Scotland commits to high-speed rail extension

6 Dec 11
The Scottish Government today earmarked up to £9bn of capital spending to extend England’s planned high-speed rail link into Scotland.

By Keith Aitken in Edinburgh | 6 December 2011

The Scottish Government today earmarked up to £9bn of capital spending to extend England’s planned high-speed rail link into Scotland.

The announcement came just as UK Transport Secretary Justine Greening was telling MPs that a decision on the highly controversial High Speed 2 route had been put back to next year. Greening said she needed more time to consider her options.

Scotland’s high-speed rail commitment was included in a £60bn capital investment plan, running to the year 2030, set out by Infrastructure and Capital Investment Secretary Alex Neil.

Neil’s programme includes 54 major infrastructure projects and 33 capital programmes, with a heavy emphasis on upgrading Scotland’s road and rail networks and constructing a new Forth road bridge.

Labour dismissed the plan as ‘a wish list… a bit like sending a letter to Santa’, but the Scottish Chambers of Commerce welcomed the commitment to a long-term programme of investment in infrastructure and the built environment. SCC director Liz Cameron said it was the only way to increase sustainable economic growth.

The announcement significantly firms up the Scottish Government’s commitment to the 250mph rail link. Ministers have been deeply critical of initial plans to terminate the link in northern England, but were urged last month by the Commons transport select committee to begin work on the Scottish end of a £15m extension into Scotland.

Neil acknowledged that the timetable would depend on Westminster, where the planned route has aroused bitter hostility. He said: ‘Inclusion of high-speed rail highlights our commitment to the Scottish end of the project. We now need Westminster to act and include Scotland in their plans.’

Together with proposals to cut rail journey times between major cities, the commitment may go some way to allay environmental criticisms of what is otherwise a road-heavy project list. It includes perennial aspirations, such turning the main A9 road to the Highlands and the A96 Inverness-Aberdeen road into dual carriageways.

Other declared objectives involve providing 30,000 new homes in the lifetime of this Parliament, universal availability of next-generation broadband, several major hospital projects, and new colleges in Glasgow, Inverness and Kilmarnock.

Absorbing the ‘consequential increases’ indicated in the Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement, Scottish government capital spend for the next four years is now planned at £2.8bn this year, £3.2bn in 2012/13, £3.3bn in 2013/14 and £3.5bn in 2014/15.

Scottish ministers estimate that every additional £100m of capital spend generates £160m of economic activity and supports 1,400 jobs. Neil emphasised ministers’ determination to maintain investment despite UK cuts to Scotland’s capital budget.

But that leaves questions about how affordable the plans prove. Neil promised maximum use of ‘innovative financing methods’ like the £2.5bn Non-Profit Distributing pipeline, and to continue to press the UK government to give Holyrood increased borrowing powers beyond those set out in the Scotland Bill.


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