Report on Transform Platform for the SNPPublished 06 April 2016 by Jamie Wylie
John Webster reports:
The meeting was opened by Phil Matthews of Transform Scotland who introduced the organisation’s booklet “What we Want”, which summarises the elements of an integrated sustainable transport policy that covers walking, cycling, buses, rail, ferries and road. The aim is to persuade political parties to incorporate many of these suggestions into their election manifestos for the forthcoming May Scottish Parliament elections. He then introduced the speaker from the SNP Party, Councillor Adam McVey, from Edinburgh City Council, who was standing in for the original speaker (Mike Mackenzie MSP) who had pulled out of the event at short notice.
Cllr McVey started off by saying that Edinburgh in particular has a good record of support for sustainable travel with many miles of cycle route through the city based on old railway lines; the forthcoming introduction of a 20mph speed limit within much of the urban area, and plans to develop segregated cycle routes in the central area although sadly this was being opposed by some residents and shop-keepers as they feel it will adversely impact on traffic and shopping. This all highlights the importance of developing good working relationships between central and local government to aid the delivery of projects.
He apologised that the talk he was giving could not describe in detail what was likely to be in the SNP manifesto given the proximity to the election in May but that he would talk about the aspirations of the Scottish Government (SG) in recent years as highlighted by the policy documents produced and the progress made to date.
The SNP government has introduced several plans in recent years to kick-start the move towards a more sustainable transport system. Examples include the 2010 Cycling Action Plan which aims to achieve a 10% modal share by 2020, and the National Walking Strategy, a 10 year plan to encourage recreational and commuting journeys. £40m has been allocated so far on active travel and represents a £16m increase over the last two years. Early results can be seen in Leith Walk in Edinburgh where one-third of the £10m spend has come from the SG.
Other outcomes include 196km of cycling and walking paths; training coaches for school cycling; community links funding (104 projects delivered by Sustrans); and 330 miles of the National Cycling Network between 2011 and 2015. In addition, £5b will be spent on rail improvements and £250m on buses.
The aim is to have emission-free vehicles by 2050 and to help this along electric charging points are being introduced across Scotland. The bus fleet is also being modernised and moved towards lower emissions with a variety of hybrid, electric and hydrogen vehicles being trialled. Freight is also being supported with £17m spent to date and one aim is to reduce the presence of HGVs in urban areas by transfer to local delivery vehicles.
All in all, he felt the SG had shown good intentions backed by good initiatives that would deliver more sustainable travel over the coming years while working closely with local government to achieve these objectives.
A question and answer session followed with a variety of issues raised, some of which are summarised below.
- Why no funding for the reopening of the Levenmouth rail link despite the positive STAG appraisal and the low cost of such a project as the railway line was still there and easily brought back into use? Adam said that the success of recent re-opened railways may act as a catalyst for others and release funding for such projects.
- The disparity between the £6b being spent to upgrade the A9 and A96 was raised and the question asked as to why similar funding was not available to upgrade the Highland Main Line and the Aberdeen-Inverness rail line, which are still substantially single track. Adam suggested that we wait to see what is in the manifesto, which offered some encouragement – wait and see!
- An example was given of Majorca where a lot of money has been spent on developing cycling and walking networks with good results in terms of increasing active travel. Should we not be doing the same here and allocating far more money from roads to such projects? Adam agreed that the health service was struggling to cope with demand much of which is the result of inactive lifestyles so more needs to be done to promote active travel.
- The need for national transport infrastructure projects was highlighted if big change is to be achieved for sustainable travel, as was the case in other countries such as The Netherlands and Denmark, which have delivered remarkable results over the last couple of decades.
- The ease with which aviation routes can be changed or removed was highlighted compared with the regulation surrounding for bus and rail. Yet for more remote communities in the north and west of Scotland, air is the only viable mode if reasonable journey times are required. Adam replied that the SG does support and encourage the opening of new routes and wants to remove Air Passenger Duty to encourage this to happen even more.
- The importance of buses as a mode of travel was raised as this is the mode used by about 80% of commuters yet has low investment compared with rail. Adam commented that by the nature of things rail will always require more investment than bus but that the SG was putting significant sums into supporting the industry and encouraging the shift to low emission fleets.
- The issue of air pollution from road vehicles was raised and the lack of any strong policies to improve the situation despite the fact that SG will be liable to heavy fines if air quality in cities does not meet standards. Adam argued that air pollution only affected a few areas and that LEZs may simply move the problem to other areas. The question was then asked as to why we cannot do as many German cities have done and ban vehicles from the city central areas and invest in public transport such as tram and other emission modes?
The event was closed by Phil Matthews who summarised the topics covered and thanked Adam McVey for standing in so well at such short notice.