The final version of the Scottish Government’s strategic transport projects review 2 (STPR2) was signalled to MSPs in the form of a written answer to a “government-inspired question” last Thursday afternoon that had been asked by Aberdeen Donside SNP MSP Jackie Dunbar, or rather one she had been asked to ask.
I had been told by a contact a week before that the report was out that day, but I didn’t get confirmation of that until less than three hours before its publication. There was no statement in the Scottish Parliament so MSPs did not have the chance to question the Scottish Government about its contents, despite Transport Secretary Michael Matheson, transport minister Jenny Gilruth and active travel minister Patrick Harvie posing together for a photograph to promote the review.
As for STPR2 itself, it’s actually a series of reports which appear to be spread over two websites. My surprise at the lack of a bigger announcement soon turned to bewilderment at trying to navigate the documents, and crucially, work out what was new compared to the preliminary report last year.
I think I spotted the key new information, such as a much less vague map – apparently the original was deliberately vague – about where the planned Clyde Metro would run in and around Glasgow, plus a new map of proposed tram extensions and bus priority routes in and around Edinburgh.
Four years in the making, STPR2 follows the first review in 2008 which included huge projects like the Queensferry Crossing and electrification of the main Glasgow-Edinburgh railway. Not all the 29 schemes it listed have been implemented, but that document’s time horizon is 2032.
STPR2 has 45 projects, 38 of which are underway, although the big ones are still some distance from being built, such as those I mentioned for our two biggest cities and further investigation of bridges or tunnels between Harris and North Uist, and to connect Barra with the rest of the Western Isles.
In fact, we don’t know yet when any of them will be completed because a delivery plan has been postponed until next year because of budget uncertainty. When that comes, ministers will have a potentially tricky balance to strike, ensuring improvements benefit the most people while also spreading them across Scotland, where, arguably, better transport links are even more crucial, especially greener alternatives to the car.
The Clyde Metro is described as a multi-billion pound project, albeit over 30 years and potentially including disused rail tunnels, and is aimed at boosting more deprived areas of the Glasgow region. However, it could be argued that proportionately similar sums should be spent on measures in other parts of the country. The tricky bit is how you measure that – by population, by geographical area, by perceived “remoteness”?
Equally important are STPR2 schemes that would improve existing transport networks, such as upgrades to rail lines between our cities and integrated, simpler tickets for multi-stage journeys. With the current funding squeeze, ministers will want to get the biggest bang for their buck – and that’s likely to lead to some tough choices.