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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 06 November 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Poverty, Urgent Question, Ivory Bill, Committee Announcement, Decision Time, Maybole Bypass


Contents


Maybole Bypass

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-14491, in the name of Emma Harper, on the Maybole bypass and South Scotland road infrastructure. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the upcoming announcement from the Scottish Government regarding which company has won the contract to carry out the five-mile stretch of off-line bypass and associated junctions for the South Scotland town of Maybole; understands that this decision will be based on one of four already shortlisted companies, Farrans Roadbridge, John Paul Construction, R J McLeod and Wills Bros; notes that this stretch of road will separate local road users from those travelling longer distances, including to the ports, which will therefore minimise disruption from heavy traffic in Maybole; considers that this stretch of bypass will significantly improve road safety and journey time reliability; congratulates the Scottish Government on achieving what it considers this landmark step for the infrastructure in South Scotland, while understanding that more investment on other roads in the region, such as the A75 and A77, is also needed in order to improve safety, journey times and to bring about business that will see a much needed boost to the rural and local economy of the south west of Scotland; acknowledges the work of the Maybole Bypass Committee members past and present, local residents and businesses who have tirelessly dedicated themselves to many years of campaigning to secure the bypass, and commends both the A75 and A77 action groups for their continued efforts to bring about positive change in the region.

17:23  

I thank everyone from across the chamber who has supported my motion on the Maybole bypass and the wider South Scotland road infrastructure. All that support from my colleagues has allowed us to have this important debate. It is crucial to the people whom we represent across the south-west of Scotland.

I welcome the support, collegiate working and input from Jeane Freeman, who is the constituency member of the Scottish Parliament for the area. She has helped to engage people and to raise awareness of the issue. I look forward to working with her in the future.

I pay tribute to the A75 and A77 action groups, who are watching from home. Because of the digital infrastructure that we are so keen on, many people have chosen not to travel from the region and instead are watching from home. I thank them for their work in lobbying me, other elected members and the Scottish Government for major investment in the transport and infrastructure issues that affect our main arterial routes in the south-west.

People in Maybole have been campaigning for a bypass for 70 years, which seems like a long time. Members of the Maybole bypass committee—including Peter Mason, David Kiltie and former MSP Adam Ingram, to name but a few—helped me by providing additional information ahead of the debate. I spoke directly with Peter and Adam and they explained that it was agreed by many people years ago, before the Parliament was even created, that a bypass was essential in order for Maybole to be a viable modern town. The committee should be commended for having the foresight to secure future funding to support the historic attributes of the town centre.

In 1998, 22 years ago—again, before the creation of the Scottish Parliament—Maybole community council set up a sub-committee to campaign formally for a bypass. Peter Mason has chaired the group ever since, for which I thank him. The sub-committee, which is made up of hard-working and dedicated local people with cross-party associations, has met every single transport cabinet secretary and minister since the Parliament’s creation 20 years ago. The committee’s only interest is growth and prosperity for the people of Maybole and the surrounding area.

Speaking with people from Maybole has made me realise how important it is for the town to have a bypass. It would be 5km long, and would cost an estimated £30 million. In addition to some of the more obvious reasons in favour of a bypass, overall roads improvement would contribute to attracting the people whom we need to live and work in rural south-west Scotland, including general practitioners, teachers, healthcare workers and other skilled professionals. Maybole and the connecting A77 area boast much of the south of Scotland’s history, historic buildings and heritage, and the town hall and the castle have serious cracks that are believed to be due to heavy traffic trundling its way through the town centre.

Although I am encouraged that the Scottish National Party Scottish Government has committed to construction of the Maybole bypass, I urge the cabinet secretary and the Scottish Government to make the contractor announcement as soon as possible. The announcement will allow shovels and diggers to be put in the ground, and will show the people of the south-west that they are not forgotten, and that the SNP Government is standing up and delivering for them.

As well as the need for the Maybole bypass, there is a wider need for upgrades to infrastructure around South Scotland, particularly on the A75, A76 and A77. Those main, and critical, arterial routes connect the south-west to wider Scotland and to international markets via the port of Cairnryan. Businesses, local people and our emergency services rely on the roads for their operations. The roads are essential in bringing people, tourists and investment to the region. I am reminded of the comment, which I have heard since I was a wee girl, that is aimed at tourists coming from the south and heading north, that they should not forget to turn left at Gretna.

