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Decisive decade, or just business-as-usual?

Published 14 June 2022 by Transform Scotland

Transform’s director Colin Howden reflects on the National Transport Strategy Delivery Plan, published on 8 June.

On the face of it, there is much to welcome and indeed support in the new National Transport Strategy Delivery Plan.  There is a commitment to deliver safer roads, improve health and well-being through an extension in active travel, address inclusive economic growth via more affordable public transport, and coordinate collaborative activity across government in support of ‘Mission Zero’ for climate action.

It is therefore disappointing that after thorough consideration of the proposals published this month by Transport Scotland for the coming year, it’s clear that for all the positive words and noble statements, investment in sustainable transport remains stuck slogging uphill in the slow lane. In contrast, spending on the massive Scottish road building programme continues apace, accelerating into the distance and embedding additional carbon commitments that will take many more years to mitigate.

Last summer, we published ‘Roads to Ruin’, an objective assessment of the extent of the Scottish road building programme promoted by Transport Scotland and its deleterious impact on climate change targets and skewed investment priorities when set against the Sustainable Travel and Investment Hierarchies heralded in the National Transport Strategy, NTS2. Of the sixteen schemes outlined in the future road building programme exactly 50%, 8 schemes, have now been confirmed at a collective cost of some £6.8bn.

This sits in stark contrast to the actual investment in sustainable transport where, for example, just £25.8m has been committed from the much-vaunted Bus Partnership Fund totalling £500m, despite that funding commitment being made as long ago as September 2019.

Turning to rail investment, while the Levenmouth rail link plus new stations at Reston and East Linton are welcome, it would have been useful to see more detail of future plans and detailed stepwise timescales for decarbonising the rail network, including electrification schemes and the procurement on new rolling stock. We also need to see significant and ongoing promotion and marketing of the railway and the many journey opportunities it offers including joint promotions with other public transport modes, visitor attractions and accommodation providers.

Yes, there are a number of commitments that Transform Scotland could support:

  • Tackling head-on the role of transport in the climate emergency;
  • Reducing private car use and transitioning to more walking, wheeling & cycling;
  • Transforming engagement through the NTS2 Forum and the Peoples’ Panel;
  • Developing decarbonisation plans for rail and aviation;
  • Making public transport more affordable via the Fares Fair Review;
  • Monitoring the impact of delivery proposals on climate emissions;
  • Working to embed the just transition principles in policy development;

However, movement on these and other sustainable transport commitments has been painfully slow. Three years after the passing of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, work is only now underway on establishing the Smart Ticketing Advisory Board. Over two years after publication of NTS2, the Transport Governance and Collaboration Working Group has only now been reconvened. The pace of positive reform is falling way behind the ongoing investment in carbon intensive highway ‘solutions’ and putting the progress towards our net zero future in jeopardy.

As the Delivery Plan 2022-23 outlines, the next ten years have been branded the “decisive decade”. But from the detail contained in this second Delivery Plan it would appear that it could be two steps forward and ten paces backwards for the cause of sustainable transport.