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"Commerce & Transport" by Geoff Runcie, Chief Executive, Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce - Aberdeen meeting of 4 March 2008

Geoff Runcie spoke eloquently and knowledgeably for almost an hour, without the aid of a powerpoint presentation or notes, on the subject of transport. Transport is a topic that employs much of his day, as it is an issue that comes up as a priority time and again when consulting with the Chamber's membership of 1,200 companies.

Geoff begun his presentation by outlining the structure and remit of the Chamber of Commerce, and by highlighting that much of the lobbying which it undertakes is transport related. It actively sets out to influence policy decisions undertaken by the UK and Scottish Governments, Transport Scotland, Nestrans and other organizations.

He went on to speak about the range of transport modes and relevant local issues. With regard to sea, Aberdeen's harbour, which is currently undergoing development work, could grow its short-sea shipping trade to complement its other business from ferries and oil and gas vessels. Rail issues include the stumbling proposals for the introduction of local Crossrail and the lack of freight traffic. The Chamber sees the development of inter-city routes as a key challenge and is lobbying for increased funding on infrastructure to facilitate a reduction in travel time to Glasgow and Edinburgh, which could facilitate modal shift for business travel. Geoff also commented on his disappointment that the East Coast Main Line stops at Edinburgh.

Because rail isn't practical for many trips, air travel is crucial to the local economy but its potential is restricted by ground access problems at Aberdeen Airport and the possibility that the number of slots at Heathrow Airport may be reduced. Geoff therefore posed the question whether, given these restrictions, we should consider the development of rail instead of trying to build air capacity to London. Improvements in the rail service to the central belt could provide access to Edinburgh and Glasgow airports. Meanwhile, the problem of improving the use of the road infrastructure around Aberdeen Airport remains.

With regards to road, the issue of the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) is one that divided the chamber's members when proposed. However, on balance it took a supportive view of the project, hopeful that it will help re-invigorate the local economy when the oil and gas industry sees a downturn. However, he feels strongly that the AWPR needs better connections into the city and he sees no plans to progress this connectivity, without which the new road will be a wasted opportunity. He touched on other roads issues which members feel strongly about, including: the proposed third Don crossing; problems of congestion (aggravated by poor traffic signalling); bus priority measures; and the pedestrianisation of Union Street.

Within the Chamber, "quality of life" is a recurring theme in members' discussions on ways to promote economic development in Aberdeen City and Shire. And a modern transport system, as promoted by Nestrans and its partners, is an essential element in providing such "quality of life". Geoff's vision is to relaunch Aberdeen City and Shire as an area of economic development in 2012, in conjunction with the proposed opening of the AWPR. However, this would require the implementation of other improvements in transport infrastructure which he fears will not be undertaken in time for his vision to be realised.

Report by Marion Mackay


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