only two consortia, which comprise eight individual businesses in total. Does the minister seriously think that the successful tender will come in at less than the upper estimate of £2.3 billion for the total project, even with the caveats that I have mentioned? What if one consortium pulls out, as individual elements have done already? What effect will the capital spend on the bridge have on the rest of the capital programmes, such as health and schools? Will the proposed Calman borrowing powers be used for the project?
Like others, I take some comfort from the fact that the crossing will be a level 3 item in the budget and will therefore have a separate budget line. Stewart Stevenson made a commitment to report to the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee every six months and to make a statement to Parliament at the point of engaging contractors. Will Mr Brown confirm that he will honour those commitments, and will he say when the contracts will be awarded? Is there a possibility that the award of contracts might slip until after next year’s election? When will the project be advertised in the Official Journal of the European Union? How long does it need to be advertised for? Will that occur immediately after royal assent?
There will be an opportunity to create more construction jobs. How can we, as a Parliament, maximise jobs for the Scottish construction sector and involve smaller Scottish firms as well? Does the Government intend to use the adopt an apprentice scheme that was launched last year by Fiona Hyslop?
Finally, have Mr Brown’s officials made a further application for EU trans-European transport network—TEN-T—funding under priority axis 13? Grants are up to €1.5 million, so the funding is certainly worth looking at.
The bill is history in the making. If approved, it will commence the largest public sector infrastructure project since devolution. As a member of the committee, I thank the other committee members and Sarah Robertson and her clerking team. Finally, I would like to acknowledge the professionalism of the community councils, business groups and private individuals who submitted well-researched and polished evidence.
I commend the bill to Parliament.
- Ted Brocklebank (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con):
I, too, welcome Keith Brown to his new ministerial responsibilities.
As a Fifer, I welcome the opportunity to speak in this historic debate, which will finally provide a sustainable future for crossings between Edinburgh and the east coast and, specifically, Fife. I have long argued that the kingdom has been poorly served on transportation issues. From the iniquitous road tolls to the campaign to dual the A92—a goal that has yet to be met—Fifers have had to fight at every turn to get a fair deal on road transport.
I was again reminded of how inadequately the transport needs of Fife and the east coast are understood or represented by the media when the road bridge was totally closed by snow for the first time in its history in the December 6 blizzards. The bridge remained closed from dawn right through the day, and I was one of the many thousands of motorists who were left stranded on the Fife side of the Forth. That evening, I checked the BBC Scotland television bulletins to find out the latest news on the bridge closure. Although the evening bulletins were virtually given over to the calamitous weather and how it affected the M8 and other major trunk roads, I heard not a mention of the fact that Scotland’s major east coast artery had been closed for the whole day and no news of whether it would reopen the following day. Interesting news judgment from “Reporting Scotland”—or should I call it “Reporting Glasgow”. What a difference a second crossing over the bridge would have made last Monday.
I pay tribute to my colleague Jackson Carlaw for his work as the convener of the bill committee and to other members and to the staff of the non-Executive bills unit for contributing to the process of establishing a new Forth crossing .
We will support the bill, as we did at stage 1. It is clear that building a new crossing is the most urgent infrastructure priority that we face in Scotland, not just for the economy of Fife but for the economy of the country as a whole.
I note from the committee’s stage 2 report that progress has been made in some key areas since May, when we last debated the issue. Most notably, significant improvements in engagement have been achieved between the promoter and objectors and, despite a predictable yah-boo response from the ForthRight Alliance, most people would accept that a new crossing is both desirable and necessary.
As was previously pointed out, a reinspection of the cables of the current bridge will not take place until the summer of 2012. Obviously, that could be brought forward and we could find out that, as in the scenario that was outlined by Patrick Harvie, the corrosion has been arrested. However, I absolutely believe that any delay would be folly. The Forth road bridge’s future has been hanging over Scotland like a Damoclean sword for far too long. Fife Chamber of Commerce has already warned that, if the bridge had be closed for an estimated three-year period while further work was carried out, the damage to the Fife economy would be incalculable. Action is required now and that is why all responsible members should support the bill at decision time.
