Boris Johnson to announce plans to upgrade Scottish port route and cut UK air passenger duty

Boris Johnson is set to unveil a major plan to boost transport links all over Scotland, with a proposal to improve rail links and cut UK air passenger duty.

Boris Johnson will today unveil plans boosting transport links all over Scotland with improved rail links.
Boris Johnson will today unveil plans boosting transport links all over Scotland with improved rail links.

The Prime Minister will today commit £20 million to develop plans for upgraded rail, road, sea and air links following the interim report of Sir Peter Hendy’s Union Connectivity Review being published.

But Scottish transport secretary Michael Matheson labelled the review a “systematic attack on the Scottish Parliament’s powers”, saying it was a “power grab” that would undermine devolution”.

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Key projects in the review include upgrading the A75 between Gretna, Dumfries and Stranraer – a key route for south-west Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The A75 is the Scottish road that goes from Gretna Green, along the border with England then up to Stranraer.

Rail industry leaders have previously proposed building a tunnel from Stranraer to Larne in Northern Ireland to improve connectivity.

There are also plans for faster rail links from England to Scotland, including looking at options to enhance the West Coast Mainline.

The investment will also see improved rail connectivity between the north coast of Wales and England, as well as rail improvements in South-East Wales building on ideas from the Welsh Government's Burns Commission.

In June, Sir Peter was tasked with exploring ways in which transport can improve connections all over the UK.

Mr Matheson said of the review: “I spoke to Sir Peter Hendy and Grant Shapps and again made clear that transport infrastructure is a devolved matter and the Union Connectivity Review was established without any discussion and consultation with Scotland, Wales and NI.

“We will always seek to engage constructively with the UK Government, but never in a way that undermines the devolution settlement. This review is a systematic attack on the Scottish Parliament’s powers – a power grab that fundamentally undermines devolution.

“We already have a robust process for evidencing future transport infrastructure investment in Scotland – STPR2, not the Union Connectivity Review. We will consider the UCR Interim report and respond in due course.

“What Scotland really needs now is an infrastructure-led economic recovery to deliver new jobs and speed up the transition to net zero, which won’t be possible with the 5 per cent cut to our capital budget in the UK Spending Review for 2021/22.”

Mr Johnson said: "It’s now time to build back better in a way which brings every corner of the UK closer together.

“We will harness the incredible power of infrastructure to level up parts of our country that have too long been left off the transport map.

"This pioneering review by Sir Peter Hendy gives us the tools we need to deliver on our ambitions for a UK-wide transport network that encompasses sea, rail, and road – and I also want to cut passenger duty on domestic flights so we can support connectivity across the country.”

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Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “As we build back better from Covid, it is more important than ever that we level-up every corner of our great country.

“Quality transport infrastructure is key to achieving that, which is why we are committed to boosting connectivity and bringing communities across the UK even closer together.”

The UK Government has promised to work closely with the devolved administrations on development studies, such as with the Scottish Government on any feasibility study on the A75.

Sir Peter’s report seeks to set out plans for a UK Strategic Transport Network to better connect the UK, helping to reduce delays and bottlenecks and stimulate economic growth.

It also aims to help cut carbon emissions and consider the environmental and societal impact of transport.

Sir Peter spoke with more than 100 organisations and received nearly 150 submissions to his call for evidence.

He said: “Devolution has been good for transport, but it has also led to a lack of attention to connectivity between the four nations, due to competing priorities and complex funding.

"A UK Strategic Transport Network could resolve this, with its core objective centred around levelling up across the whole of the UK.”

Scottish secretary Alister Jack said: “Strengthening road, rail, air and sea links across the United Kingdom will boost the whole country’s economy.

"Better transport within Scotland and improving our connections with other parts of the UK is a key element of this work.

"This includes looking at improving the busy A75 and introducing significantly faster rail links between Scotland and England.

The UK Government will also consult on cutting air passenger duty on internal UK flights – something previously scrapped by the Scottish Government after a backlash over the environmental impact.

The Scottish Government had wanted to reduce air departure tax by 50 per cent before eventually abolishing it, only to perform a U-turn after concerns were raised about greenhouse gas emissions rising due to the increase in flights.

Mr Johnson’s consultation on aviation tax reform, announced at last year’s UK Budget, will be published this spring.

Mr Matheson, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity said: "We will always seek to engage constructively with the UK government, but never in a way that undermines the devolution settlement.

"This review is a systematic attack on the Scottish Parliament's powers - a power grab that fundamentally undermines devolution."

Neil Greig, the Scotland-based policy and research director of the IAM RoadSmart motoring group, said: “[This is] great news for the south west of Scotland where a high-quality route to the ferry ports is long overdue.

"Not only will it help the economy, but also save lives on the roads and allow active travel options to be built in from day one."

Professor Iain Docherty, Scotland's leading transport academic and Dean of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Stirling, said: "As an interim report, it avoids making firm commitments on issues such as further investment in high-speed rail, but the suggestion that air passenger duty might be reduced is concerning given the need to decarbonise long-distance travel between the nations of the UK.

"It highlights well-known examples of strategic transport infrastructure across the UK like the A1 and England-Wales rail that compare unfavourably with that found in our European competitor countries."

Andy Bagnall, director general of the Rail Delivery Group representing train operators, called for a levelling of the tax field instead of cutting air passenger duty.

He said: “Rather than considering a cut to air passenger duty in isolation, government should ensure there is a level tax playing field across cars, planes and trains with each paying according to the environmental impact they have.

”This would encourage people to make greener choices to get from A to B such as taking the train.”

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