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Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, November 23, 2023


Portfolio Question Time

Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The next item of business is portfolio question time, and the portfolio on this occasion is transport, net zero and just transition. Any member who wishes to ask a supplementary question should press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question.

Question 1 has been withdrawn.

Battery Energy Storage Systems (National Strategy)

2. Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the just transition secretary has had with ministerial colleagues regarding whether a national strategy for battery energy storage system sites could form part of Scotland’s plans for a just transition. (S6O-02766)

The Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade (Richard Lochhead)

We are clear that battery energy storage systems are an essential component of a decarbonised electricity grid. We are currently in the process of updating our energy strategy and just transition plan for publication by next summer, taking into consideration the responses received to the consultation on the draft strategy. The finalised energy strategy and just transition plan will set out in more detail our vision for energy storage.

Rachael Hamilton

I thank Richard Lochhead for that answer and for the update on the national strategy.

People in communities across Scotland, including those who live around the Eccles substation in my constituency, have so far been supportive of battery storage applications to play their part in meeting net zero targets, but they are concerned about the cumulative negative impact of multiple applications across prime agricultural land. Can the minister reassure my constituents that, in line with the similar guidance that exists for onshore wind, guidance will urgently be issued for battery storage? Will he take up an offer to meet me to discuss the Government’s direction of travel for renewables in the context of the use of prime agricultural land?

Richard Lochhead

I thank Rachael Hamilton for raising an issue that is going to grow in prominence across the country as more battery storage facilities are built. As I said, they are an essential part of Scotland’s future energy profile. I know that planning officials recently met Rachael Hamilton and other groups to discuss some of the concerns in her constituency and the local region. At the moment, the planning guidelines allow for energy developments on agricultural land; a number of conditions are attached to that in certain circumstances. I will certainly pass on Rachael Hamilton’s request for a direct meeting with ministers to discuss that.

I assure Rachael Hamilton that we are considering such issues carefully as we work up the final energy strategy and just transition plan, and that we will continue to take on board the concerns expressed by her constituents and by other members.

Road Safety (A77)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to reduce accidents and improve overall safety on the A77. (S6O-02767)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

We are committed to improving safety across our network. Since 2007, £124 million has been invested in the A77 to ensure its safe and efficient operation. In addition, our annual assessment of trunk road safety performance has identified three investigations on the A77 to be progressed this financial year: on Bellfield to the B7038 overbridge, on Holmston to the East Ayrshire boundary and on powered two-wheeler collisions. We have upgraded and completed new signing and road markings between the Monktonhead and Dutch House roundabouts, while also developing speed management measures for Turnberry, Kirkoswald and Ballantrae.

Sharon Dowey

I have been talking about the A77 since my maiden speech. It is the main artery connecting the central belt to Northern Ireland, through the port at Cairnryan, and it takes an average of 69 minutes to travel a 43-mile stretch. The Government’s own south-west Scotland transport study identified the A77 as the slowest A road in the country, with an average speed of 37.7mph. It is also leaving the south-west at an economic disadvantage. When will the A77 be fully dualled?

Fiona Hyslop

In relation to the improvements, we said in our spring budget revision that there is priority for the A77—that is why the A77 is mentioned in it.

The member’s question was about reducing accidents and improving overall safety, rather than increasing speed. I know that addressing some of the speed management and safety issues around Turnberry, Kirkoswald and Ballantrae will affect speed. However, the building of the Maybole bypass, which was a considerable investment, will have helped to improve driving times.

I am very familiar with the A77, and I am keen that it gets the time and attention that it needs, as well as the funding. That is why I am pleased to report the progress that is taking place this financial year on those key areas.

British Transport Police

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the effectiveness of the British Transport Police on Scotland’s railways. (S6O-02768)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

As the member is aware, the British Transport Police reports to the United Kingdom Department for Transport, but it works in close partnership with ScotRail, Police Scotland and Scottish Government officials. The British Transport Police advises that its operations in partnership with ScotRail have seen a significant reduction in antisocial behaviour on Scotland’s rail network. We encourage the British Transport Police to continue to work closely with Police Scotland and the rail industry to ensure that its operations are focused on the needs of rail passengers and staff.

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

I was delighted to recently host the first-ever BTP exhibition in Parliament. The minister is correct that the officers do a sterling job of keeping people safe on Scotland’s railways.

However, the BTP sometimes faces difficulties when asking the Crown Office for permission to publicly release images of individuals who are suspected of committing a crime. The BTP is sometimes told that corroboration is needed before an image can be released. That requirement can be difficult to fulfil in cases of crimes of a sexual nature, so such images are not released, to the despair of victims and officers. Will the transport minister raise that important issue with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs?

