National Alliance Against Tolls - Scottish Parliament 2005
SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT - QUESTIONS, MOTIONS & DEBATES - 2005
Scottish Parliament 2004
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10 Jan 2005 - Motions
S2M-2206 Abolition of Tolls on Erskine Bridge (lodged on 22 December 2004) Ms Sandra White*
S2M-2200 Abolition of Skye Bridge Tolls (lodged on 21 December 2004) Robert Brown*
14 Jan 2005 - Motions
S2M-2206 Abolition of Tolls on Erskine Bridge (lodged on 22 December 2004) John Swinburne*
S2M-2200 Abolition of Skye Bridge Tolls (lodged on 21 December 2004) John Swinburne*
19 Jan 2005 Public Petitions
Skye Bridge Tolls (PE727)
Convener: PE727 by Robbie the Pict, on behalf of the Scottish People's Mission, calls on the Parliament to urge the Executive to order the immediate suspension of tolls on the A87 between the Isle of Skye and mainland Scotland.
At its meeting on 15 September 2004, the committee considered a response from the Executive and noted that "the end of the discredited tolling regime on the Skye Bridge is likely to be achieved by the end of this year."
The committee therefore agreed to ask the Executive to provide details of the timetable for the end of the Skye bridge tolling regime.
The Executive stated in its response:
"Negotiations with Skye Bridge Limited, with a view to achieving that commitment by the end of the year, are ongoing."
On 21 December 2004, however, First Minister announced that Skye bridge tolls were to be abolished with immediate effect. Therefore, I doubt that we can do much more with the petition other than to congratulate John Farquhar Munro. Unfortunately, he is not with us this morning-perhaps he caught the cold when he was celebrating the removal of the tolls at his Hogmanay party.
Helen Eadie: He might be in financial ruin if everyone in the United Kingdom arrived at his celebration party to take up his offer of free drinks.
Jackie Baillie: I suggest that we hold a similar party when the Executive takes the step that was justified in its own review and removes the tolls from the Erskine bridge.
Helen Eadie: And from the Forth road bridge.
John Scott: Will Jackie Baillie lodge a petition on that issue?
Jackie Baillie: As an MSP, I have been discouraged from lodging any petition, but I am sure that I can find other people to do that for me.
Helen Eadie: I can confirm that Fife will also challenge that review
24 Jan 2005 Written Answers
S2W-13263 - Fergus Ewing (Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber) (SNP) : To ask the Scottish Executive how much public funding was allocated in respect of the Skye Bridge and how much funding Skye Bridge Limited received in (a) tolls and (b) subsidies in each year since the bridge was opened.
Answered by Nicol Stephen (24 January 2005): The total cost of the Skye Bridge project was £39 million, of which some £15 million was publicly funded. Both these figures are quoted at 1991 prices.
Toll receipts totalled £33,370,829 in cash terms between October 1995 and September 2004. This includes compensation payments, totalling £7,564,517 in cash terms, in respect of the costs of increased frequent user discounts from 1998, the freeze on toll levels from 2000 and the imposition of VAT on tolls from February 2003. A breakdown of these totals is set out in the following table:
25 Jan 2005 Written Answers
S2W-13121 - Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab) : To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will undertake studies to assess the impact of the elimination of Erskine Bridge tolls on congestion on other Clyde crossings.
Answered by Nicol Stephen (25 January 2005): The Executive made a commitment in our transport white paper, Scotland's Transport Future, to carry out a two-phase review of the tolled bridges in Scotland. Phase One of the review, which included an examination of the effect that various changes in tolls on the Erskine Bridge would have, is complete and available on the Executive's website at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/library5/enterprise/tobr-00.asp. Phase Two of the review is now underway. The terms of reference for Phase Two specifically include an assessment of the impact that any change in tolls on the Erskine Bridge would have on congestion and the local environment, in a way that achieves an optimum outcome without having a detrimental impact elsewhere in the local area.
28 Jan 2005 Written Answers
S2W-12850 - Fergus Ewing (Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber) (SNP) : To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will make a statement regarding the Skye Bridge tolls and, if so, when; whether it will provide the Parliament with a detailed explanation for any such statement, in particular including the calculation of any payment to be made to buy out the owners of the PFI in respect of the Skye Bridge; whether any such statement will be made (a) before or (b) during the Christmas recess, and, if such a statement is made in the Parliament, whether it envisages that there will be an opportunity for Members to question the ministers for transport and finance and public services.
Holding reply by Nicol Stephen (20 December 2004): I shall reply to the member as soon as possible.
Answered by Nicol Stephen (28 January 2005): The tolling regime on the Skye Bridge was ended on 21 December 2004. The Parliament was informed in response to question S2W-12790 also on that day, which was before the Christmas recess. The final payment to Skye Bridge Ltd (SBL) is expected to be around £27 million, and will be known when the audited accounts of SBL to 31 December 2004 are prepared. We anticipate that this will be in February, after which we will publish the termination agreement between the Executive and Skye Bridge Ltd.
28 Jan 2005 Motions
S2M-2206 Abolition of Tolls on Erskine Bridge (lodged on 22 December 2004) Murray Tosh*
31 Jan 2005 Written Answers
S2W-13204 - Bruce Crawford (Mid Scotland and Fife) (SNP) : To ask the Scottish Executive what factors it will consider when reviewing the future of tolls on the Forth and Tay road bridges.
Answered by Nicol Stephen (31 January 2005): The Executive made a commitment in our transport white paper, Scotland's Transport Future, to carry out a two-phase review of the tolled bridges in Scotland, including the Forth and Tay road bridges. Phase one of the review is now complete and the resulting report is available on the Executive's website at:
http://www.scotland.gov.uk/library5/enterprise/tobr-00.asp. The phase one report includes the terms of reference for phase two. Phase two will specifically consider the impact of future tolls on both the Tay and Forth road bridges looking specifically at congestion, pollution and the environment. A major issue will be how to reduce the significant number of single occupancy vehicles using both bridges.
2 Mar 2005 Debate
David McLetchie (Edinburgh Pentlands) (Con): It is helpful that we can now discuss the merits of the tram proposals and other proposed public transport improvements in Edinburgh without making constant reference to the hugely contentious issue of congestion charges-or road tolls, as I prefer to call them. I will not pretend that I am anything other than delighted about the demise of the City of Edinburgh Council's plan for tolls, although frankly I would prefer the Parliament to repeal the legislation that authorises councils to introduce such tolls in case the Liberal Democrats happen to stumble on a particular scheme of which they approve. However, for the moment, we must look ahead to a toll-free Edinburgh.
One of the many council canards that were flown during the recent referendum campaign was the idea that those who oppose tolls have no alternative plan to improve public transport in Edinburgh. That was always a smokescreen. The council deliberately played down the substantial measures that have already been proposed to improve Edinburgh's public transport system and it did so as a ploy to encourage a yes vote. Proposals that are in place and in the pipeline were presented as a mere base investment, as if they were of no consequence at all, with the meaty stuff to follow only when we had all signed up to the tolls plan. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fortunately, the public saw through the strategy.
10 Mar 2005 - Debate - Infrastructure Investment Plan
Frances Curran: Is the Skye bridge a successful project?
Murdo Fraser: Yes.
Frances Curran: That is interesting. The view of whether that project was successful depends on where one stands. The Skye bridge was a trail-blazer of a PFI project-do Members not agree? The company that built the bridge got a 100 per cent return on its outlay. Thatcher always went on about the fall in industry profitability and the need for profitability to increase, so I am sure the Tories would love to congratulate Skye Bridge Ltd. The bridge cost it £27 million and it received double that from tolls and from the Scottish Executive buying the bridge. Do the Tories really want to take responsibility for the Edinburgh royal infirmary? Is that providing the same value for money?
22 Mar 2005 - Written Answers
Chris Ballance (South of Scotland) (Green): To ask the Scottish Executive, further to the answer to question S2W-12683 by Nicol Stephen on 20 December 2004 and in light of the abolition of tolls on the Skye Bridge, whether it has calculated how much the abolition of tolls cost and, if this calculation has not been made, when it expects it will do so.
