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29 August 2008

Enhancing ferry services

A review which is intended to consider enhancements to ferry services across all Scottish routes was confirmed today.

The review will consider current provision of ferry services and what improvements should be made to meet future needs.

It meets the Government's commitment set out in the 2006 National Transport Strategy (NTS) to 'develop a long-term strategy for lifeline services to 2025'.

The NTS committed Government to carry out: a detailed appraisal of routes to determine whether a better configuration could be developed in response to calls for new and faster connections serving those isolated communities and a review of fares structures as part of the affordability of public transport.

Publishing information on the scope and methodology for the review Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"This Government is committed to improving and enhancing ferry services to our remote and island communities.

"The work we are beginning will give us a better understanding of how services meet current needs and how best to configure services to meet future needs.

"We are determined to improve transport links across Scotland so that communities and individuals can make the fullest possible contribution to our goal of increasing sustainable economic growth.

"It builds on work already underway to reduce the cost of ferry journeys to and from the Western Isles, and the enhancements we have made to services to Orkney and Shetland."

Cllr Alison Hay, COSLA spokesperson for regeneration and sustainable development said:

"We value and recognise the central importance of the ferry services to the long-term sustainability of our island communities. The initiative is welcomed, and COSLA looks forward to working in partnership with the Scottish Government to secure a successful review and enhancement of existing services to the benefit of all Island communities."

The review will run until Autumn 2009 and will inform a public consultation in Summer 2009 on a strategy for lifeline ferry services.

28 August 2008

STEVENSON WELCOMES NHS GRAMPIAN IMPROVEMENT IN A&E WAITING TIMES

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the news that more patients than ever before are being seen within the targeted four hours in A & E departments in NHS Grampian. According to figures collected by ISD Scotland, 98.5% of Accident and Emergency patients were seen within four hours in the last month, compared with just 91.7% in January to March 2007, before the last Holyrood elections.

This is the second quarter that waiting times have been published in a revised form - designed to provide a complete and open picture of waiting times in Scotland's hospitals. The New Ways system abolished the hidden waiting lists caused by availability status codes.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“I am delighted by these improvements to Accident and Emergency waiting times and extend my warmest congratulations to everyone at NHS Grampian who has worked so hard to deliver them.

“The Scottish Government has brought an end to hidden waiting lists and has worked hard to deliver a better quality of service for patients in Scotland. In the final quarter of our opponents’ eight years in power, there were still 1, 896 patients in the NHS Grampian area who had to wait more than four hours to be treated in A & E. There have been dramatic improvements since the SNP took power, and in the quarter that has just ended there were 807 patients who had to wait more than four hours to receive treatment, a significant reduction.

“However, I am sure that NHS Grampian, while undoubtedly proud of the strides it has made, will not rest on its laurels and will continue driving towards their goal of ensuring that nobody has to wait more than four hours to be treated in A & E”.

25 August 2008

More people taking the train

Figures released today show that rail passenger numbers are at their highest level for more than 40 years but that car use on Scotland's roads has also increased.

Bus passenger figures were up too according to Main Transport Trends, a compendium of previously released statistics for the year 2007, but Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson it was the increase in road traffic that showed the scale of the challenge facing the country.

Opening a new park and ride facility today in Stirling, the Minister said:

"The rises in rail and bus passenger numbers are very encouraging and show that more and more people across the country are taking advantage of public transport for business and for leisure.

"Public transport can offer a more cost effective option than the car, is better for the environment, and can be a lot less stressful, removing the frustration associated with the daily commute by car.

"We want to see more Scots make the switch - leaving the car at home in favour of rail, bus, cycling and walking, and we are providing more opportunities through, for example the 15 million pound sustainable travel communities project we launched earlier this month. That will see bike rental schemes, car free zones, better cycling and walking routes, and free public transport trial passes provided in selected areas.

"We are beginning to see progress, but with today's figures also revealing that there were more vehicles on our roads in 2007, there is a challenge facing us all as we seek to persuade people to consider more sustainable travel choices.