Fiona Hyslop

The member raises an important point about how we can have successful prosecutions. He will know that those decisions are matters for the independent Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. However, I think that anything that improves awareness will help to ensure that people know that if they commit a crime, they could well be captured. The issue of what can and should be used in evidence is not a matter for me, but I will bring the point that the member has made to the attention of the justice secretary.

Air Pollution (Urban Towns)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce air pollution levels in urban towns such as Coatbridge. (S6O-02769)

The Minister for Energy and the Environment (Gillian Martin)

Scotland enjoys a high level of air quality and, over the past three decades, levels of the main air pollutants have declined significantly. In 2022, for the first time outside of the Covid-19 lockdown periods, all air quality objectives were achieved in the 98 sites in the Scottish monitoring network, including the air quality management area in Coatbridge.

That has been achieved through tighter regulation, improved fuel quality, cleaner vehicles and an increased focus on sustainable transport. Our cleaner air for Scotland 2 strategy builds on those successes by setting out actions for further reduction of air pollution across Scotland.

Fulton MacGregor

The minister will be aware, and in fact has made mention, of the areas of Whifflet, Shawhead and Kirkshaws in Coatbridge, which were recently prescribed as air quality management areas, as the air quality in those zones did not fall within the legal limits. That is especially relevant for the area around the Shawhead flyover, which is a busy junction that connects Coatbridge and wider Lanarkshire to the M8 motorway. In fact, in 2019, Shawhead recorded an average of 27.17 micrograms per cubic metre of nitrogen dioxide. That was the 33rd highest level in Scotland, with only roads in our major cities having levels above that.

Given that the air pollution is almost exclusively caused by traffic issues, what can the Scottish Government do to ensure that air quality remains at a safe level, especially in the context of increasing traffic levels in areas such as Shawhead, and given that the council there seems to have approved plans for further industrial development at that junction?

Gillian Martin

Our cleaner air for Scotland 2 strategy sets out a series of actions to further reduce emissions from transport sources. In addition, national planning framework 4 sets out our spatial strategy for Scotland’s long-term development.

It is clear that development proposals that are likely to have significant adverse effects on air quality will not be supported. Co-benefits for air quality will also be delivered through policies on tackling the climate and nature crisis, sustainable transport and 20-minute neighbourhoods.

Mercedes Villalba (North East Scotland) (Lab)

The Kingsway in Dundee goes through several of the most deprived communities in the city, and it is used by thousands of vehicles each day. That exposes residents to high levels of air pollution. Transport Scotland’s assessment of a potential bypass suggested that the project would have a positive impact on air quality by taking away 50 per cent of the traffic on the Kingsway. Does the minister recognise the health and environmental benefits that that project could bring to Dundee?

Gillian Martin

Yes, I do. I have an example from my own area in Aberdeenshire. One of the most highly polluted streets in Scotland would have been Market Street in Aberdeen. As a result of the Aberdeen western peripheral route, which the Scottish Government delivered on, a significant amount of traffic has been diverted away from the city of Aberdeen.

The cabinet secretary might be interested in pursuing that issue further with Mercedes Villalba, as I do not have the detail of that particular proposal in front of me.

Stephanie Callaghan (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

People are understandably seeking more affordable alternatives as the cost of winter heating soars. However, Asthma and Lung UK Scotland has highlighted the negative impacts of domestic burning on respiratory conditions and how domestic burning increases levels of dangerous pollutants, including carcinogenic emissions. Can the minister outline what steps the Scottish Government is taking to raise public awareness of the adverse impacts of domestic burning and any measures that are in place to promote healthy, affordable and environmentally friendly heating methods?

Gillian Martin

Stephanie Callaghan has outlined why ensuring that our air is as clean as possible is a real health priority. In one of the actions in our cleaner air for Scotland 2 strategy, we are working with stakeholders on the development of an air quality public engagement framework. That will include raising public awareness of the impacts of domestic fuel burning. We intend to publish that framework in 2024.

Circular Economy (Wind Turbine Decommissioning)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making towards achieving a circular economy, including through the development of the wind turbine decommissioning sector. (S6O-02770)

The Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade (Richard Lochhead)

Progress is being made in several areas. As well as the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill and the forthcoming circular economy and waste route map, we provide support through the recycling improvement fund, funding for the share and repair network and business support through Zero Waste Scotland. The national strategy for economic transformation also identifies the circular economy as a new market opportunity.

