The Commonwealth Games 2014 and infrastructure (but mostly infrastructure)

Attention today turns to Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, as the Commonwealth Games begin – and to the efforts the city has been making to regenerate and clean itself up from its gritty industrial past, in part through infrastructure initiatives. And indeed, Glasgow and the surrounding shires offer extensive evidence of the depth – and the limits – of the Scottish government’s infrastructure ambitions.

I blogged in The Spectator two weeks ago about how the British government hasn’t really got an infrastructure plan. The Scottish government, however, has had one for a while. The Infrastructure Investment Plan published in 2011 takes a systematic approach to deciding what the priorities are, how they should be financed and funded, and what will happen in each sector; unlike the UK National Infrastructure Plan, it’s not just about sectors that directly benefit economic growth (transport, energy, telecoms) but cuddly social infrastructure too (education, health, waste and more). The UK government could learn a lot from that.

Visitors to the games who drive into Glasgow or adjoining towns to attend the games won’t notice it, but the local motorway network is currently being upgraded using private finance under the ‘non-profit distributing’ model, the Scottish flavour of public-private partnership/private finance initiative projects. Whether or not you approve of private finance, it is getting the job done, and quicker and more cheaply than comparable projects under previous or other governments. The M74 motorway leading into central Glasgow was completed in time for the games, having been opened in 2011 (four years after the games were awarded) and has been touted as a way of regenerating the south and east of the city (along with the Clyde Gateway, a north-south highway).

Those who come in on the rail network may benefit from the first fruits of the current Scottish rail investment programme, such as a newly electrified line from Glasgow to Cumbernauld which was completed this spring. More and more of the Scottish rail network is being electrified to a specification laid down by the Scottish ministers; this means that electric trains with better acceleration and deceleration can operate, improving journey times and capacity.

And anyone unlucky enough to crash their car on said motorways or get run over by one of said trains could wind up in one the newly built or refurbished NHS hospital facilities; five major projects were completed last year. Six more facilities are being built across Scotland, including three in the vicinity of the games, through the NPD private finance model.

Most importantly, there is more to come, in all sectors from transport to energy to health to government buildings, and it’s all in the plan, all the way to 2030.

Some of the projects have been delayed already, and some will be delayed in future. All will take a while to break ground. Some will go over budget (or even under, like those motorways). And there are some that many people would like to see included which aren’t, like an airport rail link. That is the nature of infrastructure plans. The best a government can do is to have a long-term, well-defined, costed vision of what to build and (just as important) what not to build.

The Games are unlikely to boost the Scottish economy much in the long term, but the infrastructure development that has been partly hurried along and stimulated by their arrival will – and will continue to do so long after the last Commonwealth rugby team has left Ibrox Stadium.

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About René Lavanchy

You can contact me at rene dot lavanchy at googlemail dot com.
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One Response to The Commonwealth Games 2014 and infrastructure (but mostly infrastructure)

  1. From here in Glasgow on the morning of the day of the Commonwealth Games and city where the atmosphere has really taken hold. It’s heartening to see mention of the national infrastructure plan of the Scottish Government. One positive aspect of having a National infrastructure plan is that it helps cool the ardour of politicians for the short-termism, vote-buying ‘new infrastructure spend’ announcements. In the UK we have been enduring many vested interests (CBI, TUC, IoD etc.) all chanting the same mantra of ‘must spend vastly more additional (public) money on new infrastructure to lead recovery from recession’. The uncomfortable reality is that there is no case in all of modern economic history where such additional new project spend has lead recovery out of recession or slump. There are many essential imperatives as to why the UK needs more infrastructure investment – but short-termist politics and supposed recovery leadership are not among them.
    Meantime, I can vouch from professional experience ‘on the ground’ that there is new Glasgow infrastructure that would not have happened without the Commonwealth Games. One example is the massive Eat End Veladrome cycling and athletics indoor arena. I know from survey work in the 1990s that the huge expanse of land on which it was built was highly unstable, and mildly contaminated, derelict land. The original dense residential development of inter-world-wars vintage has to be demolished because of the ground conditions. The cost and technical problems were judged to have rendered any conventional case for re-development unviable. Only the emergence of the successful Commonwealth Games bid made possible a case for significant public investment (e.g. subsidy) of the necessary scale. A case of how do you meaningfully value the it-would-not-have-otherwise-have-happened outcomes of such mega events?

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