The roads are not fit for current travel and haulage purposes, which is causing much upset, dismay and frustration for local people. In August, I hosted a meeting in Stranraer with representatives from the A75 and A77 action groups, which was attended by representatives of Stena Line and P & O Ferries as well as MSPs, including the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity. That was an opportunity to listen to local voices. It was concerning to hear Stena and P & O, as well as local people, say that they felt forgotten by the Scottish Government because of the lack of a clear commitment to investment in those routes.

Rather more worrying is that anecdotal evidence suggests that some hauliers are avoiding the A75 and are using alternative routes to access Ireland by travelling to Holyhead. They blame the poor infrastructure and the 40mph speed limit for that. We cannot let that happen, so I ask the Scottish Government to investigate and discuss that with the companies.

I welcome the positive steps that the Government has taken so far on improvements to the A75 and A77, and the work to create the Maybole bypass. I encourage people to provide input to the south-west Scotland strategic roads review. Indeed, when elected members met Humza Yousaf at a meeting that was organised by Jeane Freeman MSP, he encouraged them to continue to feed in on-going road improvement suggestions ahead of the launch of the review.

I stress to the cabinet secretary how important it is for the Scottish National Party Government to ensure that the people in the south-west are listened to, are connected to wider Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom and—most important—feel that they are not forgotten.

Additionally, I call on the Scottish Government to provide feedback on when the construction company will be announced so that we can witness construction of the Maybole bypass.

I conclude with a comment that was made to me by the chairman of the Stranraer Development Trust, Romano Petrucci, which is relevant to the wider south-west communities, with regard to our conversation about the roads. He said:

“We are Scotland. Help make us part of Scotland. Connect us to Scotland”.

That is my message to the cabinet secretary today.

17:30  

I thank Emma Harper for bringing the debate to the chamber. It comes on the back of a similar motion of mine, so we need have only one debate on the matter.

Ever since I came to Parliament the issue has, to be honest, been on my agenda. One of the first meetings that I attended as an MSP was a meeting in Dumfries with the then Minister for Transport and the Islands, Humza Yousaf, and the Deputy First Minister. The room was full of local councillors, MSPs, hauliers, and shipping agents. At that point, I think that both the cabinet secretary and the Deputy First Minister said that they were there to listen.

Roll on another year and pressure from the A75 and A77 action groups meant that there was another meeting in Parliament with Humza Yousaf, who once again said that he was there to listen. More recently, this year we had a new cabinet secretary, Michael Matheson—as Emma Harper has already said—coming to a meeting and saying that he was there to listen.

That is the reality of the situation. If we go all the way back to 2010, the then First Minister, Alex Salmond—in welcoming a £200 million investment by Stena and a £90 million investment by P & O—made a commitment to upgrade the A75 and the A77. In 2011, Alex Neil, who was then the relevant minister, stated that it was a travesty that the previous Labour Government had not invested in the A77.

In 2016, Jeane Freeman’s campaign leaflet said that she was working to make sure that we would see the Maybole bypass being started, as promised, in 2017. In 2017, the very same member’s campaign leaflet said that she had secured confirmation from the Scottish Government that work would start in the summer of 2018 on the Maybole bypass. In summer 2018, a newsletter dedicated half a page to saying that the SNP Government had made Maybole safer. Interestingly, it went to some lengths to avoid committing to a specific date.

It now looks as though Maybole will get the bypass that it has campaigned so long for, but I do not think that it will get the kind of bypass that it so richly deserves. It does not speak to that bigger picture of what is required for the transport infrastructure of the south-west.

Maybole has a 20mph speed limit to protect the buildings and the safety of the people. That is on a trunk road. I have on my office wall a map that shows all the trunk roads in Scotland, and where the 20mph, 30mph and 40 mph limits are on the system. The A75 and the A77 are littered with 20mph and 30mph limits. From Ayr, people can get all the way to Aberdeen or they can go all the way to Berwick. If people get on the A75, once they get to the M74, they can go all the way to Barcelona without coming into contact with another 30mph limit.

The south-west is cited as the forgotten corner of Scotland. I would go further; the reality is that it is being ignored. I had the great pleasure, with the Health and Sport Committee, of driving up the A9—

Does Brian Whittle agree that the debate will raise awareness of the south-west of Scotland, so that we can change the rhetoric about being forgotten and ensure that the Government pays attention?