Returning to the committee’s report, I see that one of the positive developments in the project is the improved and strengthened code of construction practice. That will help to address the very real matter of noise and vibration management control during construction, which was raised by Margaret Smith. Giving local authorities a greater voice in that regard will, one hopes, allay fears about the level of the noise distraction that will inevitably occur over the next five years. I note that the working hours have been amended by the committee, so construction from Monday to Saturday will start not at 7 am but at 8 am, and will now finish at 6 pm on Saturdays. Those seem to be sensible changes.
These are early days for the project, and the next five or six years will not be without their challenges. I recognise that the total cost of the new crossing could well be in excess of £2 billion at a time when public finances are being squeezed, but we are where we are. Today we can all make a difference by voting in favour of this major investment in Scotland’s future. I commend the Forth Crossing Bill to members.
- Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD):
I welcome the transport minister to his new portfolio, and I thank him for taking the time to meet me yesterday at what I know is an incredibly busy time for him. I have been involved in discussions, exhibitions, public meetings, parliamentary procedures and objections on this issue for more than five years. If I was to try to quantify the time that I have spent, it would run into hundreds of hours of my life; that is sad, but it is quite an achievement that I am still here. Despite the fact that the new minister has had only a few days to get his head round the issue, and not five or six years, he was willing to meet me yesterday and engage constructively in discussions, for which I pay tribute to him.
In dealing with this important national project, I have done my best to speak on behalf of my constituents—particularly those who are most affected by the proposals—while recognising the national significance of the scheme and the need for an on-going crossing, which is of such importance both economically and locally.
The proposal that any outgoing Government should sign off a contract in the weeks leading up to an election should probably be discussed among all parties, to make certain that anybody who goes into the project knows that they have the full support of whichever group of individuals might form the next Government.
I pay tribute to the people and the community groups of South Queensferry and Kirkliston, who have objected and spent the past few years engaging with Transport Scotland to try to improve the proposals. I thank the Forth Crossing Bill Committee, the other committees and the assessor. I also thank Stewart Stevenson for all his efforts in dealing with the project, even though I did not particularly agree with many of them.
I cannot begin to explain to colleagues the stress and concern that the affected residents feel. It is with a sense of disappointment and some anger that I say to members that many of my constituents feel that they have been ignored and let down by Transport Scotland, by ministers and by the Parliament. Even the bill committee acknowledged in its stage 1 report that Transport Scotland had got it wrong in its consultation with local residents; Jackson Carlaw referred to that again today. One example is that it was my clear preferred option and that of other members and, overwhelmingly, the local community that we should have a tunnel rather than a bridge. I am tempted to say to Ted Brocklebank that, if we had had a tunnel instead of a bridge, he probably would not have experienced the delay that he did a few weeks back. The fact that the committee believes that Transport Scotland improved its consultation and engagement efforts as time went on is cold comfort. Proper engagement and trust were needed at the beginning of the project, when the really big choices were being made.
The real choices—the key decisions—are taken long before a bill such as this one reaches Parliament. We then continue to engage in an unequal contest between Government and citizen, Parliament and objector. On one side, there are professional transport engineers, civil servants, Queen’s counsel and noise experts, who are all being paid handsomely for their services. On the other side, there are ordinary members of the public who are expected to compete, usually with little or no preparation time and with no professional support except for people such as Mary Mulligan and me. It is a very unequal contest.
When every single objection that is brought forward by an objector, including my own, is dismissed by the assessor, I believe that I am right to question the process as much as the policy. In the coming weeks, I will be happy to take part in a consideration of how the process might be amended and improved. There are those who will point to some of the changes that have been made by Transport Scotland behind the scenes, and I know from conversations with the committee clerks, who have worked incredibly hard on the bill, that concessions have been made, but I still believe that the scheme will bring years of disruption and that it will lead to a great deal of traffic congestion.
