Active Travel Transformation

– in the Scottish Parliament on 6 June 2023.

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Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The next item of business is a debate on S6M-09328, in the name of Patrick Harvie, on active travel transformation. Members who wish to speak in the debate should press their request-to-speak buttons now.

I call Patrick Harvie to speak to and move the motion.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Thank you, Presiding Officer; I am delighted to do so.

I open the debate at what feels like a critical moment for active travel in Scotland. As members might know, walking and cycling are always my preferred ways of getting about, so I know first hand the many benefits of active travel. However, every day, I see places in my community and across the country where it needs to be made easier and safer.

In my role as the minster who is responsible for active travel, it has been a genuine privilege to be able to help to bring the benefits of active travel to other people. Perhaps the most impactful is when I meet young people who have been helped to get access to a bike for the first time, to gain the skills to maintain it and to have safe routes to use it. The independence that that gives them to go where they want when they want without cost or hassle is surely worth at least as much as the health and environmental benefits. I have found the role to be incredibly fulfilling, so I want to take time to acknowledge some of the progress that we have made so far, in this session of Parliament.

I have spoken before about the experience during lockdown of how, in the midst of otherwise dire circumstances, many people discovered their neighbourhoods anew through walking, wheeling and cycling. Hanging on to that benefit in the longer term was never going to happen by magic; investment is required to transform our built environment to support active travel. Therefore, we have committed record levels of funding, with just under £190 million in our budget for active travel in this financial year. We are well on our way to investing £320 million by financial year 2024-25.

We have helped to deliver flagship projects such as the bridges in Stockingfield and Sighthill in Glasgow, which bring communities closer together with connections and opportunities.

Less headline grabbing but no less important is the fact that we have been improving what we already have, such as by providing £14 million to extend and improve the national cycle network. The removal of more than 200 barriers over the past year has helped to make the network’s routes more accessible for everyone who chooses to walk, wheel or cycle along them. Those small measures can have a big impact for people who use the network, making everyday trips safer and more convenient.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

In a different part of the minister’s portfolio, he has quantified the cost of doing what we want to do through the heat in buildings strategy as £33 billion. What does he quantify as the cost of doing all that we want to do in the active travel space?

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

The cost that we have committed to is £320 million or at least 10 per cent of the transport budget by the year 2024-25. Over the longer term, the sky is the limit in terms of the transformation that we could make in communities right across Scotland.

As we take that work forward, inclusion must be at the heart of our active travel policy, not just by creating better infrastructure but by working to close the mobility gap and meet the diverse needs of a diverse community. One example is the work of our delivery partners Cycling UK, which has formed a partnership with Spinal Injuries Scotland to develop a fleet of accessible and adaptable e-bikes that let people with spinal injuries and other mobility issues participate in cycling every day on journeys that many cyclists would take for granted—just going to the shops, commuting to work or attending an appointment. We should not accept that accessibility issues mean that someone cannot make an active travel journey.

In contrast with the priorities that held for so many decades, walking, wheeling and cycling are at the top of our sustainable travel hierarchy, which, in turn, informs our priorities for investment and policy decisions.

This year, I am again funding the Ian Findlay paths fund, which is named after the former chief officer of Paths for All who tragically passed away in 2021. The fund supports small local projects to make improvements to existing walking infrastructure and to make connections where there are gaps in local path networks.

I am very pleased to be able to announce today the launch of the £1.5 million active nation fund. The fund will make grants of up to £200,000 available to a range of public, third and community-sector organisations that are looking to scale up successful behaviour change interventions, enabling people to drive less and to walk, wheel or cycle as part of their everyday short journeys.

That is only a narrow sample of the wide range of activity across Scotland that is already happening. A lot of that work is still in the pipeline, and I cannot wait to join thousands of other people in seeing the benefits.

That rising investment has already had positive outcomes. To give just one example, a scheme at Garscube Road in the north-west of Glasgow, which was funded through our places for everyone programme, resulted in a 300 per cent increase in the number of cyclists using the road, demonstrating the demand for safe spaces and connected routes. Also, just last week, research that was funded by the Scottish Government showed that the numbers of children walking, wheeling and cycling to their schools are now higher than they were before the pandemic, with almost 50 per cent of pupils getting to school actively.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

I am interested in the minister’s mention of schools. He will be aware that primary school kids often cycle to school, but that that tails off when they get to secondary school. What is he noticing now? Is that changing?

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

We have a huge amount to do, not only with infrastructure, so that routes are safe, but to ensure that young people have access to bikes—and to different bikes as they grow and their needs change—and to the skills that they need to maintain them. There is a huge amount to do.

We are still in the early days of becoming an active travel nation and even the most ambitious projects that we begin today will take a few years to bear fruit, but I am determined to see our commitments and our record funding translate into real change on the ground.

In leading European cities, such as Utrecht and Copenhagen, such projects are commonplace and everyday. They are almost unremarked upon and are just business as usual, but getting to that position did not happen overnight; it took decades of persistent commitment across political and funding cycles. It also took an appreciation that increasing active travel is not just about active travel policy itself, and that how we manage wider transport policy is just as important. Therefore, our work on 20mph speed limits and traffic reduction targets matters, as does our economic development policy and how we plan, build and use our places—there is a role for national planning framework 4—as well as the commitment to 20-minute neighbourhoods.

That kind of sustained and integrated approach is becoming commonplace in other European cities, including in places such as Paris, Barcelona and Ghent, which some people might not associate with active travel. We can see our European neighbours transforming and re-imagining their cities and that is what we want to do here too.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

I know that the minister recognises my enthusiasm for giving people the opportunity to be active and to have active travel. Does he also recognise that the cities that he mentions already had significant active travel infrastructure and that we do not have that? We are starting from a lower position and must put more investment into delivering that active travel network before we can get people to use it.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

That is precisely why we are delivering record investment in this area. I repeat my case that places such as Paris and Barcelona perhaps did not have a strong track record and, unlike Amsterdam or Copenhagen, did not come from the higher starting point that the member talks about.

Where cities have achieved that change, they get more than health and environmental benefits. They find that, once their communities become safer and more pleasant places to spend time, they thrive. That is my ambition: that great environments for walking, wheeling and cycling become the default expectation. It must also be safe and easy to choose active travel in our rural areas and in smaller towns and villages, just as it should be in our cities.

There is still much more for us to do. That is why I published the new cycling framework for active travel in April this year. It supports our vision for active travel in 2030, when we want walking, wheeling and cycling to be the most popular modes of travel for short, everyday journeys. It will shape how Government, councils and active travel organisations will work together to deliver ambitious improvements and to remove barriers to cycling across the country.

The ambition shown by this Government in committing to the highest level of capital funding for active travel anywhere in the United Kingdom, and by far the highest amount in our history, means that we are starting to deliver. That is why I am very pleased today to announce an additional £20 million of active travel infrastructure funding that will go directly to local authorities, regional transport partnerships and the national park authorities. That new active travel transformation fund has been developed over the past few months in partnership with local authorities and others as a step towards reinvigorating our delivery models for next year and beyond.

This morning, I visited the south side of Glasgow and heard from city council colleagues how the fund has enabled the delivery of a project that will extend the already impressive south city way, connecting to the New Victoria hospital and a nearby housing development of 400 homes. That £2.5 million scheme will improve local public spaces, prioritise people over vehicles and improve connectivity throughout the area.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I will if it is brief. I need to make some progress.

The Presiding Officer:

I note that, at this point, we have some time in hand.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

Will the funds that have just been given be ring fenced or will it be open to councils to use them as they please?

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

The active travel transformation fund is available for councils to bid for. They can bring their projects forward and that money will be spent on delivering them.

The fund will deliver projects right across Scotland. An example is the £1.6 million to deliver phase 2 of the Alva academy link in Clackmannanshire, which will not only improve active travel for local children but will provide links to key employment centres that support about 1,000 workers. The fund will help to address transport poverty. It will also enable safe travel in rural communities. In Habost on the Isle of Lewis, we will provide £175,000 to connect the village with the local school.

We have been clear in our desire to develop the fund through a partnership approach, both directly with delivery bodies and through the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. I want to say how grateful I am for the constructive work of our partners, which is helping to ensure that the fund meets local needs wherever possible.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Is the fund a one-off pot of money or will year-on-year funding be built in so that local authorities can use it every single year?

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

The development of the project is designed to be in line with the transformation project—the wider transformation of the delivery of active travel. We know that we need to change those delivery models if we are going to have a way of delivering active travel that is on the scale and at the level of ambition that the budgets to come set out. Because of that, we have launched the transformation fund this year to trial the model of giving the money directly to local authorities.

Because of the way that we have developed the fund in this first year, we have removed match funding requirements as we know that they can make delivery difficult, particularly for smaller delivery partners. We have a great first group of projects that have been funded this year but, beyond that, the process has identified a pipeline of projects across Scotland that are worth nearly £700 million. I commend the genuine ambition that has been demonstrated by everyone who has developed them. The pipeline of projects stands us in great stead as it means that we have an exciting portfolio of projects that are ready to go and which match the scale of our budget commitments.

Because the real work of the fund is about turning ambition into delivery, I do not just want to see strategies; I want to see cycleways. I want to see the pipeline projects being turned into the fantastic environments for walking, wheeling and cycling that Scotland needs. The projects around the country that are included in today’s funding announcement will help to do that, but they are just the beginning. The fund will deliver a diverse range of active travel infrastructure in both urban and rural locations. By providing more safe and segregated infrastructure, the projects will help to remove one of the key barriers to greater modal shift towards active travel.

