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Infrastructure Investment Plan a key test for tackling Climate Emergency

Published 24 September 2020 by Transform Scotland

Transform Scotland’s external affairs manager Jess Pepper writes:

Transform Scotland is concerned that tackling the Climate Emergency – which is further exacerbating inequalities and threatening our future – with a just, green recovery may be losing emphasis in Scottish Government planning and budgets in relation to transport.

The Infrastructure Investment Plan (to be published this afternoon) and the Scottish Budget (expected later this year) will be key tests.

While transport contributes the biggest chunk of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions, there has already been serious lack of progress with critical spend on public transport which were headline commitments in the Programme for Government to tackle the Climate Emergency last year. Now, green jobs in manufacturing and services are at risk.

The Strategic Transport Projects Review 2, seems to have been refocused on economic recovery – not a just, green recovery to strengthen the economy and deliver well-being.

In the latest Programme for Government, while last year’s commitments to investment in active travel and buses were repeated, £32 billion was allocated to infrastructure without clarity on what that would be. Today sees publication of the Infrastructure Investment Plan. This will tell us where the big investment is going.

Will it be into providing infrastructure that enables everyone to get involved in a just, green recovery – tackling inequalities that have been exacerbated by the COVID crisis?

Or as some fear, into building yet more high carbon infrastructure, including yet more road capacity for cars – Scotland’s big climate problem.

Good news would see investment in infrastructure to improve paths and segregated cycleways; safe routes to school for all children; investment in priority routes and charging infrastructure for more and greener buses; electrification and upgrades to our railways to be zero emission across the country; investment in ports and infrastructure to enable innovation – securing green jobs for a safe future.

Bad news for those who need it most, including our poorest, youngest and most vulnerable, will be an Infrastructure Investment Plan that focuses on increasing capacity for cars, generating more traffic – not prioritising essential services, but growing pollution, congestion and contributing to major diseases and the impacts of COVID.

It is not just Transform Scotland who think this is the moment for the traditional spend to switch – from prioritising high carbon infrastructure to a safe, just future for everyone.

In their advice to Government, the UK Climate Change Committee advised on a set of clear principles to inform a Green Recovery.

Two key principles were to embed fairness as a core principle and ensure the recovery does not ‘lock-in’ greenhouse gas emissions or increased climate risk. When 30% of Scots do not have access to a car, a focus on cars would be unjust and increase risk.

In recommendations to Government, the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland have proposed that strategic transport plans should “fully reflect the need to deliver an inclusive net zero carbon economy and consider the infrastructure and the use of it as a holistic system.”

Significantly when planning infrastructure this Commission proposed:

    • Aligning strategic investment decisions to address fully the requirement for demand management, a substantial increase in the proportion of journeys made by active travel, and opportunities for shared mobility as well as a much greater role for public transport.
    • For such roads investment that is made as part of the above, a presumption in favour of investment to future proof existing road infrastructure and to make it safer, resilient and more reliable rather than increase road capacity.

In July, Scotland’s Just Transition Commission advised Ministers:

“The opportunity to re-prioritise any existing transport spend, currently earmarked for increasing road capacity, and redirect it toward investments in low-carbon transport initiatives should be actively pursued.”

As the independent Climate Emergency Response Group observed, about existing plans:

“[W]e are particularly concerned about planned increases to road capacity and the need to rebalance the overall transport budget towards net-zero.”

When Scottish Government engaged 2,500 people in a #BigClimateConversation in 2019, it was reported that there was “very strong support amongst respondents for increased use of public transport” people reported that:

“The primary barriers to increased use of public transport raised by respondents were related to infrastructure and connectivity, accessibility and convenience, and cost.”

Let us hope for our children and most vulnerable across our communities, that today will not see a plan for investment unveiled for yet more road-building to add to a dirty legacy that is decades long, but instead pave the way to a fresh, safe clean future.