Holding answer issued: 14 March 2005
Nicol Stephen: The final cost for ending the tolls on Skye Bridge as agreed in the Termination Agreement was dependent upon the calculation of the corporation tax element. The corporation tax has now been agreed and the total cost is £26.75 million which is very close to my previous announcement that stated the ending of the tolls on Skye Bridge would cost around £27 million. This is the total amount as there is no VAT to be paid.
1 April 2005 Motions
S2M-2206 Trish Godman: Abolition of Tolls on Erskine Bridge-That the Parliament considers that the abolition of the tolls on the Erskine Bridge would help to relieve congestion and pollution problems on other river crossings; further considers that the local economies on either side of the Clyde would be likely to benefit, and therefore urges the Scottish Executive to move quickly to complete the work needed so that the tolls on the bridge can be removed.
Supported by: Des McNulty, Jackie Baillie, Ms Sandra White, John Swinburne, Murray Tosh
S2M-2200 John Farquhar Munro: Abolition of Skye Bridge Tolls-That the Parliament welcomes the delivery of the Partnership Agreement commitment to abolish the discredited toll regime on the Skye Bridge and looks forward to the social and economic benefits that this will bring the residents of Skye and Lochalsh.
Supported by: Donald Gorrie, Tommy Sheridan, Iain Smith, Robert Brown, John Swinburne
11 April 2005 - Written Answers
S2W-15738 Carolyn Leckie: To ask the Scottish Executive whether the Requirements of Writing (Scotland) Act 1995 demanding subscription applies to the Assignation Statement in respect of the Skye Bridge tolls.
S2W-15739 Carolyn Leckie: To ask the Scottish Executive on what date the Assignation Statement in respect of the Skye Bridge tolls was made; who made it, and how it was made.
S2W-15740 Carolyn Leckie: To ask the Scottish Executive whether the Assignation Statement in respect of the Skye Bridge tolls is the legal equivalent to a general scheme or an order that is made by ministers.
S2W-15741 Carolyn Leckie: To ask the Scottish Executive, given that it acknowledges the Assignation Statement in respect of the Skye Bridge tolls is not probative, how the statutory aspect of the assignation is proved in law.
13 April 2005 - Debate
John Farquhar Munro (Ross, Skye and Inverness West) (LD): I congratulate Margo MacDonald on bringing to the Parliament the topic of meeting the needs and aspirations of the people of Scotland. That is the reason why we are here, not just today, but every day that the Parliament meets. The motion is right to say that MSPs were elected to meet the needs and aspirations of the people of Scotland. It does us no harm every now and again to step back from the detail of policy and legislation that we must-rightly-consider and to assess whether our work meets the needs that we were elected to address.
During the debate in 1997 on whether we should establish the Scottish Parliament, some people expressed fears that the Parliament would be for the people of central Scotland and that the voices of the people of the Highlands and Islands would have no better hearing in Edinburgh than they would in London. That has not been my experience. As I am a constituency MSP in the Highlands, it is my role to ensure that Edinburgh listens and acts.
We have achieved considerable success and, in doing so, we have delivered improvements for the people whom we represent. Members will not be surprised that I offer as a prime example the lifting of the Skye bridge tolls at the end of last year. Members will know that I pursued that issue for some time. I worked with my constituents, with my party colleagues, with other coalition colleagues and with our party's leader, Charles Kennedy. The campaign was long but, thanks to the strength of our case, we won through in the end. I am particularly delighted that when young Donald James Kennedy is taken for his first visit to Skye, his proud father will take him over a toll-free bridge.
The lifting of the tolls will not just benefit proud fathers who take their sons to Skye; the benefits will be far wider. The bridge has already experienced a 25 per cent increase in road traffic since tolls were abolished, which must be welcomed. The increase in the traffic volume must indicate an increase in economic activity in one of Scotland's most fragile areas.
Mrs Ewing: I do not want to interrupt the ceilidh that will occur on the Skye bridge. Like the member, I rejoice that the tolls have been lifted. Having examined that buy-out of a private finance initiative, does the member believe that Inverness airport should be treated similarly? That, too, would have an impact on the economy and tourism in the Highlands.
John Farquhar Munro: That is a continuing battle that has still to be won.
On the day when the Skye bridge tolls were lifted, Harbro, the agricultural products supplier, announced a reduction in the cost of its agricultural products to the island of £1 per tonne. That was quite significant. I do not doubt that it is a good indicator of an improving economic situation and I hope for significant growth in the summer tourist season.
I will move on to the more serious issue of the lack of affordable housing in rural Scotland. I recognise that the Scottish Executive has taken some useful initiatives. However, it must not rest on its laurels but must push ahead with those initiatives as quickly as possible. We need co-ordinated action from our planners-as Members this morning have said-from housing associations and from Scottish Water, to ensure that new developments go ahead. Priority must be given to projects that are targeted at providing affordable housing. We need to devolve Scottish Water's role in local areas, because often the one-size-fits-all approach that might suit large conurbations does not work in small, isolated communities. Once houses are built, we need to ensure that young people and young families in need are given first refusal on tenancies and purchases. We need a demographic balance and, more important, family links, if we are to deliver secure, vibrant communities in remote areas.
As we hear regularly, Scotland has an aging population. We need to face the challenge of supporting our elderly. The state has an important role to play, but by far and away the best support that the elderly can receive is from their families. However, family Members cannot give that support if they are forced to live miles away because of a lack of affordable housing in the area, which means that the state must assume much of the burden.
By focusing our attention on the important issues that I have highlighted, we will meet the needs and aspirations of people in Scotland, just as the motion suggests.
14 April 2005 - Answers
Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive what action it is taking to ensure the prompt delivery of the A8000 project. (S2O-6076)
Minister for Transport (Nicol Stephen): We are working closely with the City of Edinburgh Council and the Forth Estuary Transport Authority-FETA-to ensure that work can begin on this important project as soon as possible.
Margaret Smith: The minister will appreciate that the A8000 project is a major issue for my constituents, who share my concern about the number of delays to the project and its rising cost. Will he assure me that the Scottish Executive will underwrite part of the funding for the A8000 project to cover a temporary-I hope-funding gap that has been caused by the public inquiry and judicial review of tolls, which is currently delaying this crucial project? Will he agree to an urgent meeting with FETA, the City of Edinburgh Council and me so that we can investigate options to allow the project to go to tender in the next few weeks, as was previously intended by the FETA board?
Nicol Stephen: Margaret Smith has written to me on the issue and I will be pleased to have a meeting with her. I also look forward to meeting the council and FETA. I do not rule anything out at this stage. If there are constructive proposals that would help such an important project to go ahead, I will give them serious consideration. I want to ensure that we get cracking with the project and get construction under way so that it can be completed on schedule for 2007.
If we consider the areas of Scotland's road network that are crying out for new investment, it is clear that, as with the other major road project in the west of Scotland that we discussed earlier, the early upgrading of the A8000 in the east of Scotland on the way to the Forth road bridge is vital to the completion of a sensible road network.
Alasdair Morgan (South of Scotland) (SNP): The A8000 is not part of the trunk road network. Can the minister tell us why not?
Nicol Stephen: The last trunk road review was held back in 1996, so perhaps I should pass that question to Conservative Members. We are reaching the stage at which we need a fresh trunk road review, and I hope to announce the second stage of the toll bridges review next week-I note that the Forth road bridge itself is not a trunk road. Those are issues for the future, although I agree with the sentiment that I think lies behind Alasdair Morgan's question. We need a sensible approach for the future, but it would not be possible to give a sound and logical answer to the question without Lord James Douglas-Hamilton being present.
26 April 2005 - Written Answers
Carolyn Leckie (Central Scotland) (SSP): To ask the Scottish Executive whether the Requirements of Writing (Scotland) Act 1995 demanding subscription applies to the Assignation Statement in respect of the Skye Bridge tolls.
Nicol Stephen: No.