I remain concerned that, ultimately, the clamour will grow for the existing bridge, which will be the most expensive bus lane in the world, to be open to all road traffic and that the traffic crossing into west Edinburgh will rise dramatically. On-going discussions will be need about that.
As John Howison said, the new bridge is a “distress purchase”. It is a distress purchase that has flaws, as it fails to integrate properly with public transport, opens up the possibility of increased traffic in local communities and will cost us a great deal of money without delivering a 21st century solution.
I certainly welcome the decision to listen to our calls to move the main works compound south of the river from the back of hundreds of homes at Springfield, but I am compelled to ask why anyone thought that that was acceptable in the first place.
I pay tribute to those in my own objector group who pushed successfully for better provision for cycling and pedestrian links but, in the main, it is disappointingly clear that the big issues, such as the roads, remain unchanged. This should have been an opportunity to build a future-proofed crossing fit for 100 years. Instead of a multimodal bridge being built, we have pared back on that. We were promised a direct link to the M9 but, sadly, we are not getting that either. Both Mary Mulligan and I have championed the idea of a direct link to the M9 and I am sorry that she was told that her amendment on the matter was inadmissible at stage 2, because of decisions already taken at the assessor hearings at the earlier stages of stage 2.
Changes made by ministers to the original proposals mean that traffic will come closer to the town of Queensferry, with a resultant increase in noise and reduction in air quality and an increase in traffic heading into West Lothian. I remain concerned about noise. I have had my say on that already, but we may come to regret the decision that we have taken.
The residents of Queensferry and surrounding areas will face years of disruptions and construction traffic. It has a real impact on routes such as Station Road and the High Street and it will have an impact on businesses, so I am pleased that my amendment on proper information was accepted unanimously by Parliament and, indeed, I am pleased by the minister’s comments, which went further,
I accept that there is a need to ensure that a road link is maintained over the Forth. Although we know that progress has been made on dehumidification, we do not know and will not know whether that has been totally successful until it would be too late to build another bridge if we left it to that point to make that decision. I have always accepted that. Not only have I had five or six years of dealing with this problem as it has progressed, in a former life I was a member of the Forth Road Bridge Joint Board, so the bridge and the crossings of the River Forth are of great interest to me, and I accept the arguments made by the bridgemaster and others.
The vast majority of MSPs will feel today that the national need for a road crossing at Queensferry is the most important and, indeed, the only issue on which they will vote when they pass the bill today. I understand and respect that view. However, I hope that colleagues will accept that it is also reasonable that, as the constituency MSP for the residents most affected, I continue to raise my concerns about the manner in which the scheme has been brought forward and about the very negative impacts that it will have on people’s lives for years to come, as I have done in the past.
- Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green):
Before I begin my well-rehearsed discordant note, I add my welcome to Keith Brown in his new role as the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure. I look forward to his appearances at the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, whether he is there to talk to us about public transport or the weather or to tell us what a wonderful new white elephant he has just been sold, because that is what is happening today.
It would be a failure of the Parliament if nobody made a speech disagreeing with the fundamentals. I agree with much of Margaret Smith’s speech, but I do not share her final conclusion that we cannot afford to wait before we take the decision. I think that it would be wrong if the Parliament did not hear some expression of that argument during the debate. Nobody disagrees that a road crossing is necessary at—or roughly at—the place where the existing road bridge is, but I believe that the case in favour of an additional road bridge at that point is weak and that it has been weakening far more quickly than the cables on the existing bridge.
There have been complaints about capacity for many years. Some people, certainly north of the bridge, who relied on it daily argued for an extra bridge long before there was any concern or doubt about the state of the existing one. They have argued for more capacity. We all know that that would dump tens of thousands of additional cars into Edinburgh’s already congested streets every day, and we should argue clearly against that.
- Tricia Marwick:
Many years ago, the Conservative Government proposed another Forth crossing. Patrick Harvie is not accurate in saying that those north of the Forth supported that call. Fife Council clearly opposed it. It is simply not true that people north of the Forth have always argued for more capacity.
