Category Archives: Perthshire Advertiser

Safety on the A9

When I was fighting my first election campaign, a dreadful accident happened in what would become my constituency of North Tayside. Three generations of Israeli tourists were killed in their car at the Ballinluig junction after becoming confused trying to navigate the dangerous A9. I then made it my mission that I would do all I could to make this road safe. Since then, we have improved the Ballinluig junction and the A9 is to be dualled from Perth to Inverness.

Pete A9But these projects take time, as communities are properly consulted and all the necessary engineering works are conducted. In the meantime, this road continued to take lives. That’s why it was decided that more needed to be done right now.

The Scottish Government looked at the example of average speed cameras and the impressive impact that they had on changing driver behaviour, not just in Scotland, but across Europe. A trial was then approved that would enforce the existing speed limit of 60MPH on single carriageway and 70MPH on dual carriageway, but also raise the speed limit for HGVs to 50MPH to reduce the speed differentials between cars and the many heavy vehicles that use this road.

The success of this measure has been overwhelming. Speeding is down and speed-related accidents have been more or less eliminated. More than that, the experience for the travelling public has been massively improved. On the A9, there is no more fretfully looking in the rear-view mirror wondering when the next car travelling at 85MPH might be coming your way whilst overtaking a convoy of lorries. The road has been simply transformed.

Not everyone agrees though. I share an almost equal length of the A9 with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Inverness MP, Danny Alexander. He has been campaigning hard to have these cameras taken down. He has been watching the polls with great anxiety and thought that a lazy populist campaign on the cameras might address his dire electoral prospects. When the safety statistics came through, I asked him to stop his reckless campaign and he refused. We, therefore, have a UK Secretary of State campaigning to put the people of Perthshire at risk once again and wanting the right for motorists to speed unhampered.

The cameras might not solve all the issues on the A9, but they have made people feel more safe and secure. I will never forget the sickening feeling when the news of that family came through that day 15 years ago and that is why I will support any measure that helps make such accidents on the A9 a thing of the past.

– This is Pete’s article from the Perthshire Advertiser, Friday 6th February 2015

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A University of the City of Perth

A few weeks ago I attended the graduation for Perth College UHI and as usual it was a fantastic event. It is always a delight to see young people receive recognition for all their hard work and look forward to the coming challenges for the future.
 
The same must go for institutions. Perth College has developed and grown since its beginnings offering courses in building trades in its old Rose Terrace site. Perth College now has some 7000 students, served by 500 staff. It also now has an international reputation. It is a centre of excellence in aircraft engineering. It also offers degree courses in music, social sciences, computing and youth studies.
 
The major transformative moment for Perth College was when it became incorporated into the University of the Highland and Islands. The degree courses started to arrive and Perth College became a proper paid up higher education institution.
 
Now is the time for it to take the next part of its journey. It is time to think big and grasp the opportunities that comes with our new city status. I think that there could be nothing more fitting than looking at Perth securing its own university and the college becoming the University of the City of Perth.
 
Perth lost out to Stirling when Scotland got its first new build university since medieval times in 1967. Dundee also has two universities. Our nearest neighbouring cities are ahead of us in developing student campuses and we must catch up.
 
And the thing is we’re almost there. As part of the UHI we already have degree courses, we have an excellent site within the city environs and we have a dedicated and committed staff group. All it needs is the ambition to take this forward and grasp the opportunity to go out on our own.
 
A University of the City of Perth would have great benefits to the rest of the city. University towns and cities attract incredible economic benefits – we only need to look to Dundee to see what a university can do for the local economy. It would also be fantastic to hold on to the many school leavers who leave Perth to pursue their university studies elsewhere.
 
I hope that the college board do look seriously at this proposal and at least test if this is possible. We are a small city but we need to think big. The University of the City of Perth would be proof that we have truly arrived. I hope we can go for it.

Dualling the A9

One of the worst moments in this job is when you get that call from the police to say that there has been a road accident in the constituency. Instantly, you know what it’s going to be – another accident and probable fatality on the A9. Immediately, thoughts go out to the family involved and hopes are that it is not as bad as initially conveyed.

All of us who live in Perthshire are familiar with this danger that exists on our doorstep. Nearly 70 people were killed on the road between 2006 and 2010 and the road’s notoriety as a killer road is well deserved. My first experience of the dangers of this road was back in 2001 when I was a candidate standing for the first time. Just months before my election, three generations of an Israeli family were killed in one of the most serious accidents on the road at the old Ballinluig junction. It was following that incident that I vowed that I would do everything that I could to ensure that this killer road became safe. Since then, we have secured the new grade-separated junction at Ballinluig and the new junction at Bankfoot, all good, but not enough to make this road completely safe. What, of course, is required is the full dualling between Perth and Inverness.

That is why I am so pleased that real progress is now being made. The SNP Scottish Government have now committed to a full dualling programme between Perth and Inverness for the first time. But it won’t be an easy task. Dualling the A9 is a complex and challenging programme, indeed it is possibly one of the biggest infrastructure projects ever undertaken in Scotland. Contractors have now been appointed to carry out preliminary engineering work and communities in Bankfoot and Dunkeld have already seen plans for the road round their communities. The scale of the project means that this won’t happen overnight. Communities need to be fully consulted and the challenging environment properly assessed.

When complete, a dualled A9 will bring many benefits to the communities of Perthshire and the Highlands. We will have a safe and free-flowing link to the Highlands bringing real economic benefits

What we need is for all of Perthshire’s politicians to work together to make this happen. The priority now must be the upgrading of the A9, not the unwanted Edinburgh trams. Yes, we want this done as soon as possible, but I think we should ensure that communities have their say and the work is properly assessed and planned.

Why Scotland Needs its own Immigration Policy

Perthshire is growing, and we are going to have to adjust to being one of the most dynamic parts of the country for inward migration.

The population of Perth and Kinross rose by 11% over the decade to 2011 and now stands at 149,521. This is the fastest population growth in Scotland and demonstrates that Perthshire remains a desirable place to stay. To give some regional perspective, for the same period, Dundee’s population growth was 0.1%.

We are growing so quickly because of the high quality of life we enjoy and because there is convenient access to major population centres throughout Scotland. As we often say, from Perth, you are within minutes in some of the most dramatic scenery in the country and within an hour you are in reach of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

But Perthshire people know that we live in one of the most beautiful places in Scotland and I think it will come as no surprise that other people want to come here to live.

Perthshire, of course, is at the top end of a rise in population throughout Scotland. Up until a few years ago there was a fear that Scotland’s population could fall below the iconic five million mark for the first time since the mid 20th century. But our population growth is still tentative and it is feared that the long term trend may once again be downwards. We also have an ageing population and looking to the future we will have more and more inactive people relying on an ever smaller economically active work force.

It has primarily been Eastern European migration that has fuelled Scotland’s population growth, as well as an increase in out birth rate. Immigration, of course, remains a very controversial topic. In England there is a raging debate about curbing immigration. Indeed, the UK Government remains determined to drastically reduce immigration and they have put in place tough and prohibitive immigration rules to address what has become almost an obsession.

In Scotland, we occupy just over a third of the landmass of the UK, but we have 8.4% of the population. We are one of the least populated parts of Western Europe. Yet we are saddled with a UK immigration policy that could have been designed to be as unhelpful as possible to our population and immigration needs.

We need a specific Scottish agency which could serve our immigration priorities, our population necessities and our demographic needs. What we’ve currently got does not meet our needs and is making matters worse.