The Forth Road Bridge fiasco continued unabated this week.
There is no question that the consequences of the bridge closure have been catastrophic for businesses and commuters. Hopelessly overcrowded trains, traffic jams on diversion routes and general travel chaos are, in the view of some, the price everyone is paying for the dog-whistle type of policies that saw the Forth Bridge Tolls being scrapped and then slashing the bridge maintenance budget.
Arguably, for the first time, the Scottish Government’s usual distraction techniques of ‘oh look a squirrel’ and the blame game of ‘a big boy did it and ran away’ have failed to pull the wool over the eyes of many, especially those who face an extra hour on their commute, often in very poor weather, at either end of a long shift at work.
The closure of the bridge impacts us here in the Mearns too. In the north east we have a good manufacturing base and our agricultural sector is also reliant on a strong infrastructure. When an important part of that infrastructure fails, such as the Forth Road Bridge, it is not just Fife and the Central Belt that feels it, we too are hit by the consequences which include increased costs and longer journeys.
Amidst all the finger pointing by politicians, many of whom are using the full panoply of social media to get their accusations and counter accusations across, I am of the view that the current situation should be seen as warning shot that other areas of Scotland’s infrastructure should be examined for signs of damage through neglect. With excellent timing, the Institution of Civil Engineers has produced a report that assesses the performance of Scotland’s infrastructure networks.
It makes for interesting reading, with aspects of infrastructure being graded from E – unfit for purpose through to A – fit for the future. Although it is encouraging that across the infrastructure spectrum, which includes energy, flooding, waste, transport and water, nothing was in the ‘unfit for purpose’ category, the Scottish Government must sit up and take notice of the fact that nothing fell into the ‘fit for the future’ section either.
In fact only two parts were deemed to be adequate for now, with everything else either requiring attention or ‘at risk’.
Although I appreciate the arguments for getting people out of their cars and onto public transport, for those of us from rural areas such as the Mearns, it is simply not always possible to achieve this. We are therefore reliant, at least much of the time, on private vehicles, and we look to local authorities and the Scottish Government to ensure the roads are fit for purpose.
We all know that too often that simply is not the case, and the report urges that councils and the Scottish Government should fully commit to addressing the road maintenance backlog by moving to a system of planned and preventative maintenance underpinned by a multi-year investment programme.
Something that has rarely been out of the news recently, and that has previously had a negative impact on this area is flooding. This too is highlighted in the report with calls for a flood risk adaptation strategies which enhance resilience in the event of high rainfall.
I welcome the report proposals to provide clearer guidance and regulation of sustainable urban drainage system, and improving information regarding the condition, type and ownership of flooding infrastructure, which would enable to authorities and associated agencies to better understand asset performance during extreme events.
Given that the best method of preventing further flood incidents in places such as Stonehaven continues to be a cause of strong discussion, wider examination of defences must surely be deemed crucial in light of the fact that since 1990, the UK has experienced five of the ten wettest years on record.
It is horrendous for business and homeowners to suffer the damage of the kind of flooding we have previously seen in Stonehaven, but it also impacts other aspects of life in the north east as well. For example, the cost of delays and cancellations of rail transport due to flooding on the lines can be astronomical, not just in terms of inconvenience for travellers, but the cost of repairs and compensation pay-outs.
With one of Scotland’s most important, and iconic bridges out of action, and concerns being expressed about the condition of our wider infrastructure, then surely this should serve as a wake-up call to the Scottish Government that it is vital that they spend less time grandstanding about their never ending constitutional grievances and more time ensuring that our roads, rail, energy, waste, flood defences, transport and water systems are improved from being ‘at risk’ and ‘requiring attention’ to being fit for the future.
Somehow, I suspect we will simply get more of the grandstanding.