The Scottish Region's Annual Political Event was addressed by Councillor Alistair Watson the Chair of Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), the largest of the seven Scottish Regional Transport Partnerships set up in April 2006 by the Scottish Executive.
In his address, Councillor Watson pointed out that City Region economies have long been important drivers of economic activity and this view is gaining momentum. The electronic age of communication has delivered so many benefits but has not removed the demand for physical travel. In Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh are emerging as two city regions and have much in common with many European two city regional economies.
However, the Eddington Report recognises that good transport links cost money and Councillor Watson welcomed the recognition that transport needs investment. He expressed disappointment with the view taken on building a new UK High Speed Transport network, emphasizing that the Northern regions of the UK have always needed good transport links. About 40% of Britain's population lives and works north of Birmingham and the cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle and Edinburgh all have proud industrial histories and have been the UK's engines of wealth creation. It cannot be sound economic policy making to continue the overheating of London and the south east.
Councillor Watson thought that it is important that the development of fast, reliable and efficient transport links to Scotland delivers benefits all round - first for London and the south east by opening up labour markets and secondly for the north, by opening up trade routes. He noted that In recent years, low cost air travel has increased dramatically Prospective travellers now have the notion that air travel is cheap, comfortable and fast. But the reality of increased check-in times, stringent security screening and transfer times is different.
An example is that of a domestic flight to one of the London airports - nowadays that could easily take about 4 hours and longer, if you've got hold baggage to reclaim. Rail, especially the high speed limited stop journeys on the upgraded west coast mainline, now offer a serious alternative for the hard pressed business traveller. By comparison, it's much easier to use and far more environmentally friendly. The rail industry needs to become more innovative and take a good look at the low cost airlines' successful business models.
Councillor Alistair Watson the Chair of Strathclyde Partnership for Transport.
© John G. Fender 2011
Regeneration is a key theme of most regional economies and giving old industrial sites a renewed purpose, is hugely beneficial not just to the economy, but to society at large. In Glasgow, the Clyde Waterfront project is a massive £5 billion investment programme by public and private partners. Work is also going on to regenerate the east end of the city through Clyde Gateway project to lift people out of poverty. Councillor Watson said that SPT is committed to playing its part in these exciting projects.
He emphasized an important point - that of our continental cousins who readily accept that a prerequisite for an efficient modern economy is a modern, efficient public transport system. They have demonstrated their confidence for years. They build big and the transport infrastructure gets built first. This then supports the development and creates economic confidence, not only in the developers, but also in business and householders.
In the UK, we struggle with this concept and we need look no further than the missing link of the M74. The completion of this 5 mile stretch of road will deliver reduced journey times for business and commuters alike. Politicians listened to all the arguments, including the high profile Complete to Compete campaign, undertaken by business leaders in the 1990s. Glasgow City Council is the lead agency, now working on behalf of the Scottish Executive to procure the project. Another example is the massive Clyde Waterfront development - it needs £110 million of investment to build a dedicated public transport system called Clyde Fastlink and central government is being asked for funding. We need much more joined up thinking if we are to support the regeneration of our cities. Many lessons have been learned from the regeneraltion of London's Docklands.
Glasgow's bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games is an important opportunity to improve the city's transport infrastructure. SPT is an enthusiastic supporter of this ambitious this bid and will play its full part in bringing the Games to the city. The Games may only last a short time, but the legacy they will leave behind will be long term. The investment in east end infrastructure and transport systems will last for generations. SPT has been very sucessful with projects already delivered, examples being the Larkhall Line. This is carrying 34% more passengers than predicted and is a tremendous sucess story. SPT's Glasgow Airport Rail Link project is now moving into the implemetation phases following granting of Royal Assent to the Act of the Scottish Parliament authorising construction.
Councillor Watson then turned to the new institutional arrangements for transport in Scotland, introduced in April 2006 - the three tiers of Transport Scotland, Regional Transport Partnerships and Member Councils. The new system requires the development of Regional Transport Strategies (RTS) and SPT is currently undertaking a public consultation exercise on the draft of its first Statutory RTS. A key element of the strategy is connectivity and there are a number of ambitious proposals to meet this objective. One such scheme that embodies connectivity is the cross city link in Glasgow. There are two ways of delivering this link - a cross city tunnel or Crossrail.
Looking at the tunnel option, Councillor Watson was of the view that it just doesn't stack up. The tunnel, some 5.5km long, with a subsurface station stretching the between Glasgow Central and Queen Street, would cost between £1.5bn and £2bn at today's prices. He thought that the alternative Glasgow Crossrail project, involving development of the old Glasgow College goods yard at the High Street and a new transport hub at the Mercat Cross was the best option as it would cost in the region of £187m and supports the Commonwealth Games bid at the same time.
Returning to the high speed rail debate, Councillor Watson said that it was disappointing that Sir Rod Eddington took a short term view by advising on incremental high speed rail sections. He thought that it was time to take a long term view of the UK's railway and have a vision of what it will be like in 50 or 100 years time. The UK's economy is the 4th largest in the world, so we need to think bigger. Councillor Watson looked at China as an example and the developments with Maglev systems. He accepted that a major problem with Maglev is its integration with the existing transport system. Maglev technology is proven and it is deliverable - if a long term view prevails. But one thing is clear, the benefits of having an operational journey time of 2 hours and 30 minutes between Scotland and London will be a real winner - not least for the environment.
Another key issue is integration and SPT is working with its partner organisations to develop plans for public transport interchanges in towns like Motherwell, Hamilton, Gourock, Kilmarnock and Paisley. The Glasgow Subway is now 110 years old and although showing its age, but is still a great asset carrying over 13 million passengers a year. It was last modernised in 1976 - 1978 and needs further investment to bring it up to date. Councillor Watson said that SPT is developing a long term strategy for the Subway to ensure it keeps pace with changes in the city. He said that SPT would like to extend its reach, expand the system and integrate it with other transport modes.
On the matter of bus services, Councillor Watson looked at SPT's campaign to review the way bus services are regulated. This has gained considerable support. He said that it was clear that maintaining the status quo is not an option. SPT has no wish to run bus services directly, nor wishes to put bus companies out of business. However it does believe it should be able to define what services are provided and ensure fares, tickets and information are up to standard.
Rounding off his presentation, Councillor Watson looked at environmental issues and said that with the Doomsday clock resting just 2 minutes before midnight, this should be taken as a wake up call to anyone not taking the issue seriously. He said there is still time to tackle climate change and for its part, SPT's regional transport strategy looks at the transport impacts on air quality, specifically pollution from Nitrous Oxide and Carbon Dioxide. Public transport is the sustainable future of the city region and the need to integrate our whole approach to transport with a focus on climate change has never been more important.
The Scottish Region would like to thank Councillor Watson for taking the time to address the Scottish Region and SPT for providing the accommodation. Further details of SPT's activities and policies can be found on their website, www.spt.co.uk.
Report by John Fender.
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