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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, January 20, 2022


Strategic Transport Projects Review 2

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The next item of business is a statement by Michael Matheson on publication of the second strategic transport projects review. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interruptions or interventions.


The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport (Michael Matheson)

I am pleased to announce the publication of the second strategic transport projects review and will set out some of the significant recommendations it makes that will provide real and lasting benefits for people and businesses in Scotland.

The report will inform the Scottish Government’s transport investment programme over the next 20 years and help to deliver the vision, priorities and outcomes set out in the national transport strategy, in which we committed to reducing inequalities, taking climate action, delivering inclusive economic growth and improving our health and wellbeing.

The review’s recommendations represent a repositioning of our transport investment priorities. The focus is firmly on how transport can help us to protect our climate and improve lives. It applies a balanced approach, covering all modes of transport and all areas of Scotland. It considers which measures can be best deployed to improve the greatest number of people’s lives and make the biggest improvements to communities and our environment.

I want to highlight four key areas of investment that we have identified that will help us to make truly transformational changes to how we travel in Scotland. Those areas are mass transit in our biggest city regions, improved connectivity for transport in rural and island communities, decarbonisation of public transport and improving active travel infrastructure.

On mass transit, the Clyde metro project, for example, represents a multibillion pound investment that, when completed, could better connect more than 1.5 million people—from Clydebank to Cambuslang and from Easterhouse to East Kilbride—to employment, education and health services in the Glasgow city region. Having better access to affordable and reliable public transport in our city regions has the potential to significantly reduce inequalities and to enhance opportunities for many people who live and work in some of the most deprived areas of Scotland. The project will make a substantial contribution to tackling climate change by reducing car-based trips and associated emissions. The difference that it could make to the lives of people and communities in the Clyde area is huge.

On rural transport, as well as significant investment in port infrastructure, we are recommending the further investigation of potential fixed links—bridges or tunnels—at the Sound of Harris and Barra, and between Mull and the Scottish mainland. Those could improve communities’ access to goods and services and make those islands more attractive for people to live and work in and visit.

The review also recognises our strategic connections, including investing in cross-border rail as well as enhancing safety, resilience and reliability by making improvements to the A75 and A77 strategic road corridors, which connect into the port of Cairnryan.

We are already making real progress in decarbonising public transport. STPR2 takes that to the next level. We plan to renew and replace lifeline ferries, and progressively to decarbonise the fleet. We will also invest in more rail electrification and ensure that more low-carbon buses operate on the network. We will work to ensure that more freight is taken off the roads and support the delivery of infrastructure to assist in the transition to zero-emission vehicles.

We also want to see improvement of infrastructure that encourages more people to walk, wheel and cycle more often, and not just for short journeys. That improvement would have a huge range of benefits for the climate, the natural environment and the economy, and for people, neighbourhoods, communities and businesses. In particular, we want children and young people to benefit, and we will invest in measures to promote active travel for them and encourage safe and sustainable travel to schools.

STPR2 sits at the heart of our plans and efforts to ensure a green recovery from Covid-19 and a fair and just transition to net zero. The pandemic has shown that people have a huge appetite to change travel patterns if we get the policy and support right to help them to do so. We want to support more people in continuing to make the sustainable travel choices that have been seen during the pandemic, so that people can return to public transport and so that our economic recovery does not overly rely on road-based travel.

Transport policy has moved on since the first STPR in 2008, and big economic and social changes happened in that time. Therefore, this set of recommendations importantly reflects a more rounded, sustainable and environmentally focused approach to transport, as the national transport strategy sets out.

The core of that thinking is to support two key policy pillars. The first is that, for most journeys, the natural and easiest choice should be active travel, then public transport. Even when a car is used, car pooling or sharing should be easier. The second is the sustainable investment hierarchy, which focuses first on measures that are designed to reduce the need to travel; secondly, on effectively maintaining and safely operating existing assets; thirdly, on making better use of existing capacity; finally, on targeted infrastructure improvements when they appear to be the only feasible solution.

We will no longer predict and provide road infrastructure for unconstrained growth in private car use. In short, the recommendations will contribute to the fairer, greener Scotland that we are seeking and that we all want to live in.

