In the last few days I have addressed audiences in various parts of this country on topics ranging from private sector involvement in community projects, the provision of specialist nurses for the care of the terminally ill, the regeneration of Holyhead in North Wales, the 60th anniversary of the BBC World Service, water quality and sewage sludge treatment, business sponsorship of the arts - to roads and bridges in the Scottish countryside. What you see before you is all that remains of The Prince of Wales... Ladies and gentlemen, in case anyone is wondering exactly why I am here in Dundee today, I have to tell you that I am here to keep a promise made almost two years ago.
I doubt if it is any secret that I love Scotland with all my heart, or that I come here as often as I can. But I also spend much time elsewhere - which leaves me seeing Scotland through two different sets of eyes - firstly as someone who feels he belongs here, and secondly as a tourist. These two viewpoints frequently provide different pictures, but nowhere is the contrast more marked than when looking at the question of roads, bridges and traffic in the countryside. On the one hand, as someone who needs to get around a good deal, (and is usually late!) there are clearly great advantages in the fast, modern roads which allow you to move about freely. On the other hand, as someone who deeply appreciates the special qualities of what is still, to me at least, the most beautiful country in the world, I am struck by the extent to which inappropriately designed roads and bridges can mar people's appreciation of the landscape. The roads that enable people to travel to the most beautiful places can sometimes mar the beauty they come to see.
Some two years ago, in an attempt to see whether anyone else saw this conflict as worthy of serious study, I convened a working lunch with a variety of experts. It soon became clear at that meeting that I was not entirely alone in my concerns and between us we asked rather a lot of questions of the Director of the Scottish Roads Department. To his credit, poor man, he agreed that this was a problem worth addressing, and tactfully promised a review paper to be followed by a conference to discuss the subject with all interested parties. For my part, I rather rashly promised to attend the conference if I thought the review document was a real step forward - which I do - so here I am.
Now I certainly cannot hope to compete with the awesome range of technical expertise and experience which all of you, in your different ways, can apply to this subject. I am, at best, a receptive and interested consumer of your products, but I would like to take this opportunity to say one or two things from a non-specialist viewpoint, and to ask the occasional question.
As I said earlier, this isn't simply a local problem. Road-builders the world over have to find a balance between the need to move people and engender economic activity in an area, and the needs of those same people for places of tranquility. As the world becomes more and more crowded, this problem will only ever increase. Although my interest was originally sparked off by the proposals for the Cairn o'Mount Road (as Mr Kirkbridge and Mrs Jenny Watson will remember), it is an international dilemma.
People who travel more widely, and with rather less constraints, than I do tell me that if you find a road being built anywhere in the developing world today, the odds are that the man in charge is Scottish, following directly in the footsteps of such pioneers as McAdam, Smeaton and Telford.
It occurs to me that the Scottish Office report 'Roads, Bridges and Traffic in the Countryside' could be instrumental in helping yet another generation of Scottish road-builders lead the world. At the very least the report is an excellent starting point for discussion, and the kind of dialogue you are having at this conference is something of a breakthrough. At best, the report provides an historic opportunity for a number of disciplines to come together and take a strategic look ahead - something which is all too rare in today's world, dominated as it is by inexorable short-term pressures.
Encouraging a new spirit of innovation and excellence amongst those who design and build our roads could lead to Scotland pioneering better international standards of environmental awareness and sensitivity. But I believe it will be necessary to challenge much that is deeply embedded in the existing engineering culture and stress instead the need for dialogue and interaction with other disciplines. It will mean accepting, for instance, that no amount of good landscaping will correct the problems of an ill-conceived road or bridge.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am always impressed by people who get things done - and who solve problems - and this is something at which engineers as a profession are pre-eminently successful. Engineering is also one of the professions most receptive to new ideas, and new ways of doing things. This ought to make it possible for there to be a real change in the way engineers think about roads - if only the right sort of guidance and encouragement can be provided. I hope they might be helped to have a perspective which will enable them to look critically at every aspect of road development, including a willingness to challenge whether a so-called 'improvement' is actually necessary, and an understanding (not just an acceptance) of the contribution of other disciplines. I would particularly hope that the role of environmental impact assessment could be stressed, together with the need to take into account the longer-term repercussions of today's decisions.
Above all, I would like to see any programme of re-education concentrate on quality of design, rather than quantity. All too often, it seems to me, it is the grand schemes which are noticed; which win professional recognition, prizes and further contracts. In the same way that water engineers earn more plaudits for designing major reservoirs than they do for curing leaks in the distribution system, I fear that some of the best solutions to problems of road-engineering do not earn recognition simply because they are done so well and with such sympathy for their surroundings that no-one actually notices them!
