Glasgow & West Scotland

Glasgow's new £692m M74 extension opens

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Media captionThe first vehicles drove along the road after the opening on Tuesday evening

The controversial M74 extension through Glasgow has opened to traffic - after coming in almost three times over the original estimated budget.

The five-mile (8km) route, which could cost up to £692m, links the the M74 at Carmyle with the M8 southwest of the Kingston Bridge in central Glasgow.

Supporters claim it will bring economic benefits to the west of Scotland.

Critics of the extension argue it will cause more pollution, increase health problems and fragment communities.

Planning permission for the route was granted in October 1995.

Public inquiry

The scheme was immediately opposed by Joint Action Against the M74 (Jam74) - a coalition of community, environmental and sustainable transport groups.

Its case, that the road would pollute and harm local communities, seemed to be strengthened when a public inquiry concluded it should not be built.

This was rejected, however, in 2005 by the then Labour/Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive which said the positive aspects of the extension had not been given enough weight by the inquiry Reporter.

Friends of the Earth Scotland and Jam74 launched a last-ditch legal bid to halt the project but later abandoned this on legal advice.

Construction finally began in May 2008. It was carried out by Interlink M74, a joint venture comprising Balfour Beatty, Morgan Est, Morrison Construction and Sir Robert McAlpine.

The Scottish government said the extension was completed between £15m and £20m under budget and had supported 900 jobs during its three-year construction.

Infrastructure Secretary Alex Neil said the new road would help generate "as many as 20,000 jobs for the Scottish economy".

Image caption The final bill for the five-mile extension could be up to £692m

"The new M74 motorway will bring major economic and social benefits to businesses, communities and industry in the west of Scotland and the country as a whole," he said.

"Thousands of new jobs will be created and because this crucial piece of infrastructure was completed several months ahead of schedule, millions of pounds of Scottish taxpayers' money has been saved.

"The daily rush hour congestion in and around Glasgow will also be eased, leading to improved travel, which is good news for business, commuters and the many thousands of visitors coming to Scotland."

'Momentous day'

Glasgow City Council leader, Councillor Gordon Matheson, described the opening of the new motorway link as "a momentous day for Glasgow and for Scotland".

He said: "Its completion will bring opportunities for thousands of individuals and businesses, support east end regeneration, and help us deliver the best possible Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

"Today marks the start of a new era for Glasgow and the west of Scotland with an enhanced transport infrastructure, ensuring the city is better connected both nationally and internationally, and ensuring easier access to, from and across Glasgow."

Although the new road link has strong backing from business leaders and most politicians, it is still fiercely opposed by environmental groups.

Stan Blackley, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said ministerial approval for the road, despite a public inquiry ruling against it, was "one of the worst environmental decisions since the beginning of devolution".

"This new road will, as the inquiry stated back in 2005, have 'very serious undesirable results' and any benefits will be limited, short-term and ephemeral," he said.

"Half of all households in Glasgow do not have access to a car, so this new road will do little or nothing to help them. Instead, it will increase air pollution and carbon emissions. The project's own environmental statement confirms this."

'Pollution problems'

He added: "The new road is completely at odds with Scottish government commitment and targets for cutting carbon emissions, and will make it more difficult for Glasgow to tackle its considerable air pollution problems in the run-up to the 2014 Commonwealth Games."

Green MSP Patrick Harvie described the road opening as "a dark day for Glasgow".

He said: "Successive Scottish governments have ignored the evidence and blundered on with this scheme.

"Hundreds of millions of pounds have been blown, along with the chance to build a city designed around people and their needs.

"A fraction of this vast sum (£692m) could have delivered major public transport improvements, and to make the city easier to cycle and walk around."

The estimated cost of the project was put at £177m in 1999, increasing to £250m in 2003 and rising to £445m by the time the contract was awarded in February 2008.

Audit Scotland put the total bill for the project, including land purchases, at £692m by June 2008.

It is thought that the final cost will be lower than this estimate.

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