"Facilities like the new park and ride scheme I am opening today in Stirling make a real difference, and as a Government we are also investing significantly in public transport to improve journey times and the travel experience for all passengers."

21 August 2008

STEVENSON CONCERNED BY RISK TO PENSIONERS BENEFITS

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has expressed his deep concern at the coming move by Whitehall to prevent hard up pensioners from claiming the benefits to which they are entitled after a three month window.

Currently benefits can be backdated to up to a year, ensuring that pensioners do not lose out on claiming their money. However, in an effort to save money, the Treasury has ruled that from October 6th claims for Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit and Pension Credit will only be backdated by three months.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“Rising fuel prices and food costs are already hitting every household, but pensioners are amongst those struggling the most to cope with them. As such, I simply do not understand why the Treasury has targeted such a vulnerable section of society in order to save itself some money.

“Westminster should be doing more to encourage the take up of benefits to which pensioners are entitled, not preventing them from claiming the money they are entitled to.

“Pensioners in Banff & Buchan and across Scotland could lose hundreds of pounds because of this move, so I strongly encourage people who are entitled to these benefits to submit their claim before the 6th of October in order to receive the full twelve months of backdated benefits that they are due.”

Completion of A9 improvements

The completion of work to improve a key section of the A9 at Helmsdale will increase safety, reduce driver frustration and provide more overtaking opportunities, Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said today.

Mr Stevenson was speaking as he visited the site of a £5.45 million investment in the A9 between Helmsdale and Ord of Caithness.

The Transport Minister said:

"The A9 is a key artery in Scotland's transport network and it is vital that we continue to invest in improvements to the road on a continuing and progressive basis.

"This £5.45 million investment will increase safety, reduce driver frustration and provide more overtaking opportunities for those using the road.

"It will also deliver improved connections for local people, businesses and tourists alike and provide better access to the Scrabster ferry terminal.

"The Helmsdale improvements completed today are just one part of investment in the A9 amounting to some £50 million over the next four years.

"Options for how best to dual the A9 will emerge from the Strategic Transport Projects Review which will report to Ministers shortly."

The project, constructed by contractor RJ McLeod on behalf of Transport Scotland, consists of a total of 1.3 miles (2.1km) of new road, removing the extreme bends and easing the steep gradients.

The scheme ties into the previously constructed Phase 1 scheme and extends the existing northbound overtaking lane. In addition, access for local communities has been greatly improved with the construction of a roundabout, providing a safe means of access between the new A9 and Navidale, and the provision of new junctions to Navidale Cemetery Road and Navidale House Hotel.

Pedestrian access has also been improved with the provision of a new footpath and street lighting between East Helmsdale and the new roundabout.

The previous section of the A9 through this section has now been "de-trunked" becoming a combined footway, cycleway and access road for the local community.

The scheme secured a grant of £1 million from the European Regional Development Fund as part of the £210 million European Community Support provided to the Highlands and Islands as part of the Highlands and Islands Special Transitional Programme (HISTP).

Improvements to train stations

Five railway stations are set to benefit from Scotland's share of a major GB-wide scheme to improve access to rail services.

Scotland's £39 million share of the Access for All fund, administered by the Department for Transport, will ensure that more disabled people have trouble-free access to stations across the country, said Mr Stevenson.

Network Rail will now conduct detailed feasibility work at Easterhouse, Hyndland, Linlithgow, Montrose and Perth stations, which could result in improvements such as new lifts, escalators, ramps, signage, lighting and flooring being installed.

The announcement comes following a recommendation by Scottish Ministers to fund the improvements as part of the Access for All fund.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said :

"We want to continue to see rises in the number of people using rail as a mode of transport, and so we must ensure that all passengers have trouble-free access to Scotland's rail services.

"This funding will deliver key improvements, making it easier for disabled passengers, parents with prams and even those with heavy luggage to get around our train stations.

"We have already seen the results of such investment at stations like Waverley, Queen Street and Haymarket, but it is important that action is taken at Scotland's local stations as well.

"This announcement will do exactly that, allowing passengers at Easterhouse, Hyndland, Linlithgow, Montrose and Perth to travel more easily without the stresses and difficulties experienced in the past."