I could not lead today’s debate on walking, wheeling and cycling without reflecting on a huge event that will happen this summer. Scotland is in a unique position as the first country to host the UCI cycling world championships. You will be relieved, Presiding Officer—and I am sure that members will be as well—to hear that I am not the kind of person who will ever be seen in a Lycra skinsuit, hurtling round a velodrome. I am much more likely to be found going sedately along Sauchiehall Street dressed pretty much as I am today.

However, that difference captures a challenge and an opportunity that arise from the championships. The presence of world-class athletes from 13 disciplines and something like 1 million spectators converging on the country for two weeks will be a sporting spectacle, but I do not want it to leave a sense that active travel means only cycling or that cycling means only elite athletes using expensive specialist bikes.

Our task is to create a legacy that is about active travel as a way of going to work, to school or to the shops. It has been noticeable over decades that many of the countries with cycling superstars are also those with much more significant levels of everyday active travel.

We do not have to look far afield. Here in the UK, we have people such as Chris Boardman, former Olympic gold medallist and Tour de France yellow jersey holder, who now works as the national active travel commissioner with Active Travel England.

Here in Scotland, we have our own incredibly successful former professional cyclist in Lee Craigie, our ambassador for active travel. Lee is due to complete her term in that role in September. I express my gratitude for the contribution that she has made to our national conversation on active travel. Lee has been passionate, considered and thoughtful in her role—and, what is most important, she has consistently provided robust challenge to Government. I am sure that she is looking forward to supporting Scottish Cycling ahead of the UCI World Championships over the summer and continuing to show that cycling is for everyone.

Whether people are training for the world championships, cycling to school or work every day, or just heading out for a bit of exercise once in a while, they deserve to be able to do so with confidence and in safety. It saddens me to hear from people that they would love to cycle more and would love their children to walk or scoot to school but that they fear for their safety. Yet again, this week, there have been tragic reports of deaths and injuries on our roads. Far too many people have lost friends and family members who were simply walking, wheeling or cycling to get around. One death or serious injury on our roads is one too many, so I say again that, as a nation, we still have a great deal more to do. We can, must and will do better.

We are putting in place the right building blocks: a record level of investment of nearly £190 million this year; the even higher commitment of £320 million next year; the new active travel transformation fund of £20 million, which I have announced today; the commitment to getting results from our policy not just on active travel but on transport as a whole, as well as on planning, economic development, procurement and more; and the recognition that we get the best results when we work together—national Government, local government, regional transport partnerships, the third sector and, above all, the communities that give leadership and bring forward their ideas for change. The Scottish Government, will continue to make that sustained investment, working together to achieve an active travel transformation for Scotland.

I move,

That the Parliament believes that active travel can bring significant benefits for people’s health, the economy and the cost of living, and is critical for tackling the climate emergency and delivering on the commitment to reduce car kilometres by 20%; welcomes the Scottish Government's record budget for active travel in 2023-24; recognises that this is by far the highest investment in active travel per head across the UK; welcomes the new and additional £20 million Transformation Fund going directly to delivery partners to deliver new infrastructure at pace; commends the work of local authorities, regional transport partnerships and active travel delivery partners in turning that record level of investment into changes on the ground; notes the publication of the new Cycling Framework in supporting the wider 2030 Active Travel Vision, where walking, wheeling and cycling are the most popular modes of transport for shorter everyday journeys, and looks forward to the opportunity presented by the UCI Cycling World Championships coming to Scotland in August 2023 to encourage more people to choose active travel.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

I start by saying how shocked I was to hear about the resignation of Kevin Stewart as Minister for Transport and his reasons for stepping down. I wish him only the very best in his recovery. I have always got on with Kevin in whatever ministerial role he has performed. [



I agree with pretty much everything that Patrick Harvie has just said. That might surprise him.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

That is a ringing endorsement.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

Is Douglas Ross still there? He is not. I thought that he was about to sack me for saying that.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

I hope that everyone who is taking part in the debate was able to do some active travelling over what was a glorious weekend. I certainly got on my bike—something that Patrick Harvie might wish me to do with a degree of permanence—and it was good.

Recently, my good friend Brian Whittle and I cycled out from East Kilbride towards Strathaven on a cycle route that uses country roads. We did not get to Strathaven because we came across a farm that had diversified into opening an outdoor cafe. [


.] That was good enough for us and for the many locals who were using it.

I have cycled that route many times. All of it is on road, and I have to say that the roads are in an appalling state. In parts, they are dangerous to cyclists. Given that many cyclists have to go on the road, we need to concentrate on making the roads fit for purpose.

Mr Whittle and I enjoyed a few hours of old-codger chat and we will do so again soon, I hope. As you will be pleased to hear, Presiding Officer, we are not middle-aged men in Lycra. My approach, like the minister’s, is that I do not have to wear special clothing to jump on a bike.

However, I have taken to wearing a helmet most of the time. That came about for me during lockdown, when I was cycling a lot more than I had been. It was a result of a couple of things. First, as I have already said, the roads were dreadful and I considered that there was a real risk that I could be thrown off my bike. The roads are worse now, so the risk is greater. Secondly, I felt that if I got a bright helmet, it would help me to be seen by motorists, many of whom—let us face it—have little regard for cyclists.

Too many people do not feel safe on a bike, and that has to change. We need to make the infrastructure better and we need to take people with us on that mission.

Segregated routes are very important. The minister mentioned Barcelona. I have cycled there, and he is right to say that the city did not start off from a good point, but it has put in segregated routes and is perhaps a good example of how things can be done.

Here in Edinburgh, there are some fantastic off-road routes—the city is spoiled in many ways. It is investing heavily in more routes, but the council has too often been heavy handed in its approach and lacking in common sense. I do not want to get too parochial, but I recently cycled across the foot of Leith Walk, where the tramway has been built, and I just thought, “What the heck is going on?” I am not alone. The foot of Leith Walk has conflict written all over it.

All of us in this chamber back greater investment in active travel, be it in cycling, walking or wheeling. We went into the previous Scottish Parliament elections calling for 10 per cent of the transport budget to be spent on active travel, which is, thankfully, now the Government’s position. However, right now, a number of third sector organisations are worried about their funding and there is a fear of redundancies. Sustrans recently said:

“With less Scottish Government funding, we are left with no choice but to make cuts, which will reduce our impact on changing the way people travel every day. As a result, 21 of our Sustrans colleagues in Scotland are now at risk of redundancy and there will be an end or reduction to programmes right across Scotland.”

Some organisations have worked for months without funding. That is not good enough if we are to maintain any sort of momentum.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

The member, like others across the chamber, will be aware of the additional pressures that come from the current financial situation, including inflation and its impact on the Scottish budget, and the need to ensure that there is scrutiny.

One of the reasons for increased scrutiny of active travel is the increased level of budget. As something comes up the scale of spend, it requires additional scrutiny across the Scottish Government’s budget. I am very grateful for active travel partners’ understanding of the additional pressures that that brings to bear, and the extra work that they have done to provide the information that allows us to clear a huge amount of the spending that we have already committed to. They know that this Government is fully committed to a hugely increased budget, unlike those elsewhere in the UK.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

I want to talk about Scotland. The fact is that there are organisations out there that do not have certainty about their funding. When organisations such as Sustrans are having to potentially make people redundant, it sends out a very negative message.

In March last year, we debated active travel. At that time, I wished Mr Harvie all the best in his new role and offered to work with him on this policy area, on which we agree on so much. That has not happened, so I make the offer again. I would be happy to have regular meetings with Mr Harvie, so I look forward to his office getting in touch to set that up.

One issue that I have mentioned before—in fact, I mentioned it during that debate in March last year—is the lack of resources in councils, which is hampering progress. That is an issue that I mention in my amendment. Some councils do not have the expertise any more, or they may not have the people to run road safety courses—it could be anything.

There is a great project that was being talked about when I was a councillor in South Lanarkshire that has been stalled, apparently because of resources: the Westburn viaduct crosses the Clyde. Trains stopped using it in the 1980s and it has been closed ever since, but there is a plan in place to open it up and create a walking and cycling route over the river, which would be fantastic. I believe that Sustrans is geared up to go ahead, but there is no agreement on which council—Glasgow City or South Lanarkshire, on either side of the river—would maintain the new path.

The challenge of adoption of infrastructure for maintenance is a significant barrier to delivery. Perhaps the minister can assist in breaking the deadlock for the Westburn project, which could genuinely be transformational.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

The old Bathgate to Airdrie railway line was converted into what is an accessible and well-used cycle track. West Lothian Council and North Lanarkshire Council managed to work together collectively on that, so perhaps that is an example to cite locally.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

That is a good example. I am familiar with that route, which I have cycled. I look forward to cycling with Ms Hyslop at a local project that she has invited me to; I hope that we will do that in the summer, which would be fantastic.

I have referred many times to the Government’s well-meant target of reducing car miles by a fifth by 2030, which is a mere seven years away. So far, the Government has said nothing about how that will be achieved, but we know that the pace of delivery of the impressive active travel targets needs to be stepped up.

The cross-party group on sustainable transport, which I convene, produced a report in November that included five recommendations, which I will run through. They were:

“Provide clarity around policies, expected impacts, and timescales for implementation ... Pursue policies that target unnecessary car journeys ... Consider the equalities impacts of traffic reduction policies ... Ensure greater affordability of public transport services” and

“Include van traffic as part of the traffic reduction target.”

The report said that we should

“consider the impact of freight on traffic volumes and emissions from road traffic. It must be ensured that reduction in emissions from cars is not cancelled out by an increase of emissions from delivery vans.”

So far, I have seen no progress to meet those recommendations. Nothing that the minister has said today has convinced me that we have any hope of persuading more people to use public transport. If anything, the little progress that there has been on active travel is going backwards.

