|Befitting the scale of the project and its
central importance to the Scottish economy, the SNP
government intends to make political hay from the issue of
funding the forth replacement crossing in the next
So far the news agenda has been concerned with the UK
government’s reluctance to fund the project, and the
opposition Tories’ vote-catching hints that a Cameron
administration would be more amenable. But the real question
is not about where the cash will come from, but why so much
of it is being asked for.
Failure to interrogate the proposed cost of the project
is down to the gullibility of the transport minister Stewart
Stevenson and the insular incompetence of TS civil servants.
Between them they risk turning Scotland – which once led the
world in civil engineering projects – into an international
How did we get here? The Scottish government charged its
agency Transport Scotland (TS) with solving the problem of
the prematurely decaying forth Road Bridge which, through
faulty construction and overuse, now costs the taxpayer £25
million a year to run and maintain.
This task involved a process called “sifting”, weighing
up and eliminating various forms of crossing on various
points along the estuary. TS determined that the most
economic solution to emerge from this process was a
cable-stay bridge crossing west of Queensferry.
The plan was initially to include 17km of new motorway
approaching the bridge as well as the twin-span cable stay
bridge with 600m main spans and an overall length just short
of 3km. It was to have two lanes in each direction, a
cycleway and an additional lane, in case anyone ever wanted
to run trams across it. All this was priced by TS at £3.8
billion to £4.3bn, a preposterous figure by global
TS’s price was achieved by whacking 60% for “optimum
bias” (i.e. risk) to the initial cost estimate for the
bridge and escalating that cost year-on-year by 7.5% over
2008-2016, then adding to this several hundred million more
for UK treasury fees. This ham-fisted accountancy
effectively quadruples the cost of the structure. The
pricing gives contractors a good idea of the extent to which
their bids can rip off Scottish taxpayers.
The same methodology was also used to calculate the cost
of the other varieties of crossing, often erroneously. TS
guessed that the most economic tunnel solution would cost
2.4 times this amount, making the cost a prohibitive £9.1bn.
the cost of the future-proof “multi-modal” bridge that could
take high speed rail (HSR) to carry a new generation of fast
trains north to Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness was costed by
TS at a prohibitive minimum of £7.6bn.
For all its proclaimed internationalism, the Scottish
government has shown itself to be remarkably incurious about
how TS’s estimates compare with global equivalents. Why it
is it that there are so many far larger and more complex
projects being built throughout Europe and the world for so
much less than what TS is proposing?
Some examples: Denmark has already completed the Oresund
crossing, one of the most innovative of its type in the
world. Oresund is 16km – yes you read that right – of
combined two-track rail and four-lane road bridge-tunnel
across the strait.
It is the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe
and connects the Danish capital Copenhagen and the Swedish
city of Malmö. Although Denmark is hardly a cut-price
environment, the crossing cost a mere £1.5bn at the turn of
this century, still less than TS was proposing for a smaller
and more primitive structure.
Not content even with this much extra connectivity, the
Danes are driving south to link their country to the Trans
European network in Germany. This will eventually link
Sweden via Denmark to the continental European rail network.
The Fehmarn Belt Crossing consists of a 19km
sea-crossing, six times the length of the new forth bridge,
plus 119 km of HSR and a further 20km of associated roads.
All this to be completed by 2018 at a cost of no more than
Further afield, the South Koreans are about to complete
the 12.5km Incheon Bridge, connecting their capital Seoul
with its adjoining airport island. The crossing includes a
800m main-span cable-stay bridge, and it also has two 900m
long balance cantilever bridges on the approaches, with
additional viaducts up to 10km in length. This crossing is
very similar in length to the Burntisland to Portobello
crossing discounted by TS due to excessive cost. The Koreans
are using British engineers to build this £1.06bn project.
All of these projects and more prompt questions about why
the original price put on the forth Replacement Crossing was
of an order of scale three to four times more than it could
be procured for anywhere else in the world. Instead of
re-examining the pricing methodology, the Scottish
government took the extraordinary step of cheeseparing the
plan itself, for which generations of frustrated commuters
will condemn them.
So how much should the SNP be looking to borrow? The
answer is around £0.70bn for the current (inadequate) plan
or £1bn for the original dual four-lane solution with
Instead, Scotland seems fated to suffer the worst of all
possible worlds; a hard-to-finance bridge that won’t ease
traffic congestion or promote public transport use, and will
close the public purse to a hundred other worthy projects.