Access for All was launched in 2006 to address the issues faced by disabled passengers using railway stations in Great Britain. Over the period of the scheme (2006 - 2015) Scottish projects will receive a total of £39 million.

Nineteen stations across Scotland have so far received funding from the Access for All Small Schemes Fund since 2006, totalling £1.23 million. This rolling investment of around £0.7 million each year from Transport Scotland has delivered a range of improvements designed to increase access to the rail network for passengers with a wide range of sensory impairments.

16 August 2008

Stewart Stevenson MSP commemorates 150 years of the Inverness to Aberdeen Line

On Saturday 16 August, Stewart Stevenson, Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change, unveiled a plaque at Elgin Station to mark 150 years since the completion of the railway line between Inverness and Aberdeen.

Mr Stevenson was joined by Alasdair McNicoll, Projects Director at First ScotRail, Ron McAulay, Director Scotland for Network Rail, Malcolm Reed, Chief Executive of Transport Scotland and Paul Phillips of EWS freight along with a number of other guests.

The focus of the commemoration was the 40 mile section of railway between Nairn and Keith, which was opened on 18 August 1858, by the Inverness and Aberdeen Junction Railway Company. The section of track created a continuous line from Inverness to Aberdeen meaning that for the first time, passengers could travel direct between the two towns and, after a change at Aberdeen onwards south. It was also the first time that the Highlands were connected by rail to the rest of Scotland and Great Britain.

Guests were invited to attend a buffet hosted by Moray Council in the Elgin Business Centre - formerly the Great North of Scotland station – and to view a railway exhibition in Elgin Museum, which included paintings by young artist Leo du Feu, which concentrate on themes of train travel.

Stewart Stevenson said: "I am delighted to be invited to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the creation of the Aberdeen to Inverness rail line.

"The completion of this line in 1858 was a tremendous engineering success, providing a vital connection between thriving industries in Inverness and Aberdeen and giving further impetus to Scotland’s industrial revolution and the economy of the North.

"Continuing to improve connections is central to this Government's purpose of increasing sustainable economic growth. Scottish Ministers are committed to focusing transport investment on improving connections across Scotland, reducing journey times and improving opportunities for business, leisure and tourism.”

He continued, "People from across Scotland benefitted from this line, as it opened new markets and provided access to some of the most spectacular destinations in the country. We are determined to build on that legacy as we develop a transport infrastructure to meet 21st century needs."

Alasdair McNicoll said: “I am delighted to represent First ScotRail at this occasion which marks an important event in the history of Scotland’s railway. The completion of this line connected the Highlands with the central belt and beyond and heralds a significant link in the rail network as we see it today.”

Railway historian Dr Ann Glen added, "This stretch of railway had a profound effect on travel from the Highlands and Moray coast southwards. It also transformed the economies of places along the route and the wider countryside around it".

15 August 2008

Oban Airport is officially opened

The official opening of Oban Airport was carried out yesterday (Thursday 14th August) by Stewart Stevenson, Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change.

This marked a historic occasion in Argyll and Bute Council's calendar, with the airport providing scheduled flights to some of the most isolated communities in the country.

Council Leader, Councillor Dick Walsh, said: "Today marks the official opening of this wonderful new facility which will be a major benefit to the people of Argyll and Bute.

"The airport provides regular flights from Oban to the islands of Coll, Colonsay and Tiree and the potential for this service is great.

"Argyll and Bute Council and its partners share a vision which is to be a leading rural area, providing and improving services that will promote and improve the quality of life to the people that we represent.

"We are confident that the Argyll Air Services will support economic development in the area as well as attracting more visitors. In addition, this transport option will enable island children attending Oban High School to take advantage of our special scholar flights and fly home regularly.

“I would like to thank everyone who has worked tirelessly in getting the air services to this stage for their contribution, whether from a supporting perspective or indeed financial.”

Councillor Duncan Macintyre, the Council's Roads and Transport spokesperson, added: “Local air services to the Scottish islands started as early as the 1930s and regular services have run through Campbeltown, Islay and Tiree for many years. The smaller Argyll islands were not included in the original development of air services.