As you know, Presiding Officer, active travel is good for the nation. Walking for 30 minutes or cycling for 20 minutes on most days reduces mortality risk by at least 10 per cent. Active commuting is associated with an approximate 10 per cent decrease in cardiovascular disease risk and a 30 per cent decrease in type 2 diabetes risk. The cancer-related mortality rate is 30 per cent lower among bike commuters.

It is a fact that a large number of people do not have cars, so we should make life easier for them and encourage those who have cars to use them less often. My amendment would not wipe out the minister’s motion—it would keep most of it. My amendment merely says that the Government should set out some of its plans. If we all want to improve active travel, that is not too much to ask. I urge members to back my amendment; I hope that we can all move in the same direction.

I move amendment S6M-09328.2, to leave out from “; recognises” to “ground” and insert:

“but calls on the Scottish Government to set out a detailed delivery plan that addresses how it will help local authorities that do not have the capacity to achieve the targets; calls on the Scottish Government to set out in detail how it plans to achieve a 20% reduction in car mileage by 2030”.

Photo of Mercedes Villalba Mercedes Villalba Labour

I associate Labour with members’ comments following the resignation of Kevin Stewart. We wish him well in his recovery.

Somewhat belatedly, I welcome the Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights to his role. In his own words, it is “no secret” that he enjoys cycling, and his personal engagement on active travel stretches back to well before he took on his portfolio. I hope that, from his appointment, we will see enthusiastic prioritisation of active travel infrastructure and progress through cross-party work on that shared goal.

We in Labour believe that active travel can bring significant benefits for our health, our economy and our environment. However, none of those benefits will be achieved without significant investment, planning and promotion. We welcome the Scottish Government’s funding commitments and progress on the new cycling framework, but we must also be honest about where the Government is letting us down.

Council budgets have been slashed, road repairs are waiting, planning has been delayed, pavement parking is widespread, speeding is rampant, congestion is building, and air pollution is choking us.

Why does active travel matter? Active travel is not just about leisure; it is also about making it easier to get from A to B off our own steam, not just because that will improve our health but because it will improve our environment and save us money. If we can find a way to make that one switch, the benefits will be transformational. Therefore, the importance of active travel cannot be overstated.

Photo of Mercedes Villalba Mercedes Villalba Labour

I would like to make some progress.

We know from research that active travel is associated with a lower likelihood of having diabetes or hypertension. Research also demonstrates positive mental health benefits from active travel. A study based in London found that, compared with commuting by car, walking to work is significantly associated with higher life satisfaction. In fact, commuters who maintained cycling to work for a year reported lower sickness absences and improved mental health compared with commuters who travelled by non-active means.

It is not only our health that improves through active travel; the health of our environment does so, too. Changes in active travel have significant life-cycle carbon emissions benefits. Research has found that an average person who exchanges one car journey per day for cycling for four days a week would decrease mobility-related lifecycle CO2 emissions by about 0.5 tonnes per year. That is roughly as much CO2 as would be captured by 25 trees in a year. Imagine if we all made that switch—we would be a forest of millions.

With fewer cars on the roads, we will rid our environment of the relentless drone of traffic and quicken our nature recovery. We saw that during the pandemic. At first, we noticed the quiet, but we then heard the birds and other wildlife as they reclaimed the outdoors.

As much as we know that we ought to take better care of our health and our environment, it is hard to begin to think about that when the immediate reality is financial hardship, low pay, high prices and increasing demands on our time. The issue is not just that public transport is too expensive; it is too often impractical. When you are on a zero-hours contract, who has time to plan a journey with multiple changes? When you are working in healthcare or hospitality, who can be sure that they will finish work before the last bus to get home? When you are in insecure housing and are forced to move every six months, who has time to book three months in advance for the cheapest deal? When you are juggling childcare and caring responsibilities, whose plans will not change at short notice? It is no wonder that so many of us still opt for the reliability and convenience of a private vehicle. Once we are reliant on private vehicles, where would a walk or a cycle fit in, other than on a rare day off?

Let us remember that access to, and experience of, active travel are impacted by our gender, our ethnicity and whether we have a disability. We know that a lack of lighting in public parks and some streets means that women are less likely to walk or cycle after dark. We know that uneven paths and pavement parking can make it harder for people with disabilities to get around, and we know that people who are from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds are disproportionately impacted by air pollution, as they are more likely to live in areas of environmental deprivation. Therefore, our encouragement of active travel must be inclusive while we seek to redress social as well as economic inequalities.

The truth is that the current choice between private vehicle or active travel combined with public transport is not a fair one. What we are experiencing is a problem with our whole transport network, the planning system and our political culture because when Government retreats, private commerce fills the void and, rather than build what many need, it builds what a few can profit from.

So, who profits from us being in this impossible situation? The oil companies, the multinationals, the private developers—the list goes on. Who pays? Our pockets, our families’ health, our neighbours’ business and our polluted environment.

The Scottish Government’s commitment to increasing active travel spending to 10 per cent of the overall transport budget is welcome—we made the same call in the Labour manifesto—but we cannot stop there. We must account for the reality that economic and social inequality has created by implementing a gendered approach and a diversity approach to transport infrastructure that ensures that safety, convenience and affordability are properly addressed, particularly for people with protected characteristics including women, black and minority ethnic people and those with disabilities. We must end the cuts to local authorities and invest in insourcing so that we treat active travel as the vital public service that it is, with well paid, unionised public sector workers at its heart.

A recent study showed that mothers participating in active travel led to more active children and young people, which contributes to long-term habits that are good for the young people and for our planet. Those are benefits that will build up over time; if we take the opportunity to invest now, we will reduce strain on our health, our health service and our roads.

That is why it is disappointing that in February we heard that only 3,650 bikes had been given out to school children so far. That figure is significantly below the 145,000 families who should be eligible. In order to ensure that infrastructure investment has the greatest impact, we must follow it up with support and promotion to encourage behaviour change.

Active travel policy must be about more than just encouraging people to walk, wheel and cycle at the weekend; it must fit within an integrated publicly owned transport system, so that it becomes the best choice for commuters. It must be rolled out alongside reductions in speed limits around our education centres, so that every child and young person has a safe and healthy journey to school, college or university. It must also enhance our natural environment so that every active journey comes with the benefit of wildlife and natural beauty.

Greater participation in active travel is the culture change that we need, not just to protect what we have and to combat climate change, but to make all of our lives a little more joyful as we travel and work alongside each other.

I move amendment S6M-09328.1, to insert at end:

“; recognises the importance of local authority transport and planning funding in allowing all new and existing developments to include active travel infrastructure, tackling potholes, cycle parking, and ensuring safe pavements and travel for all; believes that active travel policies should be more conscious of protected characteristics, including women, disabled people and BME people, and notes the recent report highlighting the decrease in children travelling to school in an active way.”

Photo of Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Liberal Democrat

I echo other members’ comments about the sudden resignation of the transport minister. I send him my good wishes for a speedy recovery.

The UCI cycling world championships coming to Scotland in August 2023 will be a chance to showcase Scotland and the United Kingdom to the world. It will bring a great tourism boost to Glasgow and the surrounding areas, which the sector will no doubt welcome after the disruption of Covid-19. I am sure that it will also inspire people to dust down their bikes and get back on the saddle—although I cannot guarantee that I will be one of them. For young Scots, I hope that the championships will spark enjoyment and intrigue, leading them to develop an enduring pastime. Whether it is a quick trip to work or the shops or a leisurely cycle in nature, we know that such journeys can have health benefits.

For many of us, using our car is the simple, default and easy means to travel: roads take us where we want to go, we are sheltered from the weather, we do not have to think about exerting ourselves to overcome a hill and we are on our own timetable.

That simplicity is the challenge with which walking, wheeling and cycling must compete. Addressing the issues that a car driver does not have to think twice about will go some way towards getting more people walking, wheeling and cycling.

Progress on ambitions is at an early stage, and I note that it will be in the next financial year—three years into this session of Parliament—that the Scottish Government fulfils the Bute house agreement that 10 per cent of the transport budget will be spent on active travel. However, it is not simply money that will help to reach those ambitions; societal and behavioural changes are needed, too.

We can all recognise the benefits of active travel—from saving money to health improvement and helping the planet—but we are not all switching our cars for bikes on short journeys. Transport Scotland figures show the previous high of 1.8 per cent of journeys under 5 miles being made by bike, which was last achieved in 2018, only modestly climbing to 2.8 per cent in 2021. That said, I note the change in methodology for the pandemic-affected years.

Safety looms large as a concern. Research from Cycling Scotland shows that two thirds of people would be more likely to consider cycling if there was less traffic on the roads. Although changes in cycle lane configuration will address some of those concerns, there are more structural matters behind the scenes.

Cycling Scotland’s research also highlighted the stubborn gender gap, with almost 80 per cent of women saying that they would be more likely to cycle if there was less traffic on the road, compared with just over 60 per cent of men. Men also stated that they were more confident cycling, compared with the responses from women. That speaks to the need for gender-sensitive planning more widely.

Those from minority communities are also underrepresented on the saddle. I note the work of the Sustrans community active travel support service to address that.

Our active travel infrastructure needs to be accessible across the board so that everyone feels that they can use and enjoy it. Even during Covid-19 restrictions and policies such as spaces for people, cycling did not seem to become that much more attractive to people. We will have to see how the figures stack up in the future, with Covid-19 restrictions having been fully lifted.

The Transport Scotland figures for 2020 and 2021 show an increase in walking, with almost 60 per cent of journeys of under 2 miles in 2020 being made by walking. That figure sat at almost 48 per cent in 2019. Again, figures will need to be assessed in the context of the full lifting of the pandemic restrictions, as there was a slight fall to 56 per cent in 2021.

