Friday, August 24, 2012

How can a boat lift help a region to develop?

But what is a boat lift? – one might ask the question. I assume that not all of the readers are exactly familiar with the concept of a boat lift, but in order to understand the following story everyone should get a basic idea of it.
In a nutshell a boatlift is a machine which transports boats between water at two different elevations. Every boatlift in the world moves vertically (like an elevator) but there is an extraordinary one which is in the focus of interest now. The Falkirk Wheel is the only boatlift in the world which moves rotational. The Wheel has two gondolas, containing 300-300 tonnes of water, into which boats enter. While the Wheel is rotating one of the gondolas is ascending and the other one is descending. During this process one boat is being lifted from downside to upside and the other one is being lowered  from upside to downside. (If you want to see how does it work you can check it here)
This amazing construction is near to Falkirk – a town located in the heart of Scotland halfway between Edinburg and Glasgow. The Falkirk Wheel connects the Union Canal, which starts in Edinburgh, and the Forth and Clyde Canal, which originates in Glasgow. The difference in height of the two canals at the wheel is 24 meters - a huge distance which has made it impossible to travel between Glasgow and Edinburgh by boat for decades.
Now that the reader is more familiar with the Falkirk Wheel I can return to the original question: how can a boat lift help a region to develop? Before the construction of the boatlift, Falkirk and the areas along the canals were  in the state of economic stagnation for decades. The canals were constructed in the 19th century but the development of modern transport infrastructure such as railways and roads has lead to the reduced use of them. This meant that they were abandoned, full of rubbish and contamination;  buildings, houses, and shops near to the canals were deteriorating. People moved away from the neighborhood of the Union and Forth and Clyde Canals to Edinburgh or Glasgow.
This situation has changed when the Falkirk Wheel was constructed. Since 2002 the region has been showing the signs of economic prosperity and population growth. The existence of the boatlift have to kinds of benefits. The first are the direct benefits which have arose strictly from the reconstruction and operation of the Wheel and the canals. This include tourism (there are around 500,000 visitors in Falkirk every year since 2002) and boating activity. The second type of benefits are indirect ones referring to the exploitation of development opportunities and further investment. The connection of Edinburgh and Glasgow implied that transportation and travelling on boat required less time and money. New areas outside the cities became more easy to reach and starting a business along the canals became profitable. This boosted the creation of new business parks, industrial estates, central distribution centers and more than 2,000 canalside homes in the region.
What do basic data show us about these benefits? Empirics suggest that the direct connection of Edinburgh and Glasgow had advantageous effects on Falkirk and the regions alongside the Union and the Forth and Clide Canals. In the first four years after the construction of the boatlift Falkirk’s employment rate has risen by 10%, five times larger than the Scottish average. The activity rate has risen by 6% - high above the Scottish one. Total population has grown by 0,6%, which is quite noticeable considering the fact that the population in whole Scotland decreased during this period. This means that people migrate here because of the new jobs and opportunities. There were more than 4000 new jobs created the retail sector. Besides these, business sector increased by 13%  and Falkirk has become a retail center focused on services. This helped the region to change its’ economic profile by giving up old heavy industry and manufacturing sectors and turning to these new, more profitable and prospering sectors.
To summarize we can say that the short answer for the original question is the following. The rotating boatlift helped in regional development by connecting Falkirk and the canalside regions to Edinburgh and Glasgow, by attracting new labor force and tourism, and by creating the conditions for services and retail activities to expand from Glasgow and Edinburgh. Isn’t it exciting how this unique construction affected the economy of the whole region?

Petra  Lévay


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