I was disappointed that at North Ayrshire Council’s (NAC) meeting on 13 February, Labour and the Tories backed a motion to support plans for a Glasgow Airport Rail Link as envisaged in the 2014 Glasgow City Deal.
This had just been dismissed by the Glasgow Airport Access Steering Group as it did not contain a strong business case indicating that it would deliver inclusive growth and would be to the detriment of Ayrshire’s economy and people.
Sadly to no avail, the SNP Group lodged an amendment resolving that NAC should write to the Transport Secretary, “encouraging him to preserve our precious rail links to Glasgow and beyond and to examine what else can be done to further enable efficient transport links to and from North Ayrshire.”
On 07 February, Transport Secretary Michael Matheson MSP announced the decision of the Steering Group he chairs, which includes the Leaders of Glasgow and Renfrewshire Councils and representatives of Glasgow Airport, not to pursue the Glasgow Airport Rail Link.
When I asked him in the Scottish Parliament to outline what the impact of proceeding would have on Ayrshire, he referred to the independent audit of the outline business case for the tram-train link. The analysis has shown that, although it might be possible to introduce a tram-train service to Glasgow Airport, it would have a detrimental effect on performance and require a reduction in current rail services to Ayrshire, the deferral of future rail service enhancements and significant and high-cost infrastructure enhancement at Glasgow Central Station.
He furthermore clarified that the SNP Government plans to improve and enhance rail services between Ayrshire and Glasgow, opting for a whole-systems approach to improving connectivity, rather than pursue one option that causes detriment to Ayrshire’s services.
Had the £138 million Glasgow Airport Rail Link gone ahead, the structural limitations of Glasgow Central Station would have forced the link to make use of one of the existing tracks. This would negatively impact commuter trains going to and from Ayrshire and Inverclyde. It has also been estimated that 15 passenger services that currently use Glasgow Central station and its approaches – around 5,000 seats every morning rush hour – would have to be removed to accommodate four Rail Link tram/trains per hour.
The emerging preferred option of a Personal Rapid Transport (PRT) link between the airport and Paisley could be delivered within the existing city region deal budget and on time, to be operational by 2025 as originally envisaged. This alternative approach has received backing from the SNP leaders of Glasgow City Council and Renfrewshire Council who, unlike North Ayrshire’s Labour administration, desire a workable and affordable solution that will not impact on existing rail services to Ayrshire and other areas in the West of Scotland. Partners will shortly ask the City Deal cabinet to approve work on the option, to be completed this year.
As a member of the Local Government and Communities Committee at Holyrood, I can confirm that this discussion is not over. Indeed, we took evidence on 27 February and I asked Scottish Ministers in Parliament on 06 March about the negative impact of the Labour/Tory proposal on Ayrshire. Ayrshire representatives must stand up for its interests. I was therefore astonished that NAC Labour and Tory Councillors argued and voted for SNP Government investment on a Rail Link to Glasgow that will be to the detriment of their own constituents and the Ayrshire economy, when a suitable alternative that will allow enhancements to Ayrshire’s rail services is available. We all want Glasgow to prosper, but only the SNP refuses to let this be at the expense of Ayrshire.