Promoting Active Travel in Scotland- John’s Speech from the debate

Yesterday (31st October 2017) the Scottish Parliament debated the promotion of Active Travel. John moved an amendment to the Government’s motion. You can read John’s Speech or watch it below.

  • John:

    “The Green amendment sets out our long-standing ambition, which is shared by many people who want safer, healthier streets, for 10 per cent of the transport budget to be spent on walking and cycling. We know that 25 per cent of all journeys are by foot or bike, but currently the Scottish Government spends 1.6 per cent of that budget on walking and cycling.

    It is important to get it right, for a number of reasons. I am sure that the minister will recognise the rising cost to the national health service of air pollution, for instance, and inactivity, as we have already heard in the chamber today. It will be interesting to hear the feedback from the cabinet secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, on low-emission zones, because we certainly need to make progress on those, not simply for reasons of health but also to reduce congestion and make our roads safer.

    Members of the Scottish Green Party have been working hard on a new policy, developed in consultation with disability groups, traffic engineers and walking and cycling campaigners, with the aim of aligning Scotland with more progressive European Union countries, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, in respect of transport. It is thanks to decades of investment in active travel in those countries that they have some of the fittest and happiest populations in the world.”

  • Mike Rumbles (intervention:

    “The concern with the development of the Greens’ transport policy is that putting 10 per cent of the transport budget into walking and cycling could put public transport at risk. Could John Finnie address that issue?”

  • John:

    It is all part of a package. Mike Rumbles is a member of a party that is happy—like all the other parties in this Parliament—to spend £6 billion on two roads, despite the backlog of repairs that we heard about from Neil Bibby. The Scottish Green Party is not against spending on road infrastructure, but we would maintain and perhaps upgrade some roads, rather than have the vanity projects that the other parties seem very keen on. It is an overall package that needs to be considered.

    I want to talk about safety and about my colleague Mark Ruskell’s member’s bill to have a default speed limit in built-up areas of 20mph. The consultation was well responded to, with more than 2,000 people responding and 80 per cent supporting the measure, which has been overwhelmingly welcomed by families, schools and community groups. That is simply because people want the streets where they work, live and play to be safe and pleasant places. People have suffered the blight of pollution and danger caused by high traffic levels, key to which is planning policy. A planning bill is coming up later in the year, and I am sure that that will be a factor.

    I want to pick up on a comment that Bruce Crawford made. The increase in the budget is welcome, but this is about the overall percentage of the transport budget that is spent on active travel. That went from 1.1 per cent in 2013 to a commendable figure of almost double that in the following year, but last year it was down to 1.6 per cent. Progress is welcome, but perhaps in summing up the minister can clarify whether that will be maintained in terms of the programme for government aspect.

    In the short time that I have left, I want to talk about how difficult it is to calculate spend on walking. Local authorities are mainly responsible for the infrastructure in that regard, and although grants are available they are used for a wide range of sustainable transport projects, so it is difficult to get an exact figure for spend on walking.

    There is always conflict. I have had representations from the Ramblers about the metalling of multi-use paths, which is seen as an intrusion into green space.

    Spend on cycling is also a complex issue. Indeed, the annual survey that Spokes undertook was discontinued in 2015, due to the increasing complexity of compiling it.

    We use the Scottish household survey’s figures on the proportion of journeys that are undertaken on foot and by bike, and there is some encouraging news. There are improvements in the figures on cycling to school, and the number of child casualties has plunged. The distance that is travelled by bike is on an upward trend and—if I may be parochial for a minute—in the Highland Council area 2.5 per cent of people report that their bike is their main mode of transport. That is the second-highest percentage in Scotland; across the Highlands and Islands the proportion is 1.9 per cent, which might surprise members.

    Today, the minister announced funding for what we call the “mad mile”: a stretch of road across a green-belt area in Inverness, which will mean that at peak times motorists will get between two points 12 seconds quicker. Such an approach is not sustainable. I alluded to the A9 and A96 upgrades; it will be interesting to hear how they contribute to active travel.

    We will support the Labour amendment; it is commendable that it addresses transport poverty. We agree that the money that is being spent on replacing APD could certainly be much better spent.

    The Lib Dem amendment talks about equipping people with skills. We should also equip people with knowledge, because people’s attitudes are such that there are tensions between the various groups. I plead for courtesy for pedestrians, for cyclists, for motorists and for people on horses, so that tensions are removed.

    The speed of vehicles is a challenge in rural areas. If we can get goods off heavy goods vehicles and on to rail—there has not been positive news about that in the past couple of days—it would be a big help.

    I finish by commending a constituent, Mr Robert Phillips, who is a fine example to us all. He commutes by kayak daily between Holm Mills, on the outskirts of Inverness, and the city centre. That option is not available to all of us, but we need to have a wee look at what we can do.