My colleague Finlay Carson and I have been part of the campaign since we were elected to Parliament. I say gently to Emma Harper that, quite frankly, she is a bit late to the party. We have been talking about the issue for a long time. It is only through campaigns, such as those by the A77 and A75 action groups, that momentum has gathered and she has started to pay attention. I am sorry if that upsets Emma Harper, but that is the reality.

Will the member take an intervention?

The member is in his final minute.

It is a real pleasure to drive up the A9, which is a fantastic road, but it will be dualled—people are talking about electrifying it—before any real work is done on the A75, the A76, the A77 and the A70.

It is time that the south-west got the investment that it so richly deserves. Those roads are there for not just the economy of the south-west but the economy of Scotland. Cairnryan is the biggest port in Scotland and, the last time I spoke to Stena Line, it suggested that we are losing 6 per cent of business to the Dublin to Holyhead route. Not having that investment will affect the economy of the whole of Scotland.

17:36  

I thank Emma Harper for lodging her motion.

The cabinet secretary might recall that, when he met South Scotland MSPs and members of the A77 and A75 action groups in Stranraer in September, John Campbell from the A77 action group laid a pile of envelopes on the table. Inside them were numerous improvement plans for the road that went back for decades, none of which has happened. John even told us that the route for the Maybole bypass was pegged out in 1936, but it has never been built. I suspect that the people of Maybole will believe that a bypass is going ahead when they see workers physically on the ground with shovels, digging the road.

At a time when the Government is pledging £3 billion to dual the A9 from Perth to Inverness, the fact that we are celebrating that just 1 per cent of that investment is planned for trunk road upgrade projects in the whole of south-west Scotland highlights that we are a forgotten region when it comes to investment in transport.

As Brian Whittle said, people can drive south from Golspie in the Highlands to Ayrshire for more than 250 miles without needing to go through a stretch of road where the speed limit is below 60 miles per hour. However, as soon as they hit the village of Minishant on the A77, they need to go through not one, not two but eight towns and villages with speed limits as low as 20 miles per hour on the 40-mile stretch to the ferry terminals at Cairnryan.

Frankly, the A75 is not much better. It is the main trunk road that connects the north of England with Cairnryan and the ferry crossing to Northern Ireland. However, the villages of Crocketford and Springholm remain without bypasses, and most of the rest of the road is single carriageway, with limited safe overtaking opportunities.

Connectivity with the ferry ports is key. That is why the roads are of strategic importance not just to south-west Scotland but to all of Scotland, the north of England and Northern Ireland. Fundamentally, the issue is not about roads; it is about the economy. The A75 and A77 carry billions of pounds of products and services to and from Northern Ireland every year. They also serve communities the length and breadth of south-west Scotland—communities whose economic challenges are well documented.

Pay in Dumfries and Galloway is the lowest in the whole of the United Kingdom. We have a rising unemployment level at a time when the national level is falling. That is before we factor in the chronic problem of the outward migration of young people from the region because of a lack of local high-skilled and high-paid employment opportunities. There is no doubt that the lack of investment in our infrastructure—physical and digital—is a major barrier to growth for existing firms and to our ability to attract new businesses to south-west Scotland. We need to break down those barriers.

Could Colin Smyth tell us why only £1.9 million was invested in the A77 when his party was in power from 1999 to 2007? Since the SNP took power in 2007, we have invested £35 million in the A77. Can he explain that?

There has been significant investment, going back many years, from Glasgow right down to Kilmarnock, where Willie Coffey lives. There has been no investment in Dumfries and Galloway—not a single project from the SNP Government to upgrade major roads in the area. That is shameful. The Government should take no credit.

The fact that the Government is proposing to invest £3 billion in the A9 is fantastic news for people in the north of Scotland, but why is there not more investment in the south of Scotland? We need to break down the barriers for the A75 and A77.

Of course, there may be other roads in other parts of Scotland with vehicle numbers that are higher overall and which are crying out for investment. However, on the A75 and A77 there are significant traffic volumes that tie in with ferry times—much of it heavy goods vehicles travelling at 40mph. That leads to pinch points where journey times are just not good enough for such a strategically important route.

The A75 and A77 are not economic pipelines for the south-west of Scotland. They are currently a stranglehold on economic growth.

