The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-08497, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on the promotion of active travel in Scotland. We are a bit pushed for time. I call on Humza Yousaf to speak to and move the motion.
I am delighted to speak to and move the motion in my name, on behalf of the Government.
This morning, I was delighted to attend Cycling Scotland’s conference, at which there were more than 200 people who were enthusiastic and inspired about active travel. Since being appointed transport minister, I have been delighted to not only talk the talk but, as we are talking about active travel, walk the walk—I was going to say “pedal the pedal” but that does not fit, although I think that members will understand where I am going with it.
This year, I was delighted to take part for the first time in the pedal for Scotland event. In fact, Cycling Scotland told me today that I am the first transport minister to have completed the challenge, which I am delighted about—I will not tell members the point at which my predecessors stopped. I did not complete the event by myself; it was a cross-party endeavour along with my Conservative colleagues Liam Kerr and Graham Simpson, who both achieved a better time than I did.
A couple of weeks ago, I was also delighted to take part in my first-ever 70-mile cycle, from Glasgow to the Kelpies and back again. I have a word of advice: if anyone ever intends to cycle back from the Kelpies to Glasgow, do not do so on a day when a storm is approaching—it took me six hours to get through the headwind.
That is enough about me and my cycling endeavours. I will come back to the motion in hand. The Government’s commitment to active travel, cycling and walking is demonstrated in the First Minister’s commitments in the programme for government. The headline commitment is to double the active travel budget from £40 million to £80 million. I will say more about the programme for government, but first I will speak about why investment in active travel is vital.
Active travel has obvious physical benefits—I could reel off statistic after statistic, but I will mention just a couple. Research has shown that those who cycle to work have a 45 per cent lower rate of cancer and a 46 per cent lower rate of cardiovascular issues. One aspect of active travel that is not talked about so much is the benefits for mental health. I was delighted to visit the Velocity Cafe and Bicycle Workshop project in Inverness, which helps people who have mental health issues. One lady was afraid to leave the house as a result of her mental health condition; she was very isolated and did not engage with others. She had never ridden a bike before, but she came to the Velocity Cafe and learned how to cycle, which provided her with physical and mental health benefits. She even ended up leading one of the cycle teams. The benefits for mental health are sometimes understated, but they are important.
There is no doubt at all that active travel can play an important part in tackling climate change and reducing CO2 emissions. It may be a small part in the wider transport picture, but it most certainly counts. Active travel can play a part in helping us to meet our ambitious climate change targets.
There is also a social inclusion element, and I welcome the Labour amendment’s reference to Sustrans Scotland’s report, which made for difficult but important reading for the Government and stakeholders. One of the key statistics that I pulled out of the report is that 61 per cent of those in high-risk transport poverty areas are within a 10-minute bike ride or half an hour’s walk of essential and vital services such as general practitioner clinics and jobcentres. That does not mean that transport poverty can be overcome simply by cycling and walking, but active travel can be a key part of the mix.
We should not forget that, in addition to cycling, walking is an important element. It is often overlooked in considering active travel, but its benefits tick all the boxes that I have spoken about. Sir Alex Ferguson, who recently opened a walkway in Govan in my constituency, said that the best exercise that he could ever give his players was to get them walking more. If the world’s greatest football club manager—after Jock Stein, that is—gives such advice, we know that it is worth listening to.
The need for a radical shift to get more of our population engaged in active travel is central to the programme for government, and I will say a little more about the First Minister’s commitments in that regard.
The doubling of the active travel budget should not be understated—I am sure that it is not; it was very much welcomed by the stakeholders at this morning’s conference. Our focus on active travel is a first for the United Kingdom and Scotland is leading with its financial contribution, by doubling the budget, for which it has rightly been lauded. In order to ensure that we get the best bang for our buck, we will need to take advice and listen to contributions from members across the chamber as well as from stakeholders, academics and experts.
With regard to the doubling the budget for active travel, and speaking as one veteran of pedal for Scotland to another and as a self-confessed MAMIL—middle-aged man in Lycra—I welcome the minister’s comments about the benefits of cycling for health and for tourism. I have seen the signs of those benefits in Moray, where the popularity of cycling has increased in recent years.
It has been put to me that perhaps Transport Scotland could do more to focus on cycling and to make the most of the increased budget. Would the minister be willing to consider creating a unit within Transport Scotland dedicated to promoting cycling in Scotland while working with our local authorities?
I thank the MAMIL—I mean the member—for his contribution. He touches on a serious point, which was raised this morning at the conference that I attended. Expertise is needed in Government, in local government, in other public agencies and even in the private sector, of course, to help to facilitate an increase in active travel. The member will know that we already have officials in cycling, but his idea for a cycling unit within Transport Scotland, which he has mentioned to me before, is being given very serious consideration.
To go back to the programme for government, we want to be the United Kingdom leaders on active travel—that is very much our ambition. Our vision is to make our towns and cities friendlier and safer places for pedestrians and cyclists. To start that process, I announced in September that all five Community Links PLUS projects would receive 50 per cent matched funding—two projects in Edinburgh, a third one in Glasgow and one each in Stirling and Inverness. All those projects will deliver high-quality segregated cycle paths. They will improve the public realm, making it as accessible as possible for everyone. The projects will put people and place first, with behavioural change and educational programmes also being delivered. They will ensure that the people of Scotland see walking and cycling as an attractive everyday option for shorter journeys.
We have also committed to appointing an active nation commissioner in early 2018 to ensure that we deliver world-class infrastructure across Scotland and projects that encourage greater physical activity levels, such as road user training and access to bike hire.
We will also promote e-mobility and the use of electric and cargo bikes for businesses and for projects that help older people, young families and people with disabilities to benefit from our network of routes.
We will step up our work with partners and communities to ensure that active travel helps to address the challenges, which I have already touched on, of transport poverty. For example, we have already asked Forth Environment Link and ScotRail to provide us with options for providing free bike hire to those who are seeking work.
The key thread through all of our programme for government commitments and the commitments that we made before then is collaboration. Collaboration will be key with our stakeholders and vital at local authority level. On 7 November, we will host a summit involving councillors who are transport spokespeople in their administrations and chief transport officers within local authorities; the regional transport partnerships will be there as well. The summit will, I hope, align local and national priorities around active travel.
One thing that we are looking to align, and that we are examining and exploring through the active travel task force, is behavioural change. All of us realise, I think, that that will be key in getting more people engaged in cycling and walking. Behavioural change has many different aspects and I will not go into all of them, but one is the drop-off in cycling rates between primary school and high school. There are a number of different factors in that—longer journeys; teenagers wanting to walk and talk together as they go to school; their not wanting to get their hair messed up by a helmet; and so on. Behavioural change in that age group is important.
Behavioural change among drivers is also hugely important. Many of us who cycle are also car users and hear too often the unsavoury attitudes of some car users. Behavioural change will be hugely important.
Another big driver for getting people more active on our roads is making our roads safer. I have never been hesitant in putting on record my belief that more segregated cycle paths can only be a good thing and can only encourage more people to get out on the road and give confidence to those who want to cycle, whether they are young or not so young.
The same applies to road infrastructure at the national level—it is important at local level, of course, but it is also important for us as a Government. We hope to take forward the integration of walking and cycling paths in our national infrastructure—the projects to dual the A9 and the A96 will provide walking and cycling routes, for example. There is already a commitment in the programme for government to about 35km of cycle track on the A9, which is the more developed of the two dualling projects. We are consulting with communities along those routes and will do all that we can to give people the confidence that they need to cycle and walk.
Sheriffhall in Edinburgh is an example where Transport Scotland listened to and will deliver what local communities need. Provision for users of non-motorised vehicles, including cyclists, at Sheriffhall is currently being developed, and we are in dialogue with a number of organisations such as Spokes and Sustrans. I assure members that we are taking into account the views of those groups alongside those of the wider public.
Finally, as part of the programme for government—and to touch on the point that Richard Lochhead made—we will deliver a long-distance walking and cycling route to match the north coast 500, so that people can enjoy the scenery of our beautiful country through activity. The route will stimulate local economies through increased tourism; bring health benefits through increased physical activity; and put Scotland on the map as a healthy and welcoming nation.
On top of national infrastructure, modal shift and integration of transport are clearly hugely important. Many members from across the chamber have spoken to me about the railways and what more we can do about using rail infrastructure to help to encourage active travel.
In its first two years, Abellio has introduced 269 cycle parking spaces and there are plans for many others, as I am sure members will be aware. There are also 8 cycle spaces for high-speed trains.
Generally speaking, I believe that collaboration will be key. We will be listening to the views of members across the chamber on how best we can use the money and I am confident that the action that we take and that collaboration will mean that we will get more people cycling and walking, and that our nation will be healthier and better for it.
That the Parliament recognises the importance of walking and cycling; welcomes the 100% increase in funding for active travel from £40 million to £80 million from 2018-19 and the appointment of an Active Nation Commissioner in early 2018, and notes the work across parties, communities and policy portfolios to make Scotland a healthier and more active nation.
I start by doing something that I do not often do in the chamber, which is offer an apology to the minister. I woke up in a rather enlightened mood this morning and retrospectively considered my amendment. Although it contains some relevant and valid points—my colleagues will go through some of them—I would like to start by being positive.
We welcome the Scottish Government’s plans to promote active travel, which is a vital component in reducing carbon emissions and in tackling health issues such as obesity, as well as in promoting affordable and accessible forms of transport.
We therefore welcome the appointment of an active nation commissioner, which seems like a sensible idea that we can support. Our only request is that the role of the commissioner be clear, and that objectives and measurable outcomes be part and parcel of the role. We also expect the new position to be charged with ensuring that every penny of the proposed active travel budget is spent sensibly and wisely on the right balance and mix of projects and investments that will, ultimately, help the Government to meet its objectives.
That is my concession: our amendment did not address the appointment, but the Government can be assured that the new commissioner will have our support in the task that lies before him or her.
In the previous Holyrood election, the Scottish Conservatives stood on an explicit manifesto promise to promote active travel in Scotland. Active travel, when properly promoted and facilitated, has countless health and social benefits, many of which will be discussed during this afternoon’s debate.
Our amendment refers to a number of the issues surrounding the current plan that I would like to explore. The four main points in our amendment are on progress, funding, collaboration and infrastructure.
On the progress front, insufficient progress has been made. It is true that Scotland is a diverse country with differing travelling needs. It is also fair to say that the weather is not always kind to us, although active travel invariably means more walking and cycling. However, those things should come as no great surprise to anyone who chooses to face the elements and opt for a healthier commute to work or school.
