Friday, October 22, 2010
12/13ths OF FORTH BRIDGE PRICE IS GOVERNMENT MAKEWORK, SAME APPEARS TO APPLY TO MOST OTHER GOVERNMENT PROJECTS
Image produced by http://twodoctors.org
My latest article is up on the ThinkScotland site. It challenges anybody from Scottish government (politicians or government workers) to give an alternative explanation other than 92.3% of the alleged cost being government parasitism, or to explain why this should be considered unusual. No takers so far but I will update if anybody tries to. Obviously anybody who feels this is in any way an unfair assessment may do so here too but I would rather see all comments unified there.
Something is very wrong with the Forth Bridge project
The new Forth bridge was costed at up to 13 times what the original cost. The cost of the original, inflation adjusted, is comparable with what bridges cost today across the rest of the world. Moreover the cost of a tunnel, conveniently about 10% above that of the most expensive bridge, is 100 times what such tunnels have been cut for across the North Sea. The cost of the Glendoe hydro works, with 9 km of tunnels, shows we can build at roughly Norwegian costs if the will is there. It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that the cost of a tunnel was deliberately arranged to make the bridge look cheaper, but if that were so it would be impossible to say any figures from the same source are trustworthy. The option of recabling the bridge seems to have been ignored with the government first implying that this could not be done without closing the tunnel & then quietly admitting that it could.
What explanation has there been for this/ Almost none. No Holyrood MSP has been willing to publicly defend this. One official speaking in connection with all the other bridges costing less said "In short, it is not possible to lift one bridge or tunnel design and put it into another location, because the geology of every site is different" (he was not asked to compare with the previous bridge which clearly was not at a different site) Another said "When making comparisons with other crossing projects, including bridges and tunnels, it should be borne in mind that each project is unique and it is difficult to make like for like comparisons". Neither of these are explanations of what the actual differences are simply a call to ignore the bridges behind the curtain. One senior Holyrood politician privately insisted that the reason our bridges cost 100 times what Norway's do is because RU rules require a 3rd small escape tunnel. Though unimpressed by EU bureaucracy I do not find that a credible explanation of a 100 fold price increase.
Nor is this limited purely to the Forth Bridge or even to Scotland. World comparisons would have led us to expect Edinburgh's trams to cost about £105 million. In London Richard Rogers designer of the Millennium Dome has said that of the £670 million the Dome cost to build only £46 million of it was spent on building it - the rest went on bureaucracy. In the same way the Glasgow Airport rail link was scrapped after costing £41 million, because completing it was expected to cost £300 million - when both governments had had a NIH (not invented here) offer on the table for a monorail connection for about £20 million.
It looks like Scottish public projects are running at around 13 times what they should be - higher if one includes NIH options like tunnels & monorails (& perhaps modular building of schools) where, because technology has improved since 1960 comparative prices have fallen.
Why are we in this situation? If this was a banana republic we would expect it to be because of corruption aka crony capitalism. I don't think that is the major effect here. A second explanation is that the laws of physics are different here & now from what they used to be & still are in the rest of the world - I don't think that is it at all. The only other explanation I can think of is that our government is so beset by regulation, bureaucracy & paper shuffling that everything costs 13 times what it should. This may be being unfair to some departments though it is really up to them to show why they are different.
I am led to this conclusion by several factors. There has been a blanklet refusal of civil servants & politicans to give any explanation more thorough than "each prohect is unique"; the experience of the Dome where the builder specifically said it was the bureaucracy; the monorail experience where there was (& indeed still is) a blanket refusal by both civil sevants & politicans to evaluate any NIH concept; & the fact that with the tram project spiralling out of control impartial mediation decided that 90% of the cost overrun was caused by TIE bureaucracy. A further example of the interdependence of civil servants & bureaucracy was when Sir Alastair Muir Russell admitted failing to keep politicians informed of the rise in the cost of the Holyrood building, thus largely clearing Donald Dewar. Such was their confidence in him, despite having blown £400 million, that he continued to receive plum jobs including the very delicate one of producing the desired result to the Climategate enquiry!
No reason has been given to doubt that the current bridge could be recabled & double decked at about £20 million, that a tunnel could be cut for about £40 million & that a new bridge could be built for about £320 million if the cut back in bureaucratic controls, so urgently necessary for other reasons, is carried out. If this is allowed I would go for doing the first 2 & paying for it out of petty cash.
If any civil servant or politican feels this assessment is inaccurate & their roles more defencible I am sure ChangeScotland would allow them to reply. So far the silence on the subject has been defening.
First cut price given for a new Forth Bridge £4,220 million
Revised figure given for a lesser new bridge £2,300 million
Official figure given for a Forth Tunnel £4,673 million in 2007 now increased to £6.6bn
Hong Kong-Guandong bridge £6.3 billion but it is 50 km long.
Oresund crossing in Denmark - bridge & tunnel $4.2 billion for a 5 mile bridge plus 4 kn tunnel
Severn bridge 1996 £480 million (£810 inflation adjusted) still high by world standards
Millau viaduct, France, Inflation adjusted £400 million
Stonecutters bridge, Hong Kong £245 million
Numerous tunnels in Norway averaging £7 million per km
Recabling Portugal's 24th of April bridge allowing it to be double decked - £10 million at today's prices
Gothard Tunnel (Italy to Switzerland - 57 km) £6.6bn
Laerdal Tunnel (Norway - 24.5km) £117 mollion
Proposed Stad ship tunnel for ocean going ships (Norway 1.7km, slightly less than the Forth) £200 million
Perhaps most persuasive that something is going on
1st Forth Road bridge £19 million, inflation adjusted equals £314 million
Any chance of a image credit for http://twodoctors.org?