'Decarbonisation of Road Transport in Northern Ireland': Committee Report

Part of Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:15 pm on 29th November 2021.

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Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green 4:15 pm, 29th November 2021

Like others, I thank the Committee for producing the report. This is a great discussion and is exactly what we should do as an Assembly, but I do not want to go over the many points and issues that have been raised. The report is pretty damning about the state of our infrastructure system. That should be absolutely no shock to anybody who has been paying attention.

Transport is the second-highest sector for emissions. At exactly the same time as car usage should be decreasing, transport emissions are increasing and car dependency is rising. That is not just about the current Minister for Infrastructure — Minister, I feel your pain — but it is the failure of successive Ministers, Executives and Governments who have failed to prioritise and fund the necessary investment in our transport system. The Audit Office tells us that DFI needs £1·2 billion just to bring the road network up to standard: not to transform, improve or reach net zero but to stand still. That is the extent of the neglect with which we are dealing.

I caution anyone reading the report that EVs are absolutely no panacea. There is little acknowledgement in the report of the emissions from car production, and, while those emissions may not be recorded here, that does not give us the green light to ignore them.

The report acknowledges the immediate impacts that could be achieved if we focused on short-term, targeted investment in our existing network, and yet we have no active travel infrastructure worth talking about. One per cent of journeys here are by bicycle compared with 70% by car. The majority of journeys in Belfast city are less than 2 miles, but we have little over 2 miles of protected cycle lanes in the city as a whole. Is it any wonder that most people are not engaged? We need to spend a wee bit more than £2 a head on active travel. We need to stop building roads and to start building cycle lanes. We need to give priority to buses on all routes and urgently expand public transport networks to ensure that they are properly integrated with active transport and connect people with place. We must, of course, make that affordable, which our current public transport costs are not.

I hope that the report will signal a change in how we operate, but you will have to excuse me if I am cynical. I do not think that it will. We have seen a lack of ambition in the past year alone. While other places have grabbed the opportunity that COVID presented to transform the use of public space, we have managed a couple of pop-up cycle lanes and given about half a dozen car parking spaces for a parklet. A Department lodged an objection to a planning application to extend pavements outside its offices to improve public spaces for people. The Department objected because it did not want to lose the parking spaces at its front door: I kid you not. I am scundered for us.

I put it to all those who have said the right things in the Chamber today: do more. If we take anything from COP26, let it be that words count for nothing if we do not take action. That goes beyond DFI; it goes to the heart of every Department and what they do to ensure that we transition to a sustainable, inclusive society today. I call on them all to start taking green action and to stop talking and greenwashing. We have really waited long enough.