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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 07 October 2020

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Covid-19, Scottish Qualifications Authority National Qualifications 2020-21, Urgent Question, United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, South-west Scotland Transport Infrastructure


Contents


South-west Scotland Transport Infrastructure

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-20652, in the name of Brian Whittle, on future options for south-west Scotland transport infrastructure. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the publication of the South West Scotland Transport Study - Initial Appraisal - Case for Change, which it considers identifies a clear need for investment in the transport infrastructure of south west Scotland and lays out a range of options to deliver significant improvements to road safety, journey time reliability, the quality and frequency of rail services and public transport integration; understands that the area’s transport infrastructure plays a key role in the operation of Scotland’s only direct ferry links to Northern Ireland, which are a significant contributor to the local and national economy; acknowledges the potential opportunities to use transport infrastructure investment to benefit the environment, including reducing air and noise pollution in towns and villages through bypassing, installation of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, improving the resilience of road surfaces, and thereby eliminating increased emissions resulting from long diversionary routes, increasing the viability of public transport as an alternative to the car in more rural areas, and greater availability of active travel routes; notes that the proposals contained in the study will be assessed as part of the ongoing second Strategic Transport Projects Review, and acknowledges calls from communities and businesses in south west Scotland for improvements to roads, such as the A77, A76, A75, A70 and the Bellfield interchange, and the area’s rail lines to be treated as a matter of urgency to ensure the area remains an attractive place to live, and that the local economy remains competitive with other parts of Scotland and the wider UK.

18:38  

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I am grateful for the opportunity to bring this debate back to the chamber. It is a long-standing debate that has been well rehearsed on many occasions by the protagonists on all sides of the chamber. In many ways, it is a fairly unique debate, in that everybody knows what everyone else is going to say.

I assume that, in the absence this evening of the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands will have already stacked up his rebuttals and will no doubt throw in some well-rehearsed lines to try to muddy the waters a bit. We will probably hear the words “Brexit” and “the Tories” through gritted teeth, and I am quite sure that the maintenance spend on the routes in question will be quoted.

However, none of that will change the fact that the Scottish Government has, in the past decade, allocated a mere 0.4 per cent of its infrastructure spend to the south-west. That includes the £30 million Maybole bypass, which is currently being constructed after a 60-year campaign. Even there, the Government managed to miss the opportunity to future proof the bypass by agreeing to build only a single road rather than a stretch of dual carriageway.

My colleagues will no doubt discuss their own patches in the south-west and highlight the issues that their constituents face as a result of the continuing lack of investment in the area. The debate will surely highlight the scale of the problem that the Scottish Government has created for itself by continually ignoring the south-west.

The road and rail infrastructure now requires a complete overhaul, with the A77, A76, A75 and A70, as well as the Bellfield interchange, creaking under the weight of traffic for which none of them were designed. The rail link from Ayr to Stranraer is a single-track line that is served by ageing diesel trains. In addition, there is the on-going issue with the Ayr Station hotel, which resulted in huge disruption to my constituents south of the station when it caused the closure of the rail link. The hotel issue remains unresolved and the cost to the taxpayer continues to rise. The railway needs an upgrade, with the potential for electrification or alternative-fuel trains and a spur off to Cairnryan to potentially take away some of the road traffic.

The Bellfield interchange at Kilmarnock is an elevated roundabout that carries traffic on and off the A77. It links to North Ayrshire, with more than 40 per cent of traffic going there passing through the roundabout. It also links the A76 to Cumnock and Dumfries, and links up with the A71 going east to Lanarkshire, Edinburgh and the M74. Transport Scotland has raised concerns about the interchange’s ability to deal with the additional traffic resulting from the Ayrshire growth deal investment.

I know that the minister will hide behind the second strategic transport projects review and its recommendations, but those issues are not new—they have been building for decades. I note that my colleague John Scott, who has been dealing with these issues for far longer than I have, asked during portfolio questions today about the parts of the A77 in his constituency that were supposed to be upgraded years ago, according to the original STPR. Those plans have remained unfulfilled.

If proof was required of the way in which the Scottish Government has disregarded the needs of the south-west, we need look only at its response to the most recent landslip on the A73 at the Rest and Be Thankful. I have heard the cabinet secretary say that he will do whatever is needed and that he will have a solution on the table by February. However, there was a landslip just a mile from the Stena Line port that shut the lane for four and a half years. When the then cabinet secretary was finally pressured into dealing with that, it was sorted in three months. The Scottish Government has not been alive to the needs of the south-west, or else it has just been ignoring them.

I had hoped to try to be somewhat conciliatory in my speech, but when I took part in portfolio questions earlier today, it was obvious to me that Michael Matheson still prefers politicking to taking any positive action or responsibility. His response to my question on the loss of business from the Cairnryan to Belfast route to the Dublin to Heysham and Liverpool routes was nothing short of disgraceful.

Rather than suggesting that I am talking down the south-west, perhaps the cabinet secretary could do a little bit of homework by speaking—as I have done—to the ferry operators, Belfast harbour, the Belfast politicians or the hauliers in Scotland and Belfast. If he had done so, he would know that there is a drift away from the Belfast to Cairnryan route to the Dublin routes that so far totals 6 per cent. That is a fact.

The cabinet secretary either does not know the facts or is trying to cover them up, neither of which is a good look for someone in his job. If he was here this evening, I would say to him that, if he decides to come to the chamber and deploy feigned indignation in the way that he has done to avoid facing facts, he should expect to be dragged back into the chamber over and over until he listens to the concerns of the people in the south-west, because they deserve better than what he offered earlier today.