STPR2 has been a collaborative undertaking from the start. Early on, 11 regional transport working groups were established to inform the development of proposals. We have involved communities and transport users across Scotland. The online consultations in the Borders and the South West of Scotland received several thousand responses, as did the national feedback to phase 1 last February. I thank the wide range of people and organisations that were involved, whose contributions have added invaluable insight as well as vital local knowledge and experience at every stage of the process.

That undertaking has been significant. We have distilled 14,000 initial ideas or suggestions from across Scotland into a long list of 2,800 options that were then consolidated into 1,400 stand-alone proposals, which were collated into 80 similar groups. The detailed appraisal process resulted in 45 recommendations for transport investment, which we are now sharing with stakeholders and the public for their views.

As I have been speaking, the review, with its 45 recommendations, has been published on the Transport Scotland website. That publication marks the start of 12 weeks of public consultation, with the survey now live on Citizen Space. Now, people all over Scotland get to have their say, and we will do our best to promote the consultation and encourage people to get involved.

STPR2 has a crucial role to play as we lead a green recovery from the pandemic and as we seek to deliver on our net zero ambitions. We know that it will not be easy for people to make changes, which is why the review focuses on creating the infrastructure and connectivity and delivering the transport modes that will help people to change how, why and when they travel.

Transforming Scotland’s transport requires a cohesive national effort and a repositioning of the type of transport investment that the Government makes. The 45 recommendations seek to achieve that. Some of the most important ones are the most local, but they are all focused on delivering outcomes that will make life better for us all.

As we embark on the next steps of the journey to transform how Scotland travels, by working and taking these crucial decisions together, we can create a Scotland that is fairer and greener for all.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The cabinet secretary will now take questions on issues that were raised in his statement. I intend to allow around 20 minutes for questions, after which we will move to the next item of business. It would be helpful if members who wish to ask a question would indicate that by pressing their request-to-speak button or placing an R in the chat function.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement. However, a bit like last week’s statement on cutting car mileage, this statement and its accompanying document raise more questions than they provide answers for. We can see the direction of travel, but we do not know how we will get there.

The cabinet secretary cheekily mentioned East Kilbride when referring to the Clyde metro project. He has a bit of a nerve, given that investment in the East Kilbride line is being cut. However, perhaps the situation has changed since he was last there, wearing a hard hat, for a photo call. I like the sound of city metro systems, but there is zero to say how and when that will be achieved or how much it will cost. Perhaps the cabinet secretary could clear that up.

Sticking with rail, why is there still no timescale for a smart ticketing system? Why is there only mention of talks, rather than action, on cross-border high-speed rail? What are the plans to improve the situation in the north? Will the far north line be dualled? There is no mention of that.

STPR2 was an opportunity to set out a different route for our failing ferry system, but there is nothing there. No multimillion pound investment has been set out. Where is it? Islanders are calling out for it. If we want our buses to be net zero, we need to spend more, but the statement says nothing about how we will achieve that. This is a series of missed opportunities and there remain a lot of questions.

Michael Matheson

I am grateful for Graham Simpson’s comments, although I obviously do not agree with the sentiment behind them. As ever with Mr Simpson—in this case, on important measures to transform our country—the glass is half empty rather than half full.

STPR2 is a blueprint that will transform the way in which transport infrastructure is delivered in Scotland. The Clyde metro system is a good example of mass transit that will transform areas along the Clyde; it will make a meaningful difference to communities and the 1.5 million people who will benefit from it. I am sure that Graham Simpson will recognise that it is a multibillion pound, multiyear project. STPR2 is a 20-year programme, and delivering and driving forward the Clyde metro programme is part of our vision for the next 20 years, which will make a significant difference to people who live in that area.

I will pick up on the brass neck of the Tories coming here and talking about high-speed rail, given that high-speed rail is not only financially out of control in England but is being cut right back so that it does not go as far north as was intended. It is a bit rich of Graham Simpson to come here and start demanding that we take action on high-speed rail.

My final point to Mr Simpson is about bus investment. If there is one thing that this Government has done, it has invested in decarbonising our bus infrastructure in a way that the UK Government has utterly failed to do. We are helping to support crucial industries, such as in the example of ADL, through a really difficult period. That is why STPR2 sets out how we will continue to invest in our bus infrastructure so that it delivers for the people of Scotland.