Through the recently published onshore wind sector deal, we have agreed to work with the onshore wind sector and the coalition for wind industry circularity to publish a strategy paper by October 2024.

Meghan Gallacher

Zero Waste Scotland’s document “The future of onshore wind decommissioning in Scotland”, which was published in March, shows the recyclable components of a wind turbine. It states that between 4,800 and 5,500 turbines will be decommissioned between 2021 and 2025, and it shows which parts will be broken down and into what materials. However, one essential part is missing: the blades. Can the minister outline how the Government can achieve its net zero targets through a just transition when our renewables are not currently fully recyclable? When will that fundamental problem be rectified so that our renewables are actually renewable?

Richard Lochhead

The member raises an important issue, and I think that everyone would agree with the sentiment that she outlines. In the coming years, we have, through the energy transition, to get to a position in which we can recycle as much of our materials as possible. The Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill will address some of those issues.

I should say that we have an onshore wind sector deal commitment whereby, supported by Government, all the relevant agencies in the onshore wind industry have agreed to deliver at least one specialist blade treatment facility in Scotland by 2030. A lot of thought has been given to the objectives that the member wants to achieve, and there are measures in place that it is hoped will deliver that.

There are a number of supplementaries. I will try to get them all in.

Can the minister give an update on how the Scottish Government is supporting the enhancement skills and training provision to help to deliver on the needs of the wind industry and achieve a circular economy?

Richard Lochhead

The education and skills system is already adapting to the transition to net zero, and institutions such as our colleges and universities are key anchors for that transition. For example, the Energy Skills Partnership co-ordinates the wind training network, which allows colleges to better collaborate with industry on the skills that are needed for both onshore and offshore wind.

In addition, Zero Waste Scotland has developed a range of courses to develop circular economy skills, and it is working to embed those circular economy principles across all our sectors.

Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

The Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill is currently being considered by the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee. Although it is largely a recycling bill that focuses predominantly on household waste, has the minister considered how it could be improved in order to ensure that a circular economy is achieved across our industrial sectors such as renewables, where we will see huge investment? Will he support amendments at stages 2 and 3 that cover those sectors to deliver the huge, joined-up opportunities and action on green jobs that we need?

Richard Lochhead

Those are important issues that Parliament should consider. I am not the minister responsible for the bill, but the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity will be appearing before the relevant committee in a matter of days, and the committee members will, I am sure, take the opportunity to raise those issues.

I will ensure that the minister will be aware of Sarah Boyack’s questions prior to that appearance. The purpose of the committee system is to improve the bill and make sure that we capture all those opportunities for the Scottish economy and to address our carbon footprint.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

Given the changes in energy production and delivery, and the challenges in encouraging young people into science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, what can the Scottish Government do to ensure that training and careers are supported to develop a circular economy, including in wind turbine decommissioning? I note the minister’s response to Jackie Dunbar’s question.

Richard Lochhead

Again, that is an important issue, and I tried to address some of the points in response to Jackie Dunbar’s question. The universities and colleges are now beginning to address that issue, and it is important that they do so with some urgency.

The Scottish Government is funding a number of projects to ensure that there are transferable skills between, for instance, oil and gas and renewables. The member is quite right that we need to use decommissioning as a massive economic opportunity for Scotland, in relation to both onshore wind turbine equipment and offshore oil and gas installations.

I have visited one yard in Scotland where there are a number of jobs—I think that it was in Shetland, but I would have to verify that. The yard is decommissioning an offshore platform, and there are 20 or 30 jobs involved in doing that. That platform was built in a yard in Scotland in the first place, so that is a good example of the circular economy and the economic opportunities.

Hydrogen Fuelling Infrastructure

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support the development of hydrogen fuelling infrastructure for use by heavy goods vehicles and other road-going heavy machinery. (S6O-02771)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

We support the roll-out of infrastructure that is needed for hydrogen vehicles to operate in Scotland. Aberdeen city has two hydrogen refuelling stations. Transport Scotland has contracted Heriot-Watt University to work with road haulage fleets and stakeholders to assess where initial en-route charging and refuelling infrastructure for zero-emission HGVs will be needed.

The zero emission truck task force convened by Transport Scotland includes a working group that is focused on hydrogen refuelling infrastructure. The task force is developing strategic actions to unlock a successful transition to zero-emission HGVs, and it expects to publish the HGV decarbonisation pathway early next year.

Brian Whittle

My colleague Sharon Dowey has already highlighted the issue of the A77. Hydrogen is increasingly seen as a major player in the drive towards net zero. In order to take advantage of the huge potential that Scotland could and should have in the green hydrogen economy, it is important that demand is created and that the appropriate infrastructure is in place.

