Levenmouth Rail Campaign Debate – 27th September 2017

Motion S5M-05941: Jenny Gilruth MSP

That the Parliament notes what it sees as the strong support that the Levenmouth Rail Campaign has achieved; believes that this has been demonstrated by it organising a petition that has been signed by over 12,500 residents from the area, which calls for the re-opening of the rail link from Thornton to Leven; welcomes the Fife Council report, Levenmouth Sustainable Transport Study – Final Stag Report, which was published in January 2017; understands that this study included a strongly positive cost-benefit analysis for the link and suggested that its reopening would lead to major economic benefits; believes that, although the Levenmouth area faces high levels of economic deprivation and problems with connectivity, it has substantial opportunities for employment and economic development; considers that this project could help deliver this; understands that passenger numbers on other reopened services, including the Borders Railway and the Airdrie-Bathgate line have exceeded predictions, and notes the view that a strong case has been made for ministers to give serious consideration to the re-opening of the Levenmouth line for passenger and freight services.

(From 16:48)

I congratulate Jenny Gilruth on securing this debate on one of the most pressing issues that affect our two constituencies. I welcome members of the Levenmouth rail campaign and local councillors to our Parliament.

Transport links have served as a symbol of modernisation since the beginning of human civilisation, and rail has been an important means of transport for people and materials for decades. No other industry has promoted change of the scale and scope that has been brought about by the invention and adoption of the railway. Transport has always affected economic and social development, and continues to do so.

That is why it is unacceptable that Levenmouth is the largest urban area in Scotland that is not directly served by rail. As influential policy makers, it is our job to raise awareness of the 37,600 residents of Levenmouth who continue to be disconnected from key areas of Scotland.

The Levenmouth rail campaign has brought to our attention issues of economic, social and environmental inequality. It is, fundamentally, a campaign for justice for the community. The most recent statistics show that Levenmouth is in the top 20 per cent most-deprived communities in Scotland. Several areas in the region are in the top 5 per cent. Levenmouth’s transport links have been neglected for years, yet the area continues to show great potential for regeneration, investment in business and tourism development.

I have been involved with the Levenmouth rail campaign for six years. Its members must be congratulated on their enthusiasm and dedication and on taking every opportunity to highlight the issue. There has not been a summer fête or gala in the area that the campaign has not attended. In addition, the campaign has run many street stalls in the area, which have resulted in more than 12,500 residents signing a petition in support of reopening the rail link from Thornton to Leven. Jenny Gilruth and I recently presented the petition to the Minister for Transport and the Islands, Humza Yousaf.

It is evident that communities with transport connections prosper. Transport investment creates a web of links and relationships between producers and consumers, which promotes efficiency and provides the means to expand, through economies of scale and scope.

As Fife Council’s report “Levenmouth Sustainable Transport Study—STAG Report” showed, reducing the costs of, and time taken by, passenger and freight movement greatly contributes to economic growth. In an area that has one of the highest concentrations of deprivation in Fife, it is crucial that we revive the rail link to enhance employment opportunities for the struggling workforce, given that alternative modes of transport are costly and inefficient.

Alongside the economic benefits, there are environmental benefits of rail, as opposed to road transport, and the reopening of the railway would be in line with Scotland’s leading environmental role. Modern railways, when they are managed strategically, offer significant environmental and land-use benefits because they are usually more energy efficient than road transport and generate lower emissions per traffic unit than any other mode.

It is obvious that there is significant support for reinstatement of the Levenmouth rail link. During my long time in politics, it is one of the few issues that has received cross-party support. The two main political parties in Fife Council fully support reinstatement of the link and have made that their number 1 transport priority.

For that reason, I found Willie Rennie’s comments in the local papers over the past few days, in which he attacked both SNP and Labour Administrations of Fife Council, extremely disappointing and unhelpful. It was cheap political point scoring, which did nothing positive to advance the case for reinstating the Levenmouth rail link.

Willie Rennie:

Does David Torrance find it rather odd that I received a letter from the minister that directly contradicted what the council leader had said about the city region deal? Does he think that rather than argue among themselves, people should come together to take the project forward? Does he find the minister’s comments rather confusing and think that the issue needs clarity and unity?

David Torrance:

If Willie Rennie had attended many of the meetings that I have attended over the past six years, he would have found that MPs, MSPs, councillors and council leaders have come together to support the Levenmouth rail campaign. His comments in the paper were not at all helpful to our case.

Our next step is to develop a detailed reform programme. “Levenmouth Sustainable Transport Study” is an excellent start to the process.

If we disregard the campaign, we disregard economic progress in a country that is leading on reducing carbon emissions, and we disregard our duty to serve the most deprived communities in Scotland. Levenmouth and the wider community are suffering, and we need to raise awareness and help individuals and communities who have been denied access to public space.

Reinstatement of the Levenmouth rail link will address the problem of poor transport links in the area and will bring economic benefits. It also has the potential to make a significant contribution to reducing the carbon footprint of businesses in the area.

I thank everyone who is involved with the Levenmouth rail campaign for all their hard work. Without them, we would not be debating the motion today. I look forward to working with the campaigners in the future, so that one day we can all travel on a train to Leven.

Link to the Scottish Parliament Official Report

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