Construction companies may be feeling the pinch of struggling housing and commercial markets, but the current planned infrastructure investments in transport at least offer a light at the end of the tunnel.
Although the construction industry is currently in the much-publicised doldrums right across Scotland and the rest of the UK, some solace can be taken from the fact that the recent Strategic Transport Projects review has led to an unprecedented programme of major works right across Scotland, including the largest infrastructure project currently on the ground with the extension of the M74 in Glasgow to link up with the M8. The planned second Forth crossing, meanwhile, will be the largest infrastructure project in the country for a generation.
Scottish Government spokesman Andrew McIntyre told Construction Scotland: “Scotland’s National Transport Strategy has set out three core objectives: improving connectivity, improving access and reducing emissions. Although the strategy itself was initially produced by the previous administration, the current one agrees with the bulk of its contents, the only major exception being on the issue of congestion charging, which we do not support.
“Last December the administration published the Strategic Transport Projects review, which has highlighted 29 key projects for the next 20 years across all forms of transport. Some of the major projects include a new, toll free Forth Crossing which will enable the existing bridge to become a public transport only corridor, increased electrification of the rail network and enhancements to the Edinburgh-Glasgow line, increasing frequency and reducing journey times to 35 minutes and new rail and metro/tram services for both cities, as well as improvements in both road and rail access to many of Scotland’s other major towns and cities.”
The next three years will see £2.5b invested, and as a 20-year programme this will obviously increase over time. McIntyre explains: “The programme is subject to a spending review every three years, so it’s hard to be too specific about long term timetable and costing information. The current model is to set key priorities and projects in an ongoing manner through the regular reviews. The government’s current preferred funding option is a not-for-profit model, with caps in place for the private sector.”
The M74 extension has been one such early key priority. It recently took a significant step nearer to completion when the foundations were laid to complete its link up with the M8. Speaking at the site of the M74/M8 Westbound viaduct, transport minister Stewart Stevenson said: ‘While our investment in transport infrastructure will be crucial in the sustainable growth of Scotland’s economy for years to come, it is also bringing jobs to the hard-pressed construction industry now. Transport Scotland’s work alone supports over 25% of the civil engineering contracting sector’s workload in Scotland. support around 900 jobs – many of them young trainee professionals who will gain valuable experience in their respective professional trades. Experience which they can carry forward beyond this project and into other projects across Scotland. Through this and other major infrastructure projects in Scotland we are providing our most valuable asset – our people – with a firm footing for the future, and Scotland with sustainable economic growth.
The economy and training are not the only areas where the Scottish Government hopes to bring about improvements through its transport policies. Mcintyre explains that Scotland has set itself the most stringent environmental targets in the world, with a long-term aim to reduce emissions by 80%.
Stevenson continues: “We’re not only talking about road traffic here, but emissions from aviation and shipping too, and we recognise the massive challenge this represents.
“Once we know how large the emissions are we will be able to offset them elsewhere.
McIntyre says that a key factor in reducing road traffic is the improvement of existing rail services between Scotland and England, and specifically London.
The Scottish Government has welcomed Geoff Hoon’s intentions to create a high speed rail link and McIntyre believes such a link would see significant numbers of cars taken off the roads.
This seems a solid argument, as McIntyre points out that improvements to Inverness’ accessibility by rail have taken some 600 lorries a week off the A9 to the city, and rail looks set to play a major role in Scotland’s ongoing transport infrastructure improvements. Coupled with an extensive programme of improvements to roads around numerous major transport hubs, including Aberdeen, Inverness, Perth and Dundee, the programme looks set to provide much needed employment within the sector, hopefully long beyond the end of the current downturn.
As Stevenson concludes: “The programme identifies how we can improve the existing infrastructure we have, as well as targeting future transport investment priorities across Scotland over the next 20 years.”