Carolyn Leckie (Central Scotland) (SSP): To ask the Scottish Executive on what date the Assignation Statement in respect of the Skye Bridge tolls was made; who made it, and how it was made.
Nicol Stephen: The Assignation Statement was made by the then Secretary of State for Scotland. It was made available for public inspection, and notices to this effect were published on 23 October and 1 November 1991, as required under Paragraph 14A(3) of Schedule 1 to the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984.
Carolyn Leckie (Central Scotland) (SSP): To ask the Scottish Executive whether the Assignation Statement in respect of the Skye Bridge tolls is the legal equivalent to a general scheme or an order that is made by ministers.
Nicol Stephen: Neither. It is a statement with respect to the assignation by the then Secretary of State for Scotland of his rights to charge and collect tolls under the Invergarry-Kyle of Lochalsh Trunk Road (A87) Extension (Skye Bridge Crossing) Toll Order.
Carolyn Leckie (Central Scotland) (SSP): To ask the Scottish Executive, given that it acknowledges the Assignation Statement in respect of the Skye Bridge tolls is not probative, how the statutory aspect of the assignation is proved in law.
Nicol Stephen: The Assignation Statement is valid even though it is not a probative (or self-evidencing) document. It complies with the requirements of paragraph 14A of schedule 1 to the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 and the Assignation Statement (Prescribed Information) (Scotland) Regulations 1991. The Appeal Court, the High Court of Justiciary, in the stated cases of Smith and others v Procurator Fiscal, Dingwall, considered submissions that the Assignation Statement did not satisfy those requirements. On 16 December 1999 the court, in its decision, rejected these submissions.
3 May 2005 - Debate - Invergarry-Kyle of Lochalsh Trunk Road (A87) Extension (Skye Bridge Crossing) Toll Order (Revocation) Order 2005
Convener: No Members have raised any points about the statutory instrument, no points have been raised by the Subordinate Legislation Committee and no motion for annulment has been lodged.
Tommy Sheridan: I seek guidance. I have a big problem with the instrument, but my difficulty is that I do not know how to express the problem. On the one hand, I do not want us to maintain Skye bridge tolls any longer than they have to be there. On the other hand, if we were to allow the instrument to pass without comment today, are we in effect consenting to the legality of the whole scheme? There are 130 people waiting to be prosecuted for not paying the fees, and there is a major issue over whether the original licensing scheme was legal or not. I worry that, if we pass on the instrument without one of the justice committees having had a look at it, we might be saying tacitly that we agree that the whole scheme was legal from the beginning.
Convener: I do not think that that issue is connected with the instrument at all. Basically, the instrument is a technical measure that removes the power to charge tolls on the bridge. Ministers have not been charging tolls since 1 January this year, so tolls have not been charged for the past few months, but the instrument removes the power to charge tolls for the bridge. That does not imply any comment on the other issues that you raise. I suggest that there are probably other avenues that could be used if you want to raise those issues, but the order is merely a technical instrument that tidies up the position and backs up the policy decision not to charge tolls by removing the power to charge tolls.
Tommy Sheridan: Thank you for that clarification. Therefore, our supporting the revocation does not mean that we tacitly accept that the original power to charge tolls was legal. Will you confirm for the record that we are not making that statement?
Convener: I would certainly not make that interpretation. I think that the instrument merely makes it absolutely clear that there is no power to charge tolls. As I said, I do not think that anybody could take the interpretation that you suggest from our approval of the order. It merely tidies up legislation to back up the policy intention behind the Executive's decision.
Do Members agree to note that we have nothing to report on the instrument?
Members indicated agreement.
4 May 2005 - Debate - Enterprise (Inverclyde)
Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): One of the things that would help Inverclyde and my area is the removal of the tolls on the Erskine bridge. Will the minister link up with his colleague Minister for Transport to consider the transport strategy for Clydeside and the ways in which transport, as well as the areas for which he himself is responsible, such as enterprise and business support, can contribute to a comprehensive regeneration that would benefit areas such as Duncan McNeil's, as well as mine?
Deputy Presiding Officer: I am being lenient in saying that you can answer that, minister.
Allan Wilson: I agree fundamentally that investment in transport infrastructure is a key driver of economic growth, and I am sure that the creation of the west of Scotland transport partnership as a strategic transport authority will facilitate that process. I look forward to discussions with Minister for Transport to ensure that the outcome of those discussions and the strategic decisions that require to be taken in relation to transport and infrastructure investment are in line with the principle of economic growth as the priority. Any impediment to economic growth that relates to transport infrastructure, whether it be tolls and bridges or otherwise, will be part of that consideration.
Deputy Presiding Officer: Question 7 has been withdrawn
11 May 2005 - Questions
S2W-16388 Carolyn Leckie: To ask the Scottish Executive, in light of the letter of 27 November 1995 from the Crown Office on the assignation statement in relation to the Skye Bridge which indicated that it was aware that the assignation statement to license toll charging to a third party was not a final or made document, whether the Executive will now make immediate arrangements for any tolls unlawfully demanded to be returned to a community trust fund for repayment.
S2W-16389 Carolyn Leckie: To ask the Scottish Executive, in light of Lord Eassie's opinion in Robbie the Pict v. Miller Civil Engineering 1999 SCLR Notes 749 questioning the validity of the memorandum proferred as the written consent of the Secretary of State to Miller Civil Engineering Ltd demanding tolls, whether the Executive will take any action in relation to those people prosecuted and those convicted due to non-payment of tolls on the Skye Bridge and, in particular, whether it will make reparation to them.
S2W-16397 Carolyn Leckie: To ask the Scottish Executive, further to the answer to question S2W-15738 by Nicol Stephen on 26 April 2005, why the Requirements of Writing (Scotland) Act 1995 demanding subscription does not apply to the Assignation Statement in respect of the Skye Bridge tolls, given that the Act came into force two months before the Assignation Statement.
12 May 2005 - Debate -Fife (Economic Regeneration)
Ted Brocklebank: I thank the minister for that answer-I think. Does he accept that one of the most effective ways of boosting the Fife economy would be to abolish the tolls on the Forth and Tay road bridges, rather than to increase their cost? That would not only encourage people to visit Fife-where there is a feeling, particularly in the tourism sector that there is a conspiracy to close Fife down altogether-but it would free up commuter traffic at busy times. Does he further accept that the Executive should help to meet the spiralling cost of repairs to the Tay road bridge, and that regular users of the bridge should not have to foot the bill for what is part of the national road network?
Allan Wilson: As I said in response to a similar question last week on the Erskine bridge, transport infrastructure is a key driver of economic growth. That is a fact of which we are wholly cognisant in the Executive, hence the substantial resource that we have put into improving transport infrastructure both in road and rail transportation throughout Scotland. That is a pattern of investment that we intend to continue. How best we invest is a decision for ministers that we take in the course of the spending review; toll charges, as an item in that expenditure programme, are always under consideration.
19 May 2005 - Motions
* S2M-2834 Frances Curran: Solidarity with the Erskine Bridge Toll Workers-That the Parliament congratulates the Erskine Bridge Toll workers, who are Members of the Transport and General Workers Union, on their decision to take official industrial action on Friday 20 May and Saturday 21 May 2005 to prevent the further deterioration of their working conditions and for a £5.50 per hour pay claim; views their pay claim as modest in relation to their employers', APCOA Parking (UK) Ltd, £601,361 income directly from the Scottish Executive merely for collecting tolls; condemns the Executive for allowing APCOA to bring in a security firm to staff the toll booths in an attempt to break the strike, and demands that the Executive use its influence on APCOA to settle the workers' claim immediately.
20 May 2005 - Written answers
S2W-16388 - Carolyn Leckie (Central Scotland) (SSP) : To ask the Scottish Executive, in light of the letter of 27 November 1995 from the Crown Office on the assignation statement in relation to the Skye Bridge which indicated that it was aware that the assignation statement to license toll charging to a third party was not a final or made document, whether the Executive will now make immediate arrangements for any tolls unlawfully demanded to be returned to a community trust fund for repayment.
