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Strong transport ambition in new climate plan will require overhaul of investment priorities

Published 16 December 2020 by Transform Scotland

Responding to the publication of the Scottish Government’s ‘Update to the Climate Change Plan‘, Transform Scotland director Colin Howden said:

“The most eye-catching item is the commitment to reduce car kilometres by 20% by 2030. [1] This is a welcome and long-overdue return to road traffic reduction as a headline policy objective. However, promising traffic reduction is one thing, and the Plan admits that there is as yet no strategy for achieving that ambition. The target will also be near-impossible to achieve while Transport Scotland’s transport capital expenditure priorities remain overwhelmingly skewed to high-carbon infrastructure. [1]

“The commitment to ‘Active Freeways’, a “strategic active travel network”, is great. There is an extra £50m promised for the delivery of the first of these by 2025. [2] This is of course a drop in the bucket compared to the £6,000m committed to the A9 & A96 road schemes.

“The commitment to £120 million over the next five years for Zero Emission Buses is strongly welcomed. [3] These buses should be manufactured in Scotland, building skills, supporting good green jobs and apprenticeships, and economic resilience. Thirty-five cities around the world are committed to only buying zero emission buses by 2025, so to have the majority of new buses zero emission by 2024 is a clear commitment for Scotland to align our cities to join, or even become global leaders.

“However, the new Climate Plan remains insufficiently ambitious on rail decarbonisation. Despite a reference to ‘2032’ in the ‘Route Map’, [4] the target date remains 2035. [5] We have been calling for this programme of electrification to be brought forward to 2030. The majority of Scotland’s diesel trains will be retired by 2030, so investment is needed in the infrastructure to enable electric trains — so we are not forced to buy old rolling stock that will soon become stranded assets. This has been a consistent call from Transform Scotland since welcoming the programme of electrification, which now needs urgent and bold action. 

“It is welcome that the fossil-fuel phase-out date for cars & vans has been brought forward from 2032 to 2030, to bring it into line with the existing UK Government commitment. If this is set in statute, this will provide the much needed leadership for other states across Europe and beyond to do the same. 

“The Plan remains extremely weak on road traffic demand management. It makes no further commitments in this area, merely promising guidance for local authorities on the workplace parking levy powers contained in the 2019 Transport Act. It will be difficult to achieve the major shift in road traffic trends that the Plan aspires to in the face of no new action to restrain car traffic levels.

“Finally, we note that the Plan states that the ‘Infrastructure Investment Plan is the key delivery programme for the National Infrastructure Mission which represents over £33 billion of Scottish Government investment’.  In the draft IIP published in September, much of this capital expenditure is directed to high-carbon infrastructure such as new road capacity — against the principles of the Climate Change Committee, against the advice of Commissions, without adequate climate impact assessments, and contrary to the recommendations of the Scottish Parliament’s ECCLR Committee. It must be hoped that the methodology, requested by the Scottish Parliament to assess the contribution of the IIP to the climate change targets, will inform on the emission costs and a review of these spending plans.”

Transform Scotland will be preparing its detailed response to the Plan as part of its evidence to Scottish Parliamentary committees early in 2021.



[1] Page 121.

[2] Page 122.

[3] Page 126-7.

[4] Page 120.

[5] Page 226.