Before section 68

Transport (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:45 am on 20th December 2000.

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Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 12:00 pm, 20th December 2000

The roads lobby predicted a 50 per cent increase in road traffic by 2020. Not so long ago, the minister, with some asperity, said that it was not the policy of the Executive to predict and provide. That suggests that, at that time, the Executive intended to take its commitments under the Kyoto protocol seriously and intended not just to keep traffic growth down, but to go for a real reduction.

It is quite unacceptable that the first transport bill from this Executive and from the Parliament should not include a specific commitment to road traffic reduction. I would not go so far as to say that the bill has been eviscerated, but road tolling was an early casualty—it disappeared before we even saw the bill—and workplace parking levies were withdrawn. I was unable to get retail parking levies included in the legislation, even though many members of the Transport and the Environment Committee agreed that the idea would need to be given further consideration when we revise Scotland's planning regulations. As a result, local authorities now have a much smaller toolkit than was initially envisaged.

I ask the chamber to consider supporting my amendment, which asks that

"within one year of the coming into force of this section" the Scottish Executive shall

"publish a road traffic reduction strategy".

That would give the Executive a year to work on the strategy, which, as the amendment specifies, would

"include . . . annual targets for the estimated total miles travelled in Scotland by motorised vehicle traffic on public roads".

The Executive's climate change strategy contains a commitment to traffic reduction. How can we meet that commitment if the Executive does not monitor traffic, collect the figures and set targets?

In my amendment, I ask for

"a statement by the Scottish Ministers of the measures they are taking or propose to take to meet those targets, and how they expect those measures to contribute to—

(i) meeting the United Kingdom's commitments to reducing the emission of gases associated with climate change in pursuance of the Kyoto Protocol;

(ii) improving air quality".

That is a big issue, given the possible effects of air quality on wildlife in our cities. It would be intolerable if traffic were to increase further in the face of the biodiversity action plans that our cities are being asked to introduce to protect our wildlife.

Finally, my amendment makes it clear that the strategy should contribute to

"reducing the number of road traffic accidents."

My strategy would include many of the specific measures that have not been included in the bill, such as real commitments to increasing the number of cyclists and to getting 80 per cent of our children walking to school instead of the same figure going to school by car or bus. The strategy would also include a real commitment to improving the rail infrastructure, particularly around Edinburgh, in the Borders and through Fife. It is bizarre that it is both cheaper and swifter to travel by car between two major cities such as Aberdeen and Edinburgh than it is to travel by rail.

The target that I seek to achieve—for road traffic to have been reduced by 10 per cent 10 years after the first year covered by the strategy—is modest in the extreme. It is also realistic in the light of the commercial pressures and the increase in wealth that there is likely to be in the next 10 years.

I ask the chamber to take my amendment very seriously. It is not simply a wish list of policies; it asks the chamber to compel the Executive to come up with a strategy in the coming years that will result in real road traffic reduction.

I move amendment 70.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

I find saying this difficult, as I have much sympathy with Robin Harper's objectives—I hope that the minister will make it clear how she will respond to his proposals—but my heart sinks whenever anyone suggests a strategy, because although we need plans and targets to give us direction, the use of the word "strategy" in politics is often an excuse for not doing anything much. Alternatively, strategies can be too prescriptive.

Robin Harper's objectives are right and the minister should explain to Parliament how she intends to report back—perhaps annually—on the progress that has been made towards achieving those important objectives. However, the wording of the amendment could cause problems, as it attempts to lay down a target of a 10 per cent reduction in road traffic miles. We may achieve a much greater reduction than that. It is a mistake to put a figure on a long-term target.

I am entirely with Robin Harper in spirit. I know how intensely annoying it can be—it happens to me quite often—when someone says, "I am with you in spirit, but I am not going to vote for your amendment," therefore I apologise. If the minister can provide a firm assurance that she has real aims and that she has the resolution to achieve those aims, and can tell us how she will report back to the Parliament, I shall support the minister's decision.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

At the risk of finding myself with Donald Gorrie in spirit—which has not always been the case on the Transport and the Environment Committee—I agree with him. I acknowledge the aims that Robin Harper is trying to achieve with amendment 70, but its wording causes me concern.

