In order to ease public outrage over an old highway, a Scottish transport minister suggested blocking new freeways north of the border, hidden files show.
At a Scottish Cabinet meeting, Liberal Democrat Nicol Stephen said a moratorium could help him make a “presentationally difficult” decision on the completion of the M74.
His ministerial colleagues dismissed the plan as “unclear” and “illogical.”
They also pointed out that no other highways were in the planning process, so a moratorium “would be unlikely to give the executive any credit with the environmental lobby.”
Under the 15-year rule for Scottish government papers, the statement is exposed in archives published by the National Records of Scotland.
The new files cover 2005, the second year of the second term of the coalition Labour-LibDem which ruled at the beginning of the devolution.
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The proposed road between the M74 in South Lanarkshire and the M8 at Glasgow’s Kingston Bridge was extremely controversial and was the focus of a public investigation.
The rapporteur of the inquiry agreed with the protestors that the road that would pass through some of the most polluted areas of Glasgow was “very likely to have serious undesirable consequences.”
However, Mr. Stephen overruled him, arguing that completing the freeway gap would offer economic advantages to all of Scotland and generate up to 20,000 jobs.
Two days before the public announcement, Mr. Stephen said in a briefing to the Cabinet that he had decided to accept the investigative reporter’s findings, but concluded that those findings, “when properly considered in the light of executive policy, lead to the conclusion that the project should go forward.”
He warned that it was “very likely” that his decision could be legally challenged, given previous objections, and it was necessary that all ministers should draw an agreed line and “support the decision strictly on the basis of the decision letter.”
A cheat sheet with questions and answers about the topic will also be issued to ministers.
The minutes then reveal another idea from Mr. Stephen.
“They are recording, “Mr. Stephen said it would be difficult presentation-wise to announce the decision to continue with the project.
He is considering a ban on all potential new highway construction to offset the anticipated opposition from the environmental lobby.
“This would not prevent further expansion of the existing road network, nor would it prevent the [political]commitment to complete the freeway network in central Scotland.”
The colleagues of Mr. Stephen were unimpressed, calling the importance of the moratorium “unclear,” especially in view of the economic argument for the completion of the M74.
According to the minutes, “It might seem illogical to put such restrictions on the construction of Scottish infrastructure when one of the reasons against accepting the [Inquiry] Reporter’s recommendation was the priority given by the Executive to the growth of the economy. There was a possibility that this would be viewed as a ban, including the widening of the current network, on all road construction.
The cabinet also acknowledged that “with no new highways planned in the foreseeable future, a moratorium on the executive would be unlikely to secure credit with the environmental lobby.”
The ministers decided not to comment specifically on the M74 decision, but only to welcome “the economic and other benefits” arising from the transportation policy of the executive.
They also concluded, “There should be no moratorium on building new highways, but the announcement should make clear that no new highways are planned in the foreseeable future.”