“Today's opening of Oban Airport will counter population decline and support the sustainability of island economies. The new air services have brought these islands and Oban into the air services network in the highlands and islands of Scotland with the potential for significant wider benefits to the Oban and north Argyll communities.”

Transport Minister, Stewart Stevenson, said: "This is a great day for Oban. This new airport is so important, opening up access for islanders, tourists and businesses alike.

"The new air services from Oban to Coll, Colonsay and Tiree will improve the ease with which residents can access vital services such as specialist health care, education and business opportunities removing the need to undertake a three-day trip.

"I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to officially open this airport and I am sure it will go from strength to strength in years to come, making an important contribution to the local and national economy.

The flights will be provided by Highland Airways who, following a competitive tendering process, were chosen as the preferred bidder in July last year.

To book tickets or for timetable information, log on to www.highlandairways.co.uk.

14 August 2008

Scotland's minister for climate change visits SAMS

Today Stewart Stevenson MSP, Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change, visited SAMS to explore our diverse portfolio of climate change related research. Accompanied by the Leader, Depute Leader and Interim Chief Executive of Argyll and Bute Council and representatives of HIE Argyll, Mr Stevenson toured the SAMS laboratory at Dunstaffnage, where he met some marine scientists involved in important climate research.

He first heard from physical oceanographer Dr Toby Sherwin about the importance of currents to the west of Scotland in the transport of heat to the Arctic region and SAMS plans to monitor upper ocean temperatures between Scotland and Iceland using unmanned, instrumental seagliders to monitor long-term changes in ocean properties.

He next met with Professor of Biogeochemistry Ronnie Glud, who introduced the Minister to a long term international research programme in north west Greenland, coordinated by the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources in Nuuk. The project has produced detailed carbon cycling models and predictions about how the system is likely to respond to changing climates over the next 50 years. This work has so far primarily focussed on the east coast of Greenland, but recently it has been extended to the more populated and finanicially important west coast. Professor Glud expressed his hope to extend investigations into Scottish sea lochs, which have functional similarities to Greenland fjords and may provide interesting insights into how Arctic sea lochs might perform under warmer conditions.

Mr Stevenson finally learnt from Dave Gunn, SAMS' Director of Knowledge Transfer and Commercialisation, of a major forthcoming SAMS research project which will develop the potential of marine biomass, both from micro- and macroalgae, for the production of renewable and largely carbon neutral transport fuels.

Dr Ken Jones, Acting Director of SAMS, welcomed the ministerial visit and the opportunity to highlight the diversity and quantity of independent climate-relevant research that is carried out at SAMS.

STEVENSON WELCOMES BENEFITS HELP FOR BANFF & BUCHAN PENSIONERS

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the news that the area around Banff is to be the home of one of two pilot schemes from Age Concern Scotland aimed at encouraging more pensioners to take up the benefits to which they are entitled.

An estimated £4.6 Billion in benefits across the UK, to which people are entitled, currently goes unclaimed. This pilot scheme, supported by Scottish Government and DWP funding, will provide information and support to pensioners in claiming what they are entitled to.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“I am delighted that older people in the area around Banff have been chosen to benefit from this new scheme. I know that many older people feel there is a stigma to claiming benefits or are unsure as to how to fill in the forms they need to, but this new support will help to change that.

“Given how much fuel, food and other bills have risen recently, it is vital that our most vulnerable citizens do not miss out on money to which they are entitled.

“By providing free benefit checks, information and support in applying for benefits, Age Concern Scotland will go a long way to helping older residents of Banff & Buchan claim what they are entitled and ensure they have all the government help they need.

“As such, I welcome this pilot scheme, and hope it will be successful enough to roll out in other parts of the country.”

13 August 2008

Funding to encourage green travel

Scotland will join European leaders in developing innovative transport initiatives to encourage more Scots out of their cars.

Announcing the award of funding to seven successful towns and cities, Transport and Climate Change Minister Stewart Stevenson said the Sustainable Travel Demonstration Communities project would showcase a range of transport initiatives that would be good for people's pockets, their health, their communities and the planet.