Answered by Colin Boyd QC (20 May 2005): The assignation statement contains all of the information required by statute.
S2W-16389 - Carolyn Leckie (Central Scotland) (SSP) : To ask the Scottish Executive, in light of Lord Eassie¿s opinion in Robbie the Pict v. Miller Civil Engineering 1999 SCLR Notes 749 questioning the validity of the memorandum proferred as the written consent of the Secretary of State to Miller Civil Engineering Ltd demanding tolls, whether the Executive will take any action in relation to those people prosecuted and those convicted due to non-payment of tolls on the Skye Bridge and, in particular, whether it will make reparation to them.
Answered by Colin Boyd QC (20 May 2005): The Opinion of Lord Eassie referred to does not cast any doubt on the legality of the Skye Bridge tolling regime. The decision to end tolling followed detailed negotiations with Skye Bridge Limited. The agreement did not involve a change in the law, and does not affect the convictions for non-payment of the tolls or any related road traffic offences such as dangerous driving at the bridge.
No action is proposed in relation to persons prosecuted and convicted for non-payment of tolls.
23 May 2005 - Motions
S2M-2834 Frances Curran: Solidarity with the Erskine Bridge Toll Workers-That the Parliament congratulates the Erskine Bridge Toll workers, who are Members of the Transport and General Workers Union, on their decision to take official industrial action on Friday 20 May and Saturday 21 May 2005 to prevent the further deterioration of their working conditions and for a £5.50 per hour pay claim; views their pay claim as modest in relation to their employers', APCOA Parking (UK) Ltd, £601,361 income directly from the Scottish Executive merely for collecting tolls; condemns the Executive for allowing APCOA to bring in a security firm to staff the toll booths in an attempt to break the strike, and demands that the Executive use its influence on APCOA to settle the workers' claim immediately.
Supported by: Carolyn Leckie, Colin Fox, Campbell Martin, Rosie Kane, Ms Rosemary Byrne
24 May 2005 - Written answers
S2W-16397 - Carolyn Leckie (Central Scotland) (SSP) : To ask the Scottish Executive, further to the answer to question S2W-15738 by Nicol Stephen on 26 April 2005, why the Requirements of Writing (Scotland) Act 1995 demanding subscription does not apply to the Assignation Statement in respect of the Skye Bridge tolls, given that the act came into force two months before the Assignation Statement.
Answered by Nicol Stephen (24 May 2005): Section 2 of the Requirements of Writing (Scotland) Act 1995 provides that certain categories of documents specified in section 1(2) of that act require to be subscribed in order to be valid. The Skye Bridge Assignation Statement does not fall into any of these categories.
25 May 2005 - Written answers
S2W-16456 - Scott Barrie (Dunfermline West) (Lab) : To ask the Scottish Executive what discussions it has had with the Forth Estuary Transport Authority regarding Forth road bridge prepaid voucher holders having to pay an additional 18p per crossing in cash as a consequence of the recent increase in tolls on the bridge.
Answered by Nicol Stephen (25 May 2005): Executive officials have discussed with the authority the use of discount vouchers at the bridge since the tolls rose on 1 May 2005, in general terms. However, the management and operation of the bridge, including the discount terms and arrangements, are a matter for the authority itself.
26 May 2005 - Answers
Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it considers that there are economic and environmental benefits to removing the tolls on the Erskine bridge. (S2O-6865)
Minister for Transport (Nicol Stephen): The economic and environmental impacts of toll changes on the Erskine bridge, including the removal of the tolls, were considered in phase 1 of the tolled bridges review. Phase 2 of the review is considering the wider impact of tolling and options for the future management and operation of all tolled bridges, including the Erskine bridge. The consultation on phase 2 will run until Friday 8 July.
Jackie Baillie: I look forward to contributing to that consultation. The minister will be aware of research that his department has carried out that points to the clear conclusion that removing the tolls from the Erskine bridge will have a positive environmental benefit throughout the west of Scotland by alleviating congestion on the Kingston bridge and in the Clyde tunnel, which is estimated to cost our economy £19 million each year. I know that the minister wants to improve our economy and our environment, so when will he remove the tolls?
Nicol Stephen: Jackie Baillie is right to say that work has been done on the issue. It shows that, under certain assumptions, the removal of tolls would have benefits for the environment as a result of the effect on congestion as well as clear benefits for the economy in the area that Jackie Baillie represents and in the wider area around Glasgow. We will consider those issues in phase 2 of the review, so it would be wrong to prejudge the outcome of that review.
I encourage Jackie Baillie, all other MSPs and individuals from business and the local community to make their views known loud and clear. A decision on the future of the tolled bridges will be made as soon as possible after 8 July.
Deputy Presiding Officer: I will allow supplementary questions on the issue after question 4.
Trish Godman (West Renfrewshire) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether an analysis has been conducted of the potential economic and social benefits arising from the abolition of the tolls on the Erskine bridge. (S2O-6874)
Nicol Stephen: I refer the member to the answer that I have just given to Jackie Baillie.
Trish Godman: And I refer the minister to the answer that he gave to Jackie Baillie. I, too, will respond to the consultation, although I am having some difficulty with the format and objectivity of the consultation document. It is clear throughout the document that the Erskine bridge will not be de-tolled-that is the whole emphasis of the document.
Deputy Presiding Officer: Question.
Trish Godman: The impact of tolling on the local economies on both sides of the bridge cannot be overstated. Is the minister aware that many of my constituents have to travel to the other side of the river for out-patient clinics? Does he agree that the existence of tolls acts as an additional levy on patients and that low-paid workers are disadvantaged further by the tolling of the bridge when they have to pay more than £6 a week to go back and Forth to their work? Will he agree to meet the Clyde valley community planning partnership board to discuss those and other matters pertaining to the Erskine bridge? Like my colleague Jackie Baillie, I ask the minister when he will de-toll the bridge.
Nicol Stephen: If Trish Godman has interpreted the consultation document as being biased against the case that she makes, I give her a guarantee that that is not how it should be interpreted. The document is intended to be neutral in its treatment of the arguments. It is a genuine and open consultation. My mind is not closed to any of the outcomes that are considered, one of which is and will remain the abolition of tolls on the Erskine bridge. The arguments that Jackie Baillie and Trish Godman have made are important, but we must consider all the toll bridges and whether there are differences between them. The strongest case that can be made for the Erskine bridge should distinguish it from the Tay and Forth bridges. Arguments relating to cost, to communities and to particular individuals will apply to all the bridges, but if we were to reduce tolls on the other bridges there could be significant congestion consequences and greater damage could be done to the economy by Scotland grinding to a halt. We have to be conscious of the different arguments relating to each of the bridges-I would hope that that is reflected in the arguments that Members make in their responses. As Trish Godman knows, I am always willing to meet MSPs and community representatives, and I would be pleased to do so on this issue.
Alasdair Morgan (South of Scotland) (SNP): I will try to make my speech shorter than the previous two were. Although I am not against the removal of tolls on the Erskine bridge, does the minister agree that the removal of those tolls would increase the sense of discrimination that is already felt by those who use the Tay and Forth bridges? If he decides to remove the tolls on the Erskine bridge, will he reconsider the position of the Tay and Forth bridges? Does he agree that the environmental damage that is caused by a car crossing the Tay or Forth bridges is no more than the environmental damage that is caused by a car entering Dundee or Edinburgh by any of the land routes?
Nicol Stephen: It is important to emphasise, particularly in relation to the Forth road bridge, the suggestion in the evidence that has been prepared for the bridges review that if the tolls were removed, there would be significant congestion consequences. The Forth Estuary Transport Authority, which operates the bridge, has emphasised that point. There are also serious issues to do with the cost of the maintenance of the bridge. It is essential that the bridge continues to be maintained to the highest of standards. There are differences between the bridges in terms of the estimates of the social impacts but also in terms of the economic and environmental impacts, which are important. All those issues will be fairly evaluated in the toll bridges review. I do not want there to be any sense of injustice at the end of the review. I want it to be clear why we are taking the approach that we will in due course take on each of the bridges. That approach should be logical and defensible.