In 2010, the then First Minister, Alex Salmond, committed to upgrading the south-west infrastructure in and out of the port of Cairnryan while opening up the port, acknowledging the £340 million investment by Stena and P&O Ferries. In 2011, Alex Neil, the then transport secretary, said that it was a “disgrace” that the previous Labour Administration had not invested in infrastructure upgrades in the south-west—after which the Scottish Government proceeded to do nothing to rectify the situation.

In 2016, at the start of the current session of Parliament, John Swinney and Humza Yousaf, who was then Minister for Transport and the Islands, held a fact-finding session with more than 150 representatives from the south-west business community, but that resulted in much talk and no action. Even Michael Matheson has come down to the area to listen to the concerns.

The asks are simple. The south-west needs a 10-year—or so—infrastructure development strategy. That has to include roads and rail connections, infrastructure potential for electric charging points in the bypass towns and a cycle route from Ayr to Stranraer, which would pass through the bypass towns. There is potential for a whole new economy, and those asks from the region are reasonable.

We have had 10 years of warm words and empty promises. From Alex Salmond a decade ago, through to Alex Neil and Humza Yousaf, people have spoken warm words about developing the infrastructure in the south-west, all the while finding a way to kick the can down the road for the next cabinet secretary to deal with. The minister is now in the hot seat; I ask him to be different and break that cycle. He knows that the south-west has been ignored for too long and that its connectivity has been chronically underfunded for decades. It should not be a political fight between him and me. I ask him to take the opportunity this evening to do the right thing and finally commit the Scottish Government to invest a fair share of the transport infrastructure budget in the south-west; it is owed and desperately needed. I ask him to stop ignoring the south-west and give us the chance to grow and prosper.

18:46  

Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

When I last spoke in this chamber about transport in the south-west, in a debate that was led by my colleague, Emma Harper, I mentioned that, in 2016, I called for a transport summit to be held in Dumfries, to ensure that our local priorities were heard by national decision makers. I did that because I had discovered that the local transport plan for several years before had identified a number of road improvements, particularly on the A75, and every one of them had been completed, so we needed to update our priorities.

Road upgrades are major capital investments, as are most transport upgrades, and they have a big impact on local communities, so a great deal of systematic, advanced planning and evidence gathering has to be done. I knew that it was important to make sure that Dumfries and Galloway was included when the Government was revising the strategic transport projects review that will identify the priorities for the next 20 years.

The transport summit was attended by the then minister and his senior officials, and it put the south-west very much on the radar. That means that the needs of the south of Scotland will be considered in the strategic transport projects review 2, notwithstanding the changes that have taken place since 2016, which will impact on our thinking: the pandemic and its economic impact, the real danger of a no-deal Brexit, and the declaration of the climate emergency, which was supported across the Parliament and has an influence on how we think about our transport priorities.

The transport summit led to the consultants’ report, the “South West Scotland Transport Study Initial Appraisal: Case for Change”, which was published in January this year and which will inform STPR2. The appraisal report is a key milestone in getting us closer to the improvements that we all want to see.

I take issue with Brian Whittle’s suggestion that the south-west is ignored; the south-west has its own enterprise agency, which was launched in the middle of the pandemic this year and is already doing a huge amount of work in the south-west. That shows the priority that the south has in the Government’s agenda.

To return to transport, I will talk a little about the recommendations in that important appraisal that I particularly approve of. They are new railway stations on the Glasgow south-western line, such as Cumnock, Thornhill and Eastriggs, and new railway stations on the west coast main line, namely Beattock, for which I campaigned for a number of years. The appraisal also recommends improved services on the west coast main line, including through Lockerbie, but those services are regulated by the UK Government and, despite much lobbying on my part, the UK Government has not been particularly helpful in improving them. I welcome the recommendation that further work should be done on looking at a new rail link between Dumfries and Stranraer; the link was closed in the 1960s and would be very popular if it was restored. Although taking it forward would be astronomically expensive, given the climate crisis, such a project would send a strong message about this Government’s priorities.

I also welcome the mention in Brian Whittle’s motion of electric vehicles. The recommended enhancements in the capacity for charging, which are a big Scottish Government commitment, complement some of the appraisal report’s recommendations—notably, the capacity enhancements on the A75, the A76 and the A77. I particularly welcome those recommendations, the recommendation that there should be

“road capacity enhancements between Dumfries and the A74 ... such as ... dualling”

and

“the possibility to re-classify the status of the A701 and A709 roads.”

Dumfries is the capital of the south, and it should have effective links to the rest of Scotland. I have campaigned for that for many years. Our long-term ambition should be to dual the A75, given its status as a Euro route that links Scotland and Ireland.

In conclusion, I look forward to future work being done on those options so that they become national priorities for Scotland. The approach is the correct way to set transport priorities, and it is a systematic and responsible way to do things. It contrasts markedly with the ridiculous headline-grabbing comments by United Kingdom ministers on tunnels or bridges to Larne. Let us get our priorities right. Those madcap suggestions have not been researched, evaluated, tested or evidenced, and they are not the priorities of the people of the south-west of Scotland; in fact, they are the feeble efforts of a UK Government that is desperate to divert attention from its deep unpopularity and incompetence.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I ask the remaining members in the debate to try to stick to four minutes, please.