Initiatives will include proposals for the first self service bike rental schemes anywhere in the UK as well as more targeted transport advice to commuters.

Bike rental schemes, based on successful models in Paris, Barcelona and Stockholm will allow people in Dumfries and Dundee to pick up a bike at a rail or bus station, use it for free for half an hour, and then pay a rental fee at an hourly rate thereafter. Once finished, the bike could then be deposited at any one of a number of other interchanges across towns and cities.

Stewart Stevenson said:

"With more cars on our roads, increasing levels of congestion and rising emissions, it is time for us all to look at our travel behaviour.

"We need to look at new ways of persuading people out of their cars and onto more sustainable forms of travel such as trains, buses, walking and cycling.

"The proposals from local authorities and regional transport partnerships have been impressive and the seven communities selected now have the chance to improve travel options for thousands of residents.

"Initiatives like the bike rental schemes, the development of park and choose sites, more pedestrian-only areas, and free trial bus and train tickets will help us to meet our ambitious climate change target - to reduce Scottish emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

"These proposals will help to promote healthier travel choices too, providing more opportunities for cycling and walking, allowing more people to enjoy the benefits of increased physical activity.

"These schemes will make a real difference, making transport choices cheaper, healthier, safer and greener.

"We look forward to the lessons learned from this project being used as a template for other local authorities, showcasing the very best of sustainable travel initiatives. It could result in a catalyst for change right across Scotland."

Barrhead, Kirkwall, Dumfries, Dundee, Kirkintilloch/Lenzie, Larbert/Stenhousemuir and Glasgow East End will now use £15 million of funding to develop a wide range of initiatives such as personalised travel planning, the building of more pedestrianised zones, free trial bus and rail passes and the development of better walking and cycling routes to encourage their residents to use greener forms of travel.

COSLA's Vice President Councillor Corrie McChord said:

"COSLA is happy to be involved in this project. It helps both councils and the Scottish Government to meet a number of aspirations we share with the Scottish people. We have far too many short journeys being undertaken, nearly three in five car journeys are for trips of less than three miles.

"Where councils are involved in this initiative local people will be able to see the advantages of intensive sustainable travel initiatives. They will see the benefits of increased active travel in the form of walking and cycling, decreased local car use and emissions, reduced congestion, and improvements to their local neighbourhoods over time.

"One of the less direct but equally important benefits of this project is that it will provide information and experience useful to other councils in preparing similar schemes over the coming years. This project will allow participating local authorities to address these issues with a significant amount of resource and support."

The Scottish Government and seven Local Authorities will have a budget of £15 million to spend on sustainable travel initiatives. £10 million will be made available by the Scottish Government with a contribution of £5 million from the Local Authorities/SWESTRANS.

Similar schemes elsewhere have already led to impressive results. In Darlington, there has been a 14 per cent increase in public transport trips; 29 per cent increase in walking; 79 per cent increase in cycling and car journeys down by 11 per cent. The results have been achieved through simple measures such as improving cycle and walking routes, better public transport links, more pedestrian-only areas, travel advisors visiting homes providing tailored travel plans, car sharing schemes and even discounts on bus and train tickets.

There are currently three "Sustainable Travel Demonstration Towns" running in England - in Darlington, Peterborough and Worcester. These are already showing impressive results.

The Scottish Government asked for innovative ideas from Scottish Local Authorities within their expressions of interest. Amongst the actions from the seven successful authorities were:
  • Individual Travel Marketing (sometimes known as Personalised Travel Planning or travel blending) which provides tailored travel information based on the needs of the household
  • Self service bike rental interchanges
  • Car sharing schemes
  • 'Park and Choose initiatives'. Unlike conventional Park and Ride sites, these provide a wider choice set for potential users. This includes: bus, rail, cycling, and trip share - where people can book spaces for car share in one vehicle for onward travel
  • Organised cycling and walking trips
  • Discounted bicycles
  • Free trial bus and train tickets encouraging residents to give it a try
  • Infrastructure changes
  • More pedestrian/cycle/walking only areas
  • No car zones
  • Improved conditions for walking, footpaths cleared of obstacles; better managed and maintained streets
  • More cycle lanes and secure cycle parking
  • Improvement of green space
  • Better integrated access from rail and bus stations to key points in towns and cities
  • Use of public spaces to increase opportunities for recreational physical activity
  • Greater investment in public transport - improved bus services, facilities and better public transport information
  • Maps explaining how to walk or cycle to a local shop, or even something as simple as a timetable for their nearest bus stop
School and work place travel plans

