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Infrastructure Commission releases blueprint for Scotland’s future

ICS chair Ian Russell presents Michael Matheson with the report. Image credit: ICS

Infrastructure Commission releases blueprint for Scotland’s future

The Scottish Government’s future infrastructure decisions should be based on the delivery of “an inclusive net zero carbon economy”, but it will require “bold and determined leadership” due to the scale of change required in the next 30 years, the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland (ICS) has said.

ICS provided 23 specific recommendations for the Scottish Government to consider about Scotland’s future infrastructure in the first report since it was formed in 2019, following engagement with more than 1,000 members of the public, key stakeholders and organisations across Scotland.

The recommendations cover leadership, planning, housing, transport, energy, technology, regulation and public engagement.

“This is the first time that a report like this has been produced, which goes across all sectors of infrastructure and takes a 30-year view, so the breadth of coverage and the length of time that's been covered here is what I think makes this unique for Scotland,” ICS chair Ian Russell told Holyrood.

“We feel there's a very good opportunity here for leadership by the Scottish Government. Not just in the short term with the likes of the climate conference in Glasgow, but over a longer period of time, to set an agenda and to deliver policy initiatives in Scotland which will further enable Scotland, its population and its organisations to be seen internationally to be right at the top of the tables.”

Specific actions set out in the report included Scotland creating its own data centre, rather than relying on London, to allow the country to have direct connection to more than one of the top internet nodes in Europe “for the purposes of national resilience”.

It said the consequence of Scotland’s data traffic travelling to and from London meant “an increased delay or latency between data being sent and received”. “This could make Scotland a less attractive location for certain business applications,” the report said.

A Scottish data centre industry, with access to “international subsea cables”, could provide better service for Scotland’s domestic business and public sector, but also service international markets.

It would also provide “an exciting opportunity” for Scotland to “place itself in the vanguard of green data centres”, by coming up with innovative and creative solutions to couple renewable energy with data centre developments.

On data, the report suggested there needed to be “a fundamental change in thinking to view data as an asset, not an output as tends to be the case currently”.

“The ability to handle, interrogate and analyse this data in a more efficient and effective way will provide a solid foundation for taking informed evidenced-based decisions to meet our net-zero carbon and inclusive economy growth commitments.”

One challenge noted in the report was how to reduce emissions from transport.

“Something like 30 per cent of journeys in Scotland are less than one mile, so we're recommending more active travel, cycling and walking,” Russell told Holyrood.

“We're recommending a presumption in favour of future proofing and maintaining our existing road network – rather than building new capacity – and that the capacity is shifted towards active travel and public transport and away from single passenger car traffic.”

He said “electrification of the car fleet” in Scotland would also be a priority. According to the report, Norway is leading the way in selling electric vehicles (EVs), representing 49.1 per cent of all vehicle sales. The UK pales in comparison, with EVs representing 2.5 per cent of vehicle sales.

Norway has created incentives for its citizens to purchase electric vehicles, with the Norwegian government setting the ambitious target of requiring all new cars to be zero-emission by 2025.

Russell told Holyrood electrification needed to begin with “an investment in our electricity network and in charging points”.

“But we also think that decarbonising the car fleet is dependent on creating more road space for public transport and active travel. The two go together, you need to provide people with the alternatives in order to decarbonise travel within Scotland,” he said.

“The government should do further work to engage across Scotland with the public to make sure that, individually, we all are aware of the importance of choice and the choices that are available to us, because part of achieving in particular a net zero carbon, an inclusive economy will be about changing behaviour.”

The commission also recommended “making it easier for people to see Scotland's public transport network as a holistic system”. “We should be able to switch modes from bus to train to bus again, in a more holistic way,” Russell said.

Another section of the report looked at ensuring Scotland was “future-proofing” current housing.

“We've been given a 30-year view in this report, and it's estimated that something like 80 per cent of today's infrastructure will still be in use in 30 years’ time, so it's really important that we maintain it, we repurpose it, we future proof it, if it's still going to be in use,” he said.

Further, decarbonising heating must be accelerated so that less energy is consumed in heating homes and buildings in Scotland. 

“There’s different pieces of work going on, some of it around district heating, some of it around the use of hydrogen some of it around the use of renewable energy to decarbonise the energy that's used. We're recommending the Scottish Government develops a route map for the next 20 to 30 years, to roll out that decarbonisation of heating and on transport,” Russell said.

Infrastructure Secretary Michael Matheson said the government would “take the time necessary to carefully consider the report before updating parliament on how we plan to incorporate the recommendations into Scottish Government policy and the next Infrastructure Investment Plan”.

“This advice will help shape how we plan to invest in Scotland’s infrastructure, recognising the long-term objectives of this Government to deliver an inclusive and net zero emissions economy,” he said.

The commission will release its second report by mid-2020.

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