18:51  

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

I thank Brian Whittle for bringing this debate to the chamber. His helpful motion is almost as long as the transport study that it refers to. Mr Whittle is not known for his brevity. He has a lot to say about many things, and sometimes he is worth listening to.

I have listened to Brian Whittle talking about transport in the south-west on many occasions. He is passionate about it—actually, he is annoyed about it, and he is right to be. The south-west has been the poor relation for too long when it comes to investment in transport infrastructure.

The report makes for grim reading. The region is a forgotten-about one that is too easily bypassed by travellers as they head north or south and by Government. The main roads in the region are slow, and that often leads to long lines of traffic, which lead to risky manoeuvres and more serious accidents than there are elsewhere in the country.

The report states:

“An assessment of average speeds on the strategic road network compared to other routes in Scotland identified that the A77 between Ayr and Cairnryan had the lowest overall speeds (38mph) of all the routes assessed, which is likely to be a result of the large number of speed-limited settlements which the route passes through. While the speed on the A75 is higher (45mph), it is still below other strategic routes in the country.”

The poor rail connections from Dumfries mean that people drive elsewhere, particularly to Lockerbie, which causes problems there. The report says:

“Large gaps in the rail timetable and between direct services on the Glasgow South Western Line (for Stranraer) can constrain use of the rail network”.

All that means that there is

“a reluctance for individuals and business to invest in the region, particularly the ports, if connectivity with other parts of the UK is not improved”.

Speaking of ports, people have to go to the area if they want to get to Ireland, unless they want to sail from England. It is vital for trade. The two roads that get people to the ports—the A75 and the A77—are in desperate need of improvement. I am backing the campaigns to upgrade both quickly.

The buses are also poor—the vehicles are ageing and the services are infrequent.

Members will know that I enjoy cycling. The pandemic has led to an increase in cycling, which is great, but we can build on that only if we make it safe. The report says that the cycling infrastructure in the south-west has a long way to go, with a lack of off-road and segregated routes. They are absolutely essential if we are to build on some of the excellent work that councils are doing during the pandemic.

Where there are problems, there are opportunities, too. Let us agree that we want investment in our connections to Ireland. Let us agree with the five objectives that are laid out in the report:

“Reduce journey times across the strategic transport network in the study area to the ports at Cairnryan ... Reduce accident rates and the severity of accidents on the trunk road network ... Improve the resilience of the Strategic Transport Network ... Improve journey quality across the road, public transport and active travel networks in the South West ... Improve connectivity (across all modes) for communities in the South West of Scotland to key economic, education, health and cultural centres including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Ayr, Kilmarnock and Carlisle.”

I agree with those aims. The Government should get on with it and put the south-west back on the map.

18:55  

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I thank Brian Whittle for securing the debate. There is an urgent and real need for major investment and improvements in south-west Scotland’s transport system. I agree with regard to many of the examples that Mr Whittle has described. There is cross-party support for infrastructure investment in the south-west.

First, I will highlight the importance of the region’s road, rail, bus and active travel routes, not only for the many businesses and communities across the south-west that rely on them in their daily business, but for the wider Scottish, UK and international community. Cairnryan port in Dumfries and Galloway is the third-busiest port in the whole of the UK. Official estimates suggest that 20 million passengers and more than 2.2 million freight units travel through the port and on our region’s roads. That freight has an estimated value of £26 million every single day on the A75, and of £10 million a day on the A77.

With Brexit looming, we may see even more lorries on the roads, with even more delays, and delays pose a particular problem for livestock transport, for refrigerated lorries and for the shipping of live seafood. I know that port investment is a matter reserved to Westminster. Instead of talking about investing in the port, however, the Prime Minister is still talking about building a ridiculous bridge through the munitions dump in Beaufort’s Dyke in the Irish Sea.

Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con)

I am confused as to why Emma Harper is so adamantly opposed to scoping out a project that could benefit our region. There are other projects that we all want to see happen, but that does not mean that we should dismiss the idea out of hand before the feasibility work is done.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I will give you the time for that back, Ms Harper.

Emma Harper

I never said that I was opposed to a scoping exercise but I think that, if there is any scoping exercise, those carrying it out need to consider the communities, elected members and the people either side of the port infrastructure, including the folk who live along the A75 and the A77.

In August 2018, I invited the transport secretary—who was newly in post at the time—to a meeting in Stranraer. We met stakeholders and others to discuss improvements to the region’s transport network, and it was a very positive meeting.

Last year, I took the Stena ferry to Northern Ireland and the P&O ferry back. While in Belfast and in Larne, I met key stakeholders in the haulage industry, Stena Line, P&O, Belfast Harbour, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry and lobbying groups. The trip was extremely educational and productive, and I agreed at the meetings to continue to work with members across the Parliament, the Scottish Government, local constituents and the A75 and A77 action groups to ensure additional investment for our region.

I appeal to the Scottish Government to commit to ensuring that both the Cairnryan port and, importantly, the associated transport routes, the A75 and A77, are prioritised and invested in. I know that, over the past 10 years, £810.5 million has been invested by the Scottish Government in transport infrastructure in the south-west, with almost £50 million spent on A75 projects and £28 million for A77 projects, and with £76 million and £56 million for maintenance of the A75 and A77 respectively. That is welcome investment.

I also welcome the “South West Scotland Transport Study” and its suggestions of investment in dualling and passing lane improvements for both the A75 and the A77, as well as in improved and new rail and bus services.