Am I disappointed? No, I am not. It is not unusual for Mr Simpson to be disappointing and he has proven me right yet again.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement. It has been a long time coming, but appropriately, when it comes to transport projects, we now have the very late publication of STPR2. Given the Government’s track record on transport, few communities will believe that the vague commitments that have been made in the review will be delivered.

Given that the Government has cancelled not one but two Glasgow airport rail links in the past 14 years, why should communities believe the cabinet secretary when he says, “Some time in the next 20 years we might build a Glasgow metro. In the meantime, the public can continue to use the train services that we’re cutting, at the ticket offices that we’re axing”? After years of being the forgotten region, why should communities in Dumfries and Galloway and Ayrshire in the south-west believe the cabinet secretary when all they are being offered is vague commitments to possible improvements to the A75 and A77, with no commitments to recognising the strategic importance of Cairnryan to Scotland’s economy?

On smart ticketing, the review says that the Government will continue the on-going development of fully integrated smart ticketing. I wonder where this on-going development is taking place because I have certainly not seen it. When will communities actually see the detailed timescale for when the projects will be delivered and the budgets for them? When will they be delivered?

Michael Matheson

I am grateful to Mr Smyth for his comments. He referred to the delay to STPR2 and he will be well aware that it was delayed because of the pandemic. In order to help the process, we published phase 1 last February to bed in some of the gains that we saw during the pandemic, particularly around active travel.

I will pick up on some of Mr Smyth’s other points. He will be aware that we are at the start of the 12-week STPR2 consultation period, and at the end of that process, we will publish a delivery plan that sets out how we take forward the recommendations that are set out in STPR2. That includes areas in which I know he has a particular interest, such as the A75 and the A77, to which we have committed to improving in specific areas in line with the pre-appraisal work that was carried out on the south-west Scotland transport corridor.

One of the real challenges with implementing a smart ticketing system across the whole of Scotland is the number of operators of different scale. We have more than 200 bus operators, all utilising different systems for ticketing. One of the real challenges that we face is aligning all that work, alongside the shift that the public are making in using tap and go technology. It is about aligning all that to ensure that we have an integrated system right across the country.

Mr Smyth can be absolutely assured of this Government’s on-going commitment to ensuring that we take forward that work to deliver the kind of smart ticketing system that he is looking for.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

The A737 is a major arterial route through North Ayrshire and Renfrewshire. Previously in the chamber, the cabinet secretary has assured me that the A737 will be considered for inclusion in the STPR2. With more than 8 million vehicles travelling along this increasingly congested road each year, is that still the case? Can we look forward to significant investment in the A737, not least for reasons of safety, during the current parliamentary session and beyond?

Michael Matheson

I can confirm that the A737 has been considered within STPR2 and that work has identified problems and opportunities to address congestion, particularly in Kilwinning, to which the member refers. The recommendations are that we should consider renewal and improvements in reliability, including on the A737, and those improvements are anticipated to be part of the on-going work that we will take forward following the delivery plan for STPR2.

That being said, we have already invested a significant amount—£36 million—in this road; the construction of two new road schemes and the construction of the Dalry bypass and the Den realignment have also helped to improve safety and make for better journey times in those areas. I assure the member that the road has been considered and it continues to be one of the priorities for future investment.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

The document provides warm words, but no specifics around rail in the north-east. Will the programme of enhancements deliver the full 20-minute reduction in journey times to the central belt that the Scottish National Party has promised since the first STPR in 2008? Will the much-trumpeted £200 million be spent on that and, if so, when?

I see no mention in the document of relaying the Dyce to Ellon line. Is the cabinet secretary telling the people of the north-east that the Scottish Government will not be relaying any rail lines in the north-east?

Michael Matheson

It is clear that Liam Kerr does not understand STPR2, which is for strategic investment purposes—in other words, it relates to national projects and programmes, not rail enhancement programmes. Such rail programmes are dealt with through the rail enhancement programme, which is published on a five-yearly basis. We are presently in control period 6. It sets out the vision and the measures that we will take in that regard. [Interruption.]