- Patrick Harvie:
I did not say “always” or “all people”, and I certainly did not say “Fife Council”. I said that there have been people in Fife who have argued for more capacity. I think that Helen Eadie has explicitly made the case in the chamber in the past that she has always argued for additional capacity, and she is sticking to that. People have made that case, but the Government’s proposal purportedly does not support it. Allegedly, the Government says that the existing bridge will become a public transport corridor only. Jackson Carlaw was perfectly right and honest to say that that position is absurd. The idea that the same commuters will queue up for the same amount of time on the same day to get over a bridge with the same road capacity and will spend the same amount of their lives in traffic jams getting stressed just the same without looking over their shoulders and saying, “Open the bridge,” is absurd. Any Government will find it hard to resist the political pressure to increase the overall capacity for road traffic into Edinburgh, and there will be bad consequences as a result of doing that.
Fears have been repeatedly stated and restated—and sometimes overstated—that the existing bridge will be closed. I have not seen any reliable suggestion that the existing bridge is expected to be closed at any point in the foreseeable future on which anyone can speculate. I think that Keith Brown spoke about dire consequences. There might be dire consequences, but we do not know that yet. It is advisable to find out the state of the existing bridge, whether it might have to be closed to HGVs—not to commuter traffic; I have seen no reliable projection of that—and, if so, when. We do not know the answers to those questions. If we had a delay of only six months or so, we would be closer to having some confidence.
There have been fears that the existing bridge cannot be repaired. That is objectively wrong. I have no doubt that repairs would be disruptive, but building a new bridge is disruptive; indeed, any of the solutions will be disruptive. I am not convinced that, if repair options are being considered, all the options for minimising that disruption have been fully detailed. They have been outlined but not detailed. That is understandable because they cannot be detailed until the state of the existing cables is known.
- Margaret Smith:
Does the member acknowledge that the state of the anchorages is also an issue and that we know even less about them than about the state of the cables?
- Patrick Harvie:
I accept that, and my argument stands. We should find out the state of the existing bridge before we decide what we will do with it, whether we need to build a new bridge, or what level of disruption would be implied by repair.
There have also been fears about safety. The minister and his predecessor have said that those fears are misplaced, but sometimes those misplaced fears have been whipped up by the use of emotive images that conjure up the idea of rusting cables and an unsafe bridge. The bridge is not unsafe.
I have said before and say again that the timescale for the decision-making process, which is coming to an end, was designed not around the policy demands but around the timing of the election. I cannot countenance the idea of a £2 billion press release for the current Administration. We are not talking about just a £2 billion press release. If history gives us any lessons, we know that such projects often go well over budget. The issue is not just the bridge’s price tag; there is an opportunity cost at a time when public transport spending is going down, huge investment, which is not available, is required in our energy system, and the housing budget is being cut by more than 30 per cent. I appeal to Labour members, who have argued against the cut in the housing budget and about its social cost, not just its economic cost, as the years go by. We have been told not to take a gamble with Scotland’s economy. A £2 billion punt is being taken, and it is not just the economy that is being put as a stake in the gamble; our social objectives are, too.
I will vote against the bill.
- Mary Mulligan (Linlithgow) (Lab):
I join other members in welcoming the minister to his new role. I congratulate my constituents in the village of Newton on the work that they have done in presenting the case for a direct link road between the new bridge and the M9. I thank the Forth Crossing Bill Committee for the way in which it received the community’s representations on that and other issues.
For the past 18 months, I have represented constituents suffering from the impact of living alongside a building site while the Airdrie to Bathgate rail link was being constructed. Many people were greatly distressed by the process, so I can only imagine how bad it will be for people who are affected for six or maybe seven years by the construction of the Forth crossing. Although I recognise the need for and the benefits of a new crossing, I urge the minister to be vigilant as the project progresses and to deal timeously with problems that arise, whether they relate to noise, which Margaret Smith highlighted, or other issues. For people living in Newton and South Queensferry, problems will be very real.