Having dealt rather summarily, I fear, with the possibilities for encouraging engineers to see things differently, I would like to turn my attention to the planners. Now I am the first to accept that if Scotland is to have a vibrant national economy, take full advantage of the European Single Market and move large numbers of tourists around quickly and efficiently, there is an overriding need for an excellent transport network. But I have two questions.
Firstly, do we not need to look more carefully at ways of moving people and goods around in a co-ordinated fashion - supplying the best service in the long run, while causing the least environmental damage? At the moment road and rail seem to be too often in conflict rather than coordinated in a way which would surely help them both.
Secondly, away from the major road network, are we looking at the right criteria when deciding whether or not to build or improve a minor road? At the moment, economic benefits have to be demonstrated, and one of the few ways of doing this is by establishing that shorter journey times will result. But is this really a good idea on minor roads through areas of outstanding natural beauty, particularly if the so-called improvements will scar that same beauty? Instead of just looking at what we might gain by faster journey times, perhaps we should be seeking a balance by looking also at what we will lose? In my view one of the shortcomings of this report is that it does not sufficiently address the problem of traffic management which I would have thought, ought to be inseparable from the more specific problems of roads, traffic and bridges in the countryside. If we could avoid having ever larger traffic volumes, vehicles and speeds on our roads, with the resulting pollution and congestion, there would not be the same pressure to widen so many roads and bridges.
Where improvements are necessary, there must obviously be regulations and standards which will ensure that Scotland's excellent safety record can be maintained. But I am sure I am not alone in hoping that such regulations can be written in a way which does not hamper originality, flair and even beauty in design. Nowhere is this more important than where bridges are concerned.
A particular bÂte noir, as far as I am concerned is the dull, soul-less unimaginative bridge! Sadly, it is impossible to drive in the Highlands today without meeting this species of bridge; intrusive and unsympathetic, it betrays its urban origins from every angle and drives out those wonderful indigenous stone bridges which complement and give real character to their surroundings, from which they appear to grow.
Try as I might, I find it impossible, in company with many others, I suspect, to accept the uncompromising nature of these box girder bridges in the countryside. Now the arch bridge, on the other hand, has stood the test of time... It is, therefore, most encouraging to learn that the arch bridge competition in Glencoe has produced such interest, with 100 prospectuses issued and 29 design submissions received. This well-loved form of bridge has clearly caught the imagination of several late 20th century engineers, and I hear some innovative engineering has been proposed to allow new and efficient construction methods of this form of bridge, with its simple elegance, which has survived for millennia.
Perhaps we should look, too, at the way in which the most natural of all materials - those which are still growing - are used in road developments. I recognise that there is impatience after a new road has been laid down for an instant landscape. The local community may well have suffered a year or two of considerable disruption and be anxious that eyesores of construction work be removed. This results in a temptation to re-seed quickly and tidy up, even though this will leave a bland and un-natural landscape for posterity. How much better it would be if, as far as possible, we could bring ourselves to let nature take its course?
But there are developments to be proud of already. One great success of road landscaping has certainly been in husbanding the genetic pool of wild flowers. I have been delighted by the displays I have seen on the Edinburgh City bypass and I hear that there are plans for a 'floral gateway' to Edinburgh on the proposed scheme dualling the A1 to the east of the city.
I was also delighted to hear that the Scottish Office have appointed a Landscape Consultant for a section of the A830 Fort William Trunk Road. I understand that this is the first of a new type of road scheme, which is environmentally driven, with major contributions from both landscape architects and engineers. It is particularly encouraging that the brief allows for environmentally-based design geometry, suitable for lower design speeds, to be considered.
But can I put in a personal plea that consideration be given to including hedges in motorway designs, both on the central reservations (as is done so successfully elsewhere in Europe and North America in order to eliminate the dazzle factor), and also to break up the vast longitudinal expanses of blank embankments?
Ladies and gentlemen, the roads and bridges we build today will often last longer than our buildings and usually have an irreversible impact on the landscape, which has a finite capacity to absorb man's work, whether good or bad. A new road or bridge is something we should be proud of; some of the greatest engineers in the world were, and are, Scottish and we must seek to continue this great tradition by building with sensitivity, and even a sense of reverence, in the countryside - so that it serves us and future generations wisely. I feel sure that your conference has a real part to play in that process, and I will much look forward to hearing the results of your deliberation.