The second thing to point out is that STPR2 recognises that the enhancements and improvements in the seven cities programme will be a key part of future investment. That includes investment in the north-east of Scotland, including in Aberdeen. The investment to which Liam Kerr referred is still committed, in order to help to reduce journey times on that route. The challenge relates to where that investment should go if the improvement in journey times is to be delivered. That investment to reduce journey times to Aberdeen might not necessarily be spent directly on areas in Aberdeen.

In relation to Ellon, Liam Kerr will be aware of the commitment to the rapid bus transport programme for Aberdeen, which is a very ambitious programme. It will extend all the way out to Ellon, so that the vision that has been developed by the North East of Scotland Transport Partnership, which we are helping to fund, can be taken forward. That will be transformative for the north-east of Scotland. That is another clear example of how this SNP Scottish Government is investing in the north-east to ensure that it delivers for all the people of Scotland.

I encourage members to ask their questions, but not to provide a running commentary on the answers as they are being given.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I have continually lobbied for the strategically important A75 and A77, which connect Scotland to Europe and the rest of the UK, to be upgraded on the grounds of safety and efficiency. I have also called for improved rail and bus frequency and improved rail connectivity, which would be brought about by, for example, reopening Beattock station, to attract people and businesses to the south-west.

Will the cabinet secretary give examples of how STPR2 will improve transport infrastructure across the south-west, and reiterate how it will improve the attractiveness of public transport?

Michael Matheson

I acknowledge Emma Harper’s long-standing interest in the matter and how she has pursued it diligently over many years.

I recognise the importance of strengthening our connections. One of the 45 recommendations of the review is on improving access to Stranraer and the port of Cairnryan. That includes a package of proposed targeted road improvements on both of the south-west routes that Emma Harper mentioned.

We have looked at realigning the route of the A75 around the villages of Springholm and Crocketford and we are targeting accident locations in order to further improve road safety in the area. Our work on the A77 is focused on resilience improvements, including provision of overtaking opportunities and expansion and development of areas around Turnberry, Girvan, Ballantrae and Cairnryan.

On public transport, we are looking at the option of upgrading or relocating the existing railway station at Stranraer in order to provide greater connectivity.

I am conscious of the number of questions that we still have to get through. I again plead for concise questions and answers that are as concise as are possible.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

Glasgow city and region has not had a serious transport project under the SNP Administration since 2007, but we desperately need one. The proposal for the Clyde metro has no timescale and no serious funding allocated to it. It appears to be more of a concept in a document than a real and tangible transport project.

When is that project likely to start? When will it be a reality? Will it be in five years or 10 years, or is the cabinet secretary saying that it will take 20 years? I think that the people of Glasgow and the wider city region have a right to know.

Michael Matheson

I recognise Pauline McNeill’s concerns about investment in transport infrastructure in Glasgow. The good news is that STPR2 will deliver that vision with the Clyde metro programme, which will cover an area reaching about 15km from the city centre. It will build on the work that has been done by the Glasgow connectivity commission, which was helpful in detailing improvements that could be made. We will build on that to put in place the work that is necessary to develop that programme.

That will include working not only with Glasgow City Council but with all the local authorities in the region. We work with a range of local authorities and other partners on how we can take forward that strategic investment programme over a number of years. I cannot give a specific timescale, other than to say that it will happen within the STPR2 period. That is because a detailed work plan for the whole proposal must be developed.

I assure Pauline McNeill that I believe that a project such as the Clyde metro could, if we get it right, be absolutely transformational for communities in Glasgow and the wider Clyde area. We are determined to drive that forward and will engage with all stakeholders to do exactly that.

My plea for succinct questions and answers appears to be falling on deaf ears, but I repeat it.

How does STPR2 seek to promote sustainable transport in Stirling?