Throughout the process, I have supported constituents who have argued for a direct link from the new crossing to the M9. At present, an unacceptable amount of traffic uses the A904 through Newton to travel between the Forth bridge and the M9. One need only stand in the village for a few moments before another huge lorry thunders by. We should remember that it is a local road that is maintained by the local authority. Indeed, it is advertised as a tourist route, although I cannot imagine tourists getting any pleasure from taking it. Our real concern is that, as the new crossing is further west towards Newton, more people will use the rat run and the quality of life for people who live just a few feet from the road will deteriorate still further.
This could be seen as a nimby issue, but that would be unfair because there are several features that move it beyond the local context. I will mention two. We will be asking drivers to use a state-of-the-art 21st century bridge and then, to access the M9 motorway, we will ask them to use a local road with twists and turns and dips in it that were impassable in last week’s snow. Scottish Chambers of Commerce and the West Lothian Chamber of Commerce have said that we need a modern and efficient link to the motorway. If we listen to the business community’s point that we need a new bridge, why do we not listen to its point that we need a new link road?
The Scottish Government has missed an opportunity to save money through the link road, as it could have joined the motorway at the new Winchburgh junction, which would have saved the cost of a new junction and of adjustments at junction 1A. However, the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland rejected the possibility of the link road, which I very much regret. I believe that, unfortunately, they, too, will regret it in time, but they will not regret it nearly as much as the people of Newton will. They are the ones who will suffer most as a result of there being no direct link.
I want to flag up concerns about the hybrid bill process. Some members might ask why, if I was so convinced of the need for a bridge-M9 link, I did not lodge an amendment to have one built. The process means that I could not do that without halting the whole bill, and I did not want to do that. Therefore, we have a situation that is not acceptable. I appreciate that the committee has called for a report to review the process. I hope that my constituents and I will have a chance to contribute to that report.
I look forward to working with the minister during the construction process to ensure that people are not disadvantaged. I also look forward to the opening of the new Forth crossing.
- Jim Tolson (Dunfermline West) (LD):
I, too, welcome the new Minister for Transport and Infrastructure. I know that Keith Brown has been diligent in many things that he has done in the Parliament and I am sure that he will do his new duties as diligently as he has done many others.
The Forth replacement crossing will be an essential strategic link for the whole of Scotland. For many years, the current Forth road bridge has been operating grossly over capacity. Rather than have further delays, as some members have suggested, it is of the highest priority that we move the project forward with all possible speed. I say that not just for my constituents in Dunfermline West who commute across the existing bridge regularly, nor, as Ted Brocklebank suggested, for the people of Fife, but for the many people in Scotland—visitors and residents alike—for whom a reliable Forth crossing is an essential part of day-to-day life.
Although there are legitimate concerns about construction noise, we believe that the measures in the bill will reduce such effects as much as possible. In fact, much of the likely construction noise will come from the construction of the road rather than the construction of the bridge.
I would like the minister, in his summing up, to give further information on a point that he touched on earlier in relation to the park-and-choose options. He helpfully suggested that the Halbeath park-and-choose facility will go ahead. I urged his predecessor many times to proceed with the park-and-choose facilities at both Halbeath and Rosyth, because they will both make sure that more people use public transport not just from Fife, but from further north as well, reducing the impact of traffic on the new bridge. I ask the minister to clarify whether the park-and-choose facility at Rosyth will also go ahead.
The need for a new bridge is incontrovertible. Keith Brown, among others, said that having no crossing would lead to dire social and economic consequences. Indeed, as one member said—I cannot remember who it was—the effect on Fife of having no crossing could be a loss of £1.5 billion a year. As is often the case, Charlie Gordon made a moot and interesting point when he said that it would be an unacceptable gamble not to have a Forth replacement crossing proceed now. I agree 100 per cent with him. The effects on the Scottish economy, not just the Fife economy, would be extremely significant.
