John’s Speech in Modernising Scotland’s Transport Infrastructure Debate 13th November 2013

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind):

In his opening speech, the minister mentioned the unparalleled budget restraints that have been placed on the Scottish Government. Those restraints are not in dispute, except in the Tory amendment. However, politics is about priorities and competing demands, and it is evident that the motor lobby has a very strong voice that has been listened to.

I am disappointed that there has been no mention of ferries, which are a vital part of our infrastructure. Given the fact that the motion talks about “strategic transport networks”, it is strange that there has been no mention of ferries. There is good news for the Scottish Government in relation to the Raasay ferry, which has an innovative design and was built in Scotland. I would like to see that replicated, with a replacement programme that would put our shipbuilding yards to some constructive use, and an enhanced, less polluting fleet.

I was heartened to hear the minister say that he is keen to encourage people to move from road to rail. Of course, the practicalities of rail travel will shape people’s view on whether it is worth while. I received a detailed email from a constituent who travelled twice on the Inverness to Aberdeen line at the weekend. He outlined the various challenges connected with his journey and said that “26 got on at Insch, 50 at Inverurie and 15 at Dyce. We 
became a sardines tin!”

That is good news in that plenty of use is being made of the service, but he had a similar
experience on the return journey. That raises the question why, 10 years after we were promised that the short platforms at Elgin and Insch would be lengthened, that has not happened. That is what people are interested in—they want practical opportunities to use rail.

As things stand, it is quicker to use the train than to travel by road between Inverness and
Aberdeen. It is, therefore, disappointing that the Scottish Government seems intent on reversing the position with its plans to dual the A96. How does that square with the minister’s assertion that he wants to encourage people to move from road
to rail? A cost benefit analysis must be done on that. The phrase “modal shift” is used a lot, not just about freight, but about passengers. What analysis is done? We must make rail an attractive option, and part of doing so will involve considering how it integrates with other policies—not just transport policies, but policies on the environment and planning.For example, how transport links with developments such as those at Kishorn will be important.

Reference has been made to the briefings that members have received. I will talk about the one from Friends of the Earth Scotland in the context of the damage that air pollution does to health. We all want to encourage more cycling and walking as well as more and better public transport, but those things will require less traffic.

The minister’s mention of retrofitting is welcome. That is a practical example of what we should encourage: inspecting, repairing and replacing in that order, not going straight to replacing.

Unusually for me, I will commend something from the United States. Smart Growth America, which is on the internet—I can show the link to the minister—has carried out research that says: “Public transportation investments generate 31 percent more jobs per dollar than new construction of roads and bridges, and repair work on roads and bridges generates 16 percent more jobs per dollar than new bridge and road construction.”

The research goes on to say:“Fixing existing infrastructure produces a higher return
on investment than new construction because repair prevents the need for reconstruction later, which costs 4 to 14 times as much; saves money by reducing damage from potholes and vibrations, keep existing communities vibrant. Neglecting existing places while building new infrastructure drives growth out, and means the public ends up buying two of everything.”

I do not think that we have the money for “new construction”, so I commend the inspect, repair and replace approach.

Mention has been made of the Borders rail line. It is welcome and a good example of consensus being built. In a previous debate, I also commended the additional Oban to Glasgow rail service, with which there is excellent connectivity. Members talked about shift, but the shift will require infrastructure. Members also talked about the north rail line. It is now at capacity and I understand that that is why freight now goes east and south, rather than west and south.

Rail and cycle hubs are very important, too, but their design is important. The right design must form part of the franchise so that there are storage areas for cycles and other things. I have been in touch with the minister on those matters. The national cycle network is very much to be welcomed. I ask the minister for more of that, please.