It may have been a bad year so far for the oil industry but the gloom afflicting the North Sea has been lifted somewhat by the start of work on platform-building for the Culzean field, 145 miles east of Aberdeen, which, once fully operational, is expected to meet around 5 per cent of the UK’s gas requirements.

Developed by the Danish-owned Maersk Oil, Culzean is the largest new field to be discovered in the North Sea in over a decade. At its peak it is expected to produce the equivalent of 60,000 to 90,000 barrels of oil per day. Actual production is anticipated to begin in 2019 and last for 13 years.

So good news for Scotland and Britain – if you can swallow the fact that things kicked off with a steel-cutting ceremony on the first of three modules required for the field at a fabrication yard… Singapore.

This follows an agreement between Sembcorp of Singapore and Maersk for SMOE Pte Ltd, a Sembcorp Marine subsidiary, to build the central processing facility plus two connecting bridges, wellhead platform and utilities and living quarters.

According to Maersk, the fabrication contract went to Singapore because the facility required high-pressure, high-temperature technology which was not available in the UK, which inevitably raises the question – why not?

No doubt there are several answers to this question but it certainly hints at this country’s severe shortage of skills in cutting-edge technology.

It is now almost a quarter of a century since a Westminster government stated its intention that 50 per cent of all school-leavers should go on to university (actually instigated by John Major’s Conservatives rather than Tony Blair with whom it is more widely credited).

Given that this ‘target’ has been more or less achieved, the earlier question about the Culzean field platforms being built in Singapore rather than somewhere closer to the real Culzean, in Ayrshire, takes on even more relevance.

Could the answer be a shortage of (or lack of interest in) engineering degree courses in favour of human rights law, political science, sociology, the media and the arts?

Oil platforms used to be manufactured in Scotland, one location being the former John Brown Shipyard at Clydebank (home of the Queens Mary, Elizabeth and Elizabeth 2). This followed the collapse of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders and the takeover of the premises by Marathon Oil and then UiE Scotland (part of the French-owned Bouygoues Group) until closure in 2001.

So there was more than a touch of irony in the fact that, a week before the Maersk platform steel-cutting ceremony, planning permission was granted for a property development at the former John Brown site which included plans for around 1,000 new homes, retail and leisure outlets, a care home and a health centre.

The most prominent structure on the otherwise derelict site, as is the case today, will remain the huge Titan crane. This is now a visitor centre – and an enduring symbol of what might have been had the UK’s higher education priorities been similar to those of Singapore.



Many businesses claim that traffic congestion is a cost issue for them, to which the reply from the transport/traffic authorities is (after a sharp intake of breath) usually something along the lines of, “Yes, we know…..we’d like to invest more…..but with all the cutbacks how do we find the money?”

But the issue is often not, or should not be, one of finance. Just ask ‘The man on the Corstorphine omnibus’ who, from the vantage of his perch on the top deck, sees contradictions and strange priorities which contribute to the congestion problems the traffic authorities may claim would take squillions to solve.

Just the other week ‘Our Man’ was heading in the direction of Edinburgh city centre, shortly after, the height of the rush-hour, on an eastbound bus that had just passed through the busy Haymarket junction.

The driver wanted to move into a stop with a layby to set down and pick up passengers but was inhibited from doing so by an illegal delivery to a Costcutter store. So long lines of traffic quickly built up behind the bus, stretching back beyond the traffic lights to the A8 and A71, two of Edinburgh’s major arterial roads.

So where was a parking officer charged with enforcing the regulations and ensuring a reasonable flow of traffic for the time of day?

Well, there may have been none to be seen but, from personal experience, ‘Our Man’ was almost certain a parking official wasn’t very far away – just a couple of blocks, patrolling secondary streets with the intention of slapping an excess charge on any motorist who was a minute over his allotted time on a metered bay but who in no way was interfering with the flow of traffic.

It seems that, in Edinburgh, the more inconsiderate or selfish the parking (e.g. at a bus stop or pedestrian crossing) the less likely one is to get penalised.

Another notorious pinch-point is outside the Balmoral Hotel, where double parking by taxis and chauffeur-driven limousines is common, often leading to a huge hold-up of buses on North Bridge, whose entry to Princes Street is blocked as a result.

Perhaps this establishment has some sort of ‘diplomatic immunity’ from the parking regulations given the net-worth of some of its clientele.

The City of Edinburgh’s parking services is contracted out to a private company, NSL, which boasts “the most complete, end-to-end parking enforcement service available”.

To ‘The man on the Corstorphine omnibus’, it seems ‘enforcement’ plays second fiddle to ‘revenue-earning’.

Twitter: @PropPRMan

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