Tricia Marwick helpfully referred to the corrosion on the existing Forth road bridge, which we know has been significant. A loss of 10 per cent of the strength of the existing bridge is of great concern and, as she rightly said, that strength will not come back even if—and it is a huge if—the dehumidification works.
Hugh O’Donnell also touched on the economic need for a bridge.
The cost of the crossing has been mentioned by a number of members. Just over a quarter of the £2 billion is the cost of the bridge itself; most of it is the cost of the road construction, et cetera. Most of the concerns of Margaret Smith’s constituents arise from that part of the project, and I understand why. I am sure that, if I were in her shoes as a local member on the south of the river rather than the north, I would have similar concerns on behalf of my constituents. I commend my colleague for so ably representing her constituents.
Dave Stewart made an interesting point about the optimism bias and the VAT rate. It is important that we get some answers from the minister on that. Everybody wants to make sure that, whatever its budget, the crossing comes in on budget and on time, providing the vital link to which I have referred.
Margaret Smith and Mary Mulligan both made important and interesting references to the earlier plans that had a direct link to the M9. I was quite a fan of that sensible idea. For a number of reasons, however, all sorts of suggestions, including a direct link to the M9 and possible multimodal use of the new crossing, have had to be pared down to minimise the costs. There is also a cost balance to be struck in relation to quality.
In summary, with the possible exception of Margaret Smith—who has strong constituency concerns—and one or two others, the Liberal Democrat group will support the passing of the bill. It is the right decision for not just my constituents, but individuals and businesses throughout Scotland. I also look forward to seeing three iconic bridges spanning the centuries across the Forth at Queensferry in just a few years’ time—a true tribute to the engineers, designers and politicians of the day.
- Gavin Brown (Lothians) (Con):
I commend the Forth Crossing Bill Committee for all its work, for which it has received plaudits from all sides. The bill that we have before us is unquestionably better as a consequence of that committee’s work.
I, too, welcome Keith Brown to his role as minister. This morning, I was taken aback to hear what a great start he had made. I was listening to the news bulletin on Galaxy FM on the way in today, and it was said that the cost of the Forth replacement crossing would be £2.3 million, which I thought was a phenomenal piece of work by Mr Brown in just a matter of days.
The debate has, quite rightly, been consensual. It is right that it is consensual because of the size, scale and cost of the project. It is also right that it was kept consensual because the decisions that are taken today will affect the next Government for the entire parliamentary session and the Government that will start in 2015 for a fair bit of that parliamentary session.
As many members have said, the project is an urgent priority for Scotland. It was certainly the number 1 transport project in the Scottish Conservative manifesto at the last election.
Paragraph 4 of the policy memorandum talks about
“a continuing and reliable primary road link between Edinburgh and the Lothians and Fife and beyond in order to safeguard the economy, particularly of the east coast of Scotland.”
As other members have said, the crossing is an economic imperative for Scotland. Councils and chambers of commerce support it. Fife Chamber of Commerce’s view was
“We will not rest until such time as the new crossing is in place”.—[Official Report, Forth Crossing Bill Committee, 24 February 2010; c 24.]
The decision that the Parliament takes today is important because investment decisions could be put on hold without a clear signal from the Parliament at decision time.
We have heard some of the arguments about why the bridge is so important and why it is needed, and we heard from Patrick Harvie some of the arguments against it. One thing is clear: the cables in the existing bridge have been weakened. The drying process might prevent or slow down the rate of corrosion, but it is obvious that the lost strength in those cables will not be recovered, no matter what happens. Tricia Marwick gave a loss of strength figure of 10 per cent. Others have given a higher figure; 10 per cent seems to be the lowest figure for the strength that has already been lost.
The committee’s stage 2 report said that all committee members were convinced that there is no alternative to an alternative Forth crossing. That is absolutely right. I make no apology for reiterating Jim Tolson’s reiteration of Charlie Gordon’s point that to do anything other than vote for the bill would be to gamble with Scotland’s economy in the medium term. That is not a gamble that the Scottish Conservatives are prepared to take.