Andrew Arbuckle (Mid Scotland and Fife) (LD): Will the minister bear in mind that Fife is doubly disadvantaged by having toll bridges to the north and south? Tolls should not be seen as a method of introducing congestion charging. If any city or community requires congestion charging, it should be done around that city or community, not on one of the main arteries.
Nicol Stephen: On the first point, I realise that there are significant issues with the Tay bridge. One of the concerns is the bridge's condition. This week's announcement of a £16 million investment to upgrade the bridge-for which the Scottish Executive is providing support-emphasises the scale of the challenge with which the maintenance costs for the bridges present us. The original building cost of the Tay bridge was £6 million.
I acknowledge the points that Andrew Arbuckle makes on Fife and I hope that they will be made in the review but, so as not to mislead the Parliament, I repeat that the Forth Estuary Transport Authority is considering for the future a form of road user charging on the Forth road bridge. I support that proposal, because it would allow for charges to be varied according to the time of day at which a road user crosses the bridge and for the imposition of a higher charge on single-occupancy vehicles, which make up 70 per cent of the vehicles that cross the bridge. It is appropriate to consider such variable charging for the future.
Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): Does the minister accept that the unique case for the removal of tolls from the Erskine bridge is that it would address congestion, which is his department's top priority. We are supposed to reduce congestion by a significant percentage by 2020, and removing the tolls from the Erskine bridge would rebalance traffic and the environmental consequences between the different Clyde crossings. Faced with the likelihood of 53 weeks of road works in the Clyde tunnel and the temporary closure of the on-ramp from the Clydeside expressway to the motorway-
Deputy Presiding Officer: You are close to answering your own question, Mr McNulty.
Des McNulty: Does that not make a case for an urgent response from the minister on the Erskine bridge? The sooner he responds, the better.
Nicol Stephen: Des McNulty makes a powerful case. I am sure that he will make that case as part of the review by making a written submission alongside those of Jackie Baillie and Trish Godman. I will give full, fair and objective consideration to their case in due course.
16 June 2005 - Answers
John Farquhar Munro (Ross, Skye and Inverness West) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive whether the criminal convictions imposed on Skye bridge protesters for non-payment of tolls will be quashed. (S2O-7099)
Lord Advocate (Colin Boyd): No action is proposed in relation to persons who have been prosecuted and convicted in a criminal court for non-payment of the Skye bridge tolls. The decision to end tolling in December 2004 did not reflect in any way on the legality of the tolling regime, which has been tested on many occasions in both civil and criminal courts.
John Farquhar Munro: I am sure that Lord Advocate is aware that the convictions were imposed because the courts considered the toll charge to be a tax and that, as such, non-payment was a criminal offence. Subsequently, it has been determined that the toll charge was in fact a service charge, non-payment of which is a civil offence. In those circumstances, does Lord Advocate agree that the criminal convictions are seriously flawed and that they should be quashed immediately?
Lord Advocate: No, I do not accept that. The toll was imposed as a result of the toll order that flowed from the act of Parliament. Many challenges were made to the toll regime in the courts and all the decisions were upheld. Of course, if the courts were to change their mind, different considerations would apply. At the present time, however, there is no cause for me to interfere with the convictions that the courts have imposed.
Fergus Ewing (Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber) (SNP): I note that Lord Advocate said "At the present time" and that the legality of the convictions has been tested on many occasions. However, he will be aware of the work that Robbie the Pict has carried out on the matter, with considerable legal scholarship-perhaps more than in the work of some of my learned friends. Does Lord Advocate accept that the authority to levy the tolls rested on an assignation document that, as Robbie the Pict has pointed out, was never signed? Can Lord Advocate state where that challenge was tested in the courts? If he cannot do so, will he say what remedy, route or other means can be taken to finish this unfinished business in Scotland?
Lord Advocate: I cannot comment on Robbie the Pict's legal abilities. The point about assignations has been used to challenge the tolling regime in two cases. Robbie the Pict appeared once in the criminal court, where Lord Sutherland found the tolling regime to be in order, and once-twice, in fact-in the civil court in the case Robbie the Pict v Miller Civil Engineering Ltd and others. The assignation statement is made under the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 and the subordinate legislation that flows from the act. It is not an assignation of a contract, but a statutory statement as to who has the right to charge and collect tolls. Indeed, it precedes the contract and does not assign the rights under the contract.
28 June 2005 - Public Petitions - Erskine Bridge (Tolls) (PE869)
Convener: Our first new petition this morning is PE869, by Councillor Andrew White, which calls on the Scottish Parliament to require the Scottish Executive to remove the tolls from the Erskine bridge. Councillor White is here to make a brief statement to the committee, after which we will discuss the issue.
Councillor Andrew White (West Dunbartonshire Council): I thank Convener and the committee for receiving the petition and for allowing me to make a brief statement. The petition is a joint petition by me, as leader of West Dunbartonshire Council, and Councillor Jim Harkins, as leader of Renfrewshire Council. Unfortunately, Jim cannot be here this morning because the committee meeting clashes with his full council meeting.
As the committee will be aware, the Erskine Bridge Tolls Act 1968 introduced tolls on the Erskine bridge-the tolls started in 1971. We in West Dunbartonshire and people throughout the west of Scotland believe that the tolls are a burden to local people and an obstacle to the Scottish Executive achieving many of its policy objectives.
Bringing a petition to the committee is not a starting point in our campaign to have the tolls removed, as my council has been campaigning for their removal since 2001. We have lobbied all transport ministers and we have also written to First Minister. We are disappointed with the response that we have received. The Scottish Executive has committed itself to a review of tolls and has published a consultation document, "Tolled Bridges Review - Phase Two Consultation", which asks 20 questions. Unfortunately, none of those questions asks whether the tolls on the Erskine bridge should be removed. Therefore, we do not believe that our concerns will be addressed by the review. That is why we feel that the Public Petitions Committee is an appropriate place to take the issue forward.
We believe that there are three main justifications for removing tolls on the Erskine bridge: social and economic reasons; transport and environmental reasons; and financial reasons. We believe that the abolition of tolls on the Erskine bridge is important to economic regeneration in our area. We believe that the tolls are a barrier that jobseekers face and that the bridge is the quickest way for West Dunbartonshire residents to get to the national motorway system. We believe that, if the tolls were scrapped, West Dunbartonshire would be more attractive to businesses. We believe that the tolls are a deterrent to businesses locating in West Dunbartonshire and to local people seeking employment on the other side of the bridge from where they live. We estimate that, if the tolls were scrapped, 100 jobs could be gained. That would be 100 people with jobs who need them more than the Executive needs the tolls.
There is also the issue of access to health services. Unfortunately, because of centralisation of health services, a number of constituents in West Dunbartonshire have to access services in Paisley. Clearly, the tolls represent a barrier to the ability of residents in West Dunbartonshire to attend out-patient clinics regularly.
We believe that scrapping the tolls would bring transport and environmental benefits at a local and a regional level. The improved efficiency that would result from enabling vehicles to travel at constant speeds without slowing down and queueing will improve air quality around the bridge. In that regard, we do not think that the bridge should be considered in isolation from the Kingston bridge and the Clyde tunnel. All three river crossings are linked in terms of travel choice. The Glasgow crossings are operating beyond capacity, whereas the Erskine bridge is operating considerably under capacity. That imbalance can be addressed by removing the tolls, which would also help to relieve congestion.
The toll regime was established to pay for capital, administrative, maintenance and repair costs on the bridge until the capital cost was recovered. We believe that that purpose was met some time ago. We can see that, in 2003, income from the bridge was around £5.5 million and the 2000-01 accounts show a cumulative surplus of £13.75 million.
This issue affects not only West Dunbartonshire and Renfrew. The petition and the campaign to have the tolls removed from the Erskine bridge have the cross-party support of seven councils in the west of Scotland. That display of unity across party lines shows the strength of feeling that the tolls should be scrapped.