Work to build new paths, connect old paths and re-evaluate urban spaces can boost active travel. I note the ambition for 20-minute neighbourhoods to encourage uptake of walking, wheeling and cycling. However, a lot of that does not apply to rural and island Scotland, where a car is not a luxury but a necessity. For island and rural areas, there will always need to be alternatives to active travel to cross greater distances and deal with geographical challenges. For some, accessibility needs are met only by car, but that does not mean that we cannot make improvements. We must do what we can to make car travel sustainable with advances in electric vehicles and charging points, as well as investment in our public transport.

The Scottish Government is moving in the right direction with investment and strategy development. We will continue to scrutinise that work, which is still in its infancy.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

We now move to the open debate. I confirm that we still have quite a bit of time in hand, so anybody who takes an intervention will get the time back and possibly a bonus over and above that. I call Christine Grahame for a generous six minutes.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

Deputy Presiding Officer, I must know what the bonus is first—I mean, I have to have notice of what the bonus will be.


I am pleased to support the Government motion, and I welcome the additional £20 million of funding. As others have said, one of the unexpected and rare bonuses of Covid and its restrictions was the empty roads and streets, which made walking, but particularly cycling, safer and more enjoyable.

As a consequence, in the capital, Edinburgh city streets have many designated cycle lanes, which must give a degree of comfort to cyclists and motorists. However, I say in passing that some cyclists who ride through Holyrood park do not use those lanes but insist on using the road. I do not know why. Some do not wear reflective clothing. Some might have a bright light but simply rely on the rear reflector light to alert motorists to their presence. That rear reflector is all that we can see. I cannot fathom that either.

I return to the issue of roads. Cycle lanes are, of course, not available—nor would they be practical—on the main arterial roads in my constituency: the A68, A7, A707, A702 and A703. They are tricky to drive, let alone to cycle. There is also the hazard of the Sheriffhall roundabout—known to cyclists as “the meat grinder”—where the A7 meets the city bypass. I have never seen a cyclist try to tackle the Sheriffhall roundabout.

However, local and short distances are being tackled. I will start with the example of Borders schools, which are getting children into the habit of and having confidence in cycling. In February, I visited Stow primary school, which is undertaking Living StreetsWOW initiative, which is a walk-to-school challenge. WOW is a pupil-led initiative where children self-report how they get to school every day using the interactive WOW travel tracker. Pupils who travel actively at least once a week for a month are rewarded with a WOW badge. WOW schools in Scotland see, on average, a 5 per cent to 10 per cent increase in pupils walking to school with a corresponding drop in car use, helping to reduce congestion and increase safety outside the school gates.

The Scottish Government awarded Scottish Borders Council £1.2 million funding for spaces for people, which included spend on measures such as 20mph speed limits in every town, to make the roads safer for walkers and cyclists. The road from Clovenfords to Caddonfoot was closed as part of that. It proved to be such a success that the closure was made permanent, to create a car-free stretch, which is now used extensively by dog walkers and cyclists. The local primary school is also making use of the grass football pitch halfway down the road, because there is now safe access—previously the road, which has no pavement, had a 60mph speed limit.

The 20mph limit is now fully operational across the Borders. I believe that that has improved the lives of communities such as Stow, where there is a very narrow pavement abutting the busy and also narrow A7, which runs through the village.

Last year, the Hike & Bike Hub opened on Channel Street in Galashiels. It aims to promote active travel and healthy leisure activities, and to make them available to everyone, regardless of income on a “pay what you can” basis, so some are hired at the full rate, some are hired at a reduced rate and some are free.

There are also many bike recycling social enterprises. Examples are Re-cycles Penicuik; the Stow cycle hub at the station, which includes bike hire; and Just Cycle in Tweedbank, which recycles bikes that are destined for the tip. People do not need a lot of money to have a bike—there are some terrific bargains.

There is a 51-mile circular cycle route through the Scottish Borders that goes through Tweedbank, Melrose, past Leaderfoot viaduct and on to Scott’s view. Other routes run parallel with the Tweed, east and west. Those are absolutely protected, away from the main road, very flat and quite often tarmacked, so they are also suitable for wheelchairs and prams.

Borders Buses carries the sign “The bus you can take your bike on”. It has 23 bike-friendly buses. Those take people away from very busy roads that they cannot cycle on. People can put their bike on a bus in Edinburgh and Glasgow. They can also take their bike on the train.

Of course, there is the famous mountain biking centre at Glentress. That has different levels of biking trails and is for real cyclists. I have never been on any of them; I never intend to be. I value my bones.

In Midlothian, the council has been given funding of more than £266,000 for three projects. I will cite one as an example. Shawfair connections is to be completed in 2026. That is important, because Shawfair is an area with a huge household development and is adjacent to the Borders railway, with its own station. The project will commence in October and will consider priority routes for active travel infrastructure in the Shawfair area. Planning ahead is important. When housing developments are being considered, there is a need to build in active travel routes at the beginning.

There are many cycle paths across Midlothian. Each Midlothian school has a travel plan that aims to encourage pupils and staff to walk, cycle or, more often, scoot. Currently, Midlothian has 17 cycle-friendly primary schools. In my patch, those are Strathesk primary school, Cornbank St James primary school, Cuiken primary school, Sacred Heart primary school, which are all in Penicuik, and another in Gorebridge.

There are also secondary school cycle clubs. Beeslack and Lasswade high schools offer extracurricular cycle clubs, and Penicuik high school is in the process of starting one. A lot of important work is being done in primary and secondary schools.

Other initiatives include the installation of cycle lanes, where appropriate—not on some main roads, for example—cycle and scooter parking provision at schools and route maps that show recommended safe routes to school. There is also bike week, with events including “Bling Your Bike”, which involves pupils decorating their bike or scooter, and “Ticket to Ride”, in which pupils receive raffle tickets for cycling that go into an end-of-week prize draw for cycle prizes.

Rosslyn chapel and the national mining museum in Scotland have become the first two visitor attractions in the Lothians to achieve the cyclists welcome award from VisitScotland.

There have, therefore, been substantial developments to encourage more cycling. However, the safety of cyclists must be secure. Several years ago, I tried cycling to Parliament. In order to access the cycle path through the park, I had to cycle only a short distance without a designated cycle path, but I was knocked off by a passing car and lost my confidence. I confess that my bike is now a very handy handbag rack in the hall, and there it will stay.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Ms Grahame. The bonus to which I referred earlier is, of course, an annual membership for Glentress.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

As I rise to speak, I am still reeling from the knowledge that I have been dropped as Graham Simpson’s cycling buddy in favour of Fiona Hyslop.

However, I am delighted to speak in this debate. As members are aware, I support investment in active travel. We should encourage physical activity given our country’s poor health record.

A report from December 2022 in the

Journal of Transport and Health said that physical activity levels

“can be increased by implementing policies that provide convenient, safe, and connected walking and cycling infrastructures, promote active travel and give strong support to public transport.”

I also read an article on ScienceDirect that said that providing new walking and/or bicycle infrastructure was “strongly associated” with increased levels of physical activity.

Crucially, making it easier to access active travel encourages people to use active travel networks. Sustrans identified a lack of funding as one of the main barriers that local authorities face in delivering net zero. Even with Government funding, local authorities struggle to secure the match funding that is required to be shortlisted for projects, which slows down the delivery of that infrastructure. In addition, Sustrans says that the cost of infrastructure maintenance is often too significant for local authorities to meet alone.

That brings me to the Conservative amendment, in the name of Graham Simpson, which asks for a clear route and delivery plan to address how the Government will help local authorities that do not have the capacity to achieve our targets.

I wanted to have a look at the introduction of low emission zones now that one is live in Glasgow. I looked at a Sustrans report from 2019 on reducing car use in Scottish cities. The report says that the three ways to reduce car dependency are

“Developing high quality neighbourhoods ... Improving public transport provision, walking and cycling across cities” to make them competitive with driving and

“Taking steps to reduce the number of cars within our cities and towns.”

The problem is that the Scottish Government started with the third one without recognising that people still have to travel across and into cities. The introduction of the car ban without the development of alternatives has put increased pressure on businesses, especially on people who drive older cars. The policy therefore has a disproportionate impact on those who can least afford car upgrades.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

Does Brian Whittle accept that Glasgow has a pretty good local transport system? My constituency, which is not in a rural area, has 11 railway stations and at least six bus routes, with very frequent services. We have very good public transport in Glasgow.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

I thank John Mason for that intervention, but it is problematic if people need to get in and out of the city, and it is quite difficult for business people to travel from one meeting to another.

In Glasgow, there should have been infrastructure investment prior to the introduction of the low-emission zone to make the transformation as easy as possible for locals, commuters and businesses.

That takes me on to amendments that I tried to make when the Transport (Scotland) Bill went through Parliament in the previous session. Specifically, one amendment would have ensured that, under the LEZ legislation, all revenue above the cost incurred in administering the scheme would be used for activities that contributed to meeting climate change targets and actions to reduce air pollution. That amendment was not agreed to. It was voted down by the Greens, which came as a bit of a surprise to me.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Just a few minutes ago, one of the member’s colleagues asked me whether I agree that we should not tell local authorities how to use money that is provided for them. Is he now saying that we should dictate from the centre how money should be used locally? Surely he can recognise that there is a case for decentralising that decision making.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I will give you the time back for taking that intervention, Mr Whittle.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

As I said, before that legislation was introduced, infrastructure should have been in place to make it easier for people to get around. The Government already centralises so much of the money for local government. In this particular instance, we should make it easier for local councils to put in place that infrastructure. The LEZ legislation does not ring fence a budget to support alternative ways to travel through the zones, and there is no preparation of alternative travel infrastructure that is joined up in a proactive manner. The Scottish Government needs to plan for the implementation of low emission zones, ensure that travel is accessible and ensure that the decision to adopt public transport is as easy to make as possible.