I am concerned, as are constituents, about the timeframe for the implementation of improvements, so I should be grateful if the minister would outline timescales for the next steps and when the wider STPR2 is likely to be published.

Constituents have contacted me about the need for further electric charging points across Dumfries and Galloway for cars, bikes and other active travel methods, which is referred to in Brian Whittle’s motion. I ask the minister to outline whether he or the cabinet secretary for transport have held any discussions with Dumfries and Galloway Council about further electric charging points, and whether there are any plans for further upgrades to active travel and green travel infrastructure. I also ask the minister to set out timescales for transport improvements on the A75 and A77, and for the region’s transport services, which are vitally important to our region.

19:00  

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

I declare an interest as the chairperson of the Eastriggs railway station action group.

I thank Brian Whittle for his motion. As he said, this is not the first time that we have debated south-west Scotland’s infrastructure and, frankly, it will not be the last. There is a real feeling, and a growing anger, that the south-west is the forgotten region of Scotland when it comes to investment in infrastructure. It is no wonder—of the £10.5 billion that has been spent by the Scottish Government on road upgrades since 2008, just £70 million has been invested in the south-west. There is now a genuine worry that the emphasis in the Government’s national transport strategy and draft infrastructure plan on repurposing what we have—after the Government has committed to spending £3 billion on dualling the A9 in the north but not a penny more on roads in the south-west—will mean that the region will lose out once again. If it does, not only will we continue with substandard infrastructure, but the already fragile local economy will be weakened. It is not just an issue about roads or other forms of transport infrastructure; it is fundamentally an issue about the economy.

The Scottish Government says that it is committed to inclusive growth, which is one of the central aims in its economic strategy that was published in 2015. However, there is nothing inclusive about a Scottish economy in which the south has the lowest wages, the lowest levels of business-led inclusive jobs growth and the lowest gross value added in Scotland. The outward migration of young people, caused by the lack of high-skill, high-paid jobs, is draining away the talent and the lifeblood that we need to turn the economy around.

Last year, the Scottish Government’s own commissioned report for the south of Scotland economic partnership by The Good Economy highlighted that the top call from local experts in the south of Scotland to unlock inclusive economic growth in the south’s rural economy was better connectivity—both physical, such as better transport, and digital, such as fit-for-purpose broadband and mobile communications. When it comes to transport, that means that we need proper investment in our trunk roads, such as the A7 and the A76 in the east, and the A75 and the A77, which are of crucial strategic importance not only to the south-west of Scotland but to all of Scotland, the north of England and Northern Ireland.

As has been mentioned in the debate, this week, we have heard much about the UK Government’s review of transport connections across the UK, and about Boris Johnson’s fantasy politics, with talk of a bridge or tunnel between Portpatrick and Larne, which everyone knows will not happen. We already have a link to Northern Ireland via the Cairnryan ferry port. It is not the ferries that are the problem; it is the substandard road and rail links to get to those ferries. My message to Boris Johnson is the same as my message to the Scottish Government: if they are serious about having better links between Scotland and Northern Ireland, they should invest in dualling the A77 and A75 and build better rail links to the ferry port. Whether it is better rail links to Cairnryan, a rail link between the Glasgow south-western line in Dumfries and the west coast main line at Lockerbie, the reopening of railway stations at Eastriggs, Thornhill and Beattock, or just smaller changes such as more frequent rail services to the central belt and buses that link up with train times, for the south-west economy, we badly need an integrated transport strategy that covers roads, rail and active travel.

Political leadership from the Government will be required to make it happen, but, so far, the omens are not good. At a time when we need a strategic active travel network in the south-west, we have seen a centralisation of active travel funding to the cities. When the Government recently announced plans for the electrification of our railways, it made it clear that the stretch from Girvan to Stranraer would miss out. At a time when, in many parts of the south-west, the bus network is close to collapse, the Government has shelved the implementation—

Emma Harper

Will the member take an intervention?

Colin Smyth

I will, if I can get my time back.

Emma Harper

Does the member agree that Michael Matheson said that, even though we might not electrify the line, hydrogen-powered trains or other options would be considered?

Colin Smyth

He made it clear that they would be. However, the fundamental problem is that, if you electrify a railway line, it shows a commitment to that line in the long term; if you do not, it is very easy to remove the battery-operated or even hydrogen-operated trains. It shows a lack of commitment that that key stretch will not be completed when other parts of Scotland are seeing significant electrification across their regions.

I made the point that we see a lack of commitment from the Government not only to rail but also to our bus network. The Government has shelved the implementation of key measures in the transport bill—such as giving councils the power to run their own bus companies—which the cabinet secretary consistently tells us are needed to boost bus passenger numbers.

The clock is ticking. We need, today, a clear message from the cabinet secretary that the south-west will start to get a fairer share of transport investment so that we can build a fairer local economy—an economy that cannot keep waiting for the Government’s delayed strategic transport projects review.

19:05  

Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con)

I join other members in thanking Brian Whittle for bringing forward this important debate.

Since before I was elected, and every minute since, I have been a strong advocate for dualling the A75. For my constituency, it is the single stand-out project that has the power to reverse the economic challenges that Dumfriesshire has faced. For a national Government in Scotland’s national Parliament to have been in power for more than a decade and not to have delivered on connecting Dumfries town, our regional capital, to the motorway shows a painful lack of ambition and is a dereliction of duty. I say that not to pit one project in the wider region against another, but to add to the list of many strong examples that we have heard from across the south-west of Scotland.

