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

Part of Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 29th November 2021.

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Photo of Andrew Muir Andrew Muir Alliance 3:30 pm, 29th November 2021

This has been a good-natured and constructive debate — for a change. Hopefully, I can contribute to that. From the perspective of the Alliance Party, the time to tackle the climate emergency is quickly running out. My party and I welcome the report, and, hopefully, the House will agree it.

One of the quickest and simplest ways in which to enact the report would be through funding Translink's plan for the decarbonisation of its road transport: remember that Translink is road and rail. Its clear plan is to move to net zero by 2040 and then to climate positive by 2050, but the reality, as we debate the motion today, is that we have a funding issue with Translink. There are questions about whether it will be able to be a going concern as a result of the non-allocation of funds during October monitoring. Although we are having the debate today, we need to be realistic. If we want people to move to decarbonised road transport, we need to fund our main public transport provider in Northern Ireland, which is Translink. I welcome the announcements that have been made to date about the full electrification of the urban fleet in the city of Derry/Londonderry and the further roll-out of hydrogen vehicles, but we must go further and fund Translink properly to deliver services on the ground in the here and now. We must also fund its plan to move to climate positive by 2050.

The report highlights the immediate impact that enhancements of active travel could have on transport. That is important. I welcome the actions that the Minister took last year on a walking and cycling champion, but, realistically, we need to invest an awful lot more in active travel in Northern Ireland. We are right down at the bottom of the investment league table when compared with the rest of the UK and Ireland. We also have to be realistic if we are going to call for investment in active travel. That will require taking difficult decisions about where we are going to put infrastructure in order to ensure that people have safe and sustainable travel routes. There is therefore a real need to look forward. The Alliance Party has been very clear that we need an active travel commissioner to drive forward that change, because substantial change is required.

I have been working with the Electric Vehicle Association Northern Ireland (EVANI), as have many others in the Chamber, for a long time. I genuinely appreciate the work that it has been doing to make electric vehicles more accessible to people in Northern Ireland. It has delivered quite significant achievements, as can be seen from recent announcements. A number of the report's findings and recommendations touch on electric vehicle charging infrastructure. It is important that the recommendations be taken forward, particularly the ones on the used EV market. One of the biggest barriers to people's taking up of electric vehicles is the charging infrastructure. The cost of the vehicles is also an issue. The Committee recently heard evidence about how other jurisdictions have dealt with that. In Norway, for example, the cost of buying an electric vehicle is on a par with that of buying a petrol or diesel car. Intervention from the UK Government on taxation policy would be required so that people could consider that for here. The Alliance Party is clear about our support for electric vehicles and the decarbonisation of transport in our green new deal. Part of that is about providing interest-free loans for people who want to take up using an electric vehicle. Furthermore, I presented a public petition to the Minister last month about the need for a joined-up strategy to drive improvements in the charging infrastructure. We really need that. The recent announcement by the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) about new chargers, as well as the announcements from EasyGo and other providers, are therefore welcome.