The first cycling action plan was laid out by the Government in 2010, but at the current rate the Scottish Government will not meet its 2020 target of ensuring that 10 per cent of all journeys are made by bicycle. Transport Scotland’s reports show that cycling as a mode of travel to work sits at just over 2 per cent—we are some way off the 10 per cent target. The “Cycling Action Plan for Scotland 2013” set some admirable ambitions, but “everyday” bike rides have increased by just 0.2 per cent in a decade. At the current rate of increase, the 10 per cent target will, indeed, be met—in 300 years. I suspect that we will be taking hovercraft to work, by then.
National statistics show that people are shifting back to the car. That is worrying. The main reasons that are given are that journey distances are too far to walk or cycle and, secondly, there is the perception that there are too many cars on the road. Little progress has been made on the psychology behind modal shift, but that is not addressed in the Government’s motion.
The second point that we would like to make is about funding, which will play a fundamental role in whether the policy is a success. Although we welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to increase funding by £40 million in the coming financial year, it is important to note how we got to where we are today. In 2010, the active travel budget was £35.7 million. It had been reduced to £29 million by 2014 and to £25 million by 2015. In the current financial year, the figure for that budget represents a real-terms cut of about 8 per cent since 2010.
Although the announcement today is welcome, it must be noted that it is something of a knee-jerk reaction to all the warnings that are pointing to our being way off target. Conservatives will seek greater clarity on how targeted and effective the additional funding will be, and towards which specific projects it will be put. We will also monitor the success or otherwise of that spend. The devil is very much in the detail.
However, funding is not everything. I was pleased to hear the minister speak in his opening remarks about the important matter of collaboration: a key driver in ensuring the success of the plan will be better collaboration.
That is according to Scottish Parliament information centre figures. I will be happy to check them after the debate.
On collaboration, the Government, Transport Scotland, local authorities and communities must work together to ensure the success of the Government’s plans. Transport Scotland’s “Review of Active Travel Policy Implementation: 2016 Final Report” highlights a lack of liaison in a number of cases, and states that
“The Scottish Government does not rigorously check whether schemes accord with its own or local policies, and does not commonly advocate good outcomes for active travel in local decision making ... Local interest and capacity is essential to generate effective community-led schemes”.
In contrast, the UK Government has created an active transport policy that is very much community centred. Up to £1 billion of funding for cycling and walking projects has been made available to local bodies. In that way, communities can identify which projects will be most effective, rather than central Government making all the decisions.
The Scottish Conservatives have also been calling for safe travel routes to schools, one segregated cycle route in each of our cities—I hope that the minister will take that on board—and greater collaboration between Government, local authorities and the third sector.
We will be happy to support Labour’s amendment, which makes a valid point about transport poverty. The Government is welcome to offer more detail on how the additional funding might target that. The Lib Dem amendment points out the importance of cycling from an early age: we are happy to support it, as well. We are unable to support the Green amendment as we do not believe that having a predefined or fixed amount dedicated to active travel in the budget is the best approach. We believe that the Government needs flexibility, so we are unable to support that amendment. I hope that I can rely on the support of other parties for our amendment.
I move amendment S5M-08497.2, to insert after “cycling”:
“notes the lack of progress made in encouraging active travel, namely in cycling, where it is likely that the 10% of all journeys being made by bike in 2020 target is to be missed; acknowledges that budget cuts to active travel in previous annual budgets has had a negative impact on progress; notes its concern over reports on the lack of cohesion and contact between Transport Scotland and local authorities relating to the implementation of active travel plans; underlines that insufficient active transport infrastructure impedes the potential success of this plan;”.
The Scottish Government’s motion rightly recognises the work that is taking place across communities, government and political parties to develop the active travel agenda. The minister talked at length about a vision of communities being shaped around people—a vision in which we have the confidence to make healthier choices and walk or cycle for more of the regular journeys that we make every day. We share that vision. It is a vision for better health, and for a more active population who live less sedentary lives and who exercise and are out and about more in the community.
For the places where we live and work, it is about more liveable communities, better pedestrian access and cycling facilities and more footfall in our town centres. For the environment, it is about better air quality, modal shift away from cars and a reduction in vehicle emissions.
However, the active nation that we want to build must also be a fairer nation. Members will be aware of the research by Sustrans into the concept of transport poverty. There may be different measures of transport poverty, but there is widespread acceptance that being unable to access or afford transport limits people’s choices and their opportunities in life. Unfortunately, right now, the Scottish Government’s big idea when it comes to transport is to cut air passenger duty, which will benefit the wealthiest frequent-flying few, but do nothing to tackle transport poverty. The cost of that tax cut is projected to be more than £190 million. That is money that could and should be invested elsewhere—especially in other transport initiatives.
Over the past 10 years, the Government has also failed to regulate Scotland’s bus services, refused to back Labour’s call for a fares freeze on the railways, and will still not rule out raising the eligibility criteria for the free bus pass. It has to be said that instead of addressing transport poverty, the Government too often makes decisions that make it worse.
The Sustrans report on the issue contains an analysis of factors including income, car ownership and access to services through public transport. The analysis placed more than 1 million people in
“datazones where there is a high risk of transport poverty”.
As the minister said, active travel can address those risks because it provides an affordable alternative to other, more expensive, modes of transport. The Labour amendment addresses the issue of transport poverty head on, and calls on the Scottish Government to set out the specific measures that will be taken to reduce transport poverty.
We welcome the increase in funding from £40 million to £80 million, but the Scottish Government and the minister must ensure that the budget is used to tackle transport poverty. Transport Scotland’s statistics show that people from the least deprived areas are 20 per cent more likely to own a bike than are those from the most deprived areas. The Scottish Government should also consider ensuring that tackling poverty and inequality forms part of the remit of the new active nation commissioner.
Previously, funding that was allocated for active travel has been match funded by local authorities, but council budgets are under sustained pressure: since 2011, £1.5 billion has been cut from local government budgets. The Fraser of Allander institute anticipates further cuts to non-protected areas of spending, ranging from 9 percent to 14 per cent by the end of this session of Parliament. Local authorities have told me—they may also have told the minister—that if things continue as they are, councils will be unable to match the funding.
Neil Bibby will have noticed that I said that we will accept the Labour amendment, because of the wider issues on transport poverty. What he says about local authorities does not necessarily always ring true. Glasgow City Council, which has a new administration in place, has committed 10 per cent of its budget over the course of its administration, and the SNP-led City of Edinburgh Council is doing the same. Some local authorities are leading by example. Does Neil Bibby agree that other local authorities should look to them to see what more they can do?
There are good examples of local authorities, including Labour and SNP local authorities, that prioritise active travel. However, specifically on the increase in funding from £40 million to £80 million, local authorities have told me and, I am sure, the minister that the match-funding criteria will put at risk their bidding for potential funding. I encourage the minister to look at that; I hope that he will. Good projects must not be dropped because councils cannot afford the match funding that is required.
Councils should be properly supported to play their part in the active nation agenda, because they will be responsible for clearing streetscapes to make them more accessible and for delivering the active travel projects on the ground, and they will be responsible for upkeep of, and investment in, local road networks.
Let us make no mistake; investment is needed. Just last week, the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland said that there is a £1.6 billion backlog in road repairs that will be impossible to clear within existing budgets. That figure does not include pavements. That will concern motorists, of course, but it also concerns cyclists, because potholes are more of a nuisance and a risk to their bikes and to their personal safety.
Finally, I want to stress the importance of integrated transport. The Government’s aspiration is that by 2030 walking and cycling will become the most popular modes of travel for short journeys. For longer journeys on public transport, more and more passengers will come to expect secure bike parking facilities at bus and train stations, and that more buses and trains will carry bikes. Modal shift towards cycling for many people is about behavioural change, but it is also about ensuring that there are adequate facilities that help people to make the choice to cycle. That was one of the key points in the cycling action plan.
There will be a consensus around many of the issues that we are discussing today. We share the aspiration that Scotland should be an active nation. What is important is that the debate about active travel does not take place in isolation. There is a link between active travel and addressing the health inequalities and transport poverty that we see in our society. The Labour amendment makes that clear and it demands action.
I move amendment S5M-08497.4, to insert at end
“; further notes with concern research by Sustrans Scotland, which found that 1.1 million people in Scotland occupy datazones where there is a high risk of transport poverty, and calls on the Scottish Government to set out how the increased active travel funding will specifically be used to reduce transport poverty.”
The Green amendment sets out our long-standing ambition, which is shared by many people who want safer, healthier streets, for 10 per cent of the transport budget to be spent on walking and cycling. We know that 25 per cent of all journeys are by foot or bike, but currently the Scottish Government spends 1.6 per cent of that budget on walking and cycling.
It is important to get it right, for a number of reasons. I am sure that the minister will recognise the rising cost to the national health service of air pollution, for instance, and inactivity, as we have already heard in the chamber today. It will be interesting to hear the feedback from the cabinet secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, on low-emission zones, because we certainly need to make progress on those, not simply for reasons of health but also to reduce congestion and make our roads safer.
Members of the Scottish Green Party have been working hard on a new policy, developed in consultation with disability groups, traffic engineers and walking and cycling campaigners, with the aim of aligning Scotland with more progressive European Union countries, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, in respect of transport. It is thanks to decades of investment in active travel in those countries that they have some of the fittest and happiest populations in the world.
It is all part of a package. Mike Rumbles is a member of a party that is happy—like all the other parties in this Parliament—to spend £6 billion on two roads, despite the backlog of repairs that we heard about from Neil Bibby. The Scottish Green Party is not against spending on road infrastructure, but we would maintain and perhaps upgrade some roads, rather than have the vanity projects that the other parties seem very keen on. It is an overall package that needs to be considered.
I want to talk about safety and about my colleague Mark Ruskell’s member’s bill to have a default speed limit in built-up areas of 20mph. The consultation was well responded to, with more than 2,000 people responding and 80 per cent supporting the measure, which has been overwhelmingly welcomed by families, schools and community groups. That is simply because people want the streets where they work, live and play to be safe and pleasant places. People have suffered the blight of pollution and danger caused by high traffic levels, key to which is planning policy. A planning bill is coming up later in the year, and I am sure that that will be a factor.
I want to pick up on a comment that Bruce Crawford made. The increase in the budget is welcome, but this is about the overall percentage of the transport budget that is spent on active travel. That went from 1.1 per cent in 2013 to a commendable figure of almost double that in the following year, but last year it was down to 1.6 per cent. Progress is welcome, but perhaps in summing up the minister can clarify whether that will be maintained in terms of the programme for government aspect.