I want to mention a third sector organisation in my area, Cycle Station, which recycles bikes. Last year, it recycled 640 bikes and put them back into the community at a fraction of the cost of new bikes. Cycle Station is actively engaging with the community to improve its services. It has increased its cycle training classes and learn-to-ride sessions. It now runs four such sessions on Saturday mornings for children aged three to 15. It started with classes for kids as young as three on balance bikes and, after feedback from the community, it now offers tailored classes for children aged seven to 10, which are fully booked.

Cycle Station’s bike refurbishing work is aligned with the circular economy. The recent good weather has boosted sales, and it tells me that it is busy in the workshops with services, repairs and the refurbishment of bikes for reuse and redistribution. Because of that expansion, the organisation now needs additional space to meet the demand for refurbishing parts as well as whole bikes. Many of the barriers that Cycle Station faces align with the barriers that are set out in the Sustrans report that I referred to. Cycle Station says that the biggest challenge last year was gaining funding for the refurbishment of a new building in Darvel to allow the expansion of the operation and facilities for the benefit of the community.

I have previously invited the minister to visit Cycle Station. I again invite him to do so and see for himself the great work that the organisation does. The Scottish Government should consider how it can turbo charge its ambition by backing third sector organisations that promote active travel, such as Cycle Station. Those organisations are economically prudent and reach the very people whom we would all like to reach.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Fiona Hyslop. You have a generous six minutes, Ms Hyslop.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

By now, we all know about the physical and mental health benefits of active travel. They include feeling clearer headed after some fresh air, being more productive after a walk, saving on fuel and reducing traffic in our streets. I have a daily 50-minute walk as part of my commute to Holyrood via the train service, and I definitely feel the benefit of it.

The Scottish Government has continually displayed its commitment to active travel and to increasing levels of walking, cycling and wheeling. It has committed to spending at least £320 million, or 10 per cent of the total transport budget, on active travel by 2024-25, which is up from £39 million in 2017-18. That funding will go to projects throughout Scotland that will make public spaces more suitable for active travel, as well as pilot projects that will improve accessibility to such travel. That might involve offering free bikes to children who cannot afford them, bike storage schemes, shared hire schemes or bike riding and maintenance training for communities. That comprehensive approach will benefit people’s health and wellbeing and improve their connections and their communities, not to mention that it will have a huge benefit to the environment in the form of reduced carbon emissions and traffic congestion.

As West Lothian, which I represent, is a county of small towns with regular commuters, we are well placed to demonstrate how active travel can work by encouraging residents to bike or walk to train or bus stations instead of driving into cities. I urge the minister to prioritise not just cities but those kinds of hub-and-spoke links in West Lothian for funding, because walking or wheeling to public transport hubs on the M8 and M9 for buses and rail stations, including the new station that we need at Winchburgh, just makes sense if we are to stop car commuting.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

Six months or so ago, the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee that the member and I sit on produced a comprehensive report that said that one of the main concerns for councils was a lack of skills to deliver net zero programmes, particularly around active travel. Is the member aware of whether the Scottish Government has taken on board that particular recommendation to increase skills?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I can give you the time back, Ms Hyslop.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I think that the particular issue in that respect is planning, which we know has an effect, whether it be on infrastructure for active travel or on other areas around net zero. My concern is whether regional transport partnerships are really effective at joining things up and sharing the skills between local authorities—which Mr Simpson might have referred to.

In Linlithgow, a world-class cycling facility—the West Lothian Cycle Circuit—was opened by minister Maree Todd just at the end of May. Yes, it has been built for competitions, but it also provides access to a safe and traffic-free environment in which children can learn how to cycle and adults, particularly women, can learn again how to cycle safely and confidently. Indeed, I suggest to Mr Simpson, who is a keen cyclist, that he might wish to visit the circuit.

This year, from 3 to 13 August, the UCI world championships will see the world’s greatest cyclists come together across Scotland to compete at the highest level, to make history and to show the world the power of the bike. It is the biggest global cycling event that has ever been staged, featuring 13 world championships across seven disciplines, and it is a world-class event that will inspire and motivate people to try a bike again at our cycle circuit in West Lothian. I am proud to have played my part in negotiating and securing the UCI world championships event for Scotland when I was a minister.

Constituents also benefit from the West Lothian Bike Library, which works in partnership with the council to help people get active and connected through cycling. I would encourage my constituents to take part in West Lothian Council’s consultation on active travel in order to inform the West Lothian active travel plan and help the council bid for the funds that the minister referred to.

I have also had the opportunity to work directly with Sustrans, West Lothian Council and my constituents to improve active transport links in my constituency. Capstan Walk, which is a stretch of pathway linking the outlying Springfield area of Linlithgow to the town centre, was in a state of disrepair, despite being a core pathway used by pupils going to schools and by local people commuting to the train station. In collaboration with Sustrans and West Lothian Council, I have worked with constituents and co-ordinated efforts to get the pathway repaired, and it is now much more suitable for wheeling use. Such work is an example of how we can make accessible-to-all pathways that encourage walkers, cyclists, wheelchair users and those with prams to travel to their town centres safely and actively, instead of driving.

The national cycle network through Scotland consists of roughly 1,643 miles of routes, including 702 miles of traffic-free routes using railway paths, canal towpaths, forest roads, shared-use paths, segregated cycle lanes and redetermined rural footways. The network, which is a massive asset to Scotland, cuts through my constituency, enabling people to actively explore this beautiful country. If we look at the figures for 2019-20, we can see its benefit. It was used by 4.2 million people; 70.9 million car trips were saved; £1.64 billion was spent in local businesses by leisure and tourist users; and £21.5 million was saved by the national health service through the impact on people’s health.

We know that the current planning system creates a dependency on cars, and I must ask the minister whether the planning stipulations for 2.4 cars in new housing developments are still happening. We also know that section 75 agreements could be better utilised by local authorities to support sustainable and accessible active travel and public transport links. Recently, constituents in Bridgend in my constituency contacted me, wanting the council to make use of section 75 agreements in proposed housing developments to promote cycle paths.

Active travel is not a priority for the Conservative party. Indeed, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently received an open letter from a coalition of charities, professional organisations and businesses urging a reversal of the proposed cuts to active travel funding announced by UK Secretary of State for Transport, Mark Harper, on 9 March. In comparison, the Scottish Government is putting the health and wellbeing of citizens and the environment at the heart of policy, with a record level of funding for active travel in Scotland.

The Scottish Government has consistently demonstrated its commitment to active travel. That positive development must continue, because, if it does, we will continue to see changes in people’s health, the environment and the economy. There is a lot of power in active travel, allowing people to change lifestyles for the better, helping our environment and—importantly in the 21st century—connecting people in a greener and more sustainable way.

I am pleased to support the minister’s motion.

Photo of Evelyn Tweed Evelyn Tweed Scottish National Party

A quarter of Scotland’s emissions come from transport, and at 38 per cent, cars account for the largest share. Cutting transport emissions is vital if we are to prevent irreversible climate change and lead healthier lives; the Scottish Government’s aim of reducing car kilometres by 20 per cent by 2030 is an important goal and good active travel options do a great deal to reduce car use.

As the minister and others have mentioned, the UCI cycling world championships, which will take place in August across Scotland, including in my Stirling constituency, will be a fantastic showcase for cycling and active travel. However, we must also take the opportunity to understand why people do not choose active travel. The reasons include a lack of infrastructure. Smaller rural communities often suffer from connectivity issues, both within communities and between neighbouring areas, and fast roads with no pavements and poor public transport links make getting around sustainably a challenge. Paired with the increasing centralisation of services, including general practitioners and supermarkets, that leads to a higher reliance on cars. Indeed, with a figure of 584, Stirling has the highest vehicle ownership per 1,000 population in Scotland.

Reliance on cars also entrenches inequalities and limits accessibility for people who do not have access to one. In my constituency, there are key gaps in active travel infrastructure that still need to be filled, including the much needed connection between Doune and Callander. There is a massive demand for it—indeed, constituents ask about it all the time—but, at present, there is no safe or accessible route. Yesterday, I wrote to Sustrans for an update on progress.

Across my constituency, proactive rural communities are delivering excellent active travel projects. For example, the Killearn Community Futures Company is working on a path to better connect new developments with the rest of the village. Regrettably, the planning system had allowed the developer to provide only a narrow pavement link for walking, with no provision for cycling or wheeling, so the community decided to take action and applied for Sustrans places for everyone funding. Although national planning framework 4 is a great step towards prioritising active travel links in planning, the people involved with that project are asking for higher minimum standards for new developments in that respect.

When I spoke to Stirling Council about active travel in rural areas, it highlighted the many engaged rural communities that are keen for improvement. However, when projects are prioritised on a value-for-money basis, it is harder to make the business case for those who live in areas with lower-density populations. Those rural routes might not have the same number of core users as city routes, but they are still an important step in connecting our rural communities and reducing car use. The council highlighted the potential for a dedicated fund for rural projects to progress key links, but it also needs provision of funds for maintenance, which is an important issue, too.

As we have heard, the Scottish Government has committed to spending at least £320 million, or 10 per cent of the total transport budget, on active travel by 2025, and I welcome the new £20 million transformation fund, with funding going directly to delivery partners. That will support faster progress in infrastructure improvements, and I hope that specific funds will be dedicated to rural areas. I am also pleased that in its “A Long-Term Vision for Active Travel in Scotland 2030” the Scottish Government has highlighted the importance of better maintenance and increased provision in rural areas. Those things are much needed, and I am eager to hear how those aims will be achieved.

