Scottish government announce £60bn infrastructure “mega-plan”

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By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP government has unveiled the details of a £60 billion infrastructure “mega-plan” which has ambitious aims to improve transport, schools and hospitals across Scotland over the next two decades.  The proposals include the long awaited upgrading of the A9 between Perth and Inverness to dual carriageway, and the completion of the notorious “Newhouse gap” on the M8 south of Coatbridge where the roadway was never upgraded from dual carriageway to motorway status.   

Infrastructure and Capital Investment Secretary Alex Neil announced the list of strategic projects yesterday, saying: “This represents a mega-plan for Scotland to take us forward into the 21st century as a competitive and modern nation, and with an infrastructure that is up to the job.”

In addition to the transport infrastructure projects announced yesterday, the programme will also include the construction of new colleges in Glasgow, Inverness and Kilmarnock.  The Scottish government has also committed itself to delivering projects such as the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow and the Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh.

Railways will receive funding in order to improve services, and the government remains committed to the new Borders Railway from Edinburgh to Tweedbank.  The re-opened railway will restore rail services to the Borders, an area which has been without rail transport since the Beeching cuts of the 1960s.  The new line is due to come into service in December 2014.  

The Scottish government is also keen to ensure the go-ahead of a Scottish high speed rail line to connect with the line proposed for England.  

Infrastructure Minister Alex Neil said that the high speed rail link was part of future improvement plans but added that no funds have been committed to the project in the newly announced investment programme.

In an interview with BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr Neil said: “We have had detailed negotiations with the Department of Transport in London and as you know at the moment their plans are just simply to start in London and bring it [the high speed rail link] to Birmingham.

“In the select committee of the House of Commons last month a report was produced saying – why don’t the Scots start themselves.

“Now, we are willing to look at that if we get a guarantee, in particular that the gap in England between Birmingham and the north of England, is going to be closed.”

The Scottish government has said that it expects the new rail line to cost some £15bn, and that Holyrood would contribute between £8bn and £9bn of that sum.   

However the final decision rests with Westminster and the UK government now appears to be having second thoughts on Phase 1 of its High Speed Rail proposal.  The new line from London to Birmingham would run through the rural Tory heartlands of the English Midlands, and the proposals were met with fierce opposition from backbench Tory MPs whose constituencies lie on the proposed route.

Yesterday the UK government confirmed a delay to the announcement on whether to go ahead with the high speed rail line or not.  Westminster Transport Secretary Justine Greening had been due to make an announcement on the £32 billion project before Christmas.  However yesterday Ms Greening informed MPs that there would be no announcement this year, but added that she expected to announce her decisions “in January”.

Speaking to the Herald newspaper, Garry Clark of the Scottish Chamber of Commerce welcomed the Scottish government’s commitment to a high speed line saying:  “The last infrastructure investment plan, in 2008, had a 10-year vision.  We have been arguing that the government should move beyond that kind of short-termism and look at aspirational funding for putting a line in place.  It could be 15 or 20 years but if the plan is there and we’re seeing progress towards it, we’re comfortable with that.”

CBI Scotland director Iain McMillan said: “Many of the capital projects identified in the Infrastructure Investment Plan, particularly those relating to transport such as the dualling of the A9, the A96 and M8 and the Edinburgh-Glasgow rail improvements, are ones CBI Scotland has called for and their inclusion is very positive and will be widely applauded by business.  We are also very supportive of the benefits that the other infrastructure projects will bring to the Scottish economy.”

Scottish Building Federation chief executive Michael Levack also added his support, saying: “The real acid test will be how many of these projects can be brought forward in the short term so we can begin putting shovels in the ground.  The industry urgently needs a pipeline of new work to start rebuilding the jobs, skills and capacity we have lost over the past three years.”

Welcoming the plan SNP MSP and Deputy Convener of the Infrastructure Committee Jamie Hepburn said the UK must match the Scottish government’s commitment with a guarantee of bringing high speed rail as far as Scotland.

Mr Hepburn said: “This is a major programme of investment that will take Scotland forward into the next decade and build the kind of Scotland we all want to see.

“This programme invests over £60 billion in Scotland’s future and will support and create thousands of jobs across Scotland in construction and in the wider economy as we work our way to a strong economic recovery.

“Investment in rail is a major part of the plan.  Improving services across the Central Belt and connections to Inverness, the Highlands and Aberdeen will bring Scotland’s railway system up to scratch for the 21st century.

“What would make a huge difference to Scotland’s infrastructure and bring real benefit to business is for the UK Government to match Scotland’s commitment to a high speed link from London to Edinburgh.

“The UK Government must match Scotland’s commitment and bring the line past Birmingham and up to Scotland.

“The SNP is committed to providing the funding for the high speed line in Scotland but that line must have a service to connect with.

“The failure of successive UK Government’s to commit to bringing high speed rail to Scotland shows how little concern they have had for the connections between the two countries.  A high speed line would cut flights, increase the use of public transport and the most effective way to make it profitable is to bring it to Scotland.

“The SNP has made our commitment clear it is now time for the UK Government to match it.”