At the start of my speech, I said that the bill is better because of the committee’s work. It is also better because of Margaret Smith’s amendment 4, which the chamber agreed to unanimously.
There is a cost to going ahead, but the cost of not going ahead will be far greater, which is why I will support the bill at decision time.
- Charlie Gordon:
This has been a good debate. The new minister has not put a foot wrong, which is more than I can say for myself. Earlier, I said that the opportunity cost per day of a lane closure on the existing bridge was nearly £700 million. It is not quite that much; it is £700,000—still a lot of money.
Jackson Carlaw, as convener of the hybrid bill committee, gave an interesting summation, but then the Tory transport spokesperson in him came to the fore and, not for the first time, he marched towards the sound of gunfire, saying that we need a debate about using the existing bridge for more than just public transport and cycling once the new bridge has been completed.
Hugh O’Donnell made the interesting suggestion that, if the project is not delivered on time and on budget, the Transport Scotland officials should be sacrificed ancient-Greek style. Labour reserves judgment on that proposal.
Perhaps more seriously, Mr O’Donnell suggested that cost control was an issue. We all worry about that for this and any other project, do we not? During the summer, I had a look at the site of the M74 completion project. I am pretty familiar with the contract for that project. It is perfectly possible to obtain closure on a contract when most of the risks are with the public sector, to control costs and—as in the case of the M74 completion project—to do so not just on time, but ahead of schedule. I think that the road will open in the summer, although exactly who will open it is for another day.
Tricia Marwick made her usual contribution on the new bridge, which she has consistently supported. In the stage 1 debate back in May, I suggested on the record that she was originally a Glaswegian but, after the debate, she corrected me on that privately. That is her loss. She made a strong point, which other members have repeated. She is sitting with the Conservatives now—they are cutting some kind of deal, perhaps to slam the door on Labour. Other members have taken up her strong point that, even if repair of the existing bridge is wholly successful, it has been irreversibly weakened by the difficulties that it has had in recent years.
Dave Stewart went into detail on optimism bias, at which John Swinney became quite enervated. From a sedentary position, John Swinney accused my colleague Mr Stewart of pessimism bias. I look around the chamber for Iain Gray or Frank McAveety to keep me right on my Gramsci, who I think referred to pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the spirit—I say that with apologies to Gramsci. I prefer to paraphrase Kipling. When it comes to optimism and pessimism, we should
“treat those two impostors just the same”.
We all know that Ted Brocklebank is a Fife nationalist, but he complained that he was stranded in Fife last week. What is wrong with that? That same week, I was stranded in Edinburgh—how do members think that I felt about that? He said that the BBC’s “Reporting Scotland” programme should be renamed “Reporting Glasgow”. Tonight, for sure, it will be reporting Ted Brocklebank.
Margaret Smith and Mary Mulligan fought the good fight on their constituents’ behalf. We should note what they said that their constituents thought were the shortcomings of the new hybrid bill procedure. We must all address those points in the future.
Patrick Harvie wanted us to take a gamble. Taking a gamble with the nation’s infrastructure is not serious politics.
- Patrick Harvie:
Will Charlie Gordon give way?
- Charlie Gordon:
I am sorry—I am in my last few seconds.
Taking gambles is all very well when we calculate the risks, but when the consequences of losing are unconscionable, we have only one choice before us.
- Keith Brown:
I have enjoyed listening to the debate. If the truth were told, I have enjoyed listening more than speaking, because my voice is not doing well. I am glad that I have a couple of quiet days ahead of me on Thursday and Friday.
Before responding to individual comments, I will make some important points. It would have been better if more members had been in the chamber. As many members have, I record my thanks and admiration for the work that my good friend and colleague Stewart Stevenson undertook. If the bill is passed today, it will be due to a recognition of, and a worthy testament to, his drive, enthusiasm and dedication to the project. His involvement and leadership in delivering the project from development to design and through the bill process were considerable. I am sure that all members acknowledge his substantial contribution.
