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Parliament’s transport committee takes evidence from Government on coronavirus response

Published 13 May 2020 by Transform Scotland

The Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee is this morning taking evidence from the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson MSP, on the Government’s response to COVID-19.

In advance of the session, we submitted the following comments to the committee regarding the Scottish Government’s approach to planning the response to the corona crisis:

1. Fairness & sustainability must be central to Government decision-making

* Transform Scotland has written to the First Minister to welcome the dialogue with the people of Scotland in planning the processes of recovery and renewal. We applaud the Scottish Government’s acknowledgment that fairness and sustainability must be central to its decision-making in the crucial matters currently facing our nation.

* The Scottish Government’s restatement of its commitment to social justice is all the more important, because the impacts so far of the pandemic on society and on economic well-being have been unequal.

* Immediate attention is needed to ensure all members of society — not just those with cars — have access to assessment, testing, essential needs and services. Without strong and proactive policy interventions, the relative deterioration in public transport users’ access to opportunities during the lockdown period will be perpetuated. 

2. Green Recovery & Just Transition

Wiesbaden, Germany – April 29, 2020: A road worker applies bus and bicycle lane pictograms on the street in the city centre

* The current situation has undermined many of the fundamental planning assumptions that have informed transport policy in Scotland since devolution. Urgent reassessments are required to ensure that future mobility requirements can be met in a way that builds on the lessons of lockdown without jeopardising sustainability objectives and the Scottish Government’s vision of a fairer society.

* Government action must prioritise a just transition & green recovery. In the case of the transport sector — which provides the single largest source of climate emissions — it is imperative that sustainable transport is prioritised.

* As such, we strongly welcome the funding and policy support for walking and cycling announced by both the Scottish & UK governments in recent weeks. These measures should help with locking-in the increased levels of active travel observed during the lockdown.

* Scotland also has a strong base in manufacturing clean buses and operating bus services as well as expertise and experience in delivering clean green rail. These provide key economic opportunities, exportable skills, products and services which could also deliver the vision for transport and a just transition into a resilient economy.

* The lockdown pause to new road construction provides an opportunity for an extended moratorium and review. There is demonstrably no case for advancing additional ‘shovel-ready’ road schemes which would further damage prospects for tackling the Climate Emergency. All new capital expenditure brought forward for economic stimulus purposes must be zero-carbon.

* Furthermore, a green and just recovery means that low-priority must be afforded to financial support for the aviation industry. Aviation is the most polluting form of transport; one that is disproportionately used by the most affluent; and, crucially, for prospects for the Scottish economy, one that is predominantly not Scottish-owned.

3. The advice that the Government is receiving

* The transition to green and just recovery will require a new approach, with fresh input from advisers with awareness of the potential of such opportunities, its global reach and significance in delivering a zero-emission economy. As such, it is imperative that the Government receives genuine expert advice in sectors such as transport, energy and land use during the preparation of the ‘green recovery plan’ and revised Climate Change Plan. This is of paramount importance given that the experience of the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery on such matters appears at best limited.