In the short time that I have left, I want to talk about how difficult it is to calculate spend on walking. Local authorities are mainly responsible for the infrastructure in that regard, and although grants are available they are used for a wide range of sustainable transport projects, so it is difficult to get an exact figure for spend on walking.
There is always conflict. I have had representations from the Ramblers about the metalling of multi-use paths, which is seen as an intrusion into green space.
Spend on cycling is also a complex issue. Indeed, the annual survey that Spokes undertook was discontinued in 2015, due to the increasing complexity of compiling it.
We use the Scottish household survey’s figures on the proportion of journeys that are undertaken on foot and by bike, and there is some encouraging news. There are improvements in the figures on cycling to school, and the number of child casualties has plunged. The distance that is travelled by bike is on an upward trend and—if I may be parochial for a minute—in the Highland Council area 2.5 per cent of people report that their bike is their main mode of transport. That is the second-highest percentage in Scotland; across the Highlands and Islands the proportion is 1.9 per cent, which might surprise members.
Today, the minister announced funding for what we call the “mad mile”: a stretch of road across a green-belt area in Inverness, which will mean that at peak times motorists will get between two points 12 seconds quicker. Such an approach is not sustainable. I alluded to the A9 and A96 upgrades; it will be interesting to hear how they contribute to active travel.
The Lib Dem amendment talks about equipping people with skills. We should also equip people with knowledge, because people’s attitudes are such that there are tensions between the various groups. I plead for courtesy for pedestrians, for cyclists, for motorists and for people on horses, so that tensions are removed.
The speed of vehicles is a challenge in rural areas. If we can get goods off heavy goods vehicles and on to rail—there has not been positive news about that in the past couple of days—it would be a big help.
I finish by commending a constituent, Mr Robert Phillips, who is a fine example to us all. He commutes by kayak daily between Holm Mills, on the outskirts of Inverness, and the city centre. That option is not available to all of us, but we need to have a wee look at what we can do.
I move amendment S5M-08497.3, to leave out from “, and notes” to end and insert:
“; further welcomes the work across parties, communities and policy portfolios to make Scotland a healthier and more active nation; recognises that the latest Scottish Household Survey figures show that active travel rates remain low; believes that meeting the Scottish Government’s target of ‘10% of everyday journeys to be made by bike, by 2020’ will be missed without a rapid shift in resources, and calls on the government to commit at least 10% of the transport budget to walking and cycling by the end of the parliamentary session.”
The Scottish Government’s announcement of a doubling of the active travel budget in this year’s programme for government is welcome.
Back then, 1 per cent of all journeys were made by bike. Stewart Stevenson said at the time that the Government’s target was for 10 per cent of journeys to be made by bike by 2020. He said:
“This is an ambitious target but one I believe is achievable.”
We are now just three years away from the year when the target is to be reached, and how have we done? The percentage of journeys made by bike has moved from 1 per cent to 1.2 per cent—or 2 per cent, according to some figures—in the past eight years. In this area, as in many others, the warm words of Scottish ministers have not been matched by the reality.
It is more than time to move up the gears. As well as increasing the share of the transport budget that is spent on cycling and active transport, the Scottish Government must ensure that safe provision for cyclists and pedestrians is built into the transport system and that, from an early age, people feel confident to cycle. Countries across Europe have shown that that is possible.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats believe that the case for increasing the uptake of cycling is compelling. Uptake is increasing in schools, and a practical way of encouraging that is by ensuring that every schoolchild has the opportunity to benefit from cycle training—hence our amendment to the Government’s motion. We are not prescriptive about how each child should be given that opportunity, but we are clear that it should happen. I would like the minister to address that in his summing up.
Increasing cycling has a huge potential to benefit people’s health, tackle obesity and ease congestion, and it will contribute to Scotland meeting its climate change targets. Cycling can also help to boost our economy, because lifestyle is taken into account by people and companies when they make choices about where they live and locate to. However, despite the surge of interest in cycling in recent years, which has been driven in part by sporting successes, participation in cycling remains a minority pursuit. We need action to increase investment in both cycling and walking and to improve dedicated cycling infrastructure to ensure that people are confident that they can ride their bike safely. We must also put cycling at the heart of our planning processes.
I return to the Government’s target of getting 10 per cent of all journeys made by bike. All parties in the chamber support that target, but I have to say that the Scottish Government simply has not shown the strong, effective and sustained leadership that is required to meet the target. I note that the current transport minister has not been in his job for that long, relatively speaking, and I am hopeful that we will get sustained leadership in the field. It was recently confirmed that the proportion of journeys that are made by bike is now lower than it was in 2011. At this rate, we will never achieve the Government’s target. I disagree with Jamie Greene, who said that it will take 300 years—at this rate, we will never achieve it.
Meanwhile, what of the Government’s other transport priorities? The Government’s wish to halve air passenger duty would cost up to £125 million in lost revenues, and its aim to abolish it entirely would cost up to £250 million. There is some dispute about the figures, which Labour also mentioned, but the effect would be the same. Just think of what could be done with even a small part of such resources if they were directed towards active travel instead.
What do we need to do to make cycling a more effective option for most people? We need not only to invest more in dedicated cycling infrastructure but to ensure that people feel confident that they can cycle safely. I have mentioned that issue a few times, because it is really important. Research in 2015 found that only 62 per cent of Edinburgh residents felt safe riding a bike during the day, and the figure fell to just 34 per cent after dark.
Presiding Officer, I am conscious of the time, so I will keep this short.
We need real action, rather than warm words, from the Scottish Government to tackle those issues. That does not mean just moving up a gear. We need to see real leadership from the Scottish Government if we are ever to get even close to achieving the 10 per cent target that has been set for journeys by bike.
I move amendment S5M-08497.1, to insert at end:
“; further notes that less than 2% of children cycle to school; considers that equipping people with the skills, knowledge and confidence to cycle from an early age is essential to encouraging them to continue cycling as they get older, and believes that every schoolchild should have the opportunity to benefit from cycle training.”
The advantages of active travel are well documented: it has positive implications for the nation’s health and economy as well as staggering benefits for the environment. There are also advantages for our happiness, which is something that we do not talk enough about in the chamber or in life generally. For me, one of the absolute treats of living in Edinburgh for three days a week is the fact that, for the first time in 20 years as a working woman, I can walk to work. Come rain or shine, I put my trainers on and walk to Holyrood, and that sets me up for the day. Twenty years of sitting in horrible Aberdeen traffic has made me very grateful for that.
All those wonderful benefits are obvious, and I hugely welcome any Government investment in active travel. Indeed, I welcome the investment by those local authorities that Mr Yousaf mentioned in his earlier intervention. More people walking and cycling will not happen if there is not more investment and innovation in existing projects, whether they are brand new or improvement based.
Safety is a major reason why many people who want to walk or cycle still do not, and a lot of safety concerns could be addressed through infrastructure. Safe routes to school are tremendously important. Every child should be able to walk or cycle to school safely if they do not qualify for school transport. I was quite evangelical about my children walking to school—even if they sometimes were not. However, I was lucky because, if I stood outside my house, I could pretty much watch them until they reached the school gates.
I admit that I was previously quite judgmental about parents who I knew did not live that much further away than I did rocking up at the school gates in a four-by-four. Walking to school from an early age is good for a child’s health and development, particularly when we trust them to do it alone or with friends. However, now that I am an elected member, I get many emails from parents who feel that it is not safe enough to let their child walk or cycle to school. Narrow or non-existent pavements are a common theme; another is large commercial vehicles going through residential areas.
All the same, every local authority must ensure that a child has a safe route to school, with crossings and assistance at crossings, if required, and pavements lining the route. I would argue that, for cycling, we are nowhere near where we need to be in that regard, particularly in rural locations. Cycle paths or marked-off paths on pavements for bikes are rare in rural towns and villages, and I hope that a large part of the active travel money will be used to address that. I would also like local authorities to build cycling provision into every new pathway or to take it into account when maintenance of existing pavements and pathways is undertaken, whenever that is possible.
On my recent visit to the Aberdeen western peripheral route, which is under construction, I was pleased to see that routes have been provided for cyclists that join up existing paths over and under the new highway.
I think that it is great that Sandra White has in the past highlighted parking on pavements as a concern, and I am glad to hear that stopping that practice in the forthcoming transport bill is under consideration. Cars parking on pavements and across cycleways are a scourge for cyclists, wheelchair users and people with young children who are trying to get to their destination. My inbox is full of complaints about that.
I agree with much of what Transform Scotland said in its submission to us for the debate, but I feel that it is heavy on improvements to urban environments and does not address rural issues in the same way. I agree 100 per cent that low-emission zones are an important priority and that encouraging more cycling and walking in cities is not just desirable but essential, but we must be aware that much of the traffic is commuter traffic from rural areas, including mine. In Aberdeenshire, links between towns and cities are still sorely wanting for people who want to be active and those who want to leave their car at home but encounter difficulties in doing so.
There is only one train station in my constituency, and it is on the edge of it. Anyone who wants to cycle or walk part of the way into a work or study place in Aberdeen city will have to cycle or walk wholesale or take the buses, which in my view are still far too expensive.
I once cycled into work at the college that I worked at. The Formartine and Buchan cycle path was wonderful—it got me to Dyce on the edge of the city in no time at all—but, from there, cycle path provision was intermittent and I had to join busy highways. The route was counterintuitive to the direction that I was travelling in. That is a complicated way of saying that I was sent all over the place in my attempt to get to the city centre. The traffic was terrifying, and I never attempted the journey again. My journey round the Mounthooly roundabout was like a chapter in a Stephen King novella. Given that I live only 3 miles from the Aberdeen city boundary, one would have thought that cycling to work would be a breeze, but I never did it again, and I am not one of the people we need to convince to give it a try. We must ensure that the experience is a good one and a safe one.
A joined-up approach is needed. We need to link the urban and the rural, and we must always think about why people would not opt to walk or cycle. I would say that safety is right at the top of that list.
As anyone who has ever heard me speak in a parliamentary debate on more or less any subject will tell you, I am a great believer in the benefits of physical activity as a way of improving public health. The principle behind active travel—getting people out of their cars and encouraging walking and cycling—is one that members across the chamber whole-heartedly support. The preventative agenda should be at the forefront of all our ambitions.
As has been mentioned, early intervention by promoting cycling to and from school is extremely important. To do that, we need to deliver safe routes to school. Speaking as a parent, I would be only too happy to let my youngest child cycle to school, but there is no way that I will let her do that if it involves cycling on busy main roads.