As we transition to more active travel, we are likely to remain dependent on cars in the near future. In the absence of reliable public transport links, steps should also be taken to find short-term solutions for rural communities. In my constituency, the community of Doune has faced high levels of car traffic and a lack of parking; the people there have worked hard to come up with an innovative solution in the form of park and stride, and an old council site outside the village has been repurposed for parking and electric vehicle charging. It encourages those who can to walk through the village to Doune castle, which was made famous by “Outlander” and Monty Python. The aim of the project is to reduce congestion in the village, increase footfall to local businesses and encourage visitors to spend more time in the village itself.

As we look to other nations and admire their active travel infrastructure, it is easy to forget that the bike culture of the Netherlands, for example, was not a natural phenomenon; as the minister has noted, it was the product of hard work, fierce activism and investment over the course of many years. It will take hard work here, too, but the outcome will be so worth while. The benefits—reduced car use, lower emissions, cleaner air and increased wellbeing—are many, and I look forward to seeing how the Scottish Government will ensure that our rural communities make progress on this, too.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

First, I apologise for my need to leave the chamber soon, as I have a meeting with the Minister for Parliamentary Business in my role as a committee convener. I will endeavour to be back as soon as possible and hope to be here for closing speeches. I thank the Presiding Officer for accepting my request.

We know how important active travel is to reducing emissions and improving health, alongside other related benefits. However, travelling around Scotland, we can clearly see that we need to do much more to shift away from car use. Our local authorities have a key role in delivery, but they face huge challenges with funding and in securing the necessary skills to deliver on programmes such as active travel, which are vital to net zero. Their budgets have been under significant pressure for a number of years; increasing the active travel budget now will not compensate for more than a decade of cuts. We need consistent investment that prioritises encouraging and enabling people to get out of their cars, to walk and to cycle so that we can reap the benefits for health, for the environment and for all our communities.

To encourage active travel to the levels that we want, it needs to be a key and core part of infrastructure development that is thought about in conjunction with public transport, housing and planning and social inclusion in the initial stages and in relation to maintenance. We need to think about the range of ways in which travel can be built into our lives and communities, and we need to ensure that people can access local services as well as onward transport routes.

In cycling provision, we have seen some significant improvements within cities and towns, but they have been a bit too piecemeal. Too often, cycle routes come to an abrupt stop and there are too few fully formalised routes with segregated lanes. There have been nowhere near enough improvements in connecting towns and villages with cycling networks so that people can cycle into towns and cities from the countryside and vice versa. Making those connections can stimulate local economies and open Scotland up to more people, including people on lower incomes.

We have seen how the north coast 500 route has been used to bring tourists to that part of the country, but we should be looking at promoting cycling equivalents that would bring people to enjoy our scenery, communities and hospitality by getting around on their bikes. There are some beautiful coastal routes in Fife—I welcome the recent improvements around Aberdour—but there are still gaps.

As for walking routes, we need to look at the condition of the paths network and consider how to properly fund its on-going maintenance. A few members have raised that issue in the debate.

We should recognise that active travel must work alongside public transport. Commuters often have to be able to walk or cycle to bus stops or train stations. That means that we must provide suitable secure bike storage so that people are comfortable leaving their bikes when they make their onward journeys. It also means that we must increase the number of bike spaces that we have on trains and buses, so that bikes can be used at the other end of journeys. Christine Grahame highlighted that people who try to get around the country in her region too often find that they cannot access public transport modes with their bikes.

Behaviour change programmes are a key part of encouraging people to change their travel habits. In my region, organisations including Greener Kirkcaldy, which I visited recently, are working with the community to deliver sustainable change, including through walking festivals, cycle rides and training, and bike repairs and servicing. Bike doctor services are out and about in the community, which is making it easier for people to access the help that they need to get on two wheels, and is removing barriers to participation. I was pleased that my bike was recently made fit for the road by a bike doctor when he visited our offices in Lochgelly.

When it comes to increasing participation, more targeted action to change behaviours is needed. We need improvement in the data that is collected on active transport and gender, for example. However, we already know that men are much more likely to cycle than women are, and we know that the number of children getting to school by active travel modes is declining. We also know that access to active travel is often divided along economic lines or by rural and urban areas. Therefore, we need initiatives that target particular groups and encourage modal shift among them.

Sometimes, however, it is not modal shift that is needed; we must recognise, as Mercedes Villalba pointed out, that we are sometimes talking about people who do not have cars. The Levenmouth area, which I represent, has one of the lowest levels of car ownership in the country, so we need to facilitate people who live there to be more active.

Behaviour change is not just about encouraging more people to walk or cycle. Cycling Scotland’s annual “Give cycle space” campaign is running at the moment. It highlights some of challenges that need to be addressed. It surveyed more than 500 drivers who do not cycle themselves. Although 97 per cent of them agreed that people who drive too close to cyclists are putting lives at risk, more than a third of them admitted that they

“don’t think of someone cycling as a person”.

Instead, they are focused on getting past the cyclist and on with their journey. That is a frightening thought for anyone who is thinking about cycling. Segregated lanes are not always available or well maintained, nor is it required that cyclists use them even when they are available. I think that that point was made earlier in relation to the cycle lanes in Holyrood park.

In my region, the Levenmouth connectivity project seeks to transform provision for walking, wheeling and cycling in the Levenmouth area, including by upgrading around 24km of existing roads and paths, of which 10km will be segregated from vehicles.

The benefits of increasing active travel are huge, but securing those benefits needs consistent and improved support for local authorities in order that they can deliver the necessary infrastructure, alongside behaviour change programmes that enable people to make changes to their transport habits. The funds that have been announced today are welcome; however, although there are advantages to a bidding process, we need sustainable funding.

I welcome the UCI cycling world championships coming to Scotland later this year. I look forward to seeing the road race taking place in various parts of my region, as well as the time trial that will take place in Stirling. I would be keen to hear more from the minister about how the Scottish Government is working not just to encourage more people to choose active travel for such events but to generate an all-important active travel legacy from it.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I welcome the debate and commend the minister for the personal energy that he brings to this important topic. From my extensive discussions with him over the course of the period in which he has been in Government, I know how seriously he takes the issues, and that he is providing the commitment and leadership that are necessary to advance the agenda.

One of the comments that the minister made in his opening remarks suggested that we must make active travel easier and safer. The more we think about how that can be turned into a practical reality, the better we will serve the interests of the policy agenda.

I took part in a local cycling exercise in the city of Perth. It is a place in which I do not normally cycle; I normally cycle in country areas on very quiet roads. I found cycling in the city of Perth to be a very unnerving experience because of the interplay with, and the volume of, fast-moving traffic. There are significant obstacles to people feeling that it is safe to cycle in particular contexts. That should underpin a lot of our thinking, because it all matters in terms of getting people out of cars and on to the other modes of transport that will help us to reduce carbon emissions.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

I share Mr Swinney’s experience of the difficulties of cycling around Perth. Does he agree that it has not helped that the local council there has taken out a number of cycle lanes over time, thereby making the streets potentially more dangerous?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

That is a concern. I will speak soon about some issues in the Perthshire area, where my council colleagues are now taking back the initiative to ensure a far more sustained approach that will secure greater levels of participation in cycling and active travel, which are essential to reducing carbon emissions.

A key point that is at the heart of the Government’s agenda and the minister’s agenda is the creation of a common purpose between Government, local authorities, regional transport partnerships and communities. The Government cannot do this on its own, so it is not appropriate to land it all on the Government, because many decisions must be taken at the local level. That makes the stance that has been taken by the Conservative Party in today’s debate just a little odd, because the amendment that was lodged by Graham Simpson would delete the motion’s reference to the active investment that the minister is making today in local authority provision. Having made the plea that the Government support local authorities with funding, the Conservatives now want us to pass a rather silly amendment that would take away any reference to that particular point.

Mercedes Villalba made a strong point about the importance of improving air quality. The intervention that I wanted to make on her was to ask a bewildered question about what on earth the Glasgow Labour Party was doing in the run-up to the introduction of the Glasgow low emission zone last week, when Labour members suddenly said that they thought that there were problems with the zone, despite their having made a manifesto commitment to delivering it.

I am not citing those examples to make unnecessary trouble for myself in a parliamentary debate—I always try to bring people in the chamber together—but I think that they are stunning examples of the problem that is faced by us, by the minister and by the whole climate action agenda. It is that we need to get people to establish a degree of consistency between our vigorous strategic agreement on the importance of tackling climate change and the specific things that we have to do about it on the ground. I cite the deposit return scheme, in respect of which there is a massive problem that has become an obstacle, and the workplace parking levy, which we have been told we cannot do. Many other things have been cited, but here we are, in an active travel debate, with the minister putting money on the table to help things to move forward while folk moan about it.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Since I have been citing him as the principal source of moaning and complaint today, I must give way to Mr Simpson.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

I point out to John Swinney that at no point in my contribution did I moan or complain about anything that Patrick Harvie said. Perhaps he will recognise that I started my contribution by saying that I agree with what Patrick Harvie said. If Mr Swinney could adopt that tone, the debate would be all the better for it.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I can give you that time back, Mr Swinney.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I am trying to encourage people to establish a relationship between our strategic commitment to tackling climate change and their being prepared actually to do something about it ground. That is my point.

Let me move to some of the local issues that I told Mr Ruskell I would talk about. One good example that I see in my constituency is that some developments can enable active travel. For example, when the Perth flood defence scheme was put in place, an extensive cycling network was created. It goes off road around the North Muirton area and gives wonderful access to the city.

That will be complemented by the completion of the cross-Tay link route. I know that Mr Ruskell is not a fan of that particular development, but it will create a park-and-choose space where people can park their cars then choose how they access the city from quite far out of the city, in a rural area.

