Transform Scotland director Colin Howden reports on recent climate and capital expenditure plans revealed by the Scottish Government.
The last couple of months has seen a deluge of new Scottish Government policy documents, in which various commitments to sustainable transport investment have been made.
December saw the Climate Change Plan Update published. In transport terms, it was remarkable for the new commitment that road traffic levels (mileage) across Scotland be cut by 20% within the next 10 years. We strongly welcomed this commitment. However, while a delivery plan is promised to follow, we remain sceptical that such a deep cut can be made without the implementation of new road traffic demand management measures across the country. Investment in cycle paths and bus priority and the like, whilst essential, will not prove sufficient to achieve such a deep cut. Demand management could comprise road pricing, parking levies, vehicle access restrictions, parking reduction, and travel planning — and it is likely that many of them will be needed to achieve that target. Local authorities have had powers to implement local road pricing schemes since 2001, and they will before too much longer also have powers to implement workplace parking levy schemes; however, there remain no such demand reduction schemes in operation in Scotland. Meanwhile, Transport Scotland has failed to come forward with any plans of its own here, preferring instead to say that this territory is the responsibility of the Westminster administration.
The concern is that we’ve been here before. In the 2006 National Transport Strategy, a commitment (albeit rather mealy-mouthed) was made to a road traffic stabilisation target. But absolutely nothing was subsequently done to ensure that that target was met. As reported by the Scottish Parliament recently, the past decade has seen traffic levels grow again (8.4% up between 2011 and 2018). So absent a comprehensive plan to meet this 20% cut, this new traffic reduction commitment will require ongoing detailed monitoring and scrutiny by the Parliament and by organisations such as ourselves.
Earlier this month saw the publication of the long-awaited first report on the Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2 ‘Phase 1 report’). We were pleasantly surprised to see that the proposals set out in the document are, on the whole, oriented towards sustainable transport. But the problem is that the plan is proposals, and only that. Unlike the A9 and A96 dualling projects, which have detailed funding and construction plans in place and are being built as we speak, most of the sustainable transport projects in the new STPR report remain at the conceptual stage.
The following day revealed the revised final version of the Infrastructure Investment Plan (IIP) — although, with respect to transport, almost nothing of note changed from the draft published in September. Simply put, the Plan prioritises high-carbon spending in transport (£6.96bn) over low-carbon spending (£2.38bn). This is despite transport being the largest sector for carbon emissions, and the one in which no progress has been made in decarbonisation over the past 30 years. No amount of greenwashing can hide the bald fact that the Scottish Government’s transport investment plans for the next decade or more prioritise high-carbon spend. This is not a Climate Emergency response; it instead represents a gross failure by the Scottish Ministers to follow up its climate rhetoric with climate action.
These plans do make large capital expenditure promises for investment in Edinburgh and Glasgow light rail schemes, and also a rail decarbonisation action plan (previously announced) which would run into billions of pounds of investment if implemented in full. Our concern here is that we’ve also been here before. The 2008 version of the Strategic Transport Projects Review also promised billions for rail investment in the West of Scotland, alongside massive journey time improvements for the rail routes from the Central Belt to Aberdeen and to Inverness. There has been no progress on these commitments in the intervening 12 years. So should we necessarily be any more confident now, absent detailed and unambiguous funding and construction plans, that these new commitments will be fulfilled?
So while the direction of travel in transport policy terms does increasingly appear to be turning in our direction, capital expenditure priorities remain firmly in favour of high-carbon investment. Let’s not get fooled by the greenwash, let’s demand that these investment priorities be comprehensively overhauled. And let’s see the specific plans for cutting road traffic: we remain unpersuaded by nebulous promises.
Our written evidence on the Climate Change Plan Update and our response to the Infrastructure Investment Plan are available on our website. We also give oral evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s transport committee at the end of January.