Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Scottish Government's one track mind

One transport project costs £700 million, three times the original budget, is 3 years late, generates pollution and experts now say will not cut congestion. Another transport project costs £750 million, 50% over the original budget, is 3 years late, cuts pollution and is known to cut congestion. Which one does the SNP Government support and which one does it say is a waste of money?

If I tell you the first one benefits motorists (M74 extension) and the second benefits public transport users (Edinburgh trams), anyone who knows the SNP will know the answer.

The SNP does not have a good history of encouraging people out of their cars. Whether it's promoting big road projects like the M74, Aberdeen Western Peripheral Road and A68 Dalkeith bypass, or it's removing Forth and Tay Bridge tolls. It wants to spend around £2 Billion on a replacement road bridge when the tests on drying out the existing bridge's cables are not complete.

The SNP has always been lukewarm on the Borders Railway ("The Scottish Government has always been clear that this project must deliver value for money", Stewart Stevenson in 2008) whilst supporting airport expansion.

But what of the trams? Alex Salmond has ruled out increasing the Scottish Government's £500 million contribution.

Dublin's Luas system was a year late and cost €728 million compared to the original budget of €250 million. Road works during construction led to the same level of unpopularity as in Edinburgh, yet once implemented became so popular that use and income exceeded expectations and extensions to the network were demanded by Dublin residents.

Cost overruns on large projects seem inevitable - bizarrely given there are so many precedents worldwide for each project to be judged against. Poor project management, as displayed by both the Edinburgh tram project and the building of the Scottish Parliament building, is also inexcusable for the same reason.

However, we are where we are. Surely it's time for the Scottish Government to take control of the tram project from Edinburgh City Council and deliver at least a basic system which can be extended over time. Perhaps if the cost ends up at 'only' £730 million as opposed to the reported £750 million, the Scottish Government can claim it came in under budget. After all, that's how they are presenting the M74 extension.

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