Tom Smith: North-east is on the right road to a highly successful future

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THREE local authorities, three Holyrood administrations, 20 years of planning and £90 million of public money.

What is this radical proposal that has commanded so much time, investment, scrutiny and debate? A bypass around Scotland's third-largest city. The "statutory orders" for the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) go before the Scottish Parliament this week in what should be the final hurdle for this long overdue piece of national infrastructure.

There can be no doubt about the need for the AWPR, which finance secretary John Swinney last week labelled "an obvious gap" in the country's transport network. This was recognised as long ago as the 1940s in the North-east. Planning was started in earnest in 1990 by Grampian Regional Council, then by its successors, Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils, and finally by the Scottish Government, which picked up the mantle in 2003 following a 15,000-strong petition.

Three administrations, seven years and an expensive four-month public local inquiry later, the 9,000 objections garnered by a local campaign group have been thoroughly and independently examined and a decision made to proceed.

But now for some more numbers – 40 days of parliamentary scrutiny starting this week, followed by a six-week opportunity for a legal challenge by objectors, probably the same objectors, raising the same issues that were heard at the 2.5m inquiry.

What all this says about Scotland's planning system is a separate debate, but what is clear is that there has been enough talk – it's time for action. It is right and proper that alternatives are examined, the environment is protected and people who are affected by the road are fairly compensated. Three independent Reporters were satisfied with these issues, so let's have no more diversions on this long and winding road during the parliamentary process.

Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP transport ministers have all had their hand in this project over the years and have promoted its benefits. To stumble or fall at this final hurdle would be disastrous.

While the debate has been raging, North-east businesses have been counting the cost of poor infrastructure, which must be improved if we are to remain the energy capital of Europe and a competitive business location. But this is not just a regional issue – the North-east is home to a third of Scotland's top 100 companies, making the AWPR far from peripheral to the country's national interests.

We are working tirelessly with public and private sector partners to secure the region's future, but more than 1,000 businesses have told us that transport investment is the No1 requirement for them to continue in the region.

Getting goods to markets in the Central Belt, the rest of the UK and Europe starts with a frustrating one-hour journey across Aberdeen itself for many of these businesses. This will be slashed in half by a purpose-built, modern dual carriageway providing a strategic route around the western edge of the city linking up our main industrial sites as well as Aberdeen Airport and park and ride and freight facilities. It is testament to the talent, ingenuity and drive of the region's businesses that they have built such a successful economy without this basic infrastructure in place.

But the AWPR is more than just a road; it will be the linchpin of a fully-integrated transport system and the catalyst for economic growth. It is expected to generate more than 14,000 jobs, 6 billion in additional income and reduce business costs by up to 6 per cent – numbers that add up to a prosperous future for Scotland.

&#149 Tom Smith is chairman of Aberdeen City & Shire Economic Future