I think that most children, given half the chance, would be quite happy to walk, run, cycle, scoot or skate to school, but that can happen only if parents are confident that it can be done safely. Creating safe travel zones around schools—which can be done anywhere, whether in towns, cities or villages—to give kids a safe route to school must be a priority. We must make that objective a priority when schools and the surrounding areas are planned.
In East Ayrshire, the park-and-stride initiative gets parents to drop children off a few hundred yards from the school entrance at identified drop-off and pick-up places, so providing a safe route to the school.
There are a number of known barriers to cycling and we need to address them all if we are to achieve the increases in active travel that we want to see.
The first barrier is distance. Most people will never be persuaded to set off at 5.30 am—Richard Lochhead and Liam Kerr aside—clad in hi-vis Lycra to cycle to work. Public transport therefore has a key role to play in making active travel sustainable. We need bike storage space to be provided on trains—I am sure that Liam Kerr will talk about that in more detail—and access to hire bikes at railway stations. Active travel hubs, such as the one at Kilmarnock railway station, are great examples of what can be done.
We need to be able to split travel between biking and public transport, so that people can cycle to the station and use secure bike storage there, or they can use the space made available on trains so that they can take a train to the city and then walk or cycle to the office.
Mr Yousaf alluded to the need to share the road with other users. The relationship between cyclists and drivers can sometimes be an uneasy one and it is important that we continue to develop a network of cycle lanes that give cyclists safe routes.
Active travel must be a priority when planning infrastructure. I recently asked the cabinet secretary whether there were any plans to build a cycle route in conjunction with the building of the Maybole bypass on the A77. Apparently, there are no such plans. That is short-sighted; it shows a lack of co-ordination between Government departments. Surely looking at having a cycle route joining Ayr and Stranraer is desirable from health and tourism perspectives. The integration of active travel initiatives with other infrastructure projects must be a sensible approach.
There are also financial barriers. Statistics show that households with higher household incomes have greater access to bikes, which is why it is so important to increase the provision of hire bikes, or even to offer the free loan of bikes.
A few weeks ago, I attended the launch of Brodie’s bike project at the University of the West of Scotland in Ayr. The project, set up in memory of UWS student Brodie Eaton, who passed away while studying at UWS, provides students living in halls of residence with access to bikes and safety equipment free of charge.
Identifying all the reasons that limit people’s ability to cycle and walk should be a priority.
Delivering a sustainable long-term shift towards more active travel in Scotland is a complicated task within the even more complicated task of addressing Scotland’s long-running issues with preventable illness, poor diet and inactive lifestyles. There is a danger in formulating policy based on a need to hit the headlines by meeting self-imposed targets, rather than concentrating on bedding in cultural change for the long term.
The Scottish Government’s ambition is that 10 per cent of journeys be made by bike by 2020. That is a lot of good, round headline-worthy numbers, but there is little sign of progress towards that goal, with only 2 per cent of journeys being taken by bike in recent years.
The move towards an active travel nation will not happen overnight. It may well be that we will achieve a long-term shift by focusing on today’s school pupils and students, who are still forming their travel habits, coupled with a long-term integrated infrastructure strategy.
We on the Conservative benches welcome the Government’s direction of travel, if members will excuse the pun, but it is the delivery on the ground that matters. Cross-portfolio working is required here, as was highlighted in the questioning of minister Aileen Campbell last week during her announcement of the diet and obesity consultation. The transport minister has yet to demonstrate that kind of initiative or understanding of the issues and opportunities that we have. Although we welcome the plans, the jury is still out.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I welcome the Government’s motion, the £80 million pound investment and the appointment of an active nation commissioner.
It is worth repeating that walking or cycling to work is active travel and it is good for our health and our environment. As the minister said, the positive impact that walking and cycling can have on physical and mental health is undeniable. The NHS states that regular walking alone has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers. We know that the stats for cycling are similar. Furthermore, it has been proven that walking improves an individual’s overall wellbeing and even helps to fight depression.
Research indicates that walking is as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression and, in some cases, more effective, and has positive rather than negative side effects into the bargain. That is fantastic—although, of course, antidepressant drugs are a necessity in some instances.
It is quite easy for us to incorporate more walking into our days, probably easier than to incorporate cycling, as other speakers have mentioned. It baffles me sometimes to see the number of cars parked outside primary schools in the morning as a result of parents dropping their children off. I know that people are busy and everyone is prone to do that now and again. For some people, however, it is a very regular occurrence and part of the daily trip.
I am sure that I am not the only MSP in the chamber to have a mailbox full of constituents’ complaints about various parking scenarios in their constituencies. For example, together with the local council I am dealing with parking at Coatbridge college campus, where far too many cars park. We are encouraging the college and others to look at ways in which they can encourage their students and employees to use the walking routes that are available. There is an onus on organisations to promote walking as an alternative.
It is all very well to say that everyone should walk and cycle, but we need to change the culture, as speakers from all parties have said. The daily mile is a good example—I have spoken about it in debates in this chamber before—and I know that most schools across my constituency engage with it. Before the previous debate on the subject, I spoke to some young people about the daily mile and they seemed to really enjoy it. We hope that that embeds them in the culture of walking.
I want to mention another couple of groups in my constituency. The first is the Muirhead district pensioners’ club, which has started a walking club that is available to all members of the community. It is going very successfully, and the club won an award for it. The St Monica’s ramblers club in Coatbridge was formed 25 years ago and dedicated itself to organising walks every fortnight and getting people active across Lanarkshire. They do everything, from walking country parks to scaling Munros.
Beat the street operates across North Lanarkshire. My office staff and I signed up for it and, in total, 104,000 miles were completed—obviously not just by me and the office but across the whole of North Lanarkshire.
In the Chryston area, jogscotland encourages people to get out and jog a couple of times a week and get fresh air. Although those examples do not directly equate to walking as active travel, they do promote it through their endeavours and through the leaders of those programmes talking to the people who participate.
A good example of the middle ground is the New College Lanarkshire students who created the Dunbeth Park walk this way route, the subject of my members’ business debate last year. The route is for students to use in their lunch time and for students and employees to use on their way to college or other work nearby.
It is coming to the end of my time, but I quickly want to pick up something that Neil Bibby and Mike Rumbles mentioned about the affordability of cycling. I am teaching my wee boy, who is three and a half, to ride his bike. I am lucky in that I can afford to do that. I can get my bike and we are able to travel to the locks in Coatbridge and use that area for him to practise in. I wonder about people who are not in that position. We need to look at projects that can encourage cycling so that young people have the opportunity to look at walking and cycling. In North Lanarkshire, the balanceability project teaches children to cycle.
I will stop there as I have made my point.
This is a really important debate. As co-convener of the cross-party group for cycling, walking and buses, I take a keen interest in active travel and its integration with public transport. We should not forget the rail cross-party group as well.
I welcome the recognition in the Scottish Government motion of the collective effort that has gone into pushing forward active travel. The Labour Party also welcomes the Scottish Government announcement of the doubling of the active travel budget. However, we must all acknowledge that Scotland is still far from the target of 10 per cent of journeys by bike by 2020.
It is fantastic to see the community links plus award flourishing since Alison Johnstone, Jim Eadie and I, as fellow co-conveners of the cross-party group on cycling in the previous session, proposed it to the Scottish Government. The development of the first winning project—Glasgow City Council’s south city way—is under way. Floating bus stops, which I look forward to seeing, and cycle parking racks outside community centres have been the first steps in developing opportunities for healthier and greener travel on a major commuter belt. This year’s five winning entries in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling and Inverness will be invaluable models for placemaking. However, to address transport poverty, the award must have inclusive criteria and so must the action on developing the new funding, if that is to reach more deprived communities.
This summer, I visited Amsterdam specifically to experience for myself the difference in the cycling culture there. Being in an older city is no excuse for not taking that approach. In Scotland, many local authorities and community groups are proactively involving residents in the way forward. The Spokes event that is to be held jointly with Midlothian Council, East Lothian Council, West Lothian Council and City of Edinburgh Council representatives on 9 November is a good example of that approach. I have with me the flyer to give that a plug.
It is, of course, not only road layout and placemaking that make cyclists and pedestrians become equal road users. There is a wide range of ways in which we can become empowered and can feel that it is safe to take up active travel. One way is through the protection of civil law. Our country is one of the few in Europe that still does not have some form of strict or presumed liability to protect vulnerable road users. I am a keen supporter of presumed liability, and there are people across all the parties and far beyond who agree with it. I am clear that the time has come to acknowledge its value and to consider acting further on that.
Education for all road users is, of course, essential. As an ex-primary school teacher, I have always been uncomfortable with how little on-road cycling education there is as part of the bikeability scheme. I am delighted that the figure has radically improved recently to 42 per cent.
I am also delighted that walking is now part of the remit of our cross-party group, along with cycling and buses. I have asked myself—and I ask everyone in the chamber and beyond—whether walking really has as much exposure as cycling in the active travel quest.
On social justice and transport poverty, Ramblers Scotland has briefed on a new study that demonstrates that people living in the most deprived areas are more likely to take journeys by active travel and predominantly by walking. That can be helped by the pedestrianisation of streets, the maintenance of pavements and paths, and making planning decisions that put pedestrians first.
We must not forget rural active travel. There are still significant gaps in the national walking and cycling network. One such gap is in my region. Crawford community council is keen to create opportunities for villagers and to develop cycling and walking opportunities for tourist links, which would help local accommodation businesses. However, there are integrated transport link problems. There must be more active enabling of tourists to use trains and buses with their bikes. It is several years since I asked Keith Brown, when he was the Minister for Transport and Veterans, to consider the hook-on carriages model. I understand that that model is highlighted in one of our briefings. It is very successful in the South Tyrol, where large dedicated carriages are used. Will the minister explore that model further?
Finally on transport poverty, the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee took evidence this morning on air quality, which affects our communities’ health. The development of active travel will be key in addressing that. As the five third sector organisations that put together a joint briefing—that is heartening in itself—said, achieving active travel nation vision and growth in walking and cycling will be delivered only through collaboration between the business, transport, health, planning, economic regeneration and environment sectors.
I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests, because I am a trustee for the Peffery Way Association. Our goal is to create an off-road path suitable for walkers, wheelchairs, buggies and bikes that will link Dingwall, Strathpeffer and the communities in between.
