Transport Strategy under attack over lack of firm plan for tackling climate emergency
The National Transport Strategy for Scotland has been published to criticism from sustainable transport campaigners.
The strategy, laid before parliament by the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson, sets out the Scottish Government’s vision for transport over the next 20 years and highlights four priorities: reducing inequalities; taking climate action; helping deliver inclusive economic growth; and improving health and wellbeing.
The strategy does not discuss specific projects, but sets out a framework within which future decisions on investment will be made.
The minister claimed the strategy will reduce poverty, particularly child poverty, and fully recognises the importance of transport in achieving Scotland’s ambitious greenhouse gas reductions target of net zero by 2045.
He highlighted half a billion pound investment in bus infrastructure, a drive to make railways zero carbon and record spending on active travel.
However, the document was attacked as “meaningless drivel” by the Scottish Greens, for its lack of firm commitment to action, and immediately drew fire from Transform Scotland, the national alliance for sustainable transport, which accused the Scottish Government of hypocrisy for talking of a climate emergency while prioritising “new high-carbon infrastructure”.
Michael Matheson said: “The National Transport Strategy is for the whole of Scotland, recognising the different needs of our cities, towns, remote and rural areas and islands.
“Our shared vision is for a sustainable, inclusive, safe and accessible transport system, helping to deliver a healthier, fairer and more prosperous Scotland for communities, businesses and visitors. One where people choose walking and cycling or public transport over other modes and where our businesses make sustainable choices to support the reliable delivery of goods and services.
“Transport plays an important role in delivering the society we want, and inclusiveness and equality are at the heart of our new strategy. While we tackle inequalities, our actions will reduce poverty, in particular child poverty, by improving access to jobs, education and training as well as to key services.”
The Scottish Government would go on to consider the infrastructure or policy interventions needed to support the vision through the updated Climate Change plan and the second Strategic Transport Project Review, the minister added. A delivery plan will be published in the summer.
But campaigners are disappointed that the strategy includes less commitment to action than the previous strategies have.
Colin Howden, director of Transform Scotland, said: “It is distressing that this new strategy, despite being more than three years in the making, sets out absolutely no new action to tackle the Climate Emergency. We don’t need more platitudes about the need for change, we need a concrete programme of action for decarbonising the transport sector.
“Transport is the largest source of Scotland’s emissions. These continue to rise and nothing has been done to reduce them in 30 years. Yet there is nothing of substance in this strategy that will reverse that trend.
“What is urgently required is a fundamental overhaul of the Scottish Government’s capital expenditure priorities. Independent analysis by the Scottish Parliament demonstrates that the Government has systematically favoured high-carbon over low-carbon infrastructure spend over the past decade, yet its current plans are to move further towards high-carbon spending. It is simple hypocrisy to talk of global climate emergencies while at the same time arranging one’s own investment plans to prioritise new high-carbon infrastructure.
“Over the past decade, the Scottish ministers took decisive, if wrong-headed, action to prioritise spending on new roads instead of sustainable transport. Now it is imperative that they take action to reverse their spending plans and prioritise investment in walking, cycling, and public transport.”
John Finnie of the Scottish Green Party said that the strategy offered little in the way of policy to address the climate emergency or air pollution.
He said: “Transport emissions are playing a significant role in our climate and public health emergencies. This document may acknowledge that, but without any real strategy to lower them it is meaningless drivel.
“Phrases like ‘sustainable investment hierarchy’ are cheap when the Scottish Government continues to commit to billions on expanding our congestion-filled roads while leaving whole communities without any access to public transport.
“The four priorities laid out by the Transport Secretary, reducing inequality, climate action, inclusive growth and health and wellbeing, could all be tackled by serious investment and control of public transport. Where is the commitment to do that?
“Encouraging sustainable and active travel will take radical action to make those the easiest options for people, especially for those making short journeys. In an emergency, action needs to be taken quickly. This document suggests very little will be done in 20 years. Without commitments to that radical action, this can barely be described as a strategy at all.”
The deputy chief executive of Sustrans, John Lauder, who has previously called for an end to new road-building, said: “The strategy is one of the signs that climate change and reducing carbon emissions has to be central to Scotland’s future. But it also shows that we can do this in a way that improves the health of all the people of Scotland at the same time.
“Prioritising healthy travel and reducing carbon emissions demands that we make it easier for people to choose to walk and cycle for more of their everyday journeys.
"Helping more people to walk and cycle gets people more physically active, helps to reduce air pollution and can cut our carbon emissions.
“There is no doubt that there are significant challenges and tough choices ahead. Sustrans Scotland, with support from partners, is already delivering projects that make it easier for people to walk and cycle.”