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Think-tank: £25bn transport hub should be built in Scotland- Herald

Damien Henderson, The Herald, 26 June 2009

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A radical £25bn blueprint for transforming the country\’s transport infrastructure by building an integrated rail, road and air "hub" in central Scotland has been put forward by a leading think-tank.

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Reform Scotland suggested the hub – to be called Grand Central – should be built around Edinburgh Airport and link to high speed rail lines carrying passengers to Scotland\’s main cities as well as to England.

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Despite the price tag, equivalent to nearly 20 new Forth Road Bridges, and the growing likelihood of government cuts, chairman Ben Thomson said now was an ideal time for proposing the plan.

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He said: "A transport system that maximises our potential for faster economic growth is an essential part of any successful economic strategy. It will not come cheap, but it is a genuine investment in the future prosperity of Scotland and everyone living in the country.

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"By the time we start construction, the economy should hopefully be more buoyant, so now is a good time to be looking at such a plan."

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At a press conference yesterday in Edinburgh, Mr Thomson admitted that the plan took no account of the Scottish Government\’s new targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions or the possibility that it would lead to longer – and therefore more polluting – passenger journeys, insisting: "We are not an environmental charity."

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He also conceded that current major transport projects such as the Glasgow Airport Rail Link would have to be reconsidered as they would not necessarily fit with the blueprint.

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Its Power to Connect report also called for improvements to be made to the trunk road network, recommending both the A9 and the A96 be upgraded to complete dual carriageways.

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The think-tank urged further investigation into how road pricing schemes – such as tolling or congestion charging – might be implemented in Scotland.

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The report said evidence from other countries, including Norway and Singapore, had shown road pricing could reduce jams and improve journey times, while at the same time increasing reliability and helping the environment.

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But it added a Scotland-wide road pricing scheme would have to be an alternative to the existing methods of paying for roads through fuel and vehicle excise duties, and should not be an additional means of raising revenue.

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And the think-tank said to bring this about it would be necessary for the Scottish Parliament to have greater tax-raising powers.

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The report was welcomed last night by Liberal Democrat transport spokeswoman Alison McInnes, who said: "This report underlines that the SNP Government\’s decision not to follow through on the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link may have been one of the most short-sighted decisions in Scotland\’s transport history."