I have also stood up in this chamber many times to raise concerns about the A76, which we saw reduced to a single lane for more than 1,000 days by temporary traffic lights. Yes, the road has now eventually been realigned, but the project was given far lower priority than it might have been had it been somewhere else in the country.

I am deeply angry that, after an unlucky13 years under the SNP, we now see local SNP politicians getting behind those key transport projects in an election year. Where have their voices been in helping to hold their Government to account over the past 1,500 days since the much-heralded transport summit with the Deputy First Minister, which was held in Dumfries?

Emma Harper

Will the member take an intervention?

Oliver Mundell

I will take an intervention if I get my time back.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You are all being very conditional. I will decide who gets their time back.

Emma Harper

I have campaigned for improvements since I came to this place. Does Mr Mundell agree with the proposed expansion of the M8 to include a third lane at an estimated cost of £3 billion to £5 billion, and does he think that that project will prevent the money being spent in the south-west?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You can have your time back, Mr Mundell.

Oliver Mundell

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer.

I will get to that point at the end of my speech. It was a predictable intervention.

However it is dressed up, the transport summit in Dumfries was another talking shop intended to pay lip service to south-west Scotland—and it was clear at the time that the cheque book had been left in Edinburgh. Another parliamentary session has passed and still we are no further forward. That is not good enough, and it is increasingly clear that any promises that we see ahead of the election will be the result of action by the Scottish Conservatives, who have been proud to represent our region and to put pressure on the Government.

The Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands (Paul Wheelhouse)

I presume that Mr Mundell accepts that, in order to fund and take forward projects that we are supportive of, we need to go through the appropriate Treasury process—the green book appraisal guidance and the Scottish transport appraisal guidance—to reach a conclusion whereby the Treasury approves of our spending public money on what are, as I am sure that Mr Mundell would agree, expensive projects. [Interruption.]

He identifies that nothing came from the summit. However, does he accept that the prioritisation of Dumfries and Galloway—of south-west Scotland—in the case for change process that we are undertaking is an example of our prioritising the region that he cares about after that summit? [Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I remind everybody that I am in charge here.

Oliver Mundell

It is a case of too little, too late. If the SNP Scottish Government had taken the projects seriously at the time and started scoping them out the minute that it got into office, we would not still be talking about them. Time after time, there have been wasted opportunities. [Interruption.] I have taken a number of interventions, so I will now make a little bit of progress.

I want to challenge the Scottish Government and to ask the cabinet secretary—who, incidentally, is not here—why he was not prepared to get behind the Prime Minister’s planned review of inter-UK transport links. If the Scottish Government cared about the south-west region and was willing to put politics aside, it would recognise that Dumfriesshire lies at the heart of our United Kingdom. By failing to engage in that important study, it is selling local interests short and ignoring the needs of the local economy. It is another example of the damage that the SNP’s divisive politics has done, which local residents see for what it is.

What annoys me most is to hear SNP politicians—including, in the past, the cabinet secretary—claiming that, by supporting one project in the region, people are against other projects in the region or elsewhere in Scotland. I know that SNP thinking is very much driven by the central belt, but, when the cabinet secretary talks about the A77, for example, he should remember that Annan is closer to the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood than it is to Stranraer. That is why I found it insulting and ridiculous to hear him attempt to make mileage out of the fact that Douglas Ross, on a recent visit to my constituency, did not mention the A77, which would have been strange.

Let me make it clear to Emma Harper and to other members that the Scottish Conservatives do not see investment as an either/or situation. We do not see it as a choice between the central belt and our region, or a choice between the A75 and the A77. After 13 years of the south-west being the forgotten region under the SNP, the only either/or choice that local people have to make is between those representatives who champion the region all the time and those who make promises only when they ask for people’s votes.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We are all having such a good time in the debate that we are running out of time. I am minded to accept a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes. I invite Brian Whittle to move the motion.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Brian Whittle]

Motion agreed to.

19:12  

Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

I welcome the debate. It is always good to start with some good news. In a parliamentary question that I asked around this time last year, I asked how much the SNP Government had spent on transport infrastructure in south-west Scotland in the 10 years since 2009. The total was around £800 million. The work included major interventions on the A77 at Symington and the A75 at Dunragit and Hardgrove and significant investments in the A76. Earlier today, the cabinet secretary reminded us about the £29 million that is being spent on the Maybole bypass. It is clear to see that the level of investment in south-west Scotland is and has been substantial.

I am sure that members did not intend to give a false impression about that or seek to deflect attention from their failure to deliver when they had the chance to do so. The spend by the Government compares well with investments that were made in previous years. When Labour was last in power, back in the mists of time, it managed to rustle up one project on the A75 with a miserable allocation of £6 million. The current Scottish Government spent £36 million on that road in its first five years in office.

Long before that, before the Parliament was reconvened, the then UK Government promised much but delivered nothing. Dunragit, Annan and Maybole were all promised a bypass, but nothing happened. Now, those have all been delivered by the SNP Government.

It is little wonder that Brian Whittle is pleading for more cash to be spent in the south-west, presumably by the SNP, since there is little or no hope of his party delivering anything in that part of Scotland. I took a cursory glance at the latest Tory party leader’s leaflet, which is currently littering homes. There is nothing in it for south-west Scotland, but it promises a ridiculous six-lane motorway to Edinburgh, which would cost billions of pounds, and yet more rail investment for Aberdeen and Inverness.