In 2011, the then First Minister, Alex Salmond, opened the new Stena ferry terminal at Cairnryan. In his speech he made several grand promises. He made a commitment to the three Rs: regeneration, roads and rail. The delivery of all three for the people of south-west Scotland has been three Fs: fail, fail and fail.

In the brief time that we have, it is not possible to do justice to the undeniable economic case for investment in the A75 and A77 or to the sheer anger and frustration within south-west Scotland at the neglect that we feel when it comes to the lack of investment of the past. There is a reason why we now have such active and passionate A75 and A77 action groups, which are doing a great job of raising the profile of the plight of our region’s trunk roads.

It is time for the Scottish Government to listen to those groups. It is time for a long-term commitment from the Scottish Government to dual the A75 and A77. In the short term, it is time for clear plans for major upgrades and more passing places that will begin the journey towards that goal. In calling for that, the people of south-west Scotland are asking not for favours but for fairness.

17:41  

I congratulate Emma Harper on raising this important issue in Parliament. I welcome the considerable £30 million investment in the Maybole bypass.

I asked about that investment in June 2018; I was pleased that, in response to my parliamentary question, the cabinet secretary confirmed that the construction would provide opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises to bid for subcontractor roles and that there would also be site-based training opportunities. I understand that peak employment during construction will amount to jobs for 165 people. That is really good news.

As Emma Harper said, that is a tremendous testament to the tenacious campaigning by local people and to a Government that listens. I notice that the website of the Maybole bypass action group shows that—as other members have noted—campaigners have been writing to transport ministers for years. It was a trip down memory lane to read the names of previous transport ministers: Sarah Boyack, Tavish Scott and Nicol Stephen. Those ministers did not deliver, but the SNP Government is delivering.

As other members have said, the campaign goes back 70 years, through many years of Tory neglect of Scotland’s infrastructure when the Tories were in charge before the Scottish Parliament was set up.

Will the member take an intervention?

No, I want to make progress.

The Labour and Liberal Democrat ministers I mentioned were in office before austerity. Since the financial crash of 2008, a great deal less money has been available, but the Scottish Government is delivering. That is all the more remarkable when we think that in the 10 years that the Tories have been in power at Westminster, our budget has fallen by £2 billion in real terms—yet we are still delivering.

The motion goes on to talk about other roads in the south of Scotland and a similar theme emerges: other parties carp and carp, but the SNP delivers. Brian Whittle mentioned a meeting that he attended in Dumfries in 2016, which was his first experience of talking about roads in the south of Scotland. I was the one who called for that transport summit in 2016, which was delivered in the August. It is Brian Whittle who is a little late to the party.

In a members’ business debate in 2012, I pointed out that the six improvement projects identified as priorities for the A75 in the 2008 local transport plan had all been delivered by the SNP—that was just before the major upgrade of the A75 from Hardgrove to Kinmount was announced.

I contrast the delivery of those six projects by the SNP Government—as I did in 2012—with the previous Labour Government’s record between 1997 and 2007 of only one major project completed on the A75. Further, in the five years to 2012, the SNP Government devoted £36.7 million to special projects on the A75; in 10 years, Labour spent £5.9 million. However, that does not mean that I do not think that there is more to do for the A75.

The Government is committed to spending £3 billion on the A9—which is good news for the people of the north of Scotland—whereas there are no proposals other than the Maybole bypass for the whole of south-west Scotland. Does Joan McAlpine think that that means that we are getting a fair share of Government investment at the moment?

I was going to go on to say that I have spoken about the 2008 local transport plan, which had six project priorities for the A75 that were all delivered. I was really surprised in 2016 to see that that plan had not been updated. Colin Smyth was head of economy in Dumfries and Galloway Council at the time [Interruption.] If he was so keen for the Scottish Government to improve the A75, why did he not get the finger out and tell the Government what he wanted it to do? That is why I called the transport summit—[Interruption.]

No, no, no, no. Please sit down a moment. I want to hear the member. I also say that microphones do not come on when people are heckling. Please continue, Ms McAlpine.

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

As I said when I called the transport summit, a constructive way forward was to get a focus, so that we could update the local transport plan, which has still not been updated, and let the Government know the priorities. That is what we did. Members need to focus on making sure that the Government’s national transport priorities, which are outlined in the strategic transport review, contain ideas for upgrading roads in the south-west. I am interested in the A75 in particular.