Like many people in the chamber and all over Scotland, I very much welcome the commitment in the programme for government to double active travel funding for walking and cycling to £80 million a year. That is the “rapid shift in resources” that the Green amendment says is required to hit the target for 10 per cent of everyday journeys to be made by bike.
I have had some concerns about that and I have raised them with Sustrans and am raising them with BEAR Scotland as well.
We might not be matching the level of funding in leading European countries, but we are way ahead of the other nations in the UK. We spend a whopping annual £13.50 per head here, compared with £6.50 in England outside London and only £3 to £5 per head in Wales. In Northern Ireland, the Department for Infrastructure previously acknowledged that
“the funding available for cycling has been limited and spread thinly.”
We are doing a great thing in Scotland.
The benefits of walking and cycling are extremely well researched and documented. Cycling and walking for short journeys in local communities can help to provide an answer to pressing issues that we face in Scotland, including air pollution, town and city congestion, ill health, obesity and the rising cost of physical inactivity to the national health service. Walking and cycling are also a cost-effective method of transport for short journeys and can be an enjoyable and fun way of travelling if the environment is safe and accessible. The physical benefits are obvious, but the benefits to mental health are also huge. There is evidence that walking and cycling reduce stress, depression and even dementia.
Although nearly everyone walks at least some of the time, only about 1 per cent of trips are made by bike. The Government wants that to rise to 10 per cent. The big barrier to cycling is safety. If we want to get more than just the dedicated few Lycra-clad men cycling, we need to do more than paint a line on a road; we need to build dedicated infrastructure that segregates cyclists from traffic. Data from Denmark shows that only 30 per cent of cyclists feel safe mixing with traffic but 70 per cent feel safe on segregated paths. That is why everyone is so excited about the extra money. It will undoubtedly deliver new infrastructure and that will increase active travel.
Another great statistic from Denmark shows that new cycle paths typically generate a 20 per cent increase in cyclists from day 1. “If you build it, they will come,” we might say.
An example of that in my region is the three distilleries pathway on Islay. It is a brand-new pathway that runs from Port Ellen and takes in the distilleries of Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg. The path runs for 5.5km and is fully accessible for walkers, cyclists, pushchairs and wheelchairs. The idea behind it was to enable visitors to go to the distilleries and sample the goods without drinking and driving but, now that it is there, loads of locals use too.
In Inverness, thanks to high-profile cycle route developments like the Millburn Road shared-use path and the golden bridge, the number of cycle commuters more than doubled in the last few years to 8 per cent. Earlier this year, I was delighted to see Inverness receive funding to develop cycle-friendly infrastructure as part of the Sustrans community links plus design competition, as Claudia Beamish mentioned. Inverness is a growing city, and building cycling into the transport system could fundamentally change the way that we live in future. I welcome that.
I will mention some of the economic benefits that I expect from the Government’s investment. Scotland is, of course, a fantastic destination for cycle tourism. In the Highlands and Islands—the region that I represent—we boast some of the most scenic cycle routes in the country. Cycle tourism brings great benefits and value to the Scottish economy. According to Sustrans, it was worth £345 million in 2015. There are already some brilliant long-distance routes in the national cycle network. Plans to link destinations such as Skye and Ullapool to Inverness are really welcome and will integrate the incredibly successful Hebridean way with mainland links. That is a fantastic plan for increasing green tourism in Scotland.
Any moves by parties and communities to encourage active travel, particularly in relation to cycling, must be welcomed. It is in that spirit that I make my comments today.
First, as we have heard, the Scottish Government set out in its 2010 cycling action plan an objective to achieve a 10 per cent modal share for cycling by 2020. However, the 2016 “Transport and Travel in Scotland” document showed a decrease in cycling as the main mode of travel to work from 2.6 per cent in 2014 to 2.2 per cent in 2015. National statistics show that commuters have switched back to the car from cycling, with 8 per cent of those who cycled to work a year ago now driving. Nearly one fifth of those people say that that is due to there being too many cars on the road. That is what we need to focus on.
I note in passing that, at the moment, the answer to that issue seems to be an arbitrary 20mph speed limit that is observed by virtually no one; is all but unenforceable; mirrors a scheme that Manchester has just abandoned, apparently due to minimal impact on speed or accidents; increases emissions; and does nothing to make cycling a better commute.
In that regard, I want to develop a point that Mike Rumbles made. I cycle to Parliament and have been road cycling for about 30 years. I have been knocked off my bike on Parliament Square by a bus and on Tottenham Court Road by a car, and I have collided with a lamppost when a tourist stepped in front of me on the King’s Road. However, I would still rather ride in London than try to negotiate my current route, which involves travelling from the McDonald Road junction on Leith Walk down London Road and trying to take that right-hand turn on Abbey Lane as two opposing lines of traffic vie to see how close to me they can get their wing mirrors.
The Scottish Conservatives’ document “Global Challenge, Local Leadership”, calls for one segregated cycle route in each of Scotland’s cities, and safe travel routes to schools. Maree Todd is right to say that we will never encourage significant numbers of people to cycle to work or school if they are being asked to cycle only on unsegregated roads. According to the report by Sustrans, Cycling Scotland and others, 42 per cent of primary schools provide on-road cycle training. However, that is a wasted resource if parents do not feel comfortable letting the kids ride. John Finnie made some positive remarks on school cycling, but if we really want people to cycle, we have to make it safe and comfortable for them to do so—of course, when I say “people”, I mean people of all abilities, including children and those who are less confident, as the Liberal Democrat amendment rightly says. Perhaps the minister can expand in closing on the extent to which cycling can be designed into roads and junctions.
Secondly, members might recall that, in May this year, I held a debate on bike capacity on trains. Currently, nearly all long-distance ScotRail trains are class 170 Turbostars, with four official bike spaces. From summer 2018, ScotRail will introduce what are colloquially called Intercity 125s. However, despite ScotRail’s 2015 promises that the 125s would have a capacity of “at least 20 cycles”, the minister conceded in his opening remarks that there would be only eight spaces.
Following my debate and a great deal of pressure from various groups such as Spokes, Transport Scotland recently reached an agreement with ScotRail to increase the number of spaces that are available at intermediate stations from two to four. Along with the six spaces in the power cars, that will be 10 spaces in all, which is a long way short of “at least 20”. Although increasing intermediate capacity to four takes us back to the existing class 170 capacity, in practice, the situation will be worse because, on a 170, three bikes can squeeze into the two cycle spaces, and that flexibility is lost on the high-speed trains, as the storage is on hanging hooks, which are, themselves, a challenge for those of lesser stature or strength to use. That is not good news for Aviemore, Montrose or Stonehaven, which are great jumping-off points for cycle tourism.
Finally, the minister mentioned the programme for government, which states, on page 59, that
“dedicated carriages for cycles and other outdoor sports equipment on rural routes in the north and west” will be introduced. If that means what it implies—that there will be an additional coach on those routes—that is positive. However, we have no details. What is meant by “the north and west”? Does that include the North East? Where is the rolling stock coming from? What services, in particular, are we talking about? What does success look like in relation to usage? I asked the Scottish Government those questions and more in September, but I have not yet had an answer—I have no doubt that I will receive it soon.
Spokes says in its latest newsletter that, if the reports of the extra carriage are true,
“then all concerned, and especially Minister Humza Yousaf, will be heroes!”
From Superman to reality.
On Friday last week, I was delighted to join people from Stirling Cycle Hub, together with the Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, Keith Brown, and others to celebrate the third anniversary of the city’s fabulous rental bike scheme, nextbike. Nextbike is being delivered through Forth Environment Link, and 37,000 cycle journeys have been made since it started, with more than 24,000 in the past year alone. It is a truly remarkable success story in my constituency and one that I am delighted that Transport Scotland is set to build on.
The cabinet secretary has announced a further £270,000 of investment into Stirling Cycle Hub’s nextbike scheme—that is an awful mouthful—which brings the overall Scottish Government investment into the organisation to more than £1 million. I understand that that further funding will secure five smart screens across the Forth Valley area that will provide advice to the public about walking and cycle routes, as well as tips on bike maintenance. Perhaps more important, it will increase to 50 the fleet of e-bikes that is available to rent by the public. It is the first large-scale electric bike scheme of its kind in Scotland—a remarkable achievement by those involved in piecing it together. I understand that, today, there are more than 2,000 registered and active users of the scheme. That number includes many who have opted to leave the car at home so that they can engage in that exciting and accessible mode of active travel.
Stirling Cycle Hub’s aim is clear: to turn Stirling into a cycling city in which cycling is appealing, accessible and rewarding. The development and growth of the service among those who live in the Stirling area is in large part due to support from Transport Scotland, Sustrans and Stirling Council. The project has greatly improved the cycling culture in Stirling. The numbers speak for themselves. Since opening up to the public in 2014, the service has seen a 300 per cent increase in usage, clearly signalling a shift in local attitudes to cycling. Stirling Council has recently been awarded £2.7 million by the community links plus scheme to create a world-class active travel network in our city.
I may have mentioned a couple of times in the past that I represent what I consider to be one of the most beautiful and inspiring constituencies in our country. That includes a vast rural setting of lochs, mountains and highland glens—a perfect destination in which to enjoy outdoor life on foot or by bike. I was privileged to take part in the opening of the Strathyre to Kingshouse pathway and cycle track in rural Stirling. The project received investment from the Scottish Government, which was match funded by Stirling Council and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority. The 3.5km route allows residents of Strathyre and Kingshouse to cycle or walk on a traffic-free track between those communities, as well as giving access to other existing routes in the area.
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority has also worked with Transport Scotland and Sustrans across my constituency to create many more opportunities for active travel. Through that partnership approach and an uplift in active travel funding in recent years, 20km of projects have been delivered in places such as Drymen, Tyndrum, Strathyre, Callander, Croftamie and St Fillans, with a total capital value of £3.5 million.
While I am on matters to do with the rural aspect, Roseanna Cunningham would never forgive me if I did not mention the three saints way. The route can already be walked in part but, once completed, it will connect Killin on the most westerly edge of my constituency to St Andrews on the north-east coast of Fife. That expansion makes the route comparable with the north coast 500 that has been mentioned by other members.
Despite the curmudgeonly tone adopted by some members during the debate, the projects that I have discussed today show Government action and represent real improvement. In 2011-12, the active travel budget was £17.5 million. In 2018-19, it will be £80 million. Let us celebrate that and other real achievements that have been made on the ground. I wish that I had had time to address the real issue of transport poverty, which Labour raised in its amendment. I welcome the amendment and the tone with which Labour members have discussed transport poverty, because we must make real progress there, too.