Scotland currently leads the UK in its approach to tackling climate change and the Scottish Government has set ambitious targets to reduce Scottish emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

In Darlington, a team of travel advisors visited homes and offered travel information tailored to individuals, whilst collecting comments from residents about how their experience of local travel could be improved. The Local Council also found that even by simply giving residents free copies of the most up to date bus timetable led to increases in people switching from car to bus.

Improvements to cycle and walking paths to and from key points in towns have led to impressive increases in cycling and walking. One example from Peterborough saw the installation of high-tech cycle path improvements. New paths, linking in with rail stations, schools, hospitals and other public services, as well as key town landmarks have been installed. Mini-solar panels have even been installed allowing coloured solar lights to mark out paths across the city in early evening and through the night. These generate enough electricity to power the lights for three weeks, with sensors ensuring they only turn on at night.

8 August 2008

STEVENSON DELIGHTED BY FUEL SUPPORT FOR HARD PRESSED FISHING FLEET

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the SNP government’s announcement that an additional £29 million is to be made available to the Scottish fishing industry to help combat the effects of soaring fuel prices.

Fully half the earnings of boats are currently spent on fuel costs, but thanks to these measures funding will now be available to make Scotland’s fishing fleet more fuel efficient and to help meet other non-fuel related costs.

The £29 million is made up of a combination of Scottish and EU funding and will help to deliver a sustainable and profitable fishing industry that is able to cope with high fuel prices.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“The announcement of this funding is a fantastic boost for the fishing industry in Banff & Buchan and will make a real difference to families whose livelihoods depend on the sea. The Scottish Government has worked closely with the industry’s Fuel Task Force to develop a plan that will have a real impact.

“I am only disappointed by Westminster’s continued refusal to offer any kind of support to the industry, especially given that any action to deal with the economic effects of soaring fuel prices is their responsibility. However, we will continue to put pressure on them in the hope we can push them into action.

“The Scottish fishing fleet now has a three year plan to help it adapt to the difficult circumstances it finds itself in and I believe that thanks to the enormous efforts it has made to adapt, along with the Scottish Government’s continued support, the industry in Banff & Buchan can look forward to a bright future.”

STEVENSON WELCOMES EXTRA MONEY FOR FISHING CERTIFICATION

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the news that the Scottish Government will provide an extra £200, 000 to help fisheries to attain sustainability certification. North Sea herring fishing has recently been awarded international certification for its sustainable working practices by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the first in Scotland to achieve this.

Currently only 31 fisheries around the world hold MSC certification, however 50% of Scotland’s fisheries are currently being assessed by the MSC and this additional funding will help them be successfully certified.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“The fishing industry is vital to Banff & Buchan and although it has faced many challenges in recent years, and continues to do so, great strides have been made towards making the industry here a sustainable one.

“I am glad that the first of Scotland’s fisheries has received international recognition for the sacrifices that have been made to make the industry sustainable, and with this additional funding now available, I am confident that the North Sea herring fishery will not be alone for long in holding certification.

“By being able to make it clear to consumers which fish have been caught in a sustainable manner and which have not, people will be able to make an informed choice about the fish they buy and hopefully reward the good practice of Banff & Buchan’s fishing fleet with increased demand”.

6 August 2008

Transport Minister announces timetable for delivery of Borders Railway

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson today signalled the way forward for the Waverley Railway to the Borders with the announcement of the preliminary timetable for the delivery of the project.