We believe that the Scottish Executive should not delay the decision any longer. We have been waiting for four years since the Erskine Bridge Tolls Act 2001 was passed. We believe that removing the tolls would be right and just and seek the Public Petitions Committee's support in that regard.
Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab): It will come as no surprise to the committee that I am persuaded by the arguments that have been presented in favour of scrapping the tolls on the Erskine bridge, not least because the bridge is wholly owned by the Executive, which means that it would be relatively easy for the tolls to be scrapped.
Councillor White makes the right point about the importance of scrapping the tolls to the economy and environment of the west of Scotland. The campaign has attracted support from local authorities, MSPs, chambers of commerce, local enterprise companies and the community.
As I am mindful of the fact that I should ask questions at this point, I will do so. Am I correct in my recollection that a recent survey that was undertaken by the Executive suggested that congestion on the Kingston bridge and in the Clyde tunnel accounted for £19 million in losses to businesses? Am I also correct in believing that, if that congestion were alleviated, that money would flow into those businesses? Do you think that the fact that we have a new Minister for Transport and Telecommunications will make any difference? Finally, the toll order expires on 1 July 2006. Do you think that there are earlier opportunities for the Executive to act?
Councillor White: A study was undertaken into the benefits of removing the tolls on the Erskine bridge and the effect that that could have on congestion on the Kingston bridge. Anybody who tries to use the Kingston bridge or the Clyde tunnel can see clearly that there is congestion.
One of our arguments is that the decision to scrap the tolls would not just affect West Dunbartonshire, but would have an effect on transport and environmental policy in line with the Scottish Executive's policy objectives. There is a debate about the removal of tolls on other bridges, but we can see a clear benefit in the relief of congestion.
Minister for Transport and Telecommunications will be the third minister whom we have lobbied about the removal of tolls on the Erskine bridge. I am sure that there is a joke about three buses coming along at different times. We are making efforts to ensure that the new minister is lobbied about the matter. My point is that the tolls are more than just a transport issue, because their removal would have significant benefits to economic regeneration, to tourism and, of course, to transport and congestion relief. That is why we have also made representations to First Minister, as agreed by seven west of Scotland council leaders.
We would like a decision as soon as possible. We have already said to the committee that we believe that 100 jobs could be created by the removal of the tolls. Unemployment is a significant issue in Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire and the sooner that any measure is taken to bring employment to the area, the better. However, I am also aware that the toll order is up for renewal in June or July 2006. Perhaps that would be an appropriate time for the tolls to be removed, but, from our point of view, the sooner it happens, the better.
Mike Watson (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): Good morning. I admit to being open minded about the matter-I am here to be convinced of the case for ending the tolls on the Erskine bridge in isolation. You mentioned the economic impact of the tolls. What evidence is there that people in Dumbarton, for example, who want to go to Greenock or vice versa for work opportunities are either dissuaded or put off entirely from doing so because of the bridge tolls? Travelling by train into Glasgow and out again would cost more and take far longer. Moreover, I would think that it would cost at least 60p in petrol to drive through the Clyde tunnel. What evidence have you or your local authority put together about the economic disadvantage caused by the existence of the tolls on the Erskine bridge?
Councillor White: The council's economic development team worked with colleagues in Renfrewshire Council to look at the situation. Their work suggests that at least 100 jobs could be created. As well as that, we have worked with Scottish Enterprise Dunbartonshire, which is the key economic development agency in the area, and we have raised the matter with Jobcentre Plus. The West Dunbartonshire community planning partnership, which brings all those agencies together, supports our campaign to remove the tolls.
Anecdotal evidence and support from local communities suggest that, if the tolls were removed, more people would travel across the bridge. Because of the tolls, there are few transport links from our side of the river to Renfrewshire and beyond. That is worrying, given that the economic benefits of Glasgow airport are lost to our constituents. Instead, main transport links go through Glasgow rather than across the bridge. There would be benefit in trying to relieve the congestion problems and an already overstretched transport system that has to be directed through Glasgow.
Mike Watson: You are saying that 100 new jobs could be created if the bridge were toll free. The issue is not that the weekly £6.20 cost of crossing the bridge means that people north of the river are not accessing jobs in Greenock or that people south of the river are not accessing jobs in Dumbarton, Helensburgh or wherever.
Councillor White: Obviously, we have looked at the fact that the bridge tolls are a barrier to people in West Dunbartonshire accessing jobs on the other side of the river. I gave the example of Glasgow airport, which is one of the largest employers in that area of the city. Moreover, from working with Scottish Enterprise Dunbartonshire and speaking to local employers and businesses that might want to locate in the area, we know that the tolls are a barrier to any decision that they might make in that respect and that the council area is losing potential new investors and jobs. As a result, our conclusion, which is supported by economic development experts in West Dunbartonshire Council and Renfrewshire Council, is that around 100 jobs are being lost to the area.
Mike Watson: You said that several local authorities have supported your case. Is Glasgow City Council one of them?
Councillor White: Glasgow would be the eighth council to support our case. Seven local authorities-West Dunbartonshire Council, Argyll and Bute Council, Renfrewshire Council, Inverclyde Council, East Dunbartonshire Council, North Lanarkshire Council and East Renfrewshire Council-supported the proposal to send a letter to First Minister. The leader of Glasgow City Council at the time and Clyde valley partnership, which is chaired by the council, also supported the removal of the tolls and gave an assurance that the council would make representations to First Minister on the matter.
Mike Watson: You have lobbied the former Minister for Transport and Glasgow City Council, so we will see what that brings. As I live in Glasgow, I am familiar with the pressure on the Kingston bridge. I also know that, although making the Erskine bridge toll free would take some pressure off that bridge, it would also send people through the north side of Glasgow along the Great Western Road, which is already congested. I am not asking you to comment on that concern for the city; I am simply highlighting what might happen if some traffic is unloaded off the Kingston bridge.
Councillor White: After looking at the matter with our colleagues, we believe that removing tolls on the Erskine bridge would relieve the pressure on some parts of Glasgow, such as the A82 around the Anniesland area, and ease traffic through Glasgow to the Kingston bridge and the Clyde tunnel. Glasgow will benefit from the measure, which is probably why Glasgow City Council has indicated its support for it.
Mike Watson: Finally, are you against bridge tolls in general or just the tolls on the Erskine bridge? Do you have a view on the tolls on the Tay and Forth bridges? Indeed, should phase 2 of the Executive's programme remove all tolls?
Councillor White: The toll situations on the Forth, Tay and Erskine bridges should be considered on their own merits. As an elected representative and leader of West Dunbartonshire Council, I am addressing the issue of the Erskine bridge tolls. I know that there is a debate over whether removing the tolls on the Erskine bridge would address congestion issues and it has been suggested that it might not be possible to make such a case for the other bridges. However, I am not an expert on the matter-I will leave others to comment on it.
John Scott (Ayr) (Con): I have to say that Mike Watson has largely asked the questions that I wanted to ask.
Mike Watson: You always say that.
John Scott: I absolutely do not.
I did not catch the name of the institution that carried out the work from which you concluded that removing the tolls would create 100 jobs. Have there been any studies that show that removing the tolls would alleviate congestion problems in Glasgow city centre and, if so, who carried them out?
Councillor White: The work was carried out by experts in West Dunbartonshire Council's economic development division in consultation with Renfrewshire Council. In addition, Scottish Enterprise Dunbartonshire has consulted local businesses, which, as Jackie Baillie pointed out, have also made representations on the matter. Local businesses have supported the view that the removal of the tolls would bring jobs to the area. It was our economic development team that put the figure on the jobs that could be gained.
John Scott: Was it the same team that carried out the congestion studies?
Councillor White: Yes.
Helen Eadie (Dunfermline East) (Lab): Has the issue been raised with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities?
Councillor White: It has been raised by COSLA. In 2001, I made representations to Sarah Boyack, who was the then Minister for Transport and Planning, asking for tolls to be removed from the Erskine bridge. The response was that tolls could not be removed from the bridge. Two weeks later, they were removed, because someone forgot to renew the toll order. That is a side issue, however.