As Labour’s spokesperson on public health and a member of the Health and Sport Committee, I want to focus my brief comments on the important health benefits of active travel, which are significant. I am pleased that the minister highlighted that being active can have a positive impact on our mental health and wellbeing. It can also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart attack, cancers such as bowel cancer, and dementia. Walking and cycling are the ultimate low-emission options for local transport, as they reduce air pollution, which is the cause of thousands of premature deaths every year.
Despite those benefits, only about two thirds of adults in Scotland currently meet the moderate to vigorous physical activity targets set out in guidelines, and a quarter describe their activity levels as low or very low, which is why increasing active travel is so important.
Wi th two thirds of journeys less than 3km being taken by car in Scotland, there is no doubt that there is scope to deliver that increase in active travel if we break down the barriers to walking and cycling.
One of those barriers is unquestionably the activity gap that exists in Scotland. Physical activity levels in more prosperous areas are higher than the levels in our most deprived communities; as we have heard from Neil Bibby and Claudia Beamish, those communities already suffer from high levels of transport poverty. The recent Scottish household survey found that there was an 18 point gap in the percentage of adults participating in physical activity, from sports to walking, between the richest and the poorest communities. Sixty-nine per cent of people from the poorest backgrounds have taken part in some sort of physical or sporting activity, compared with 87 per cent from the most affluent. The survey found that someone was three times more likely to go cycling if they lived in the most affluent areas. The activity gap was especially large when it came to walking. Seventy-seven per cent of people in more affluent areas were likely to go for a 30-minute walk, compared with 57 per cent in our most deprived areas. If we want to increase walking and cycling for travel or recreational purposes, there needs to be a particular focus on breaking down the barriers to activity in some of our most deprived communities, starting by routinely measuring participation rates within those communities, which is not currently done.
It is not just among the least well-off groups that barriers to cycling and walking exist. Roger Geffen, the policy director of Cycling UK, said that UK cycling conditions
“disproportionately deter young people, older people, women and people with disabilities from cycling”.
Issues such as safety and accessibility must be tackled, both in cycling and in walking, if we are to prevent those groups of people from being excluded.
As we have heard, that will take investment. Studies from across the world show clearly that barriers to walking and cycling are broken down and cultural shifts towards active travel take place if we invest in the necessary infrastructure. The drastic expansion of segregated cycleways in Seville saw the proportion of journeys made by bike increase from 0.5 to 6 per cent. Research from Denmark found that new cycle tracks increase bicycle traffic by 20 per cent from day 1. The cuts to councils, which need to match fund active travel projects to secure Sustrans support, mean that the roll-out of cycleways has been far slower here. If we are serious about achieving a step change in active travel, we need to be serious about ending the cuts to council budgets.
We need to empower local communities to deliver bold and creative solutions that increase cycling and walking. I will briefly highlight one example, which Fulton MacGregor referred to earlier. When I chaired Dumfries and Galloway Council’s economy, environment and infrastructure committee, I had the privilege of being involved in a fantastic initiative called beat the street, which prompted a significant increase in cycling and walking in towns across the region. For members who are unfamiliar with it, the scheme operates as a game. Participants collect points on a card or fob by walking, cycling or running across the town, swiping their card or fob when they reach scanners, which are usually attached to lampposts. Points are counted on a leader board and there are cash prizes available for the winning teams, which often represent community groups. It is an inclusive and community-focused initiative that is targeted at people of all ages and all levels of fitness, and the levels of participation are exceptional.
In 2016, beat the street came to Stranraer, and nearly 4,000 residents—39 per cent of the population—took part. Of those, 80 per cent said later that they had continued with the changes that they made. The proportion of adults reporting frequent active travel increased from 57 per cent before beat the street to 62 per cent six months later, and the number reporting no active travel decreased from 16 per cent to just 2 per cent.
The figures were similar in other towns. In Dalbeattie, more than 1,625 people—a third of the population—took part. In Annan, 3,285 players took part; that amounts to nearly 40 per cent of the population, which is the highest percentage anywhere in the world. In the past few months, the scheme has been rolled out in my home town of Dumfries, where nearly 8,000 people have signed up for 83 teams. That is a clear example of the benefits of creative and locally led interventions. I whole-heartedly commend the scheme, and I hope that it will be rolled out in other communities as a result of the increase in active travel funding.
I will focus on walking, just as I did the last time I spoke in a debate on active travel. The motion and the amendments make only two references to walking, while there are nine references to cycling, although walking is substantially more accessible than cycling. I suggest to colleagues in Parliament that the best way of improving active travel is to encourage people to walk.
Let us have a wee think about some numbers. The “Prescribing & Medicines: Prescription Cost Analysis” report for 2015-16, which is the last year for which I have been able to find numbers, shows that of the top five drugs, by number of items dispensed, the combined total of prescriptions for numbers 1, 3 and 5 totals 8.78 million. Those drugs are all for use by people who have respiratory conditions, who would benefit greatly from taking quite gentle exercise—or more serious exercise, if they are capable of it.
How much do those prescriptions cost? I do not quite know, but the average cost of a prescription is £10, and those drugs are at the top end; they are among the more expensive drugs. We are therefore considering a figure for annual prescriptions of those three drugs alone that exceeds the active travel budget.
What is the cost of a pair of trainers? One can get a decent pair of trainers—although not a classy pair—for about 30 quid. Add a pair of thick socks and a pair of thin socks, and you are ready to go. Let us put our doctors in a position in which they can prescribe walking and the equipment to do it, in order that we can improve the health of the nation and promote active travel.
I also have a few words to say to colleagues in the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, because it is not only the Government that can do things. Paragraph 11.18 of the Scottish Parliament members’ expenses scheme guidance states that members are required to provide a letter of justification if they take a taxi journey that costs more than £20. I suggest that we add to that a requirement for members to provide a letter of justification if their taxi journey does not exceed 1 mile, because it is the short taxi journeys that we should be replacing.
From the outset, we have been paying members of the Scottish Parliament 45p a mile if they use a car, but only 20p a mile if they use a cycle. How about turning that around so that we pay them 45p if they use a cycle and 20p if they use a car? I know that that sounds a little bit whimsical, but the reality is—
The bottom line is that we have to challenge the existing norms and have a debate on the subject. I have a similar problem, albeit that it is on a smaller scale.
I am glad that I now have as my greatest fan in Parliament Mike Rumbles, who mentioned me three times in the first minute of his speech. In 2009, I said that it would be challenging to reach a 20 per cent target for cycling—I think that it is fair to say that I got that one right. However, we can, in general, be ambitious on walking. I have done 4km today, which is 5,650 steps—I prefer counting distances in kilometres, because they sound bigger than they do in miles—and others should be doing something at least as big as that.
Liam Kerr told us that he cycles, which is good. My last bicycle cost me a fiver, and I am not going to pay more than £25 for my next one, because I will get it when I next go to a rural roup.
I conclude, Presiding Officer, in my very few remaining seconds, by saying that we all have, in our own feet, the tools to promote the agenda. We, as MSPs, should be seen walking and should encourage others to walk. It delivers health, wealth and community benefit.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in today’s debate on promotion of walking and cycling as active travel, particularly as someone who regularly cycles to work and for pleasure.
It is vital that we acknowledge the correlation between active travel and protection of the Scottish environment when we discuss these issues.
However, it is clear from the past seven years that the SNP Government has failed to engage adequately with the population to encourage a satisfactory level of active travel across Scotland. With almost no progress to show from the active Scotland outcomes framework, the only track the Government is currently pedalling on is one that will lead to it missing its own its targets.
Active travel plays a crucial role in reduction of air pollution, which in many areas is exacerbated by people travelling by car for short commutes to work. The number of sites where air pollution levels are regularly broken has risen from 33 in 2016 to 38 in 2017, according to Friends of the Earth Scotland. We also know that an estimated 2,500 deaths are attributed to air pollution.
I am sorry. I do not have time.
By making realistic commitments that are properly funded and supported, the Government can reduce air pollution and increase healthy outcomes by encouraging and facilitating greater uptake of cycling in our towns and cities.
A commitment to further investment in children’s cycling proficiency training, alongside provision of further designated cycle routes across the country, will be additional catalysts for greater active travel and bring us closer to achieving the modal shift that we need in order even to come close to achieving the ambitious target of 10 per cent of all journeys being made by bike by 2020. The Scottish Government has substantially increased the active transport budget, but it remains less than 4 per cent of the overall transport budget.
I welcome the Government’s cycling action plan, which was established to provide funding for communities, local authorities and other relevant bodies to work towards 10 per cent of all adults cycling to work by 2020, but that will be a difficult task. In 2014, the figure was 2.6 per cent, and it dropped to 2.2 per cent in 2016, according to statistics from Transport Scotland. Given the disappointing 0.2 per cent increase in everyday bike journeys in the past decade, without concerted efforts it will take 300 years for the Scottish Government to reach the 10 per cent mark. It is a very admirable target, but can the Government really achieve it?
The Scottish Government needs to invest wisely. As Claudia Beamish mentioned, there should be no excuses made for old street layouts. If Copenhagen and Amsterdam can integrate active travel so successfully, so should we. We need a modal shift. We need to change attitudes and remove barriers to people using their bikes or their feet to get to work. Even simple things, such as an accelerated roll-out of more bike stands, would remove the barrier that is created by people having to carry their bikes up flights of stairs. From experience, I know that electric mountain bikes are way too heavy to carry up any stairs.
We should look at successful active transport schemes across the world—and, indeed, closer to home. The UK government is providing £1 billion of funding to local bodies in England through its cycling and walking investment strategy. As a result, it has seen an increase in cycling rates in places where it has increased dedicated funding. The Scottish Government should look at the successes south of the border, learn lessons and improve on the progress that has been made by our neighbours.
Conservative members understand the benefits of encouraging active travel in Scotland. Through the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party’s “Global Challenge, Local Leadership: Environment and Climate Change Position Paper 2017”, we are committed to working with local authorities and third-party partners to improve our cycle-path network. Furthermore, we are committed to supporting safe travel routes to schools, in order to encourage active travel from a young age.
Although it currently appears that the Scottish Government is pedalling for an unrealistic target, which is akin to a riding a bike without a chain, a properly targeted and funded budget could—I hope it will—provide for greater success in promoting active travel and the benefits that come with such action. I and my Conservative colleagues will support that aim.
