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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, February 7, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 07 February 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Kilmarnock Football Club 150th Anniversary, Glasgow Airport Access Project, Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time


Glasgow Airport Access Project

The next item of business is a statement by Michael Matheson on the Glasgow city region deal and the Glasgow airport access project. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

The Scottish Government recognises the important role that transport plays in the lives of people who live and work in Glasgow and the west of Scotland.

We continue to support the Glasgow city region deal and want to see it succeed. We support the Glasgow airport access project and are committed to working with partners to improve, as a matter of urgency, surface access to the airport.

As members know, the Glasgow airport access project is part of the Glasgow city region deal. As such, responsibility for delivering city deal projects rests with the relevant local authorities—in this case, Glasgow City Council and Renfrewshire Council.

Members might also be aware that the original outline business case for the Glasgow airport access project was approved by the Glasgow city region deal cabinet in 2016. Officials at Transport Scotland and Network Rail had consistently raised concerns about aspects of that business case. As a result, the then Minister for Transport and the Islands commissioned an independent audit. That approach was welcomed by the councils, which supported the audit process and agreed that the project team would work to address the key audit concerns around transport demand, rail operational issues and the economic case—including costs and benefits. Those discussions led to an agreement that Transport Scotland would commission parallel work in order better to understand existing and future rail demands and timetable capacity constraints around the south Glasgow rail network.

Over the past 12 months, the airport access project team has worked to address the concerns. On 30 January, I chaired the Glasgow airport access executive steering group, which includes the leaders of the two councils involved and representatives of Glasgow airport. The group was established in recognition of the importance of the project and to give strategic direction. At the meeting, we heard how the project team has considered issues that were raised in the independent audit, including the potential impact of a tram-train option on the existing rail network.

Members should be aware that Glasgow Central is Scotland’s busiest railway station. It serves about 33 million passengers a year and is operating at or near capacity. Growth projections indicate that, by 2040, the demand on the station will be 60 million passengers a year. The Scottish Government and the wider rail industry are aware that if those existing and future demands are not strictly managed, performance levels at Glasgow Central and across the west of Scotland rail network will be at significant risk.

In line with Government rail policy—supported by the wider rail industry—we seek first to manage and address capacity by increasing rolling-stock provision. Where additional services must be added to the existing network, the focus should be on routes on which heavy rail services are best placed to deliver, rather than on introducing new services that might be more efficiently delivered by other modes.

In taking forward that approach, Transport Scotland has assessed service enhancements that would make best use of current and planned major rail projects, and which would tackle routes on which passenger volume demands more seats. The improvements focus on providing longer and more frequent trains on the Shotts, East Kilbride, Ayrshire, Inverclyde, Lanark and Paisley canal routes, as well as additional cross-border services.

The tram-train service between Glasgow airport and Glasgow Central station was also considered as part of that work. The analysis has shown that accommodating tram-train services to the airport would negatively impact performance on the wider rail network and would require either a reduction of current rail services to and from Ayrshire and Inverclyde, or deferral of future service enhancements, and/or significant and high-cost infrastructure at and around Glasgow Central.

The capacity analysis that was undertaken by Transport Scotland has indicated that it would be possible to accommodate only six out of the planned 25 airport services during the morning peak period, and that 19 airport services would be in direct conflict with other train services and therefore could not be accommodated without that having a detrimental impact.

To give an example of the potential implications, the trains that would be in direct conflict with the tram include some arrivals into Glasgow between 08:00 and 09:00 from Ayrshire and Inverclyde, which carry high volumes of commuters. Furthermore, it has been estimated that 15 passenger services that use Glasgow Central station and its approaches would have to be removed to accommodate four tram-trains per hour. That is estimated to represent in the region of 5,000 seats in the morning peak period, on heavily laden services.

In addition to those significant impacts, there are safety considerations in relation to operating lighter tram-train units on the heavy rail network, and those were not fully considered in the current business case. The leaders of the local authorities that are responsible for the project have recognised that current and future rail services should not be compromised, and that the tram-train case that was set out in the original outline business case was not robust in that regard.