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other breathing issues clearly had a major problem with the air quality, as was, in Glasgow. Disabled people and carers will absolutely benefit from clearer air.

There are currently few options for hydrogen refuelling. Does the minister agree that, without the infrastructure, businesses will be reticent to make the change? We need roads such as the A77 and the A75 to give us a hydrogen superhighway that will turbo boost that element of our decarbonisation.

Fiona Hyslop

I hope that Brian Whittle will appreciate from my initial answer that we take the issue seriously. That is why we are working with the industry to identify where hydrogen refuelling infrastructure can be best placed. I am conscious of Scotland’s freight opportunities. To maximise impact, I am working with my Welsh counterpart in relation to our United Kingdom-wide interministerial meetings—the next one will focus on freight. There is rail freight and road freight, but urgency is required to anticipate the opportunities that hydrogen brings for heavy vehicles in particular.

I hope that Brian Whittle is reassured by my initial answer that we are looking at that and working at pace to deliver exactly what he asks for. We should listen to what the industry, as opposed to anyone else, says about the location for facilities. For freight that travels to Northern Ireland, it would make sense for the A77 and the A75 to feature. Let us see what the industry task force comes up with.

Ivan McKee (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)

When I was at the PNDC conference in Glasgow yesterday, I saw great examples of Scottish businesses working to develop hydrogen, including Hydrogen Vehicle Systems from Glasgow, which is at an advanced stage of developing hydrogen vehicles and is working with partners to put in place the refuelling infrastructure as a consequence. I commend that work to the minister.

Will the minister give an update on Scotland’s hydrogen train project, which is another stellar example of Scottish universities’ innovative work? How is that initiative supporting the decarbonisation of our public transport sector?

Fiona Hyslop

Our hydrogen action plan sets out our ambition to be a leading hydrogen nation. In a collaboration with the University of St Andrews and Scottish Enterprise, £3.5 million of Scottish Government funding was provided to convert a class 314 train into a hydrogen fuel cell train. Many of us saw that when it was displayed at the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—and it had trials on the track in 2022. That developed local supply chain knowledge to support the introduction of a zero-emission fleet over the longer term, and lessons learned are being considered as part of planning for future rail fleet options.

Low-emission Zones (Impact on Disabled People)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that low-emission zones do not have any negative impact on disabled people and carers. (S6O-02772)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

We are all aware of the harm that excessively polluting vehicles cause, particularly to the young, the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions. For disabled people who cannot switch to a cleaner alternative or who get a lift from someone who has a non-compliant vehicle, we have developed the low-emission zone blue badge exemption system so that registered vehicles will not incur an LEZ penalty charge notice. The Government continues to provide support and funding for low-income families and microbusinesses that need support to prepare for LEZs.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

Paid and unpaid carers are worried about the potential impact that the low-emission zone could have on their ability to enter and travel through the city centre to provide vital care. As it stands, they can access an exemption only if the person they support asks for that one day at a time. I have discussed that with Glasgow City Council, which is prepared to consider ways to streamline the process so that a more permanent exemption could be provided to carers, but Transport Scotland manages that system. Is the minister willing to work with Transport Scotland to allow exemptions for carers on a longer-term basis?

Fiona Hyslop

Under the system that is in place, blue badge holders who require LEZ exemptions can register their details on the official website, and more than 11,000 blue badges have been registered so far, but the member is talking about carers or those who assist others. I will certainly bring her comments to Transport Scotland’s attention, but it is clear that Glasgow City Council is in the lead.

Another aspect is supporting low-income families to access funding to make changes. There is a two-track system of helping people to move to lower-emission vehicles and identifying whether a need exists for a short-term exemption rather than a temporary one. I cannot give a commitment to that today—I do not think that the member would expect me to—but she has had the opportunity to raise the issue.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

I welcome the minister’s responses. Does she agree that, fundamentally, the LEZ is a good thing that helps absolutely everyone? The evidence from London was that particulate matter reduced by 13 per cent in five years.

Fiona Hyslop

The member is correct that air pollution affects everybody’s health. That is why the Scottish Government and the city authorities in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow are delivering air-quality improvements through low-emission zones, with a number of them about to be rolled out next year.

I draw members’ attention to the evidence sessions that the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee held when I was deputy convener. We examined the issue under the committee’s wider scrutiny role, and one of the significant pieces of evidence was on the impact of particulates on health. That was a very good short, sharp inquiry through which the Parliament drew attention to the matter, and I refer members to the evidence that was taken by the committee.

That concludes portfolio question time.