- 20 May 2019
As everybody here knows, the opening of the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) has been a long time coming, I think that probably qualifies for the understatement of the decade.
The first formal proposal for a peripheral route came back in 1952. The Corporation of Aberdeen put forward the idea, as part of what was a wide ranging plan for the city’s future. The new road was seen as a vital development – to alleviate traffic in the city centre, to reduce road accidents and to allow Aberdeen to grow and to prosper.
In the decades that followed, the idea of an ‘Aberdeen bypass’ was regularly discussed and debated – in this city, in the UK Parliament – and later of course in the Scottish Parliament. Yet after all the talk, the idea never came to fruition.
Finally – 10 years ago – the Scottish Government approved plans for the AWPR. Following the processes of planning and procurement, I had the privilege of cutting the first sod for the project at Balmedie, back in 2015. So there has been a long, long journey which makes the occasion that we’re marking and celebrating here today a lot more special.
I hope you’ve all had the chance to look at Colin Prior’s photographs of the route – which are on display here. As well as being beautiful photographs, which they are from an extremely talented photographer – these images also capture the sheer scale of this project.
While construction was underway, the AWPR project was one of the largest of its kind not just in the UK but anywhere in Europe. It involved the movement of around 13 million cubic metres of earth - I find that difficult to imagine; the building of 75 new bridges; and the planting of 1.4 million trees and shrubs. So I want to take the opportunity today of paying heartfelt tribute to everyone whose hard work, dedication and expertise contributed to what is a remarkable achievement.
And I think I must also pay tribute to the people of Aberdeen whose persistence has really ensured that eventually this project had to come to fruition. I’m also grateful to everyone who has been involved in the ‘Go North East’ campaign. That of course is a partnership between Transport Scotland, Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council. It has done a great job of engaging the local community – and highlighting the wider benefits of the AWPR.
And make no mistake, these benefits are significant. They are huge already and potentially even bigger in the years ahead.
It’s estimated that – in the long term – the AWPR will help to cut journey times across Aberdeen by up to half. That will be transformative for people and businesses, right across the North East. And – while it’s still early days - and it’s important to stress that - we’re already seeing some major and very significant improvements.
Traffic on the old A90 is down by 50%. And many rush-hour journeys in and around the city are taking half the time that they would have taken previously. For example, a peak-time journey from Stonehaven to Dyce previously took up to 45 minutes as many people in this room would be well aware of. On the AWPR, that same journey takes 20 minutes.
Now that kind of reduction in journey times makes life undoubtedly easier for families and individuals. It transforms people’s commute to work and to say that it has made a very, very positive impact on people’s quality of life is no exaggeration whatsoever. Those kinds of reductions in journey times will also help to reduce emissions – potentially improving air quality for around 75,000 homes. So not just quality of life, improvements in the shape of quicker journey times, for real quality of life and in terms of the air that we breathe. And of course the AWPR is bringing and will continue to bring significant economic benefits.
The video we’ve just seen highlights the potential impact on key industries like fisheries and tourism. As you all know, businesses in these and other sectors, depend on strong and reliable transport links.
Aker Solutions – who operate this site – are a good example of the economic benefits the AWPR brings. The new road was a key factor in their decision to centralise operations, here in Dyce.
And in total, the AWPR is expected to generate an additional £6 billion for the North East economy. Over the next 30 years, it’s estimated that it will help to create over 14,000 jobs.
The Scottish Government is determined to take full advantage of these benefits. That’s why – in addition to the very significant investment we’re making to the AWPR itself – we are making a number of other important investments in the North East.
The first involves our commitment to the Aberdeen City Regional Deal. Through that – and our additional investment – we are providing almost £400 million for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. That money will be used to capitalise on the many economic strengths of the North East.
For example, we are supporting the establishment of a new food and drink innovation hub, at Sunnybrae. Another hub – for life sciences – is due to open by the end of next year and that will be based at the Foresterhill Health Campus.
Food and drink and life sciences are two of Scotland’s great modern success stories. The City Regional Deal will ensure that this region not only shares in that success, but leads that success for the rest of the country.
Of course, the Deal will also support the development of Scotland’s energy sector.
As part of that, we have committed over £90 million for the Oil and Gas Technology Centre. The centre opened in 2017. Its aim is to make the North East a world leader in adopting and developing new oil and gas technologies – and in promoting innovation.
The City Regional Deal also supports the extension of Aberdeen Harbour. When that project is completed, it will open up new opportunities for our energy and tourism sectors.
There are all very important investments and developments. Of course we know one of the most important ways that we support the economy overall is by ensuring the north east has a modern efficient infrastructure. As part of that we are taking forward plans to complete the dualling of the A96 – between Aberdeen and Inverness and we are investing £200 million to improve North East rail services.
But it’s not just the transport infrastructure that matters, it’s also our digital infrastructure that matters increasingly, through our investments in broadband, we’re also massively upgrading the digital network. Back in 2014, just over 70% of homes in Aberdeen had superfast broadband coverage. That figure today is 96%. In Aberdeenshire in 2014 the figure was just 16% and today is now 82%. Now there’s still work to go there, our aim is to have these figures 100% for not just for residential premises, but for every business premises as well.
So these kinds of upgrades – to our physical and to our digital infrastructure – will undoubtedly help to create new opportunities for growth. Alongside the AWPR – they will bring significant benefits to people, communities and businesses, across the North East – now and in for many, many years to come.
I mentioned at the outset Aberdeen’s city plan from 1952. The foreword to that document was written by Tom Johnston, the former Secretary of State for Scotland – and indeed giant of Scottish politics. And in that foreword he wrote this:
there is laid before us a master plan which this and succeeding generations can align their changes and improvements, so that in the days that are to be there will not only emerge the City Beautiful, but the city with its resources… utilised to the full, for the common good.
Not it has taken much, much longer than Johnston could have envisaged when he penned those words all those decades ago, but better late than never, the AWPR is now delivering the benefits that he had the foresight to anticipate in the 1950s.
It will enable Aberdeen to be a cleaner, healthier and even more beautiful city than it already is. It will open up new economic opportunities – and help businesses to thrive. In doing so – we hope it will contribute to the common good that Tom Johnston spoke of – of people throughout the North East – and across the whole of Scotland.
That’s why I’m so delighted to be here today and celebrate the completion of the AWPR with all of you today. And why I want to thank you all again for being here, particularly thank all of those who played a part in making today possible. And I look forward to working with all of you – to bring even greater success to Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, in the years ahead.