The project has now been handed to the national transport agency Transport Scotland to deliver in partnership with the rail industry. Market consultation and testing is already underway and will continue over the next few months prior to the official procurement process which is due to start by the end of this year. Work is expected to start on site in 2011 with completion around the end of 2013 and is estimated to cost in the region of £235 - 295 million at point of completion.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"The transition is a significant milestone and a defining moment in the evolution of this project. We remain committed to working closely with the three local authorities and look forward to the future with confidence. He added:

"Procurement is a crucial phase of the Waverley Railway Project. Our market consultation exercise will set the parameters of the project for potential bidders and provide them with the information necessary to prepare the best tenders for this important transport scheme. It will also enable potential bidders to ask key questions before the procurement phase begins and we expect significant interest from a number of companies."

Dr Malcolm Reed, Transport Scotland Chief Executive, said:

"This is an important project for Edinburgh, Midlothian and the Borders and we will continue to work closely with all three local authorities as well as in partnership with the rail industry to deliver this new railway on time and within budget and with the right skills and experience engaged, I am confident we will deliver."

Councillor David Parker, leader of Scottish Borders Council, said:

"The transition and announcement of the timetable is a major milestone for the vision to deliver a new railway line from the heart of Edinburgh to towns in Midlothian and the Scottish Borders, serving a population base close to 200,000 people who currently have no direct access to a railway line. Other areas in the UK, with much smaller populations, continue to depend on their rail links. The future health of the Borders is depending, in part, on greater accessibility - both to the area, and to wider parts of Scotland."

Councillor Russell Imrie, Midlothian Council cabinet member for strategic services, said:

"This announcement represents a major step forward for the Waverley project, which will play a crucial role in creating jobs, improving access to the employment market and providing more housing in Midlothian."

Councillor Tom Buchanan, Convenor of the Economic Development Committee at the City of Edinburgh Council, said:

"If Edinburgh is to remain the powerhouse of the Scottish economy, it is essential that connectivity across the city region is improved. Furthermore, in these uncertain economic times I welcome the Waverley Line as a major infrastructure project which will itself bring employment to the region and which, once completed, will give wider access to Edinburgh’s buoyant labour market."

Jim McFarlane, Managing Director of regional operations for Scottish Enterprise, said:

"The improved connectivity provided by the Borders Railway will create economic opportunities for the Borders and Midlothian while assisting Edinburgh's continued growth and reducing the pressures of congestion. This is good news for the city region."

The Waverley Railway (Scotland) Act 2006 received Royal Assent in July 2006. The line will serve a combined population approaching 200,000 in the Scottish Borders and Midlothian, a key mainland area in Scotland not currently served by a passenger railway. It will provide an effective public transport link to enable residents of the Scottish Borders and Midlothian to access important employment, education, health and leisure opportunities.

Furthermore, the reinstatement of the railway line between Edinburgh and Tweedbank in the Borders will allow both areas to maximise their economic development opportunities through tourism and additional jobs. The railway will also facilitate new and affordable housing. In addition, it will tackle congestion and assist in addressing Lothian's predicted labour market shortfall of 18,500 people by 2015.

The outline timetable for the project is as follows:

Notice in Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU): end 2008
Competitive Dialogue Submission stage: 2009
Final tender stage: beginning of 2010
Preferred bidder announcement: end 2010
Start on site: early 2011
Trains and infrastructure operating: end 2013

For further information see Waverley Rail Project

5 August 2008

STEVENSON HAILS OUTSTANDING EXAM RESULTS

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has offered his congratulations to Banff & Buchan’s pupils who have today received their exam results. Across Aberdeenshire, the results at all levels have once again been above the national average. In addition to this, the results also show an improvement in overall pass rates from last year.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“This tremendous set of results should be a real source of pride to the hard working teachers, parents and most of all pupils who have made them possible.

“The results across Aberdeenshire have again outdone the national average at every level, and are the most successful set of results since the current exam format was introduced in 2000. I have no doubt that Banff & Buchan’s pupils were a credit to their schools and helped produce this level of success.

“Whatever they go on to do, Banff & Buchan’s pupils should be immensely proud of what they have achieved and I am delighted that so many households will be celebrating these results”.
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