We cannot ignore the fact that the tram-train option would have a detrimental impact on the network, and that it would face many real and potentially insurmountable challenges. I am sure that members would agree that taxpayers’ money should be spent on a project that has a robust business case for inclusive growth, and which would not be detrimental to current rail passengers.

The executive steering group heard that the emerging preferred option of a personal rapid transit link could be delivered within the existing city region deal budget and within timescales, to be operational by 2025. It is important that the approach has received backing from the leaders of Glasgow City Council and Renfrewshire Council, who have rightly said that their responsibility is to deliver a workable and affordable solution that will not impact on rail services. Partners will shortly ask the city deal cabinet to approve work on the PRT option, to be completed this year.

In addition to supporting the city deal, the Scottish Government is carrying out work to determine what transport investments should be made in the future in order that we can deliver our economic strategy. The second strategic transport projects review is the opportunity to consider at national and regional levels the important contribution that transport infrastructure projects will play in delivering and sustaining the economic growth to which we aspire.

I recognise that the performance of the M8 between Glasgow and the airport is of concern. Consideration of the future needs of the strategic road network and the public transport network that support the economy of the Glasgow conurbation will be an important part of that work.

Our cities and regions are the engines of our economy. The Scottish Government is committed to working with partners to unlock investment, stimulate growth and deliver infrastructure. The Scottish Government will continue to support the city region deal: we want it to succeed.

Improving connectivity is a priority for the region as a whole, and improving surface access to Glasgow airport should be delivered for the benefit of all and not to the detriment of other services or planned enhancements. In taking forward the Glasgow airport access project, it is essential that we consider a whole-system approach. I am confident that we have made significant progress towards that outcome through the on-going work with the city region deal partners.

I look forward to seeing further development of the city region deal project to improve access to Glasgow airport, and of the second strategic transport projects review, which will set the long-term strategic outcome for the region and the nation as a whole.

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement.

Glasgow airport is the only major international airport that is accessible only by road. The airport is growing, the population around it is growing and the employment hub in which it sits is growing. It is simply inconceivable that the only way to access the airport is via a heavily congested M8. There has got to be some other form of connection.

As someone who represents parts of Ayrshire and Inverclyde, I accept that any rail link to improve connectivity should never be to the detriment of any other rail services. The cabinet secretary went into that in great detail, and I fully support him on that. However, the PRT proposal would connect the airport only to Paisley, which surely flies in the face of the intention of the city deal to connect Glasgow airport and Glasgow city centre.

I accept that there are issues with the tram-train proposal, but I ask the cabinet secretary whether he is truly confident that Transport Scotland and other stakeholders have fully explored each and every potential option that is available to connect Glasgow airport and Glasgow city centre. I am talking about the city centre—it does not need to be Central station specifically.

What is the potential cost of the PRT solution versus the estimate for the original tram-train solution? Will Paisley’s infrastructure be ready to accommodate that connection?

With regard to the tram-train solution, which seems to have been shelved, is the cabinet secretary fully confident that the Scottish National Party council administrations that made that decision have been robust and have carried out adequate due diligence? Does he think that they have made the right decision?

It is simply not true that Glasgow is the only airport in Europe that does not have a rail link. Luton airport does not have one, and it is putting a PRT in place. Luton airport serves—[Interruption.]

Order. I want to hear the answers, and so does everybody else. I cannot hear them if members are shouting over one another.

Luton airport serves 16 million passengers a year, which is significantly more than Glasgow airport. Budapest airport does not have a rail link either. Many airports are looking at putting in infrastructure to support and improve connectivity. It is factually untrue to say that Glasgow is the only airport in Europe that does not have a rail link.