I make the plea to the minister, as I did when he came to visit my constituency, that the Government look seriously at community aspirations for stronger regulation to enable communities to access land for community projects for active travel development. I have a number of examples, particularly in the Coupar Angus, Blairgowrie and Alyth triangle, where great community groups want to establish cycleways but are being thwarted by their lack of ability to progress land acquisition or to deal even with land-access issues, on which public authorities have stronger powers than community organisations.

When I visited constituents the other week, we cycled along the cycle route beside the A90 dual carriageway between Perth and Dundee, on the stretch between Walnut Grove and St Madoes. It is quite literally just a pavement at the side of the A90. For people who cycle along it, even those who are of sturdy determination, it is quite daunting and intimidating. We need to think about how we can develop spaces and routes. St Madoes is a growing commuter community for the city of Perth. There is an opportunity for people to use that route to access the city, but the infrastructure is not quite there. I have written to the transport minister about the issue, and I hope that Patrick Harvie will engage on the matter.

The Government is taking the right steps. I very much welcome the investment that it has announced today and the commitment to active travel. I hope that they will help us to get the modal shift that is necessary to support our ambitions on climate change.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

I welcome the debate. It comes after world bicycle day on Saturday, when we celebrated what I believe the Dutch call fietsgeluk, or bicycle happiness—a state that is perhaps typified by Graham Simpson and his rambling journeys around the countryside together with his lead-out man, Brian Whittle.

It is clear that the record-breaking levels of investment to create dedicated spaces where we can walk, wheel and ride in safety are starting to deliver. If we build it, they will come, and I am very encouraged by the minister’s announcement of the transformation fund today. It will really help to build the capacity in local authorities, which has been dwindling in recent years.

We heard some examples from Stirling from Evelyn Tweed. In Stirling, we have the new railway station concourse and the routes around town and out to the university. They represent the most significant step in redesigning the city’s transport infrastructure that we have seen in more than a generation. I know that the minister visited Stirling recently.

The green shoots that are starting to appear around the country are testament to the work of a movement that has been relentless in its goal to reclaim the streets for people. I pay tribute in particular to Ian Findlay, who was such a wonderful advocate and an inspiration personally to me and to many others who joined him in that important mission.

Of course, the debate on active travel is about much more than simply modes of transport. Ultimately, it is about designing places that are friendlier, safer and healthier—places that feel accessible regardless of people’s mobility, age, income or ability to drive. It is about places that are nice to spend time in—green, beautiful and sociable spaces.

We can ask people to walk, wheel and cycle and we can train and support them to do so, but if the streets are dangerous—if pavements are blocked and traffic is too congested or too fast—they will not do so. Even segregated infrastructure cannot possibly join up every single journey from door to door.

A key litmus test here is our schools. If young people and their families who live within just a couple of miles of places find it difficult to walk, wheel or cycle there, we clearly need intervention and investment. The streets where we live, work and play have to feel safer, with the car being a guest, and a polite and respectful one at that. Getting the foundations right is vital.

I highlight two simple national interventions that will be transformational for communities across Scotland: 20mph speed limits and the enforcement of restrictions on pavement parking—two issues on which I have enjoyed working closely with Kevin Stewart over the past couple of months. I very much wish him well for the future.

Traffic speed is often cited as the biggest barrier to cycling. Twenty miles per hour is the right maximum speed for the majority of roads on which motor vehicles mix with pedestrians, wheelers and cyclists. For every 1mph reduction in average speed, there is a 4 to 6 per cent reduction in road casualties—real lives that are being saved. The extensive Scottish Borders Council pilot has shown conclusively that 20mph benefits both urban and rural communities. That limit is popular, too; no sooner has one community switched to 20 than others demand to go 20 as well.

Some members might remember that, in 2019, I introduced a member’s bill to make 20mph the norm in Scotland. Although that bill did not pass at the time, progress has been made since then. The Welsh Government passed an almost identical measure and, as a result, the majority of Welsh roads that are currently 30mph will have flipped to 20mph by September this year.

In Scotland, all appropriate roads will be designated as 20mph by 2025. Councils have been asked to draw up detailed plans for implementation that are similar to those of Welsh councils. Some, such as Highland Council, have already led the way, rolling out 20mph across 116 communities early, before that deadline. Stirling Council hopes to complete the full roll-out of 20mph by the end of the coming year, with only four communities yet to have those limits installed.

However, there is still some way to go and it is critical that, in the absence of a national legislative change like the one in Wales, all councils commit to implementation in the same timescale so that the benefits of national communication and roll-out can be achieved, and that funding is provided by the Scottish Government.

I have found that the roll-out of 20mph often triggers a community conversation about how we can make our streets safer. I hope that the roll-out of the enforcement of pavement parking restrictions will do the same. The daily frustration that is felt by so many when vehicles block pavements is a barrier that many of us do not fully understand until we push a child’s buggy or walk alongside friends who use a wheelchair. I therefore urge everyone who has a stake in their community’s safety to respond to the current Transport Scotland consultation on enforcement.

This summer, we will see the power of the bike across Scotland. Incredible moments and memories will be made through the cycling world championships. However, I hope that the legacy of that will include greater awareness as well as greater participation.

As a sport, cycling is one of the great levellers. Although heroes such as Wout van Aert have already been seen training on the roads around Stirling ahead of the championship, there is nothing to stop mere mortals such as you and me, Presiding Officer, from hopping on a bike and joining him on the same roads.

However, another cycling hero—record-breaking Christina Mackenzie—was knocked off her bike last September while out training on those same roads around Stirling. The driver did not stop and has not been caught. Christina has made a recovery but, for too many others, a ghost bike by the side of the road is a lasting reminder of recklessness and tragedy. A fitting legacy for these first combined cycling world championships, here in Scotland, would be the delivery of a long-awaited dashcam portal from Police Scotland, and I urge the Government to help to make that happen.

I look forward to a summer of fietsgeluk as we continue our journey towards becoming a safe and confident nation of cyclists, wheelers and walkers.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. I strongly believe in active travel. However, to make a confession at the start of my speech, I say that I have never really enjoyed cycling, so I will be concentrating on walking in most of what I have to say.

One aspect of active travel is walking or cycling in order to get to public transport, be that a bus or a train. However, those of us who have a car have to make a conscious decision on whether to use it for a particular journey. For example, on Saturday, I was at a Baptist Union of Scotland event at Larbert high school. I could have done the journey from home by car in about half an hour. However, I decided to combine walking and the train, partly so that I could read committee papers on the way, as time in a car is wasted time.

I am fortunate to have a local station within 10 minutes, and Queen Street station is excellent nowadays for changing between the low and high levels. I then had a 20-minute walk from the station in Larbert to the school, and I had much the same on the way back. It took me roughly one and a half hours to get there and nearly two hours to get back. In that example, the journey was between three and four times as long as it would have been if I had used the car. That was fine for me, and I felt that I had used the time well. I had had much more exercise than I would have done if I had used the car, so I certainly felt better and definitely slept better that night.

That is one of the key factors in comparing how to travel. It is not just about “shorter everyday journeys”, as the motion suggests. That is certainly one factor, but how much longer proportionately walking, cycling, and public transport can take is also important.

If I take the car to church on Sunday, it is about five minutes; if I walk, it is 20 minutes. That is a factor of four times as long. However, longer journeys are more competitive. For example, if I go to the SNP conference in Aberdeen by train, it will not be very different timewise from taking the car. Therefore, I would suggest that short local journeys are not necessarily the best starting point for getting people out of their cars, although they clearly are important.

Although I said that I would focus on walking, I am happy to mention cycling as well. We are seeing a tremendous increase in the number of dedicated cycle lanes in Glasgow, and the council is to be commended for that. I gather that there has been a £3.6 million investment, through the places for everyone programme, to encourage walking, wheeling and cycling in Glasgow.

Just in my own constituency, London Road is seeing considerable on-going work so that there will soon be cycle lanes most of the way from Bridgeton Cross out to Daldowie along London Road. That is on top of some great existing routes, such as the walking and cycling path along the Clyde from Carmyle to Glasgow Green.

Safety is another factor in all this, not least around schools, which have been mentioned already. There have been various attempts to encourage young people to walk or cycle to school, but the number still being taken by car should cause us a lot of concern. Maybe the parents are en route somewhere else and it is easier to drop the kids off on the way. However, the effect is to make it more dangerous for all the other kids going to that school, be that danger from the vehicles themselves, traffic fumes or whatever.

In Glasgow, there have been attempts to create exclusion zones near primary schools around 9 am and 3 pm, to prevent vehicles from coming right up to the school gates. If memory serves me correctly, that was piloted in Haddington, and I am enthusiastic about the concept. However, in Glasgow at least, the zones do not seem to be enforced much, if at all, and so they can be ignored by determined parents.

Safety on roads and pavements is the responsibility of us all. I frequently see adult cyclists riding far too fast on the pavement, and the impatience of many pedestrians to cross the road without waiting for the green signal is just asking for accidents to happen. On the other hand, if we want to encourage more walking, we need to make pedestrian crossings respond more quickly when the button to cross is pushed to change the lights. If people have to press the button and wait ages until the lights stop the traffic, it is no wonder that they are put off walking or take risks crossing the road. If we are serious about putting pedestrians ahead of cars and lorries, cars and lorries need to wait longer at red lights.

I will say something about what I believe are some of the other benefits of walking. One is clearly physical health, and if we want to tackle obesity and some of our other health issues, more physical exercise, including walking, is very much part of the answer. Then there is the importance of mental health. Here at Holyrood, we each have thinking pods in our offices, although I am not sure whether cabinet secretaries and ministers have them.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

Mr Swinney is indicating that they do not.