The setting of a 10 per cent reduction target would be wrong, as we might want to achieve a greater reduction than that in many congested areas of our inner cities. In rural areas, the issue is not traffic congestion, but the types of traffic that use smaller, rural roads. Some of the work that has been undertaken by the minister and the Executive on freight facilities grants and the reduction of lorry movements in rural areas is a more constructive way forward. There is evidence to show that the Executive has moved to try to ensure road safety and targets have been set. Several initiatives are under way to encourage children and young people to walk or cycle to school, instead of relying on private cars.

Although I have great sympathy with what Robin Harper is trying to achieve, I do not believe that putting the target in the bill is the correct way forward. It is much more important to put the policies, mechanisms and resources in place that will make sustainable reductions possible over a long period.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

My view is similar to those of Cathy Jamieson and Donald Gorrie. Robin Harper appears to be trying to secure a national plan for how the Parliament deals with road traffic congestion. Such a plan would be useful, as it would provide a solid framework within which local transport authorities could draw up their joint transport strategies. It would also clarify the link between what the Government is trying to achieve and what happens locally. However, I wish that Robin Harper had worded his amendment differently, to make it clear that it calls for a national plan to make that link and to impose a requirement on local transport authorities to consider the direction that has been given by the Executive when producing their joint transport strategies. Through such a plan, we might have achieved real joined-up thinking about how best to deal with road traffic congestion.

I have every sympathy with what Robin Harper is trying to achieve and I will be interested to hear how the minister responds to his proposals. I congratulate Robin on introducing the idea into today's debate. However, I am concerned that the amendment would not allow an opportunity for the wider consultation that might be needed on setting targets. We could perhaps come up with more stretching targets, which might nevertheless be achievable. People in industry, in particular, might sign up to such targets if there were a national plan.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I understand and sympathise with the reasons for which Robin Harper has lodged amendment 70. There is a need to manage traffic growth in such a way as to reduce its harmful effects on the environment and to make Scotland cleaner and safer. I strongly support his motivation in that respect, as do the other members who have spoken.

However, legislation already exists to achieve those aims—the Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Act 1998. That act requires Scottish ministers to set and publish in a report targets for road traffic reduction. It also makes provision for Scottish ministers not to set a target if they consider that other targets or measures are more appropriate for the purpose of reducing the adverse impact of road traffic. In that case, ministers are obliged to publish a report that explains their reasoning and includes an assessment of the impact of the other targets or measures on road traffic reduction.

The act requires ministers to have regard to the adverse impact of road traffic in a number of areas, including the emission of gases that contribute to climate change; the effects on air quality, health, land and biodiversity; traffic congestion; danger to other road users; and social impacts. In that regard, the act encompasses a wider range of effects than Mr Harper envisages in his amendment.

On the issue of national targets, Mr Harper's amendment is too restrictive—it takes too narrow a view. I agree with some of the comments that members have made on that point. The target to reduce the total miles travelled is, in isolation, not very meaningful. The improvements that we are working towards will be brought about by a number of policies working together and are not simply to do with distance driven or the number of cars on the road.

Our traffic management policies should not be seen in isolation from our air quality strategy or the climate change programme. For example, the new emission standards being adopted by car manufacturers and newer cleaner fuels will have a major impact on emissions. Local authorities have powers to set up local authority air quality management areas. Other measures will tackle vehicle use. For instance, new planning policies will ensure that economic development and transport planning work together and there will be better facilities for more environmentally friendly travel modes. Road safety is being addressed through the UK road safety strategy, which was published by the Government and the Executive earlier this year.

All those measures play a part. I should also mention the other parts of the bill that have already been accepted, such as the regional transport strategies and the bus improvement toolkit. The new ScotRail franchise and the targets to double the use of bicycles between 1996 and 2002 are also important. As Robin Harper said, we need a step-by-step approach. The public transport fund, the rural transport fund, freight facilities grants and a range of other measures are being acted on—I hope that that reassures Donald Gorrie. We are doing our bit to try to manage traffic growth.