It is therefore probably no surprise that the Tories are asking the SNP Government to help, because they have no intention of delivering anything themselves down here, in south-west Scotland—an area that we probably all agree is maximising the opportunities for trade and tourism between Scotland and Ireland by using all our ferry ports and excellent ferry services. However, with the Brexit disaster looming, we must have clarity urgently about the role that our ports will play. The Irish already intend to establish a new and direct six-days-a-week ferry route from Rosslare to Le Havre, in the European Union, to avoid any land-bridge congestion here post-Brexit. The implications of that for our ports are easy to see, and they should worry us all.

In relation to the Bellfield interchange in Kilmarnock, in my constituency, Brian Whittle, an occasional visitor to my constituency, should know that the interchange is included in a further programme of investigation this financial year that will take into account emerging transport demands and safety.

A major transport asset not mentioned in Brian Whittle’s motion is Prestwick airport. It is no wonder that the Tories keep quiet about it, though, because the airport was saved by the SNP Government in 2013, along with 300 direct and 1,400 indirect jobs. The intervention earlier by Tory MSP Peter Chapman, who questioned why job losses are not happening at Prestwick when they are happening elsewhere in the aviation sector, was remarkable indeed. In addition, Ayrshire Tory councillor Paul Marshall is on record as saying that Prestwick airport should close altogether. Who needs enemies when they have friends like that?

Investment in transport infrastructure in the south-west by the Scottish Government has been excellent over recent years. I am sure that that will be continued by the SNP Government in the next session of Parliament and, I hope, for many years to come.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The last of the open debate speeches is from John Scott.

19:17  

John Scott (Ayr) (Con)

I congratulate Brian Whittle on securing this vital debate for the people of the south of Scotland. It is a pleasure for me to be back speaking in our Parliament. In a strange way, it feels like my maiden speech—not just because it is a long time since I have spoken, but because my maiden speech 20 years ago was about the need to upgrade the A77. Remarkably, that work to turn a section of the A77 into the M77 eventually happened. I therefore hope that my wish list today for the A77 will also turn into reality, if I and others can persuade the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity to wave his magic wand and find the funding for the much-needed improvements to that major route.

Given my age and the fact that I have lived in Ayrshire pretty well all my life, I think that I know the A77 as well as most members who have spoken in the debate. Brian Whittle is correct to speak of the particularly dangerous stretch of road south of Ballantrae, on the way to the Ayrshire county boundary with Wigtownshire. Having lived at Ballantrae for much of my life, I know of too many local people and others who have died on that stretch of road because of the shockingly poor and narrow carriageway. Transport Scotland and others should hang their heads in shame at the desperately poor quality of the road on that section, particularly at the water tanks just south of Ballantrae.

I also want to speak about the A77 north of and around Ayr, and the need to upgrade the roads there, some of which are in Jeane Freeman’s constituency and some of which are on the shared boundary of our constituencies. Approaching the Ayr constituency from the north, the M77 stops at Fenwick, to the north of Kilmarnock. I know that Kenny Gibson agrees with me—I hope that Willie Coffey will, too—that it is time that the M77 was extended to Ayr. With more and more people choosing to live in Ayr and the surrounding villages, the numbers of people commuting daily to Glasgow are growing year on year—certainly, they were pre Covid-19—and I hope that that traffic growth will continue, albeit in electric cars, in the future.

Approaching Ayr, the Whitletts roundabout should be reconfigured to a grade-separated interchange, which I proposed when traffic lights were first installed at the junction. However, as it is currently configured, the roundabout is of a most inelegant design and results in many minor accidents every year, so the time for a grade-separated interchange is long overdue.

Similarly, the A77 stretch south of the Whitletts roundabout, through the Holmston roundabout to the Bankfield roundabout—or the hospital roundabout, as it is known—needs to be upgraded to dual carriageway because there is significant congestion on that stretch of road at rush hour periods and on good summer days, when many thousands of tourists visit the Ayrshire coast.

With climate change being predicted to create yet warmer and drier summers, visitors from central Scotland will—I hope—only increase in number, and will be made most welcome to our Ayrshire coastline, from Greenock to Ballantrae.

Further growth in traffic on the A77 to the south of Ayr can be expected, due to the Maybole bypass, which we all welcome. My father campaigned for it between the two world wars, so it took some time to come, but one must be grateful to Adam Ingram for his persistence on that. It is now being built; Maybole will become a more attractive place to live in, and Kirkoswald, Kirkmichael, Dalrymple, Crosshill, Turnberry, Maidens, Dailly and Girvan will all become more accessible to Ayr, Kilmarnock and Glasgow.

I hope that the cabinet secretary and others have paid close attention to the debate today and to the pressing need for upgrades to the trunk roads of south-west Scotland, which has been clearly expressed by all members today—with the notable exceptions of Joan McAlpine and Willie Coffey. I also note that Willie Coffey said that £800 million has been spent on south-west Scotland roads in recent times. I would like to see the breakdown of those figures, because the projects that he mentioned did not add up to £100 million, never mind £800 million.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Paul Wheelhouse to respond to the debate.

19:22  

The Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands (Paul Wheelhouse)

I welcome John Scott back to his place in the chamber. It is good to see him looking well and contributing to a debate that is so important for his constituency and those of many other members.