As a result, the Government has launched a study. It has commissioned the south-west Scotland transport study, which focuses on how to connect D and G and South Ayrshire to key markets. The consultancy AECOM is consulting people in important stakeholder groups across south Scotland. It is important that we all make constructive proposals, which is why I have worked with the dual the A75 group, getting it a meeting to brief the previous minister on the challenges for that road. Other people have talked about the A9; it is important to learn from the A9 campaigners and feed into reviews. When we do that, I am confident that this Government will deliver, because it has a record of delivering that the Tories and Labour do not.

17:48  

I congratulate Emma Harper on lodging her motion for debate, and I note that she is part of the current generation of politicians who are calling for a Maybole bypass. I declare an interest as a resident of Carrick, which has been disadvantaged by the lack of a Maybole bypass for many years. Brian Whittle has also recently nailed his colours to the mast of the campaign for the bypass, as has Jeane Freeman. Before her were Adam Ingram, Phil Gallie, Cathy Jamieson, George Foulkes, George Younger and Colonel Sir Thomas Moore—and they are just the ones whom I have known.

The motion tells us that the bypass is about to be delivered, but I want members to note that it has been a long time coming. Indeed, my father told me before he died that the first campaign for a Maybole bypass took place between world war one and world war two, which tells Parliament just how long it has been an issue for the people of Carrick, as has been confirmed today by Colin Smyth.

That a bypass would be a boon for the townspeople of Maybole is beyond doubt; they have been blighted by the volume of traffic that has polluted the High Street for generations. That a bypass would benefit significantly the people who live south of Maybole in Girvan, Ballantrae, Barrhill, Newton Stewart and Stranraer is beyond question. International businesses such as William Grant & Sons, which is based in Girvan and has 60 lorries a day on the road, and all other businesses there, as well as the Ireland ferry traffic, will welcome the bypass. I hope that it will finally be built by the Scottish Government after so many false dawns. The local view is that people will believe it when they see it.

Can John Scott confirm that he and his party voted against the budget that allocated funding for the Maybole bypass?

I cannot confirm one way or the other because, to be frank, I cannot remember.

Today’s debate encompasses the A77 and the A75, and I want to speak about the need to improve the A77 at the Bankfield roundabout in Ayr, which is known locally as the hospital roundabout, where congestion at peak times usually makes it on to Radio Scotland’s road traffic reports. Southbound traffic on the A77 is often queued back to the Holmston roundabout, which is almost a mile to the north of the Bankfield roundabout, between 7.45 and 9 o’clock in the morning, as patients and staff make their way to Ayr hospital. Similarly, in the evening, traffic can be queued from Ayr hospital to the Bankfield roundabout, with patients and staff overloading the A713 at that time.

It is not just me who says that the part of the A77 from the Whitletts roundabout to the Bankfield roundabout needs to be made into dual carriageway; the cabinet secretary will know that the case for that was made 10 years ago. Jacobs Consultancy produced a report for South Ayrshire Council that demonstrated the need for that section to be dualled. That need was appraised under the Scottish transport appraisal guidance by Transport Scotland, and it is still detailed on Transport Scotland’s website under the strategic transport projects review objective 2 in table D24.1.1.

In the past 10 years, absolutely nothing has been done about the need to upgrade the A77 from single to dual carriageway around Ayr, between the Whitletts roundabout and the Bankfield roundabout, and I can tell members from personal knowledge that the congestion that resulted in the STAG appraisal that required action to relieve congestion and address road safety concerns has only got worse. It is time for another appraisal of that most congested part of the A77 to be carried out, and for a delivery plan to be put in place to address seriously the needs of neglected A77 road users and, in particular, those who use that section of the road, which adjoins my constituency.

17:52  

Although I welcome Emma Harper’s bringing this evening’s debate to the chamber, I find it a bit strange that we are being invited to welcome something that has not yet happened, that is years late and that will not deliver the bypass that the people of Ayrshire and of Dumfries and Galloway want—a bypass that is fit for the future, by which I mean a dual carriageway with associated cycle and walking paths. The debate marks a landmark—a landmark in mediocrity, which is a further indication that the Scottish Government has not taken the south-west of Scotland seriously.

