Humza Yousaf, the Minister for Transport and the Islands in the Scottish Government was questioned for nearly 2 hours by the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee on Wednesday 16th May.
The topics ranged across all aspects of transport in Scotland: trains, planes, automobiles (EVs) and ferries.
The Minister confirmed that he would be introducing a Transport Bill to the Scottish Parliament in June.
Humza Yousaf said:
“We intend to introduce the transport bill to Parliament next month. I have already said publicly that the bill will include measures on buses, responsible parking, smart and integrated multimodal ticketing, low-emission zones and regional transport partnership finance. There will be some elements on the Scottish road works commissioner and some technical proposals on the Scottish Canals board.”
The Transport Bill will also include, “major investment in new and refurbished rolling stock. More than £475 million will be invested in ScotRail’s rolling stock, which will deliver major enhancements to train facilities and increase seating capacity by 23 per cent by 2019.”
HIAL (Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd) came under close examination with their proposal to have a centralised digital control centre.
During the meeting Humza Yousaf reiterated that “safety will never be compromised” and that the proposal by HIAL,which is owned by the Scottish Government, is to enhance safety.
” the new surveillance system will mean that controllers will be able to see the aircraft at all times. At present, wildlife that may cause damage to aircraft, which includes birds, can be detected only visually— The new system will have infrared sensors that will make detecting wildlife easier.”
Scottish Government official Gary Cox said:
“controllers on the HIAL network who have been out to see the technology operating in Sweden and down at NATS in Swanwick are, in many cases, coming back hugely enthusiastic about the opportunities that the technology brings, which they see as being essential for the future of air traffic control.
“It may well be that, ultimately, when the centre is up and running in 10 to 15 years’ time, HIAL becomes a centre of expertise. It could become a training organisation for people coming into the industry and adopting this latest technology.”
The Minister offered the committee a technical briefing from HIAL.
Stewart Stevenson MSP, SNP, felt that there should be an air flight information officer based at the airports in case there was a failure with the centralised digital control centre. This was something that may now be considered.
Humza Yousaf stressed that staff wished to know where the centralised control system would be based but could not be drawn yet on where that might be.
On the Electric Vehicle Purchase scheme the Minister said
” The scheme has been oversubscribed in the past year. In 2017-18, 497 applications with a total value of £15 million were received against a budget of £8 million. “
He also assured committee members that his Department was ‘technology neutral’ and supported hydrogen cars too and referenced the work being done in Orkney on hydrogen technology.
Northern Isles Ferries
Humza Yousaf explained that the purchase of the 3 Northern Isles boats would result in a saving of £millions which will now be used to fund the RET scheme to be introduced.
After the meeting Local MSP John Finnie, Scottish Greens who views the HIAL proposals as controversial said:
“There are a number of serious concerns about the impact HIAL’s proposals could have on island communities. One major impact is the likelihood of losing highly skilled jobs throughout our islands, an issue rightly vexing Prospect, the air traffic controllers’ trade union.
“I completely understand HIAL’s need to upgrade its infrastructure, however any centralised system will require a reliable and secure communication system between the mainland and the islands. No such system exists at the moment.
“HIAL’s community engagement has been abysmal. Not only in relation to this proposal, but also recently in relation to proposed parking charges at island airports. I was therefore pleased that the Minister committed to ensuring that proper public consultation will take place. HIAL cannot simply march ahead with such wide ranging proposals without considering the impact it will have on the communities it is supposed to support.”
Reporter: Fiona Grahame