There is no doubt about the need to improve surface access to the airport. That is exactly what was proposed in the city deal, and that proposal is being taken forward by Renfrewshire Council and Glasgow City Council, which are considering proposals that they, and not the Government, have developed. When those councils considered the issue, back in 2016, they very quickly ruled out a PRT option and did not develop an outline business case for that to be considered. That decision was made by the council cabinets and not by the Scottish Government. In my view, they should have conducted much more work at an early stage to analyse the potential impact that that could have.

The deal is also about helping to improve growth and connectivity in the wider region. As I have set out, the proposed tram-train option would have had a significant detrimental impact on the rest of the region despite having the potential to improve services in those areas. That is why it is important that the city deal partners consider those issues and look for an option that allows them to improve surface access to the airport that is not detrimental to the rest of the region. That is why they have chosen to pursue the PRT option, and it is why they intend to develop a business case for that.

The member asked about the cost of the PRT option. The cost is allocated in the city deal budget; the amount intended for the tram-train option was around £138 million, and the amount for the PRT option is likely to be in a similar frame. However, the tram-train option had other significant cost elements that were not considered in the business case for the very reasons that I have outlined, and significant enhancements to infrastructure would also have been necessary to cope with it. Again, it would be for the city deal partners to decide whether they wished to allocate any additional moneys within the city deal arrangement to any surface access provision.

Alongside that, we need to address the issue of road connectivity to the west of Glasgow, particularly to the airport itself. That can be considered in STPR 2, and we are giving clear priority to looking at other options for improving connectivity to the airport by road.

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement.

This is the second time that the Scottish National Party has axed plans for a rail link to Glasgow airport, and it is yet another betrayal of the people of Glasgow and the west of Scotland. It is a betrayal that has been roundly condemned by the business community right across the west of Scotland. The city of Glasgow and Glasgow airport continue to grow, but so, too, I am sad to say, does the utter lack of ambition of this SNP Government and the SNP leadership in Glasgow and Renfrewshire councils.

It is clear that the emerging preferred option of the so-called pod is a second-rate option for an increasingly second-rate transport system under this Government. This rail link, which has undergone review after review, was at the heart of the Glasgow city region deal that was signed by this Government five years ago, but only now is the Government raising capacity issues. Conflicting expert opinion is challenging those capacity claims, but, if they are an obstacle to the light rail plan, does the cabinet secretary not accept that that exposes the Government’s complete failure to adequately improve capacity at Glasgow central? When will the Government show some ambition and put in place a proper plan for growing capacity across Glasgow instead of following the current policy of simply blocking badly needed new services, with all the economic damage that that does to Scotland?

The member might not be aware of this, but Transport Scotland and Network Rail raised concerns back in 2016, when the city deal partners brought up this matter, and they welcomed the independent audit and recognised the number of challenges that were set out.

The member seems to want to ignore the point that I made in my statement, that Network Rail and Transport Scotland are looking at introducing a range of enhancements to improve capacity at Glasgow central station through additional rolling stock and frequency of services. He does not seem to recognise that we cannot introduce a single project while ignoring the rest of the network nor think that everyone else should have less of a service in order to give priority to one particular service. That is, essentially, what the member is arguing, but we cannot ignore the potential impact of the proposal on the area that he represents, on Inverclyde, on Ayrshire and on services into Lanarkshire.

I am disappointed that the original outline business case did not address those issues, which is why the work that is being undertaken by Transport Scotland and Network Rail includes the enhancement programme to improve these services and address the capacity issues that we have. We must undertake that in a managed way that does not create detriment to the other passengers who have to use the services that come into Glasgow central station. The member seems to want to say, “Who cares? Just get on with this proposal—we don’t care about those in Ayrshire or Inverclyde who will be affected by it.” He is saying that we should just ignore passengers from those areas, even in his own region, because he is committed to this for party political purposes instead of seeking to improve services for the travelling public within the Glasgow region.

I see that 12 members want to ask questions. You will have to be quick in asking them. They will have to be short, and I hope that we will get answers to match.