There is general consensus on the bill albeit, sadly, with one or two notable exceptions. I thank Parliament greatly for its interest and support. This is a proud day for Stewart Stevenson—it should be—for the Parliament and, most important, for Scotland. This is the day when Scotland commits to a world-class structure across the Forth. As a couple of members have mentioned, we will have three bridges—three iconic designs made over three centuries—in one splendid Scottish setting. This is not only about structures. Beautiful though they are, such structures are merely a means to an end in which our purpose is, of course, to secure our future economic and social wellbeing, thereby providing an inclusive and economically vibrant Scotland.
A number of points were raised in the debate and I will try to address them. In his summing up, Charlie Gordon referred to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth as being “enervated”. I have never seen John Swinney enervated. I have seen him energised perhaps, but I have to say that: he is my boss. Charlie Gordon made a number of interesting points, to which I will come back. He also touched on points that members who spoke before him had made, not least of which were Jim Tolson’s points on the Halbeath junction and Rosyth. The Halbeath commitment remains in place and there will be further discussion on the matter with Fife Council. We cannot put a price on the works until we have had that discussion. I cannot say just now whether we can commit to Rosyth. We do not yet have sufficient details from the council on that, but I am content to explore the option, while being mindful at all times of funding constraints. We will explore the option as best we can as things go on.
I say to Mary Mulligan that we are providing a link from the new bridge to the M9, using the existing asset of the M9 link. I remind her that we are making improvements to traffic management in Newton: we will sign traffic from the M9 through to Newton. I mentioned earlier the funding commitment that we will make.
I say to Dave Stewart that we are confident that we will be able to sign the contract in April; we are very confident on that and we want to do it because we can then commence work in the summertime. David Stewart also asked about EU funding applications. We have done that but, unfortunately, we were unsuccessful. He also made a point on regular updates to committees. I will continue the commitment that Stewart Stevenson gave previously; Dave Stewart will be aware of the updates that Stewart Stevenson has already given. We will provide six-monthly updates.
Dave Stewart also spoke of his concern about the two consortia that are bidding for the project. My view is that there is very little likelihood that either would like to withdraw, given how much they have already put into the process that—of course—started quite some time ago. He also made a reasonable point on the adopt an apprentice programme. That issue is one for my colleague Angela Constance, who has the skills remit. We continued the programme this year, but whether it will continue in the future depends on budget constraints. I will ensure that my colleague takes up the point.
A number of members made the point to Patrick Harvie that the real risk is that, if we were to wait until we had checked the cabling—which will happen in 2012—and the results were wrong, we would not have enough time to build the new bridge. If we do that, we will stand to be condemned by everybody in Scotland.
- Patrick Harvie:
Does the minister recall that the initial proposal was to report back on the dehumidification work in 2011? Why cannot we proceed according to the original timescale? That would result in only a six-month delay between receiving the report and the current projected timescale for signing the contract.
- Keith Brown:
The member should know that the cable inspection results will not be known until 2012. This is not only about cabling. As, I think, Margaret Smith said, it is about other aspects of the bridge, too. We cannot risk not having a replacement crossing in place by the time drastic action needs to be taken in terms of remedial work to the cables and elsewhere on the existing bridge.
In approving the bill to construct the bridge, Parliament will be protecting and investing in the economic wellbeing of Scotland. We will be protecting and investing in our future—Scotland’s future. In voting for the bill today, we reaffirm our commitment to our collective future. As I said, we are building an iconic bridge—the third such bridge across the Forth.
Before I finish, I should say that I appreciate Ted Brocklebank’s statement on iniquitous tolls. I very much agree with him: we should not have iniquitous tolls on any bridge in Scotland. I worked very hard on that in the past.
As I said, in voting for the bill today, we reaffirm our commitment to our collective future. All that remains is for me to ask Parliament to formally support the motion.