I thank the Presiding Officer for the opportunity to respond to today’s members’ debate on future options for transport infrastructure in south-west Scotland. I recognise that many colleagues in the chamber today, including Mr Whittle, have taken a long interest in the issue, although perhaps not as long as John Scott, throughout his time in this Parliament. Emma Harper, Joan McAlpine, Oliver Mundell and Colin Smyth have also been very active in that space. I acknowledge that, and I reflect that transport plays an important role in the local economy of the region, which I also represent. I congratulate Mr Whittle for bringing the debate to the chamber today.

Today’s debate has given me an opportunity to hear more about the problems in parts of the south of Scotland in which I am less active. I concentrate largely on the east of the region, but I deal with some casework across south-west Scotland as well. It has been helpful to hear the concerns that have been raised today about specific projects, to add to the points that I receive in my mailbag.

There have been contributions on the strategic importance of the port of Cairnryan. As we plan for exit from the EU, it was fair for colleagues to raise the issue of Brexit, although I appreciate that Mr Whittle predicted that they would do so. As Willie Coffey, Joan McAlpine and Emma Harper said, the current uncertainty about arrangements for trade with Northern Ireland and the implications for the border have practical impacts on what will be required in investment in the region.

Reassuringly, many of the points that have been raised today echo those that have been raised by the wide range of stakeholders that have been involved in development of “South West Scotland Transport Study—Initial Appraisal—Case for Change” and its 23 recommendations. The cabinet secretary is not here today, but over the past few years he has met and heard from a wide range of stakeholders on projects. I assure members, as the cabinet secretary stated at portfolio question time, that the Scottish Government recognises the important role that transport plays for people who live and work in south-west Scotland.

We are also well aware of the significance of south-west Scotland and its transport links to not only the local economy, but to the economies of the rest of Scotland and the wider UK. That is why we are taking steps to improve the transport network, and will examine the 23 recommendations from the transport study as part of phase 2 of the strategic transport projects review 2. To answer Emma Harper’s question, we anticipate that the second phase of STPR2, in which we will look at the specific recommendations, will be completed in 2021, so that gives a rough timescale for reaching conclusions about the projects that have been recommended.

I am pleased to say that the Scottish Government continues to invest in the region’s road network. Colleagues have mentioned already that works are continuing as part of the £29 million construction contract for the A77 Maybole bypass, which will improve connectivity for road users between Stranraer, the port at Cairnryan and the central belt. As an example of investment in key routes to Cairnryan that Emma Harper referred to earlier, the project will help to separate local traffic from traffic that is travelling further afield, which will lead to improved road safety for local communities and road users, and provide better journey reliability for motorists and businesses along the full length of the A77.

For the residents, that will mean a predicted reduction of approximately 50 per cent in traffic on Maybole High Street, with the cut to the number of heavy goods vehicles estimated to be 90 per cent. As a result, residents will see an improvement in road safety, a reduction in vehicle emissions, and a significant drop in noise and vibration from what they experience today.

We fully understand the importance of a safe, well-performing transport network for the health of Scotland’s economy.

Emma Harper

The minister mentioned the Maybole bypass, which I think it is estimated will cost £30 million to £31 million. I am sure that Willie Coffey, who cannot make an intervention because he is attending the meeting remotely, would be willing to submit the detail of the figures on which John Scott was seeking clarification. Would the minister welcome that? The figures are based on the response to a parliamentary question.

Paul Wheelhouse

I am sure that sharing the response to a parliamentary question will give the detail that Mr Coffey has already obtained and will help Mr Scott and others. The figure that we have for the Maybole bypass is £29 million. I just wanted to give an accurate figure.

We recognise that the strategic road and rail networks are fundamental to the health of Scotland’s economy and that of the south-west of Scotland. The motion highlights the fact that A75 and the A77 provide the key links to the port at Cairnryan, and are used daily for freight and passenger journeys to and from Northern Ireland. We recognise that many businesses in the south-west and further afield rely on those transport links for goods and materials. Work in the area has highlighted issues related to contingency planning in the event of incidents.

That said, we are clearly operating within an extremely challenging fiscal environment. I respect Oliver Mundell, but anyone who listened to his speech would be forgiven for thinking that he has ignored 10 years of public finance constraints that we have had to live with from the Treasury.

Joan McAlpine

On a point of order, Presiding Officer.

In his speech, John Scott said that I had not called for an upgrade of the road network. In my speech, I repeated my commitment to calling for dualling of the A75 and links between Dumfries and the central belt. Indeed, the transport summit that several members have mentioned was called by me. I would appreciate it if it could be put on the record that Mr Scott has, to put it politely, misrepresented my speech.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

As everyone knows, that is not a point of order. Things that are said in the chamber are for members to correct by intervention, or otherwise afterwards. It is difficult for a member who is attending remotely to make an intervention—we know that that cannot happen—so I guess that it is understandable that points of order are used in this way. I am sure that everyone has taken note.

Paul Wheelhouse

I note Ms McAlpine’s point, which helpfully prompts me to refer to a point that she made in her speech about the importance of evidence gathering. I was trying to make the point to Mr Mundell, probably in a very clumsy way, about the importance of following appropriate appraisal guidance so that we have economic evidence.

Oliver Mundell

If what the minister says is correct, why have major infrastructure projects been carried out elsewhere in Scotland, and why did the Government not start the detailed work to scope out those important routes in the south of Scotland 13 years ago, when it was first elected? Why has it waited until now?

Paul Wheelhouse

Many long-term projects have been commissioned in the lifetime of the Parliament, including the Borders railway—a project that was close to my heart and which, as Linda Fabiani and others who have served since 1999 will know, had to go through a very laborious process to come to fruition.

