30 Nov 2017
I recently found myself sitting in a traffic jam heading through Renfrew to get to Glasgow Airport. It was rush hour and our taxi driver had decided not to use the M8 because of road works. We had no alternative but to struggle through Renfrewshire’s increasingly congested roads and it took us 50 minutes to do it.
So, my eyes rolled when the results of a report by Jacobs, commissioned by Transport Scotland, on the proposed new rail link to Glasgow Airport were published in the Herald, which appear to throw cold water on the proposal for a current tram train link from the airport to the city centre. It is now 26 years since a link to Glasgow Airport was first discussed and I am beginning to wonder if we have made any progress at all.
Professor Iain Docherty in these pages made some reasonable points about the desirability of a fixed rail link, arguing that to be economically justifiable we simply don’t have enough folks coming in as tourists and business visitors to make the numbers stack up for a fixed link. He argues that we need more locals from East and West Dunbartonshire or the West End and South Side of the city to use such a link to make it work. It’s intriguing that he doesn’t mention Lanarkshire or the east of the city for whom M8 congestion is an even more significant barrier to using the airport.
But earlier reports suggested the opposite, that there is more than enough demand. The initial business case was calculated on an assumption that Glasgow Airport would be operating with somewhere around 8.8million passengers each year by 2020. In 2017 the airport has already been operating at close to 10 million. And the strategy of the airport has been to target routes that have an increasing number of the inbound tourists that make it easier to persuade airlines to set up new direct routes.
We have a clear dilemma. Business wants to see more direct flights out of Glasgow Airport. Airlines need persuaded of Glasgow’s ambition to grow. Glasgow’s economic strategy is aiming for one million new inbound tourists every year and is planning for a growing population, 100,000 new jobs and the same number of new houses around the region. So, the ambition is there.
But both the roads around the airport and the M8 at the Kingston Bridge are already highly congested. And now Jacobs is telling us that the capacity originally built at Central Station for the new rail link to the airport is fully taken up and essentially there isn’t enough room left for a smooth tram train link.
If our transport system is already so congested that it can’t cope with a new link to the airport how is it going to cope with the growth plans that have already been set out by the region’s authorities? The ambition amongst the local players is there. Where is the ambition in our national transport agency?
I was cheered to hear that Transport Minister Humza Yousaf remains committed to the project, which is being funded by City Deal. We need a surface link to help our airport grow, we need that link to be an alternative to the road system and we need Transport Scotland to begin being more creative and proactive in its thinking about transport for the West of Scotland.