As a member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, I am well aware of the public health benefits that promoting active travel will bring. I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to doubling the active travel budget from 2018. That commitment has been hailed by Cycling UK’s chief executive as an
“unprecedented level of investment into active travel from a national government”
As an MSP with a healthcare background, I understand that active travel is very important from a public health perspective. T he best way to achieve the health-enhancing potential of physical activity is for people to incorporate that activity into their daily lives. By replacing time that is spent commuting by car with physically active forms of travel including walking and cycling, physical activity becomes embedded in participants’ daily routines. It is therefore welcome news that cycling and walking—and scootering—continue to increase steadily every year as the main mode of getting to work.
The doubling of the active travel budget will allow major capital infrastructure projects to be funded in urban and rural settings. However, it is important to recognise that active travel faces different challenges in rural areas from those in urban areas. Experience in Dumfries and Galloway shows that, for it to be successful, active travel must be relevant to people’s lives and appropriately executed.
I n rural areas, it is hard to use cycling or walking as a means of getting to work. If I had to cycle to work, it would be a 150-mile round trip from Dumfries to Stranraer or Ayrshire for meetings or surgeries. My colleague Daniel Johnson and I recently discussed getting to work. He said that he lives five minutes from his office, to which he walks. Doing the same would be quite a challenge for many MSPs. However, I am, in order to support my active travel, making an effort to walk to my office from home as much as possible, and to walk to Parliament when I am in Edinburgh.
In Dumfries and Galloway, walking and cycling as leisure activities are already very popular and well established. We have more than 450 miles of signposted cycle routes, as well as many off-road cycle trails and world-class mountain biking trail centres. With our network of picturesque roads, road cycling has massive potential. I am pleased to say that Dumfries and Galloway is one of the local authority areas in which there is an active travel strategy already in place. We are lucky to have a well-developed and accessible path network that encourages walking and cycling as daily activities, although there is still potential for improvement. To realise that potential, the right infrastructure needs to be in place to provide user-friendly, signposted and safe links for residents and visitors.
Earlier this year, I attended a great event in Parliament that was sponsored by my colleague Angus MacDonald MSP, and hosted by an organisation called Cycling Without Age. During the evening, I learned about the organisation’s new initiative to get older people out in the fresh air. It is a great scheme that has health benefits for the pilots and passengers of trishaws. A scheme has been started in Falkirk, and I have been linking with stakeholders who are local to me to explore the potential for a similar scheme in Dumfries and Galloway.
Investing in safe cycling infrastructure will be vital to ensuring the success of such schemes, so when the programme for Government was announced, I wrote to the transport minister to explore ideas for investment in the south-west. I am particularly interested in the Government’s plans for a long-distance walking and cycling route equivalent to the north coast 500, and I have written to the Government to recommend including the coast of the south-west of Scotland, maybe from Troon to Gretna, as well as routes inland.
Absolutely. I recognise that the south-west 300 has been established, but it has been identified primarily for cars. I am talking about walking and cycling. We are talking about a coastal development that would encourage tourism in the south-west of Scotland.
I look forward to working with the Scottish Government to develop significant infrastructure that will be so much welcomed in South Scotland, and which will reflect the social value of active travel and promote more walking and cycling for the people whom I represent.
This has been a largely consensual debate because we all want the Scottish Government to succeed in its aim of increasing the number of journeys that are made by walking or cycling.
I will mention two contributions that took my eye. Gillian Martin said that living in Edinburgh three days a week, she can now walk to work. I agree entirely—I normally bus and walk two miles a day to and from work, and I feel the benefit of that. I think that we could all feel benefit from doing that.
Liam Kerr made some excellent points about the availability—or otherwise—of bike spaces on our rail network. He finished by saying that if the Minister for Transport and the Islands delivers the extra bike spaces as promised, he will be his hero. I would like to have the minister as a hero as well. [
.] I did not say that he is my hero; I said that I would like to have him as a hero.
All the parties are largely agreed on what should happen. However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so I say to the minister that he is in the driving seat on this one. He is doubling the budget, which everyone has welcomed, but will his Government’s target be achieved in the next three years? We are supposed to move from 1 or 2 per cent to 10 per cent of journeys being made by bike. Everyone knows—I will mention Stewart Stevenson again—that that will not be achieved. Perhaps Stewart thinks that it will still be achieved, but it will not without dramatic action. I am not convinced that we are going to get the dramatic action that would be necessary, but I will be delighted if the minister can prove me wrong.
The Liberal Democrats will support the motion and all the amendments except the Green amendment, simply because we are worried about the impact that the proposal in that amendment might have on our public transport network. No one wants to put our public transport system at risk because of such a dramatic change in the budget. The Liberal Democrats are focused on outcomes and not necessarily on inputs, on which the Greens seem to be focused.
Presiding Officer, I am pleased to finish early so that other members can speak. Thank you.
Thank you. It was quite traumatic.
As the debate has shown, when we discuss active travel, we discuss so many issues, from mental health to poverty. I prefer to call it walking and cycling but, as my colleague John Finnie pointed out, some people do their active travel by kayak. The speeches that we have heard highlighted how investment in walking and cycling can help us to improve so many aspects of life in Scotland. It is essential that these activities, which are the solutions to so many of the challenges that we face, are invested in—and properly. We know that the cost of heart disease and diabetes alone takes £40 million annually from the national health service, but that is just under half of the amount that physical inactivity is costing us.
As members have heard, the Health and Sport Committee has been undertaking its sport for everyone inquiry, and the testimonies that we have received have made it clear that time and cost are two of the biggest barriers to people becoming physically active. That is where walking and cycling are extremely important. When they are safe and attractive options, they save people time and money and, as we have heard from colleagues, exercise becomes part of their daily routine. We might chuckle when we hear of folk driving to the gym to sit on a stationary bike for half an hour, but that is not an option for everyone. Some people cannot afford that gym membership and 50 per cent of people in Glasgow, for example, do not have access to a car. Let us do what we can to make physical activity possible for everyone.
So many car journeys in Scotland are short and could easily be undertaken on foot or by bike. Thirty per cent are between 1 and 2 miles and 11 per cent are under 1 mile. As we have heard, however, the national percentage of journeys made by bike was 1.2 per cent in 2016. I will probably not join in with calling Humza Yousaf my hero if he manages to increase that to 10 per cent of all journeys by 2020, but I will say that it will take heroic hard work to go from the 1.2 per cent that we have at present to 10 per cent in three years. A Transport Scotland official told the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee this morning that it is going to happen. I really hope that it does and that we are all congratulating the minister on that in 2020.
Things have to change. We will support the Lib Dem amendment, but I point out that the bikeability training still relies on volunteers, and we have to do more to ensure that those volunteers are supported.
Claudia Beamish was right to point out that presumed liability has an important role because, wherever high levels of cycling have been achieved, presumed liability is part of civil law. Only the UK, Romania, Malta and Cyprus do not have such a law. It really is time to look at that issue again. When I held a members’ business debate on the issue in 2013, there was cross-party support for that, so let us look at it again.
We whole-heartedly support pedal on Parliament’s eight-point manifesto. There is probably nothing in it that the transport minister could disagree with, and I am sure that the same is true for members across the chamber. I am sure that members will wish to join me in congratulating Spokes, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. It is the Lothian cycle campaign, but it has been involved in bringing many policy issues to the Parliament. It has led the way on many issues, such as the ability of people who live in tenements to store their bike outside and the building of a strategic network of major motor-traffic-free cycle routes, for which there is a clear need. That is our party policy.
We are seeing some movement, but with initiatives such as the bears way and the Edinburgh east-to-west route, there is still a lot of disagreement and dispute. I took part in a cycle ride to show support for the east-to-west route in Edinburgh, and that is the only time in my life that I have had people shouting “Shame on you!” at me. They did that because they had been convinced that business in the area would grind to a halt, but we know from international research that cycling has a really positive impact on business. Footfall increases, neighbourhoods are safer and shops do really well. It is important that we get that message out to people.
Let us look at what is happening in Edinburgh at the moment. The Broughton
Spurtle has been speaking about the proposals for Picardy Place, which is five minutes’ walk from here. There is to be a huge gyratory that will be very pedestrian unfriendly and simply a challenge for cyclists. We can and must do better.
The World Health Organization says that, by 2030, the Dutch will be the slimmest nation in Europe and that every other nation will be facing an obesity epidemic. That is no accident. It is because, as we can see, movement and activity are part and parcel of everyday life there. The British Heart Foundation has shown that air pollution can make existing heart conditions worse and that it is linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Active travel is an area where there is win after win after win if we invest in it properly. I am sorry that the Conservatives and the SNP find our amendment too radical and ambitious, but we will continue to call for 10 per cent of the transport budget to be spent on active travel, because we need to do that.
It has been a good debate and there is a lot of agreement across the chamber that active travel must increase. It has obvious benefits. It improves air quality and is good for the environment, it improves physical and mental health, and it saves people a lot of money.
The subject of our amendment is transport poverty. Neil Bibby pointed out that bike ownership is higher in more affluent areas than in the most deprived communities. We might ask ourselves why, because surely bike ownership is cheaper than car ownership. I believe that the reason is down to the infrastructure in deprived areas. There is also an issue with the affordability of bikes, because good bikes cost a huge amount of money. However, there are good schemes that recycle bikes and provide them to people affordably, so that might be a way of overcoming one of the obstacles. However, what about the issues of looking after a bike, the cost of upkeep and having somewhere to store it in those communities?
Fulton MacGregor talked about the cost of children’s bikes. It is important that children learn to cycle when they are young. It is a skill that will stay with them, but they need to learn while they are not afraid of balancing. As well as the cost of a child’s bike, there is the issue of getting access to a safe area to learn. That all costs money. Claudia Beamish talked about how we should spend the additional money that the Government has given, and maybe a priority area for that new spending is work in more deprived areas, encouraging young people to learn to cycle and giving children access to bikes and safe places to learn to cycle.
Gillian Martin and Brian Whittle talked about children’s active travel to school, both walking and cycling, and about some parents’ fears for their children’s safety. Safety is an issue that has popped up throughout the debate, although nobody has totally focused on it. One safety issue that has been touched on is the conflict between pedestrians, cyclists and cars, and the minister said in his opening speech that there would be road user training as part of the expenditure.
John Finnie talked about courtesy between different road users, but there can be conflict between pedestrians and cyclists, especially because we now have many more shared paths. Although they are quite often signposted, areas that are not shared paths are not signposted, which can put pedestrians in dangerous situations. A constituent wrote to me ahead of the debate to ask me to highlight an incident that he had seen involving a community cafe that opens up on to a pavement that is not a shared route for cyclists and pedestrians. He said that some of the elderly users of the cafe are in danger. Indeed, one was knocked down and hurt leaving the cafe, which has now put up signs to warn pedestrians to be careful because cyclists are using the pavement.
