M74 link driven past green lobby
• Anger as 500m motorway extension gets go-ahead
• Minister and business say extension will mean economic, social and safety gains
• Opponents of the extension have not ruled out direct action to stop its construction
'This is probably the worst environmental decision ever taken by the Scotttish Executive' - Duncan McLaren, Friends of the Earth
Story in full
THE Scottish Executive yesterday gave the go-ahead for Scotland’s most controversial road project, ignoring the advice of its own public inquiry and howls of protests from environmentalists.
Nicol Stephen, the Transport Minister, approved the building of the long-delayed 500 million extension to the M74 to the south of Glasgow, saying it would bring clear economic benefits.
Known as "the road to nowhere", the five-mile, six-lane "missing link" motorway will be built between the Fullarton Road and Kingston junctions.
But Mr Stephen’s announcement was greeted with fury by environmentalists. Friends of the Earth Scotland described it as "the worst environmental decision ever taken by the Scottish Executive" and threatened to challenge ministers in the Court of Session.
Mr Stephen prompted the fierce reaction, including threats of direct action against the project, after ignoring the findings of Richard Hickman, the local inquiry reporter.
In his report, published yesterday, Mr Hickman warned that for transport, environmental, business and community reasons, the project was "very likely to have very serious undesirable results".
He added: "The economic and traffic benefits of the project arising from the transfer of future jobs from other parts of Scotland would be more limited, more uncertain and, in the case of congestion benefits, probably ephemeral.
"It is therefore concluded that the public benefits of the proposal would be insufficient to outweigh the considerable disadvantages."
Mr Hickman also questioned the Executive’s transport policy of meeting its target of 70 per cent of spending on public transport by 2006.
But Mr Stephen, a Liberal Democrat who has been under pressure from Labour MSPs to back the project, said that after studying the findings, he had taken the opposite view to the reporter and given the go-ahead for the 100 million-a-mile motorway.
Mr Stephen said: "This project is a key element in completing the central Scotland motorway network. This will bring much-needed economic, social and safety benefits."
He predicted the motorway link would improve the quality of life for local communities, reduce congestion on the M8 and local roads, and reduce road injury accidents by up to 50 a year by removing traffic from local roads.
He added: "This project will help create around 20,000 jobs in the Glasgow and Clyde Valley area."
The minister denied that the motorway was being built as part of a deal in which the Borders rail link was delivered to a Liberal Democrat heartland and the motorway helped Labour in the West of Scotland.
He said only: "We reached this decision in a fair and open way. My role as transport minister is to try to deliver transport improvements across all of Scotland."
Mr Stephen said that 70 per cent of the transport budget up to 2007 will go on public transport, but that the partnership agreement between the two coalition parties had contained a promise to build the M74 link.
The surprise announcement divided Scotland, with businesses welcoming it but environmentalists expressing outrage. Duncan McLaren, the Friends of the Earth chief executive, said: "This represents probably the worst environmental decision ever taken by the Scottish Executive. Those who argued for sustainable alternatives have won the arguments and been stabbed in the back by Scottish ministers. "We will now be exploring every legal avenue, including the use of judicial review, to halt this motorway.
"While Labour must carry the lion’s share of the blame for this decision, there are now serious doubts about whether the Liberal Democrats can be trusted on environment issues again."
The Greens transport spokesman, Chris Ballance, said the announcement was "bad news for Glasgow".
"We now have evidence that the M74 extension will be a complete waste of taxpayers’ money and will not do what ministers claim it will achieve. "Yet still the Executive intend to steamroller ahead with it."
Patrick Harvie, a Green Party MSP, predicted the decision would lead to a campaign of direct action. "The whole process has been a complete sham. "This decision is going to result in real anger in Glasgow, and a significant amount of protests."
Will Jess, who chairs JAM74, a coalition of community activists and environmental groups, said: "We are definitely going to be seeking a judicial review of this decision, and if it takes direct action to hold up the process, we are certainly up for it."
Rosie Kane, the Scottish Socialist MSP and veteran anti-road protester, said: "The Scottish Executive has driven a coach and horses through the whole concept of independent inquiries. The M74 campaigners will now be looking at a judicial review and we warn the Scottish Executive that their contempt for the democratic process will cost them dearly."
But Iain McMillan, the Director of CBI Scotland, said: "We have not looked closely at the reporter’s reasoning, but we find it almost impossible to believe that the reporter could have reached such a judgment. The need for this new vital artery is beyond doubt."
Alan Wilson, the chief executive of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, said M8 congestion was putting Scottish companies at a serious disadvantage.
"The road to nowhere will now become a route to success," he said. "The west of Scotland is the engine room of the Scottish economy and it needs first-class infrastructure."
Charlie Gordon, the leader of Glasgow City Council, said the link would make a huge difference to the south side and east end of the city.
"Not only will it remove traffic from busy local roads, but it will open up land for redevelopment and create opportunities for up to 20,000 new jobs in the vicinity of the five-mile extension. It will also improve access to Glasgow Airport."
Sue Nicholson, the head of campaigns for the RAC Foundation, welcomed the decision. She said: "We have prevaricated over the future for this road for a decade or more.
"Now it is time to move on with it."
Liz Cameron, the director of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said the announcement was great news for business, in the west of Scotland.
"We want to see similar progress made with other unfinished routes including the M80, with the M8 upgraded to motorway status for its entire length," she said.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Friday 24 May 2013
Temperature: 2 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 21 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West