Given the problems with the tram-train options that were mentioned in the statement, not least those that might hinder people coming into Glasgow to work, does the cabinet secretary agree that Labour councillors could learn from the SNP’s commitment to not wasting taxpayers’ money on major projects that have not been properly costed? One would have thought that it would have learned from the disastrous consequences of recent decisions made by some of its own councils, not least in the city in which we are speaking right now.

It is important that there is a very robust business case for any major infrastructure project of this nature. The audit demonstrated—as did the timetabling study for the south of Glasgow—that there are some significant issues around the original business case that need to be addressed. The executive group, which considered the matter last week, recognised that a number of the issues are extremely challenging and that the planned tram-train link to Glasgow airport would adversely impact the overall network. Those matters should have been considered by the city region deal partners at a much earlier stage, and I am disappointed that they never gave due consideration to them at the time. However, it is right that those in Renfrewshire Council and Glasgow City Council who are offering leadership on the issues recognise the potential risks and that those matters need to be addressed.

Anyone who cares about the economic growth of Glasgow could see immediately that Glasgow needs a direct rail link to its airport, yet the SNP is cancelling such a plan for the second time in a decade. That is nothing less than a betrayal of Glasgow. Does it not show that the Government could not care less about Glasgow’s economic future prosperity?

When it comes to betrayal, I will take no lessons from the Labour Party, given the impact that it has had on places such as Glasgow and its conurbation over the years—[Interruption.] I mean the Tories. I will take no lessons from them, given their betrayal of people in the west of Scotland over many decades. The member is sitting next to his colleagues Jamie Greene and John Scott, who represents Ayrshire, but Mr Tomkins seems to think that we should just say, “Who cares about the folk in Ayrshire or Inverclyde or the detrimental impact on their service?”

How can we improve connectivity to our airport? We can do so by pursuing a route that will help to deliver and improve connectivity. That is why the city region deal partners are looking to develop the PRT option further. We will take that forward in a measured fashion. When it comes to betrayal, the Tories know a lot more about betraying the people of Scotland, and in particular the people of Glasgow, than anyone else in the chamber, and Adam should know that.

Please use full names, cabinet secretary.

In his statement, the cabinet secretary touched on the example of Inverclyde losing a rail service between 8 am and 9 am. What would be the further disruption to transport in Inverclyde during the daytime if the Glasgow airport access project—which is supported by the Labour Party and the Conservatives—proceeds, bearing in mind that the proposed local development plan of the Labour-led council suggests 5,000 new homes in the Inverclyde area?

As I set out in my statement, it is estimated that, in the morning peak period, around 15 passenger services that use Glasgow Central station and its approaches would have to be removed, relocated or altered to accommodate four rail paths per hour for an airport service. That would mean that some 5,000 seats would be removed or significantly affected in order to facilitate the airport link. Although not all those services relate to Inverclyde and the member’s constituency, there is absolutely no doubt that there would be a clear impact on the Inverclyde area and on an already very busy part of the rail network. It is also worth noting that the headway that is required between heavy and light services, such as between a tram and heavy rail, would require additional time between the journeys, which would have a significant impact on the Paisley Gilmour Street to Glasgow Central service.

There is no doubt that there are significant challenges in delivering a rail link directly to Glasgow Central station from the airport, which is why the city region deal partners are sensibly looking at an alternative option that will improve connectivity but that will not be to the detriment of passengers on the existing network.

I am not sure that the cabinet secretary fully understands the impact that congestion on the M8 could have on the west of Scotland economy. Does he accept that, when it comes to increasing the number of people who use public transport to get to and from Glasgow airport, a rail link and the tram-train solution has consistently been found to be the best-performing option?

I recognise the challenges with congestion on the M8 to the west from Glasgow city centre through to the airport, and the need to take forward a range of options. However, the member does not seem to recognise that the tram-train option does not address that problem. It is not a magic wand that will relieve all the congestion problems. A number of different issues need to be taken forward. That is why the way in which the matter is being addressed by the city deal partners is the right approach. They are looking at how they can deliver a system that will not cause detriment to existing rail users.

