Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has claimed that the Transport Minister has been misinformed over the actual cost and benefit of a Dornoch rail link.
Mr. Gibson's claims came when the Association of Caithness Community Councils' petition for a rail link was discussed in the transport committee.
The revelation surfaced as result of a Freedom of Information request made by the convener of Dornoch Link Action Group, Mark Norton. The information comes in the form of an e-mail stream on the 9th of January 2006.
In an e-mail, by a member of the steering group of the Room for Growth study (which comprised representatives from Highland Rail Partnership, HITRANS and Highland and Islands Enterprise) said 'we don't have any vaguely authoritative information on the likely costs on which to comment or respond to this continued campaign' for the Dornoch link. It goes on to say they decided deliberately not to investigate the cost or benefit of a Dornoch rail link (in the Room for Growth study), saying that it was a 'pragmatic decision, based on common sense'.
It then remarked that a possible course of action (when 'Mr Gibson's office' realised that there was no mention of a potential rail link to Dornoch in the study) would be to contact Scott Wilson (the consultant who wrote the report) to come up with a 'very basic (non engineering) assessment of the cost of linking Tain to Golspie via the Dornoch firth and Loch Fleet'.
In an e-mail from the Rail and Policy project officer from the Scottish Executive to an unnamed recipient on the same day, it said that 'cost was only half of the issue' and 'whatever figure you come up with, as long as they don't have to quantify the
benefits' of a rail link.
Commenting on the information Mr Gibson said...
"This new information shines a light on the concerted actions to thwart campaigners for the Dornoch Link. These local bodies - HIE, HITRANS and HRP - involved in drawing up the Room For Growth study make it clear that that they are opposed to any
potential link and were willing to get a non-engineering estimate from consultants to back up their argument. That action is almost as crude as thinking of a number and doubling it."
"This casts serious doubts over the credibility of the Highland Rail Partnership and those involved in the steering committee of the Room For Growth study. It shows that the most concrete and unbiased study carried out on a Dornoch rail link is the one carried out by CORUS. Indeed the Scottish Executive Rail Policy and Projects Officer recommends that any study on the DRL would have to be as 'robust' as the one by CORUS."
"This e-mail traffic makes it clear that the Transport Minister has little reliable official analysis of the Dornoch link proposals. There seems to be a concerted attempt by the steering group of the transport policy-making bodies that there should be no Dornoch rail link."
"A Dornoch rail link and shorter journey times to the Far North are integral to the advancement of the Far North economy. What HRP and partners are doing in their opposition to a link is ignoring the huge potential of the Far North economy."
The Transport Committee decided that they would write to the Minister in the light of the new information to see how it affected his current advice that the benefit cost ratio of the Dornoch Link is very low.
A copy of the e-mails can be provided if required.