We raised the matter with COSLA at that time at a leaders' meeting, at which we received support for the proposal that an economic impact assessment should be carried out before the tolls were renewed. We also received support from COSLA on considering the wider benefits of the removal of the tolls.
Helen Eadie: Would it be worth your raising the issue with COSLA again, given that second stage consultation on the tolls on all the remaining tolled bridges in Scotland is taking place? Should a major conference be held on the whole issue of the tolling of bridges in Scotland? The argument might be made for tolls to be removed from all bridges. Every argument that you have put forward to us this morning could be applied to the Dundee area, which also has economic disadvantage, and, indeed, to Fife. Would the case of local authorities such as yours, which suffer from the problems that we have been discussing, including unemployment, be strengthened if we proceeded in that way?
Councillor White: That might be a good way forward. I am sure that the COSLA transport convener would be interested to hear that suggestion about a conference. I am particularly interested in the removal of the tolls on the Erskine bridge. That is why I have successfully gained support among the council leaders in the west of Scotland. As for COSLA making a comment on the review overall, I understand that it intends to submit a response to the consultation. West Dunbartonshire Council will try to influence that, as I am sure will other councils that support our position. I suggest that the idea of holding a conference be raised directly with COSLA's transport convener.
Helen Eadie: The papers that we have received tell us that the Scottish Executive is considering the 120-year payback time that applies to any bridge. The older that bridges such as the Tay road bridge, the Forth road bridge and the Erskine bridge get, the more difficult and expensive they become to maintain. The Scottish Executive's view is that, rather than the need for tolls diminishing, there is an increased need for them. That is the rationale that the Executive has used for increasing, rather than removing, the Forth road bridge tolls. Do you not accept that the same logic would apply to the Erskine bridge?
Councillor White: I do not accept that logic. There will of course be on-going maintenance and repair costs for the Erskine bridge. We estimate that those costs come to around £1 million a year. In 2004, £5.5 million came to the Scottish Executive from the tolls. I suggest that servicing a capital debt over a period exceeding 100 years is perhaps not the best way in which to proceed. I am sure that the Scottish Executive would take councils to task if they did their business and managed their resources in that way. The original toll order suggested that the tolls should be in place for around 20 years. We are now talking about 34 years, which is far in excess of that timescale.
We have to examine the environmental and transport benefits. For little cost to the Scottish Executive, we can significantly address congestion on the Kingston bridge and in the Clyde tunnel and improve the air quality around the Erskine bridge. If the Scottish Executive commits resources to that, that would be money well spent.
Helen Eadie: Do you accept that none of your points addresses the need for on-going and increased maintenance? Your arguments address debt issues only. We should take account of the Tay and Forth bridges. It is 42 years since the toll order for the Forth road bridge was introduced and, as with the Erskine bridge, the debt on that bridge has been paid many times over. That needs to be addressed by COSLA and the Scottish Executive. All the tolled bridges in Scotland have the same needs as the Erskine bridge.
Councillor White: On the last point, I said that I believed that COSLA would make a submission to the review. However, because of the area that I represent, I am particularly addressing the case for the Erskine bridge. We have to examine other issues as well. Similar financial arguments to the ones that I am making can be made for other bridges, but we also have to look at the economic, environmental and transport benefits. There is a debate about whether those benefits apply equally to the three different tolled bridges.
As for maintenance costs, I said that, if the Scottish Executive committed resources, that would be money well spent. I accept that there is an on-going maintenance cost for the bridge of around £1 million. However, in 2004, tolls on the bridge brought in £5.5 million. In addition, £4 million was recently committed to improve the bridge through repairs and maintenance. I hope that the money is not wasted but provides a benefit for longer than the period in which it is spent. I accept that there will be maintenance costs. However, the money would be well spent in relation to issues that the Executive states are important, such as generating jobs, tackling congestion and creating wider benefits to the environment. Of course, the Scottish Executive was able to find the resources to scrap the tolls on the Skye bridge.
Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): It is interesting to think about an overall transport plan. Bridges are just an extension of the roads system. We spend lots of money on roads maintenance, just as we do on bridges, but people do not tot it up in the same way. I am interested in flows of traffic and travel-to-work patterns on the Erskine bridge. Would removing the tolls encourage more people from the south side of the river to cross over into your area on the motorway system? That is distinct from the study that you mentioned on the 100 jobs that could be created. Would it significantly reduce congestion in the centre of Glasgow? If so, how could the Erskine bridge play its part in creating a transport network that is suitable for this century?
Councillor White: Removal of the tolls on the bridge would increase traffic flow and support the development of an integrated transport system. There is absolutely no doubt that the Kingston bridge and Clyde tunnel are currently operating substantially over capacity and there is clear evidence to show that the Erskine bridge is operating under capacity. The issue that determines whether people use the bridge is tolls. In addition, we see a transport system that takes people from our area and beyond into the centre of Glasgow before they make onward journeys to Paisley and Renfrew. We believe that, if the bridge tolls were removed, there would be an opportunity to establish better transport links across the bridge from our area to Renfrew and beyond.
Rob Gibson: Does more traffic travel from south to north than from north to south, or is it about equal?
Councillor White: I could try to answer that question, but I suggest that we get some experts to comment on it. I am happy to provide the information that our officials have collected. That is probably the best way in which to address that question.
Convener: The committee is joined by Trish Godman MSP. Trish, do you want to ask a question or make a comment?
Trish Godman (West Renfrewshire) (Lab): I have a couple of comments to make. First, I have looked at the review and I agree that it seems to be based on the assumption that the tolls will remain-all the questions follow from that. That is a matter that we perhaps need to take up with the Executive. Secondly, people who come to my surgeries tell me that low-paid workers are having to pay anything up to £7 or £8 a week to travel to work on the other side of the bridge. That issue has been raised regularly over the past six or seven months. People who work on the north side of the bridge, but who are on low pay, are having difficulty with the toll.
Mike Watson asked a question about Glasgow. Do you intend to follow that up, Councillor White? It is important that you get the support of Glasgow City Council, given that Glasgow is the hub and that a lot of your arguments flow from how traffic moves around Glasgow rather than from how traffic moves around Dunbartonshire. I have had discussions with Arriva, which would be interested in using the bridge. As Rob Gibson said, the bridge is part of our public transport system and is part of a road, as far as I am concerned. Have you followed that up? If not, do you intend to do that in conjunction with Renfrewshire Council? I know that you have set up a group and that you are working together on the matter.
Councillor White: We have the support of Glasgow City Council for the removal of tolls from the bridge. I referred to a joint letter that was sent from the seven council leaders to First Minister. The Clyde valley group of councils, which includes Glasgow City Council, considered a paper on the removal of tolls from the Erskine bridge and fully supported the proposal. We have the support of Glasgow City Council and we received an assurance that the leader of the council would support our case and make further representations to the Government on the matter.
As far as the bus network is concerned, we are aware of Arriva's interest. As you have pointed out, a group of council officers has been brought together by me, as the leader of West Dunbartonshire Council, and Jim Harkins, the leader of Renfrewshire Council. That group is working on a number of issues, including the potential to develop bus and other transport links across the bridge.
Jackie Baillie: Is it not the case that, unlike the Forth and Tay bridges, which are managed by bridge authorities, the Erskine bridge is wholly owned by the Executive? Therefore, aside from an environmental difference between the bridges, there is a major structural difference. The bridge authorities put money back into the local road network, whereas no such benefit comes back from the Erskine bridge.
Councillor White: That is absolutely correct. That issue comes out in the consultation document. As I have said, the consultation does not ask the basic question whether tolls should be removed altogether from the Erskine bridge, the Forth bridge and the Tay bridge. If the Executive does not ask the question, it is not going to get the answer.
John Scott: Have any studies been done on the impacts of the tolls on tourism? I regard the Erskine bridge as a gateway to avoiding Glasgow as people travel from the west of Scotland to the west Highlands. Has any work been done on the potential effect on tourism of removing the tolls?