Another reason why I do not think that a single national target is the best way to achieve our ends is that it would create a totally inflexible situation, which would not bring the desired benefits. What is appropriate in Glasgow or Edinburgh cannot possibly be appropriate in the Scottish Borders or in the Highlands. We live in a country with a diverse geography and there are significant differences in road traffic levels in different areas of Scotland. There are also different economic and social needs, which are bound up with road traffic and must be taken into account. Policies need to be flexible enough to take account of those differences.

Cathy Jamieson mentioned rural areas, where social inclusion considerations put constraints on traffic management, as do the requirements of tourism and primary industries such as fishing and forestry. Our cities demand totally different solutions to deal with the problems of congestion and pollution. We need local solutions for local problems and we need to be flexible. The Executive wants to target road traffic growth in ways that are relevant to the situation in each different area, rather than by producing blanket plans and targets that could be detrimental to some parts of Scotland.

The Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Act 1998 allows for a single national target if that is considered to be the appropriate solution. Once we have the final versions of the local transport strategies that are being prepared by local authorities, which will be accompanied by the proposals that each local authority is required to work up under the 1998 act, we will pull them together. At that point, we will announce our proposals to identify what is being done through the bill to implement the 1998 act. We will engage in reasoned discussion to implement the measures that we are currently taking. That is a more responsive approach to the concerns of our varied communities.

I know that Robin Harper is keen to pursue the amendment and that he raised the issue at stage 2 as well. Given the reassurances that I have given, I invite him to withdraw his amendment. I hope that he will do so.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I see that he does not intend to.

On behalf of the Executive, I give a commitment to provide more detail on progress on the objectives. We have a national delivery plan for transport. Road traffic reduction is a key part of that approach.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 12:15 pm, 20th December 2000

I listened carefully to what the minister said. To respond to both the minister and Cathy Jamieson, there is nothing in subsections (1) to (8) of my proposed new section to suggest that road traffic reduction targets should apply area by area and sector by sector. My amendment would form an enabling piece of legislation, which is in the general spirit of the bill. Instead of enabling local authorities, my amendment would enable the Executive to introduce an overall target for road traffic reduction. The amendment does not prevent considerable increases in traffic in some parts of rural Scotland.

Proposed subsection (3) is not prescriptive. It states:

"The target in the strategy for the tenth year covered by the strategy shall be not less than 10 per cent lower".

There was a complaint about that, as if the target were too low. That provision enables the Executive to set much higher targets for reduction if it is so minded. Two of the principal objections to the amendment are therefore without any basis whatever.

The minister spoke about the Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Act 1998. That gives the Scottish Executive a let-out. I am absolutely certain of the current minister's dedication to achieving traffic reduction but, in 10 years' time, we may not have the same Executive and it might not have the same commitment. It would therefore be sensible and proper to include road traffic reduction strategies in the bill.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

The question is, that amendment 70 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

There will be a division, for which I will allow two minutes.

Division number 4

For: Canavan, Dennis, Harper, Robin
Against: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Crawford, Bruce, Curran, Ms Margaret, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fergusson, Alex, Finnie, Ross, Galbraith, Mr Sam, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Hamilton, Mr Duncan, Harding, Mr Keith, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Hyslop, Fiona, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Jenkins, Ian, Johnston, Nick, Lamont, Johann, Lochhead, Richard, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Ms Margo, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, MacKay, Angus, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, McAllion, Mr John, McAveety, Mr Frank, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McGugan, Irene, McLeish, Henry, McLeod, Fiona, McLetchie, David, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, Mr John, Murray, Dr Elaine, Paterson, Mr Gil, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Radcliffe, Nora, Raffan, Mr Keith, Reid, Mr George, Robison, Shona, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Russell, Michael, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Sturgeon, Nicola, Thomson, Elaine, Tosh, Mr Murray, Ullrich, Kay, Wallace, Ben, Watson, Mike, Welsh, Mr Andrew, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan, Wilson, Andrew
Abstentions: Brown, Robert

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

The result of the division is: For 2, Against 87, Abstentions 1.

Amendment 70 disagreed to.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Members will be aware that we are approaching the time to suspend the meeting. I will do so now and we will reconvene at 2.30 pm to safeguard the later debate.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 2:30 pm, 20th December 2000

The first item of business this afternoon is the continuation of the debate on stage 3 amendments to the Transport (Scotland) Bill.