THE Cabinet Secretary’s recent budget announcement to invest in infrastructure for economic recovery is to be welcomed.
Good infrastructure is conducive to long-term economic growth and stability. However, infrastructure also needs to be constructed where there is genuine market demand and it offers value for money.
The Scottish Government’s haste to approve a Harbour Revision Order for a new container terminal at Rosyth in Fife satisfies neither of these tests.
The Government’s own National Planning Framework identified a need for additional container capacity on the Forth by 2013. In fact, as it transpires, we now have significant over-capacity in this market in the UK which, coupled with low trade growth in Europe and also between Europe and Asia, is set to continue for several years.
Two independent reports (one by the Freight Transport Association and the other on behalf of Scottish Enterprise) agreed with this view but the Government has proved to be uncharacteristically unwilling to listen to such arguments and has refused to enter into any meaningful debate.
More worryingly, this development could even be approved before its full environmental impact can be properly assessed and debated. While none of us wish unnecessary delays in projects which will generate additional economic activity, the effects of such developments must surely be properly assessed and debated.
The site at Rosyth was built for the decommissioning of nuclear submarines but never used. The funding has presumably come from the taxpayer, as the site was built by Babcock under contract to the Ministry of Defence, so it seems reasonable that there be an open debate and competition for what is done with the site.
There is an active competitive market for container handling in both Scotland and the UK, all privately financed. We should focus our efforts on tightening supply chains and helping our exporters get their goods to market more efficiently. Infrastructure investment without market demand is as bad as, if not worse than, no investment at all.
• Charles Hammond is group chief executive of Forth Ports Limited