Further, as we have said, under STPR2, we will consider what further work can be undertaken to improve connectivity on the road network to the west of Glasgow. No doubt, the member will be aware that the Glasgow connectivity commission is giving due consideration to the matter and is considering the wider regional implications of transport choices in the year ahead. We will give its views due consideration when they are published in the coming weeks.

The Greens have always seen a case for a rail link to Glasgow airport that would take airport traffic off the road rather than just increase the amount of it, but we have always made the case for that to be done as part of a wider national rail network improvement. Is the cabinet secretary aware that the proposal under the local rail development fund for crossrail was rejected specifically because it is of national and strategic importance? Is it not time for the Scottish Government to throw its weight behind crossrail, in alliance with an airport rail link? That would provide the wider regional improvements that we need, rather than create a situation in which one project is left languishing on the shelf and another is thrown into confusion.

The crossrail proposal was considered in the previous STPR in 2008 and was rejected on the basis of the cost benefit analysis. Further, there were issues around the displacement of existing services in the Glasgow area, which would be to the detriment of people who use those services. However, it is an issue that can be reconsidered. With STPR2 coming forward, there is an opportunity to consider how we can further enhance the connectivity to Glasgow and the region that it serves and its connecting communities. That will enable us to consider a range of options, from rail through to road and other forms of improving connectivity. I have no doubt that councils—not just Glasgow City Council but those across the west of Scotland—will look to use STPR2 as a way to highlight the projects that they believe could enhance and improve public transport in the city region area.

Now that the SNP has cancelled a direct rail link for the second time, does the cabinet secretary think that it would be fair to charge the thousands of Glasgow airport workers the new car-parking charges that the SNP and Green MSPs are committed to voting through, given that those workers have no choice but to travel to work by road?

You are obsessed.

I am obsessed; I think that this is important.

We can always count on Mike Rumbles for a bit of creativity.

I say to him that there are other options with regard to improving transport links to the airport. PRT is one such option. If it is pursued by the city deal partners, it will improve connectivity and will be available to be used by workers and travellers. We will also look at how we can enhance the existing road connectivity at Glasgow airport in order to improve the frequency of public transport provision to the airport from the city through bus prioritisation and intelligent traffic management systems. No doubt, airport workers will be able to benefit from that improved connectivity if it is taken forward.

In his statement, the cabinet secretary spent a fair bit of time on the capacity of Glasgow Central station. Following on from Patrick Harvie’s question, I ask the cabinet secretary to at least keep crossrail on the table as a possibility, because, for example, an Edinburgh airport service could be taken out of Glasgow Central and could use a new station at Glasgow Cross, which would be a boost for that area and would provide a more direct service.

As I said to Patrick Harvie, issues around crossrail can be part of STPR2, which will enable us to take a strategic overview of the issues. However, crossrail itself would not enable us to address the major problems that we have with the tram-train link, as there would still be significant challenges in the Paisley corridor approach at the Arkleston and Shields junctions in relation to additional capacity issues. The idea that crossrail, with a link from Glasgow airport to Glasgow Central station, is the way in which we will resolve the issue is not correct.

There will still be significant capacity constraints. Even with crossrail in place, the introduction of a rail link from the airport to the city centre would have a detrimental impact on the rest of the network that is served by Glasgow Central station. It is important that members recognise that crossrail will not answer the problems and serious challenges that there are with capacity issues at the Arkleston and Shields junctions.

Is the cabinet secretary confident that the PRT option will be a popular choice with passengers, will solve the problem with congestion on the M8 and will truly satisfy the appetite for a direct link?

The deal partners are working up the business case for a PRT option. A number of airports have a PRT system in place. I mentioned that Luton does not have a rail link at present; it carries some 16 million passengers per year compared with the 10 million or so that go through Glasgow airport. Luton is presently developing a PRT system from the airport terminal to the rail station to provide better connectivity, because it believes that that is the best option to meet its needs.