My contribution to the debate is about the need for further investment in the road and rail infrastructure in our forgotten part of Scotland. It is incredible that Emma Harper and Joan McAlpine can defend the SNP Government’s lack of investment in infrastructure in Dumfries and Galloway.

Will the member take an intervention?

I would like to make some progress.

I will start with the topic that is at the top of the agenda in my constituency at the moment—the Stranraer to Ayr railway line. The line was closed to all trains until last weekend because of the dangerous state of Ayr Station hotel. I record my thanks to Alex Hynes and his ScotRail Alliance team for getting services up and running again. However, we need a cast-iron assurance from the cabinet secretary that the task force will continue to meet regularly until the situation is fully resolved. I ask him to give a commitment that trains will continue to run without further line closures. We demand that if platform 4 has to be closed again, as might well have to happen to allow work on the hotel to be done, the train service be run from a temporary platform south of Ayr station. My constituents will accept nothing less.

I turn to the roads.

I was reading the motion and wondering when we would come on to the roads. Here we go.

The motion is about infrastructure investment, Presiding Officer.

I live only a few hundred yards from the A75, and have done so for almost 45 years of my life. I have lost count of the number of fatalities that I have heard about along its 95 miles, which have impacted on the families and communities that those people came from. My sad claim to fame is that my great auntie, as a child, was the first recorded fatality on that road, and was among the first fatalities from road traffic accidents in Scotland, after having being hit by a car only five yards from where my father still lives.

The A75 is a Euro route—it is part of the E18—and has huge importance for Dumfries and Galloway and the whole of Europe, because it is the route to the Cairnryan ferry port and one of the shortest sea crossings to Ireland. However, it is the only stretch of that Euro route that is not dual carriageway. The UK Government has dualled the roads from Heysham and Holyhead, but many parts of what should be the fastest route to Ireland, particularly at the western end, have not changed much in decades, as the Deputy Presiding Officer will appreciate. That has earned it the name “the longest goat track in Europe”. Only two settlements on the whole E18 are now not bypassed by it—Springholm and Crocketford. The campaign group fights daily to get a bypass, which would dramatically improve the villagers’ quality of life.

We all know that the route is classed as one of the most dangerous in the UK, with a tragic list of fatalities over the years. Fatalities may have reduced, but the statistics do not record the near misses or the number of drivers who are frightened every time they take to the route. Hundreds of HGVs travel its length daily, but many places on the road are not fit to take them.

I would not say that I am a nervous driver, but only last night an HGV, whose licence plate number I have, tailgated me for six miles at 60mph, and swerved on to the wrong side of the road in an attempt to pass me. That is not unusual. Last week, a video was recorded of three lorries travelling up the Gatehouse bypass side by side. That was a gut-churning film that showed the reality of day-to-day driving on that road.

Hugh Gaffney and other residents of Haugh of Urr have campaigned for years for improvements to the junction to their village. They take their lives in their hands every time they turn across the carriageway to get home. There have been many near misses, but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears because there have not been enough fatalities to warrant improvements. That is simply not acceptable. Currently, the roadside maintenance, including maintenance of road signs, hedges and trees, is not being carried out to the proper level, which makes the road even more dangerous.

Community surveys often ask whether people feel safe in their communities. Perhaps we should ask members of the public who have to use the A75 whether they feel safe using it. I can tell the minister right now that the answer would be an overwhelming no.

I urge constituents to respond to the south-west Scotland transport study before the deadline of 16 November, and I urge the cabinet secretary to act on it as a matter of urgency. We have waited long enough for the Government to deliver for the south-west, and the formation of groups such as the dual the A75 group, the A77 action group and the Springholm road safety group sends a clear message that the people of south-west Scotland have waited long enough. We need action now, before we see the ferries leaving Cairnryan, companies leaving Galloway and more deaths on our appalling roads.

17:58  

Like other members, I congratulate Emma Harper on securing time for this debate on an issue that I know is very important to her and her constituents. I welcome the fact that some of our constituents are able to watch the debate online, no doubt as a result of the Scottish Government’s investment in the digital infrastructure in Scotland because of the UK Government’s failure to make the necessary important infrastructure investments in the Scottish economy.

No wonder the cabinet secretary is smiling.

A lot of people regularly laugh at the UK Government, Mr Whittle.