Michael Matheson

Evelyn Tweed may be aware that STPR2 includes a strong commitment to active travel. To build on our active travel commitment, we are currently investing some £115 million per year on active travel, which is a significant increase, and we have committed to increasing that to more than £300 million per year by 2024-25, which is 10 per cent of our transport budget. Communities such as the member’s constituency will benefit from that. Her constituency currently benefits from some £7 million that we committed to improving active travel, through the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

The plans to renew and decarbonise lifeline ferries are welcome. In the final First Minister’s questions of 2021, the First Minister acknowledged the national strategic importance of the Unst space port. Unst is dependent on ferry travel. Fixed link infrastructure, along with the space port, could transform north isles communities such as Unst. Given the concerns about depopulation of the outer isles, will the minister add to the Scottish Government’s recommendations fixed links between islands?

Michael Matheson

That is not part of STPR2 in its present form. We have made a commitment to explore the provision of fixed links in the Western Isles and from the mainland to the island of Mull. I have no doubt that, during the course of the consultation, we will hear representations about other issues from communities across the country. However, what Beatrice Wishart asks for is not in the existing STPR2 document.

Kaukab Stewart (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

The proposed Clyde metro is an exciting prospect for Glasgow and Glasgow Kelvin and the surrounding areas. It could prove to be key to Scotland hitting its net zero targets. Will the cabinet secretary set out some of the envisaged economic, environmental and social benefits of that project?

Michael Matheson

From an environmental point of view, the project has the potential to remove a significant number of cars from our roads and to increase use of public transport, which has clear environmental benefits. A multibillion pound project of that nature will drive economic benefit; improving connectivity can improve economic output.

From a social point of view, I note that some of the most deprived communities in Scotland have very poor transport connectivity. We must address that in order to improve opportunities and to give access to key services and employment. One benefit that could come from the Clyde metro would be the creation of connections to communities that currently have very poor levels of public transport. Doing so would transform those communities by providing greater opportunity for employment and connecting them to key public services across the city region.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I warmly welcome the review. It is a clear shift in priorities towards public transport and active travel, and it will ultimately move millions of people in Scotland away from car dependency.

Will the cabinet secretary give a reassurance that the door will remain open for investment in smaller rail projects, such as Newburgh railway station, that are not specifically mentioned in the strategy, if strong business cases emerge for those projects?

Michael Matheson

STPR2’s recommendations on rail focus very much on decarbonisation of the network and on maintenance, upgrading and safe operation of the existing network. However, there remains a path on which regional and local rail projects can be brought forward, subject to a strong business case being developed. I understand the merits of local campaigns on such matters and I recognise Mark Ruskell’s involvement in some of them.

A good example of the reopening of a railway line is the Levenmouth link, which came about through a local campaign. I had the pleasure of agreeing to the funding for it. There are other routes, at regional and local level, through which, for investment in the future, schemes can be developed and business cases forward.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

Despite the south-west Scotland transport study that was completed two years ago, which detailed dozens of viable options for long-overdue improvements to transport infrastructure in the south-west, the document that has been published today does not take us forward. Indeed, it might take us backwards, given its lack of any mention of bypassing of towns or villages on the A77 and the A75. It does not even reference the bottleneck at the Bellfield interchange. Does the cabinet secretary accept that the continued lack of commitment to any specific improvements in the south-west will come as a profound disappointment to long-suffering residents and businesses along those routes?

Michael Matheson

STPR2 builds on the south-west Scotland transport study, which identified a range of potential interventions and those that are viewed as being the most viable and appropriate to take forward. They are investment in the A75, investment in the A77, consideration of how we can improve rail connectivity into the south-west of Scotland, active travel infrastructure, and bus infrastructure. The south-west of Scotland will benefit from all those things through STPR2.

Brian Whittle might not like the fact that we are taking action to address those issues, but I have no doubt that people in the south-west of Scotland will welcome the action that the Government is taking and what is set out in STPR2.

Will the cabinet secretary provide an update on how the recommendations support the shifting of freight from road to rail and how that will benefit the south-west?

Michael Matheson

As I mentioned, one of the key areas that we have focused on in relation to improvements to our railway infrastructure is enhancement and improvement of it through greater electrification and improvements to reliability. A key part of the reason for doing that is that it will allow us to increase the potential for freight capacity on the rail network. That is why we set out in STPR2 the key recommendation to improve and increase the level of freight on our rail network. I have no doubt that people in the freight industry will very much welcome our commitment to driving forward further improvements in rail freight across the country, including in the south-west.