Councillor White: I do not think that we have commissioned a study on the matter, but, as I said, we have received support from Scottish Enterprise Dunbartonshire, whose economic development experts highlighted the fact that the tolls on the bridge present a barrier to tourism. We recognise that that is an issue. The bridge is one of the main routes into West Dunbartonshire from Glasgow airport and we deter people from visiting the area by demanding money from them as soon as they get off the plane.
Convener: The matter has had a good airing. Do Members have ideas about how we should progress the petition?
Jackie Baillie: Yes. You will not be surprised to learn that I would love it if the committee supported the call to remove all tolls from the Erskine bridge. However, a consultation is going on. It would be enormously helpful if the committee could seek reassurances from the new Minister for Transport and Telecommunications that the consultation will include the option of de-tolling the bridge. I suggest that we send the minister the transcript of our positive debate about the need to remove tolls from the Erskine bridge-it can be his summer reading.
Helen Eadie: I have no problem supporting the call for the removal of tolls from the Erskine bridge and I hope that my colleagues in the west of Scotland will support calls for the removal of tolls from the Forth and Tay bridges, so that there can be a logical approach throughout Scotland. As Rob Gibson said, every bridge or road is a means of transporting passengers around Scotland.
As well as taking up Jackie Baillie's suggestion, we should invite COSLA to host a major conference on tolls in general and to declare its support for the removal of tolls from the Erskine bridge. The debate is needed and COSLA is well placed to lead it.
This is a small point but, just for the record, I point out to Jackie Baillie that historically the Forth bridge tolls have never been used to develop the road network, although that will happen in future, as she said. Work on the A8000 started yesterday and I am delighted about that. However, not just users of the bridge-I am one-but all road users in Scotland should pay for that work.
Convener: We have a list of questions for the minister.
Jackie Baillie: I do not want to break up the consensus that is developing, but rather than having a Scottish Parliament committee ask COSLA to take action, could we ask Andy White, who is a council leader, to discuss the matter with COSLA? COSLA is probably minded to take action anyway.
Helen Eadie: In exchange for my support, I hope that Councillor White will make strong representations to COSLA.
Convener: Do Members agree that we should write to the Executive with the specific questions that Jackie Baillie asked?
Members indicated agreement.
Convener: I thank Councillor White for his evidence on the petition. I suspend the meeting for a couple of minutes, to allow the next petitioners to come forward.
29 September 2005 - Questions
S2O-7687 - Road Bridge Tolls - Bruce Crawford (Mid Scotland and Fife) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive when it will announce the outcome of its review of the levels of tolls on road bridges.
The Minister for Transport and Telecommunications (Tavish Scott): The objective of the current review of tolled bridges is not to consider the level of tolls at the bridges but to look at broader issues relating to the management, operation and maintenance of the tolled bridges. An announcement will be made in due course following completion of the review and its consideration by ministers.
Bruce Crawford: Is the minister aware that more than 65,000 vehicles cross the Forth road bridge each day and that that number is projected to grow by a further 3,000 by the end of 2006? Does he recognise the limitations on the ability of the rail network and other forms of public transport to absorb and help to deal with the expected increases, never mind the current levels? If so, will he give a commitment to ensure that, from today, the highest amount that the toll will be is £1? Will he further commit to considering the removal of bridge tolls in their entirety? To do otherwise would be to treat bridge users as nothing more than cash cows who are used only to help to finance other transport projects.
Tavish Scott: I hope that Mr Crawford recognises the role of the Forth Estuary Transport Authority in this regard. Its policy on tolling is laid out clearly in the public domain. Members of the constituent local authorities serve on the FETA board and play a role in decision making. In taking forward the issues that he raises, we must remember the importance of assessing not just the tolls but the implications of tolling on congestion and traffic levels in the surrounding areas. We also need to balance the requirements that result from different levels of demand at different times of the day. Those are matters that FETA is taking forward. However, if Mr Crawford is making yet another SNP spending commitment, we note that with interest.
Mark Ballard (Lothians) (Green): I am heartened by the minister's words and, in particular, by his concern about congestion and traffic levels. Is he aware of the damage that is being done to the bridge because it is carrying twice the tonnage of traffic that it was designed for? Is he further aware that, at peak periods, single-occupancy vehicles account for up to 60 per cent of the traffic on the bridge, yet today's drivers are paying a toll that is less than a third of the 1964 rate in real terms? Given that the attention of the toll bridges review is likely to be on schemes that levy higher tolls and charges for single-occupancy vehicles, does he agree that any increase in tolls should be focused on single-occupancy vehicles to reduce congestion?
Tavish Scott: The matters that Mr Ballard raises are being taken forward by FETA. If he is particularly concerned about them, I am sure that he will discuss them with the FETA board at the appropriate time. It is important to recognise that there are proposals in relation to single-occupancy vehicles and what can be done to assist. However, I repeat that there is a balance to be struck between what we can achieve in relation to other modes of transport and the choices and opportunities that we provide to people who wish to move from Fife to Edinburgh in the morning for work or related purposes.
Mr David Davidson (North East Scotland) (Con): In light of the minister's answers, I point out that the tolls currently put £4 million or £5 million a year into the maintenance of the Forth bridge. However, the bridge is coming to the end of its working life and will need new cables over the next few years. Does the minister think that, if we have a new Forth bridge, it should be a toll bridge? If so, at what levels should the tolls be set?
Tavish Scott: We do not have any plans for a new Forth road bridge, as my predecessors have made clear. However, as David Davidson rightly said, there are serious issues with the bridge's physical structure, which the FETA board and the bridgemaster take extremely seriously. Indeed, they are providing briefings as appropriate to concerned members. The issues require investment and they are being actively considered.
S2O-7663 - Erskine Bridge (Tolls) - Trish Godman (West Renfrewshire) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether plans are in place that will lead to the removal of the tolls on the Erskine bridge before the end of 2005.
The Minister for Transport and Telecommunications (Tavish Scott): The Executive's review of tolled bridges is on-going. All options for future arrangements at the bridges are being considered. An announcement will be made in due course following completion of the review and its consideration by ministers.
Trish Godman: I was going to thank the minister for the answer, but I have heard it before. He is aware of the patience that has been shown by constituents north and south of the river over what they and I see as dithering on the question of the Erskine bridge tolls. Along with Jackie Baillie and Des McNulty, I have campaigned for and asked questions on the de-tolling of the Erskine bridge for more than five years, yet we still get the same answer. Does he agree that, as the economic and social case for de-tolling the Erskine bridge has been made and the key objective in meeting the challenge of congestion has been met, there is absolutely no reason why a decision cannot be made now?
Tavish Scott: I appreciate the frustration that is felt by Trish Godman, but, unfortunately, Government has a process that has to be followed in relation to public money. That process is under way and the bridges review will come to fruition in the autumn. I hope that announcements can be made thereafter.
Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): Does the minister accept that, although there is concern about delays to projects elsewhere in Scotland, the Erskine bridge tolls could be removed now, bringing immediate benefits?
Tavish Scott: I have enjoyed my meetings with Trish Godman and Des McNulty and, indeed, with Jackie Baillie, who I am sure is about to ask a supplementary.
The Deputy Presiding Officer: I am almost bound to allow her to, given what you have just said.
Tavish Scott: I appreciate their advice on the matter and I understand the issues that they raise entirely fairly in relation to their constituencies. However, I cannot go any further than I have already done.
Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab): The minister should take the advice of Trish Godman, Des McNulty and me, because he knows that congestion on the Kingston bridge and in the Clyde tunnel costs the west of Scotland economy something like £19 million a year in lost time. Does he agree with the majority of respondents to his review-not just MSPs-that the removal of tolls on the Erskine bridge is fully justified for economic and environmental reasons? That fact is acknowledged by his own consultants. With that growing consensus, the question is when, not if.
Tavish Scott: Jackie Baillie makes an important point on congestion, which has been discussed. I take her point about the analysis of the environmental case and the arguments about reducing congestion. Unfortunately, I cannot add to what I have said in relation to the timescale.
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