The debate has reflected a number of issues that were highlighted to me during my visit to Stranraer in August this year. A number of elected members participated in the meeting alongside the A75 and A77 action groups. I reassure all members and members of those action groups that the Scottish Government recognises the important role that transport plays in the lives of those who live and work in the south of Scotland. That is why we are taking steps to address some of those matters.

Members have already highlighted the fact that there have been calls for a Maybole bypass. John Scott reflected on his father’s stories about the requirement for a bypass many years ago. We heard from Colin Smyth that it was apparently pegged out back in the 1930s. As Emma Harper said, there have been calls for it for some 70 years.

The good news is that this Government will deliver a Maybole bypass. The procurement process is under way. It is going well and should be completed by December. I note Ms Harper’s interest in knowing who the contractor will be. Once the process has been completed, we will be able to announce which contractor will carry out this important piece of work.

The bypass project is important because it will help to separate traffic that is going into Maybole town and the traffic that is going further afield, including those who are travelling on to the ports and along the A77.

I have no doubt that the £38 million investment in the bypass will significantly benefit those who reside in the surrounding area and those who live in the town itself. Indeed, the bypass is predicted to reduce the traffic on the High Street by about 50 per cent and the number of heavy goods vehicles going through the town by 90 per cent.

I, too, recognise those who have pursued a bypass for Maybole over many years and how they have conducted themselves when engaging in the exercise. I pay tribute to and congratulate them on how they have pursued the issue, particularly the Maybole bypass committee for its important contribution to securing the investment to deliver the bypass, which will benefit future generations. I offer my thanks to it for its contribution.

Members have raised issues about the wider transport infrastructure in the south-west of Scotland, particularly in relation to the A75 and the A77. I recognise that those roads are extremely important in providing key links to the ports at Cairnryan for daily commuters, businesses, freight, leisure journeys and those who are travelling to the Isle of Arran.

Members will appreciate that, in taking forward plans for significant investment in our trunk road network, a process must be gone through in order to identify the best option for pursuing any such investment. A key part of that is to make sure that the investment will deliver the outcomes that we are looking for. That process is under way. We have started to draft the new national transport strategy, which will set out our vision and the outcomes that we want to achieve with our strategic investment into Scotland’s transport infrastructure, including for the south-west, on the Government’s key themes of the economy, equality, the climate and health.

As we complete that process, the next step will be to finalise the second strategic transport projects review, which will set out where we will make our strategic investments over the next 20 years. That will include the transport network in the south-west. That process has started—it began with the south-west Scotland transport study survey. It is clear from the feedback that officials and I have had from meetings that there is a real interest in participating in the process. For example, at one stakeholder meeting, out of the 80 individuals who were invited, 60 attended the workshop in order to input into the process. The online survey, which is part of the study, was launched on 19 September; so far, 2,500 people have contributed to it.

The study is in partnership with Dumfries and Galloway Council, East Ayrshire Council, South Ayrshire Council, the Ayrshire roads alliance, the Strathclyde partnership for transport and the local regional transport partnership. All those groups are on the project group that is driving the work forward.

The study will allow us to look specifically at the issues that have been highlighted by those who have contributed to the survey, which have included improved community bus services, improvements to the A75 and A77, the impact that freight traffic is having on the road network and the resilience of that network when incidents occur. The study will now be able to give consideration to those important issues.

For people who are watching the debate, can the cabinet secretary give us a timescale for when the study will be finished, when it will feed into the overall strategy and when, potentially, there will be shovels in the ground?

The study should be completed by the end of the year. It will then feed into the strategic transport projects review that will commence next year and continue into 2020. That will set out the national picture of the strategic transport investments that we will make in the years ahead.

The process is ahead of a number of other areas in Scotland, in which that type of study has not been undertaken to date, so progress is already being made on the matter. I have absolutely no doubt that it will flag up a number of actions that need to be taken within the south-west of Scotland.

I am conscious of the time, Presiding Officer, but I hope that I have given an assurance that the Government is listening carefully to the views of those within the south-west of Scotland as to what the priorities should be. The study that we commissioned over the course of the past few months will capture those views and voices, to ensure that we make the right decisions about transport investment in the south-west of Scotland.

I am pleased to confirm that, despite many decades—in fact, generations—during which people have waited for a bypass to be delivered for Maybole, this Government will deliver it and we will set that out in the weeks ahead.

Meeting closed at 18:07.