Other airports around the world have put PRT systems in place, while others have direct rail links because they have the capacity and ability to do that. We need to ensure that the business case made by the city deal partners is robust and detailed and that it delivers improved surface connectivity to the airport in the way that is intended. That is what the partners have set out to do and it is why, later this month, they will take that proposal to the city deal cabinet to consider the matter further and commission a full business case.

Labour and Tory MSPs seem utterly oblivious to the detrimental impact that their pet tram-train proposal will have on commuters to and from Ayrshire and Inverclyde. Can the cabinet secretary advise Parliament what impact that white-elephant project would have on the economies of Ayrshire and Inverclyde, which are areas that some of those Tory and Labour MSPs theoretically represent?

Kenneth Gibson raises an important issue, because the Glasgow conurbation—the region as a whole—plays a major part in helping to support, diversify and develop the economy in Glasgow. Mr Tomkins raised the issue of helping to improve the economy of Glasgow. That is why it is important that connectivity into the city is good and that we improve it, and why we are looking at improving and enhancing services from Shotts, East Kilbride, Ayrshire, Inverclyde and Lanark to ensure that people who need to travel into the city can do so.

The independent audit of the outline business case for the tram-train link identified that there was a potential risk that it would have a detrimental impact on other areas that need access into the city, potentially having a negative impact on the city’s economy. We have to take a whole-systems approach to improving connectivity into the city, rather than pursue one option that causes a detriment to other services that come into the city. That would have a negative impact on the economy in Glasgow and the wider Glasgow conurbation.

Before I call Johann Lamont, I point out that there are two additional members whom I want to call. I know that it is a very hot topic, but please can we have crisp questions, because we have to move on to the next debate?

Will the cabinet secretary reflect on the dangers of seeking to turn one community against another, when all our communities have the right to expect a cabinet secretary who wants an integrated transport system for all? Why does he imagine that all the businesses and communities who are advocates for a rail line are wrong and that Transport Scotland, which only ever sees barriers, is right? Can he identify for me any business or community organisation in any part of the universe that has said to him, “What we really need for integrated transport is a people pod”?

In her initial question, Johann Lamont ignores the fact that we have to deal with the reality of the situation and the evidence that demonstrates clearly the detrimental impact that implementing the proposed plan would have on the network.

I am surprised. I do not know whether Labour will campaign in Ayrshire, Inverclyde or Lanarkshire to cut their rail services so that it can get a link from the airport to the city centre. It sounds as though the campaign calling card for Mr Smyth and his colleagues at the next elections will say, “We’re going to cut your services so we can get our rail link.” I am sure—[Interruption.]

On a point of order, Presiding Officer.

I hope that it is a point of order, Mr Gibson.

It is. Is it appropriate for people who have asked questions to heckle at the answers to them?

Sit down, Mr Gibson. You are no angel yourself. It is for the Presiding Officer to control the debate. There is a bit of heat on both sides. We are coming to the end of an interesting set of questions. There are two more questions to take, and they must be brief, as they are eating into the next debate. Stewart Stevenson will be followed by Graeme Dey. I beg your pardon; I meant Graham Simpson rather than Graeme Dey. Members have got me all hot and bothered now.

I refer to my entry in the register of interests.

Ten years ago, Glasgow airport wanted an eight-figure compensation for the proposals to take heavy rail to the airport. Is there any update on Glasgow airport’s current attitude to any of the proposals?

I cannot give Stewart Stevenson an update on that specific matter.

There is, of course, a direct rail link to an airport from Glasgow—that is to Manchester airport. That seems rather farcical. I do not want to argue for reduced rail services to—

No—I want your question.

If there has been a flawed business case in this case, will the cabinet secretary look at some of the other transport projects in the city deal to check whether they are also flawed?

All projects in any city deal are approved only once the outline business case has been fully assessed, as has happened with this particular project.