Things are not always as straightforward as Mr Mundell suggests. All major capital projects have to go through the Treasury’s “Green Book: Central Government Guidance on Appraisal and Evaluation” process, regardless of whether they are commissioned by the Scottish Government, the UK Government or the Welsh Government. We are all bound by those rules and have to go through a rigorous analysis to justify expenditure of public money. I hope that members understand and accept that; it is not a point of contention. We cannot force through projects as quickly as we would like.

We must strive to support the economic development of the south-west and the wider economy of Scotland in the context of our ambition for inclusive economic growth.

John Scott

There seems to be a lack of clarity around the £800 million. Given Mr Wheelhouse’s competence—which I admire constantly—I am sure that it would be easy for him to detail, right now, where that £800 million has been spent in recent years. Can he give us a flavour of all the projects on which that money has been spent?

Paul Wheelhouse

As I proceed in my speech I will refer to some examples, but I will also write to Mr Scott with the details. Mr Coffey—[Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I think that my patience for interventions has been tested far enough.

Paul Wheelhouse

It would be helpful if I could make progress. I will speak to members after the debate, if that would be helpful.

We are keen to support the ambition for inclusive economic growth while acknowledging the challenges that face the country as a result of Covid-19 and climate change. As many members will accept, the climate emergency is making us consider our strategic investments in transport to ensure that they are consistent with our response to it. That does not mean that building more capacity in the road network is the only or best approach. The national transport strategy and its vision and outcomes reflect the Government’s economic and social priorities across four key themes: the economy, equality, climate and health. With that in mind, we are working hard to deliver the second strategic transport projects review.

“South West Scotland Transport Study—Initial Appraisal—Case for Change” was published in January. Alongside the Scottish Borders, the south-west was in the front wave of the regions having such studies undertaken to inform the national transport projects review. That initial focus on the transport network in the south-west has allowed several members the opportunity to be directly involved in the study. I thank those members for their involvement, which has been very helpful.

Our stakeholder engagement programme is one of the most successful: more than 3,200 people responded to the public survey. Successful stakeholder events were held in Stranraer, Maybole and Dumfries, and there were sessions for local members in Dumfries and Ayr. I thank the public and stakeholders for their input to the study. I assure them that all their views have been considered in detail, and have helped to provide the most accurate picture possible of transport needs in the south-west.

The survey and workshops focused on gathering evidence on problems and opportunities for the area, thereby reinforcing knowledge that we already had regarding the importance of access to ports, the impact of freight on the network, and the associated costs of improving the A75 and A77 in particular—which members from across the chamber have mentioned today.

Other key issues included calls to improve integration between bus and rail services, to consider the impact of freight traffic on the road network and how it could be reduced, and to address the lack of resilience in the road network when incidents occur. The work also highlighted issues with the passenger experience on public transport in the area and ways in which the active travel network could be improved.

The study’s final 23 recommendations were developed to address the key issues that were raised and have been appraised against the specific regional transport planning objectives. The study, which was published in January, forms a central part of the evidence base for the strategic transport projects review and—as Joan McAlpine commented—clearly defines potential transport improvements that meet transport planning objectives for the region. As the review proceeds, we will consider those further, as part of the Scotland-wide assessment of potential transport and infrastructure investments and interventions.

Several members mentioned the union connectivity review, which was announced after virtually no consultation of the devolved Administrations, despite transport having been a devolved responsibility since 1999. The cabinet secretary, together with his counterparts in Northern Ireland and Wales, has written to Grant Shapps, the UK Government Secretary of State for Transport, outlining the issues as we see them. We await a detailed response.

The strategic transport projects review is the process in Scotland for making recommendations for future transport investment. That feeds directly into the Treasury approach that I outlined earlier. Any talk of a bridge to Ireland should be put in the context of the higher priorities for transport investment—not just in the south-west, but across Scotland—that have been identified through the process.

Looking beyond delivery of the Maybole bypass, our collaborative review of the national transport strategy has set the direction and vision for the kind of transport system that we want for Scotland over the next 20 years. The south-west study has provided key evidence to support the second STPR and has identified a range of options for improving transport in south-west. The south-west is not a forgotten region. I appreciate that people might feel that that is the case, but I want to reassure members that the Scottish Government has not forgotten the south-west.

Now that work has restarted on the second STPR, following a pause during the Covid-19 pandemic, we intend to take the phased approach that I referred to earlier. We will report in the timescale that was originally planned—within this session of Parliament—under phase 1. We will focus on locking in the positive benefits of individual transport and travel behaviours that have arisen from the pandemic, and we will provide a step change in investment that supports the priorities and outcomes of the NTS. We currently envisage completing the second phase later in 2021.

We remain committed to working collaboratively and in a positive way with our local authority partners to deliver a strategic transport network that is fit for the post-Covid-19 era and beyond. I assure members that the transport network in the south-west will be a key part of our considerations.

With your patience, Presiding Officer, I will make a couple of points for members’ information. On Bellfield, which I know is important to Mr Whittle, the report has recommended that further work be undertaken by East Ayrshire Council. Some work has been done, but we await further findings from the council on potential capacity limits. A feasibility study that is being led by Transport Scotland is under way in relation to Ayr station, and will include assessment of the hotel site. I hope that that is helpful to the member.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Our clerk said to me, “As long as we’re finished by 10 to eight, we’ll be fine.” I was starting to worry. I remind everyone to observe social distancing when leaving the chamber.

Meeting closed at 19:37.