Holyrood Headlines, with Alex Salmond MSP

Moving the North East Forward

We have seen a double boost for the North East in the past week with a green light for the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route and now the people’s approval of a new development for Union Terrace Gardens.

I am very pleased that the court upheld the earlier ruling that the bypass should go ahead. The AWPR is a vital project for jobs, the economy and transport infrastructure of Aberdeen and the whole of the North-East – and the priority now, following the Court of Session’s judgement, is to ensure that work gets underway as soon as possible.

Further to this, after what has been a healthy and well conducted debate, I’m delighted that the people of Aberdeen have voted in favour of the Granite Web proposal. In tough economic times, there is all the more reason to think big for the future of the North East, and this project has offered a fantastic new vision for Aberdeen city centre.

It is now up to Aberdeen City Council to work with Scottish Futures Trust to finalise the business case, before coming to Ministers to seek final approval for financing the new civic space.

Targeting safety on our rural roads

Although the number of casualties on Scotland’s roads is at its lowest level since records began, the danger of driving on our country roads remains a grave issue.

Many rural roads in our constituency present a challenge for drivers and require significant care and attention behind the wheel.

Statistics show that three quarters of all road fatalities in Scotland occur on country roads, resulting in an average of 190 deaths each year.

The Scottish Government’s new road safety campaign, which encourages drivers to consider how they can reduce their ‘risk factor’ on country roads, is therefore of particular significance in this area, where travelling on rural roads is a part of daily life for most of us.

From this week, a series of new adverts is being shown across Scotland to make drivers aware of how even minor distractions and driving just a bit too fast to read the road properly can cause serious accidents on country roads.

Risk-taking is strongly related to gender and age: three quarters of those killed on rural roads are males, and one third are young drivers aged between 17-25. The campaign is therefore aimed at tackling the complexities around the risk-taking behaviour of male drivers, encouraging them to watch their speed and concentrate on the road.

The decision, for the first time, to set demanding Scottish road safety targets is further evidence of how seriously the Scottish Government is taking this issue.

There are too many lives lost on our rural road network - even one life is too many - and I am pleased to see action to target this serious issue. I would encourage all drivers in the area, regardless of age and gender, to take heed of the message and take extra care on our country roads.

Help up the housing ladder

We know that getting onto, and moving up, the housing ladder can be an extremely difficult. According to the Council of Mortgage Lenders, mortgage advances to first time buyers in Scotland have fallen by half, from 35,300 in 2007 to 16,900 in 2011.

Similarly, a recent Bank of Scotland report stated that, in the past 12 months, almost two thirds of homeowners looking to sell their first home and move up the ladder have been unable to do so as they face an increasing number of financial challenges.

I am therefore delighted that up to 6,000 first-time buyers and others aspiring to purchase a new build home are set to receive a boost. The Homes for Scotland scheme will help households who could sensibly and sustainably afford a mortgage on a new build property, but are currently locked out due to high deposit requirements.

The Scottish Government will support this three year national mortgage indemnity scheme by providing a guarantee to facilitate its launch.

Homes for Scotland is projecting that over three years the new scheme could create or safeguard 22,800 new construction jobs and over 650 apprenticeships.

The arrangement will inject new life into the housing market, with the aim of helping thousands of households to be able to buy a new build home that they can afford.

While this new plan will help buyers, it will also provide a welcome boost for the housing sector. The Scottish Government is keen to do all that it can to deliver certainty to the construction industry and provide support to deliver growth, support jobs and keep our economy moving.

Inverurie is Tickled Pink

Last Friday I lent my support to a local business initiative to turn Inverurie pink, in order to encourage people to shop locally.

The two-week campaign was launched by Inverurie traders and Open Your Eyes to Inverurie, and will see shops and business turn their window displays pink to coordinate with a new website: Inverurie4u.com. The website will give people discounts in local shops and restaurants to promote the growth of Inverurie’s economy.

An ‘I card’ has also been launched which will be available from participating shops and businesses. The card will have a barcode for smartphones which will keep customers up to date with changing offers and allow them to access discounts quickly.

Turning the town pink is an excellent example of the initiative taken by the business community in Inverurie to promote the town and the local amenities on offer.

Inverurie is a thriving business hub with a wide range of locally-owned shops and restaurants, and I am pleased to participate in this campaign to help launch the new website. To offer my support for the scheme, my office, shared with Mark McDonald MSP, is displaying our very own pink window front which will stay for the duration.

To support their town and to help the local economy grow, I hope the public takes full advantage of Inverurie4u.com and the fantastic services available and I would encourage other businesses in the constituency to follow the traders’ lead in promoting their town.