We need better signposting, not just for the areas that are shared cycling and pedestrian routes, but to make very clear to cyclists that an area is not appropriate for cycling. That was pointed out to Inverness councillors, who experienced what it was like to be deafblind and walk down the street—deafblind people cannot see a bike or hear a bell. Signposting is also needed for people who rollerblade and cycle. I almost saw an accident between someone cycling and someone rollerblading, but luckily both managed to stop in time. We need to teach all road users how to use the roads safely.
There has been a lot of talk about cycling in the debate, but we also need to talk about walking, which is just as important. It is free, it is easy to do and it has the same health benefits. Colin Smyth talked about the health benefits that we could all accrue from walking.
We need to win over hearts and minds to increase active travel, as well as the minds of planners and transport strategists and the like, who need to make active travel safe and attractive. Only in that way can we win over the hearts of those who could be encouraged into active travel.
I thank the Government for providing the opportunity to discuss the issue, particularly in light of the consultation on diet and obesity that was announced last week. Active travel has the potential to mitigate some of the most damaging and burdensome aspects of Scotland’s obesity problem. Having spoken about that from a health perspective on numerous occasions since I was elected last year, I am acutely aware that we need to act, rather than simply talk and strategise.
Encouraging more people to walk and cycle, whether they do it to commute or simply for personal pleasure, will also help cut carbon emissions, deliver more pleasant communities and support sustainable economic growth, while encouraging better health and safer travel for all. Each and every one of the objectives outlined in Transport Scotland’s “A Long-term Vision for Active Travel in Scotland 2030” is an important metric for the health of our society, and the plans laid out in the Transport Scotland proposal provide actionable goals for improvement.
However, we should also be mindful of the fact that work by Government alone will not deliver the objectives of an active travel nation. Personal responsibility plays a crucial role too, as does the work of the third sector. Charities such as Paths for All, Cycling Scotland, Sustrans and Ramblers Scotland, to name but a few, work incredibly hard to promote those salient and important issues. For example, Cycling UK’s play on pedals project supports every pre-school child in Glasgow to learn how to ride a bike.
I will briefly turn to some of the points that were made by members across the chamber in an excellent debate, which was replete with travel jokes and cycling puns.
In particular, I draw attention to Jamie Greene’s measured opening speech for my party. It is appropriate that he set out a number of concerns, despite his general tone of consensus and support for what the Scottish Government is trying to do on active travel. We will support the Government motion.
Liam Kerr talked about the difficulty of cycling in Edinburgh and contrasted his experience here with his experience of cycling in London. He also spoke about cycle tourism. As someone who travels on trains to the west Highlands relatively frequently, I am particularly aware of the difficulties that cyclists have when they travel on trains.
Finlay Carson, who I am delighted to say that I saw cycling to the Parliament this morning, spoke about the need to change attitudes—
During his speech, Finlay Carson suggested that the UK Government is doing better than the Scottish Government when it comes to cycling. I therefore wonder whether Donald Cameron agrees with the head of Cycling UK, who said:
“Once again, we’re seeing Scotland setting the bar high, and this time on Active Travel. Cycling UK would urge England, Wales and Northern Ireland to look to their own public health and environment commitments, and follow in Scotland’s tyre tracks.”
I have no issue with celebrating Scotland’s achievements, but I note that in England and Wales a lot of money has been spent on cycling.
Claudia Beamish spoke about the importance of collaboration between agencies. Rhoda Grant spoke about road safety, and John Finnie made the important point that, in the context of travel to school, the number of casualties has plunged. He also talked about how important road safety is in rural areas.
Mike Rumbles spoke of the need for leadership and action, in light of the fact that we will almost certainly miss the 10 per cent cycling target.
Gillian Martin made two important points. First, she talked about mental health and described the happiness that she feels because she walks to the Parliament three days a week and is no longer stuck in traffic. She also made the point that it is often assumed that in rural areas there is no problem with cycling routes, because there are tracks and roads and so on; it is assumed that cycling is easy, simply because it is not taking place in an urban setting.
There are concerns. I do not have much time to lay them out, but it is evident from the statistics that 98 per cent of the Scots who were driving to work five years ago are still driving to work. It is clear that there is a lot more to be done. We are seeing a worrying trend in the number of commuters who switch back from cycling to driving.
We need to get more people walking, not just to work but out and about on some of Scotland’s excellent walking routes, such as the Great Glen way. The Great Glen walking and cycling routes go past my front door; it is an area that John Finnie knows well, because he grew up there.
We broadly welcome the Scottish Government’s motion, but we must be mindful that insufficient progress has been made in 10 years and we need to do much more to ensure that what we speak about today is not lost in the ether. We need to drive forward an agenda that gets more people walking and cycling, above all because those simple things will have a dramatic effect in improving some of our nation’s greatest ills.
I am delighted to close today’s debate on behalf of the Government. I was also delighted to hear Stewart Stevenson get “roup” into the
; it was at a farm roup that I got my first bike as a child. I thank Stewart Stevenson for getting the word into the OR.
It is important that Humza Yousaf opened the debate and I am closing it, because that illustrates how getting people active does not fit into just one ministerial portfolio—as I have often said, life does not neatly fit into one ministerial job. That is why it is important that, in a country of 5 million people, we collaborate and innovate where we can for the benefit of the whole country.
The increase in funding for active travel from £40 million to £80 million is therefore important. It gives us all an opportunity to ramp up momentum in getting the infrastructure right and nudging people towards taking active travel options. The investment aids my commitment to build an active and healthier Scotland; it also helps Roseanna Cunningham with her climate change efforts and Maureen Watt with her mental health brief. It helps us to create the fairer country that we all seek—I absolutely recognise the points that many Labour Party members made about transport poverty.
Brian Whittle might consider that we are not joined up, and he is often critical of this Government in the context of the fairness and equality that he seeks, but I wonder whether his passion for creating a fairer country leads him to be as critical of his UK Government colleagues down south, who are peddling and perpetrating many of the inequalities in our society.
The debate is rightly interlinked with essential input from planning, housing, third sector organisations, local authorities and—most important of all—our communities. We need to see our communities empowered and enabled to make the spaces and places that they live in as good as they possibly can be. Those points were made by Neil Bibby, Mike Rumbles, John Finnie, Gillian Martin and others.
Does the Scottish Government believe that every school child should have the opportunity to benefit from cycle training? I am not talking about being prescriptive, but about giving them the opportunity to benefit.
Absolutely. They should have that opportunity, and we will support the member’s amendment. I take cognisance of the points that he made about confidence and other issues.
Although it is right to challenge the Government to do more and focus on other things that we should be doing, it is fair to say that the large thrust of the debate has been consensual, with recognition of the fact that we should use the opportunity of the increased funding to consider approaches that are impactful and cognisant of existing local infrastructure projects; that encourage the behavioural change that people have sought to bring about; that focus on education in the early years to establish good, healthy habits; and that recognise the particular needs of our rural communities.
We have a good basis on which to build. Cycling has increased as a main mode of travel to work for adults in Scotland. The distance travelled by cycle has also increased, the bikeability scheme has increased its number of participants and the amount of on-road cycling training that is delivered in our schools has increased. We see, through the hands up Scotland survey, that 50 per cent of our children are travelling to school actively. To those who have been critical of our funding, I say again that, although I recognise the need to critique our approach, our spend on cycling and walking is almost quadruple what we inherited in 2006-07.
Much has been said—particularly by John Finnie—about so-called vanity projects. However, in the not-too-distant past he recognised the importance of the Government’s commitment to rebuilding the infrastructure of this nation. I hope that he remembers that. He once said:
“Where opposition parties have spent years grumbling, the SNP is the only party to take action”.
On the issue of modal shift, does the minister recognise that the spend on the Highland main line is not comparable to the spend on the A9 or the spend on the route between Aberdeen and Inverness? Unless that is properly addressed, we will see movement from rail to road, which I presume is not in the Government’s interest.
We are seeking to bring about a positive modal shift and we have rebuilt the infrastructure of our country. As John Finnie said:
“Where opposition parties have spent years grumbling, the SNP is the only party to take action”.
Of course, we recognise that we need to do more to improve active travel. Liam Kerr and Maree Todd raised the issue of segregated routes, and Humza Yousaf, in his opening remarks, outlined the community links and the projects that recognise the importance of making segregated paths as accessible as possible. It is important to note that those projects have been oversubscribed in the past.
I cannot. I must make some progress.
Members mentioned confidence and the need to reach out and encourage cycling among other groups. I agree that, although it is good to hear from so many middle-aged men in Lycra—MAMILs—we need to dispel the myth that people need to wear Lycra to cycle. It does not help to normalise cycling—for example, cycling to work—if people feel that they must have that special gear. That is why projects such as the bikeability scheme, pedal for Scotland, the cycle-friendly employer award and operation close pass are crucial. It is also why, in the first two years of the rail franchise, 1,269 cycle spaces have been developed at 44 stations, with ScotRail intending to roll out a further 800 cycle spaces at stations, and why the bike & go hire scheme is being rolled out across 12 stations. Work is also continuing to use the opportunity of the high-speed rail network to further embed cycling. I do not know whether that makes us heroes in Liam Kerr’s eyes, but we will always seek to do what we can.
Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting the internationally renowned planning expert Brent Toderian, who attended the recent Paths for All annual general meeting. Given how many members talked about the importance of walking, Paths for All should be credited with helping to bring about the current increase in recreational walking. I mention Brent Toderian because his ethos is to create multimodal cities and multimodal citizens and to
“make walking, biking and transit delightful.”
He believes that
“If you design a city for cars, it fails for everyone, including drivers. If you design a multi-modal city ... it works for everyone, including drivers.”
Rhoda Grant articulated the need to ease that tension.
Many members mentioned fantastic local projects, such as beat the street, ramblers clubs and Crawford’s endeavour to link into the walkways around it. We must allow such assets and capacity in our communities to flourish to bring about the shift that we all seek.
Brent Toderian recently tweeted about Halloween. He asked whether, when our children go out guising tonight, they have spaces and streets that are designed well enough to encourage safe walking. He asked whether they are encouraged to walk regularly beyond the opportunity that they have tonight. We need to plan good-quality places so that the next generation can pursue active lives. This debate is just the start of that dialogue. What is important is that, across the political parties in the Parliament, we have agreement that promoting active travel is the right thing to do and that we will continue on that basis.