A fully integrated road, rail and air hub called Grand Central should be established in Scotland to help boost economic growth, a leading think tank has recommended.
Reform Scotland says the hub around Edinburgh Airport should be the centrepiece of a £25bn revolution in transport policy.
High-speed rail links to Grand Central would make journey times from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Stirling 20 minutes or less while travel time from Perth, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness would also be radically reduced.
The hub would serve as a terminus to any London-Scotland high speed rail line, greatly improving access to key markets in other parts of the UK. Reform Scotland puts the cost of high speed rail links between Grand Central and the country’s major cities at around £25bn.
The hub, coupled with major improvements to Scotland’s trunk roads system, would give the country one of the best transport networks in the world at a cost roughly equivalent to staging two London Olympics, the think tank said.
“What we are proposing is an integrated transport system for the next generation,” said Reform Scotland chairman Ben Thomson. “Of course the costs are high and look particularly daunting at this point in the economic cycle. However, the overall plan can be broken down into separate projects with the creation of the hub and the high speed link between the hub with Edinburgh and Glasgow being only some £3bn.
“By the time we start construction, the economy should hopefully be more buoyant, so now is a good time to be looking at such a plan,” he said.
The proposals are detailed in the independent think tank’s latest report, Power to Connect, which sets out a vision of a co-ordinated, modern and highly efficient travel network which Scotland has lacked through a persistent piecemeal approach to transport.
The report also calls for further investigation into how a Scotland-wide road pricing scheme might be implemented. In its eighth major report since its launch in March last year, Reform Scotland says that transport policy-makers need to ‘aim high’ - particularly as the country strives to move out of recession.
“A proper long term integrated transport strategy is vital if Scotland’s economy is going to compete with the best in the world,” said Thompson. “At present, transport strategy is about prioritising a series of local projects, the result of which will give Scotland a disjointed system in future.
“The sort of vision proposed in this paper is where the Scottish Government can make a difference to create an integrated system. In a perfect world, we would set up the new transport hub equi-distant between Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling. Glasgow Airport would be strategically unsuitable because it is to the west of the city, therefore on the wrong side for easy access to the rest of the country.
“However, there is already an airport at Ingliston with the potential for growth and development and if we can ensure that journey time between Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling is no more than 20 minutes then Grand Central would, in effect, become a local as well as a national transport hub.”
The proposal builds on Reform Scotland’s first report Powers for Growth which set out broad policy changes for a more vibrant economy.
In its research, the think tank found that, although the huge investment in Scotland’s transport system over recent years had led to improvements, the main problems centred on the quality of roads and traffic congestion in a country where the motorway system ends north-bound at Perth. Reducing congestion and improving journey times between cities was the top priority.
“The importance of cities and city regions to economic growth has been recognised by the Scottish Government and its agencies because by concentrating economic activities they enable greater economic specialisation and integration which promotes greater productivity,” the report states. “Reducing the journey times between key cities in Scotland would increase the scale of city regions and bring companies, their suppliers and their potential employees closer together. This increases the potential for economic growth which is why a number of other countries have made significant strategic investments in high speed links which have brought tangible economic benefits.”
The report says that evidence from other countries, such as Norway and Singapore, is that road pricing schemes can lead to better management of demand for road space, reducing congestion on roads and contributing to a more effective overall transport system. It says the technology for road-pricing systems has progressed enormously, but to be successful, such schemes must be viewed as a better way of paying for the use of roads rather than a method of increasing taxes on motorists.
To bring this about in Scotland, it would be necessary for the Scottish Parliament to have greater tax-raising powers as proposed in Reform Scotland’s earlier report, Fiscal Powers.
Power to Connect recommendations
- A central transport hub to be created around Edinburgh airport and to be named Grand Central Airport. The main railway station in Scotland – Grand Central Station – would also be located here, creating the focal point for a properly integrated network of road, rail and air transportation.
- High-speed rail links between Grand Central Station and England and Scotland’s main cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling, Perth, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness.
- An improved trunk road network to cut journey times between Scotland’s main cities, recognising the importance of good road links to the economy. Particular attention should be given to upgrading road links to Aberdeen and Inverness.
- Investigation of road-pricing schemes covering the whole of Scotland. By charging users directly for the use of road space and the costs they impose on others, road pricing has the potential to provide a more efficient way of allocating road space and addressing the congestion problem.
The report concludes: “As is widely recognised, an efficient transport network is an essential component of the right framework for economic growth because it integrates an economy and so creates the potential for faster growth.
“The key as far as our transport system is concerned is to think far more strategically about how we improve the system in Scotland just as other countries have done.
“The projects outlined in this report – a central transport hub combined with faster road and rail links to our key cities and south to England – would have an enormous impact on the economic growth potential of Scotland as a whole and help us achieve the goal of sustainable economic development.”