£ millions written off as ousted Glasgow Airport Rail Link firms move back

6.10.2010 (Herald Scotland)

by Damien Henderson, Transport Correspondent

St James playing fields

Rail link

SPT agreed to relocate football pitches at St James playing fields to make way
for the rail link.

An artist’s impression of the Glasgow Airport Rail Link.

Businesses which were paid millions of pounds to relocate in order to make way
for the Glasgow Airport Rail Link are being offered the land back at a fraction
of the original cost to taxpayers.

Transport Scotland, the Government agency overseeing the ill-fated scheme, has
confirmed it is in negotiations with a number of businesses whose properties were
obtained using compulsory purchase powers and now have first right of refusal
to buy back the land.

But hopes of recouping a significant part of the £40 million already spent on
the cancelled airport branch line appear to have foundered as the land, located
on an industrial estate near St James railway station in Paisley, has lost a significant
amount of value in the housing market crash, according to property experts.

Its worth has further diminished because properties on the industrial estate
were demolished, along with supporting infrastructure, to make way for a junction
with the existing railway.

The sale process has sparked accusations that the SNP is "sabotaging" attempts
by Labour to reinstate the project if it is returned to power in the Scottish
Parliamentary elections next May.

Wendy Alexander, the former Labour party leader and Paisley North MSP, said:
"This is a blatant attempt to sabotage Labour’s plans to reinstate Garl and a
complete waste of public money.

"This Government did not ask the Scottish Parliament for approval to rescind
the Garl Act and it has already cost more than £40m in cancellation costs."

Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), the council-run transport body which
originally backed Garl before handing over responsibility to Transport Scotland
in 2008, agreed to compensate a number of businesses on the industrial estate
and relocate football pitches at nearby St James playing fields.

The Government has confirmed that SPT paid £1.6m to acquire land occupied by
12 businesses, with all but two of them obtained using compulsory purchase orders
(CPOs), but refused to say what additional payments were made to compensate businesses
for the cost of relocating or closing down.

However, one business, Airlink Security Park, has claimed it was given £5.5m
in the deal, of which only £715,000 was paid for the sale of land. Others have
complained that they were given far lower amounts in compensation and are still
pursuing claims against Transport Scotland.

One of them, Gil Wilson, said he had been offered £150,000 in compensation for
relocating his property holding firm, Kenyart, and three adjoining businesses
which rented land from him.

But he said he had submitted a claim worth twice that amount, as the compensation
took little account of the £16,500 annual rental earned from three businesses
as they were on short-term leases.

"The result of the CPO is that we have enough to buy a property that would give
us £5000 a year in rental income, less than a third of what we earned previously,"
Mr Wilson said.

Another businessman, who did not want to be named, said: "The people who got
in early were paid millions of pounds and we’ve been offered a paltry amount.
I think they ran out of money after the first deals were done."

A spokesman for Transport Scotland defended the decision to sell the land, insisting
there was a legal obligation to dispose of land that was considered to be "surplus
to requirements".

He said the sale price would be determined by "current market value", adding:
"As in all commercial transactions values are determined by the market and not
necessarily what the seller would seek."

The agency defended the CPOs, insisting their value was set independently by
the local Land Valuer. Its spokesman also said compensation payments given to
Airlink were "commercially confidential".

Airlink, part of a group of companies started by entrepreneur John McGlynn, was
contacted by The Herald but declined to comment.


Reinstating service would be a tall order


Conceived when Glasgow International was still Scotland’s most popular airport
and the public coffers were in a much healthier state, the Glasgow Airport Rail
Link came to be seen by the Scottish Government as a project whose business fundamentals
no longer stacked up against other major transport investments.

Its cancellation in 2009 followed a difficult gestation period that saw ownership
passing from its original backers Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT)
to Government agency Transport Scotland a year earlier.

Problems also emerged with the relocation of a fuel farm and businesses in the
airport campus, which already threatened to blow its £210m budget before major
construction work had started.

But its cancellation, which was blamed on a funding shortfall bequeathed by Westminster,
has not been easy. Information obtained by Wendy Alexander, Labour MSP for Paisley
North, through parliamentary questions earlier this year revealed that more than
£40m has so far been spent on the airport branch line, with nothing to show for

Business leaders in the west of Scotland have been particularly aggrieved by
its cancellation, and have refused to be mollified by investment in other major
transport projects such as the M74 completion and M80 upgrade.

But will Labour manage to fulfil its campaign pledge of reinstating the rail
link if it wins the election next May? Although the plan remains politically popular,
getting it passed during a time of unprecedented public-service cuts would be
a tall order.


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