I confess that I do not use my thinking pod for thinking but use it as a shelf for storing papers. If I want to think, reflect, or even pray, I would rather go out for a walk, which I think is more positive. We have on our doorstep Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat. It was up there that I reflected and prayed back in 1983 and decided to dedicate three years of my life to Nepal.

We are all different, but walking can make a huge difference to our mental health as well as to our physical health. That would very much be the message from groups such as Paths for All, which is active in my constituency and elsewhere. In one of its tweets yesterday, it said that walking or wheeling

“can offer valuable time to ... Catch up with a friend or loved one ... Boost your mood and reduce anxiety ... Connect you to your local community and services” and

“Offer you valuable time in nature.”

All in all, I hope that members very much support the motion. The Government and our councils can do a certain amount by investing in cycle lanes, paths and low-emission zones, but we all—MSPs and citizens at large—have a part to play. How many of us have cars sitting in the Parliament car park that do not need to be there? Could we leave them at home next week and come here by using a combination of public transport and active travel? Let us set an example.

Photo of Russell Findlay Russell Findlay Conservative

When I agreed to speak about active travel,

I was not even sure what it was, and I am sure that many people out there do not really understand the term. Having looked it up, I see that it turns out that I am a big fan of active travel. Every day, I jump on my bike and then catch a train to or from Parliament. In doing so, I dash past the ranks of chauffeur-driven gleaming Government limos.

Photo of Ben Macpherson Ben Macpherson Scottish National Party

For the benefit of Mr Findlay, other members and people more widely, I inform them that the Scottish Government has never had limousines. In their time, a lot of ministers have chosen to go to work by walking, by bicycle and by other modes of transport. Phrases such as the one that Mr Findlay just used do a disservice to him and the wider political debate.

Photo of Russell Findlay Russell Findlay Conservative

I thank the former minister for his intervention. I must be imagining things when I see cars waiting— whether they are called limousines or whatever—to take ministers to and from official business.

To be fair, at least one minister frequently uses a bike—that is Patrick Harvie. I will spend most of my time talking about cycling. Just like Mr Simpson, Mr Whittle and Mr Harvie, I, too, am not a MAMIL. However, I am slightly perplexed at Patrick Harvie’s reluctance to wear a helmet. At a bike safety course, the children who were taking part wore head protection, but the minister did not. He has reportedly said that there is no evidence that helmets make cycling safer, that they are of value only in a learning setting and—most intriguing of all—that they are not his style.

Sometimes, my heart is in my mouth when I see Mr Harvie on the streets of Glasgow, as he dodges and weaves through the traffic in Partick. Last month, he politely declined the offer of a gifted helmet from a newspaper.

It is vital for people to wear helmets. I have had a couple of crashes. As a child, I had a head-on collision with a lamp post, which might explain some things. There were no helmets in those days. Almost two years ago, I had another crash. Had I not been wearing a helmet, I would almost certainly have suffered quite a serious injury.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Without casting aspersions on the motivation of the right-wing press for the stunt that they undertook, I hope that the party that often casts itself as the supporter of individual liberty will respect the fact that the matter is one of individual choice. I fully respect Russell Findlay’s decision to wear a helmet, if that makes him feel safer, and I hope that he respects my choice.

Photo of Russell Findlay Russell Findlay Conservative

I absolutely respect the minister’s right to make that choice and I do not necessarily expect that he wants to listen to a Tory, but he might listen to the brain injury charity Headway, which has said:

“Using negative language that discourages the use of helmets puts lives at risk.”

Ministers have a great deal of responsibility in that respect.

The Scottish Government’s motion refers to the UCI cycling championships in Glasgow in August, which will be the world’s biggest-ever cycling event—our party’s amendment would retain that reference. A UCI team recently came into Parliament with a fixed bike, on which MSPs competed. One SNP minister pedalled with such gusto that he ripped his trousers; a Labour MSP sat at the top of the leaderboard for two days and then had another go when he was toppled. I will not name those members. I am far too modest to mention who took gold, but suffice it to say that it was a rare Tory win in this place.

I hope that the SNP council will do something about the state of the roads before the UCI cycling championships come to Glasgow. We do not have potholes in Glasgow; we have craters that sometimes look more like a lunar landscape.

A Cycling Scotland survey found that one of the main barriers to people taking up cycling is concerns about road safety. Everywhere we look in Glasgow, we see significant sums of money appearing to be spent on improving active travel and cycling, but the results can sometimes actually make journeys more dangerous. I will give an example. Rubber delineators that separate cycling lanes from main roads can be a hazard in themselves. In addition, they cause cycle lanes to become very narrow and, in turn, those can become choked with rubbish and other debris, which is quite hard to clear with the equipment that councils have. That makes the cycle lanes quite dangerous to use and pushes cyclists back on to the road.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

That is interesting. If we are using space that is currently road space and reinventing it as cycle space, people have limited choices. There are different ways in which that can be done. There can simply be a line in the road, and we can keep our fingers crossed that everybody will stick by that, or we can use the type of infrastructure that started to go in during Covid. Russell Findlay is right about repairs, maintenance and cleaning, but we have to look at the choices because, with the nature of our roads, we do not have unlimited options.

Photo of Russell Findlay Russell Findlay Conservative

I do not have a great deal of time but, in short, the thinking behind a lot of that stuff seems to be pretty chaotic and not really joined up.

I want to turn briefly to some of the Scottish Government’s record on active travel. Let us take the access bike scheme, for example. The Scottish Government facilitated loans for people to get a bike on credit. Last time we checked, just four people had applied. That works out at a cost of around £35,000 per bike.

The SNP Government set a target of 10 per cent of all journeys to be taken by bike by 2020. The following year, that sat at just 2.8 per cent.

The SNP Government also pledged to cut car miles by 20 per cent by 2030. However, from 2015 to 2020, the miles driven by cars in Scotland went up by 8 per cent.

To conclude, the SNP Government often talks a good game about active travel, but its motion is an exercise in self-congratulation. The truth is that it routinely misses targets and fails to deliver flagship schemes while cutting funding, as other speakers will undoubtedly attest.

Photo of Ben Macpherson Ben Macpherson Scottish National Party

I welcome the debate and the motion. I do so as somebody who has had a driving licence since they were a teenager, but who has decided since then not to own a car. I speak as somebody who loved riding a bike when I was a child and at university, but who has not had a bike since then. However, I walk every day and very often run.

I want to focus my remarks on the pedestrian experience and how important active travel is for pedestrians, particularly in urban environments such as my Edinburgh Northern and Leith constituency.

For those who are able, the benefits to health and wellbeing of walking are well known and well understood, as the motion highlights. I walk to work every day and utilise the wonderful Lothian Buses. I know that we will discuss bus travel in the Parliament at other points. The benefits of taking in the environment, hustle and bustle, vibrancy, and beautiful landscapes of a city such as Edinburgh is a real joy. In such areas, of course, the experience of walking is different from what it is in other areas. I respect that, but I want to focus on what it is like in the capital city.

As I walked to work this morning thinking about what to say in this debate, I thought about the fact that, decades ago—in the 1970s—there was a plan to have a six-lane inner-city ring road in the city.

It would have devastated our capital city’s aesthetic value. Much of the Pleasance, Tollcross, Haymarket, the Dean valley, Stockbridge, Inverleith, Canonmills and the top of Leith Walk would have been changed or demolished to facilitate that inner-city ring road and our world heritage status might never have been realised.

I highlight that plan not just because my family was involved in the campaign against it but because it is important to learn lessons. We should learn from the fact that the car’s importance, particularly for those with accessibility issues and those who live in parts of the country where the distances between things are longer, is much greater. At that time, the car was thought of as being the absolute future. Infrastructure for the car to be utilised by as many people as possible was at the forefront of people’s minds. The city council at the time sought to impose that six-lane inner-city ring road on the people of Edinburgh against their wishes. Indeed, the party that was in power in the city at that time has never been back in power. Although the comparison is not the same, we should keep in mind that we always want to take people with us.

Thankfully, the car did not win the day and we maintained the integrity of the city for walkers and everyone to enjoy. However, as we implement our active travel ambitions, we need to take people with us. I appreciate the point in the motion about ensuring that we undertake transformation at pace. However, I caution that the pace should not be too fast. There is a job to do in order to persuade people. Part of that job relates to the narrative and part of it relates to perception. The more that people feel that the agenda is about encouraging them to act differently and giving them the facilities to do that, rather than being about reducing car use, the more progress we will make together.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

I am really appreciating Mr Macpherson’s speech. Does he agree that it is okay to go quickly but that it is not just about stopping people doing things, but is about ensuring that, in preventing people from doing one thing, we give them the alternative of doing another thing? Does he agree that the change should be made as simple as possible?

Photo of Ben Macpherson Ben Macpherson Scottish National Party

That is absolutely true. Part of that is considering the different stakeholders involved and ensuring—as I know that the minister does—that there is engagement with organisations that represent particular groups of people, such as Inclusion Scotland, which represents the needs of disabled people and the Federation of Small Businesses, which represents the needs of small businesses.

I see all that in my constituency of Edinburgh Northern and Leith. In particular, I see considerations around the tram works, which we are all delighted are complete—the trams open tomorrow, which is a great thing for Leith and I welcome it. However, there is a real challenge on Leith Walk to accommodate five modes of transport. I respect the decisions that councillors made in that regard and I respect the officials for seeking to implement the policies that were decided, but as a pedestrian, because of the new cycle lanes, Leith Walk is a very different experience.

I say that because there is a need for nuance and consideration between the different modes of active travel and how to get that right. We also have to consider the needs of businesses to receive deliveries and to function properly.

We have made great progress. The investment is welcome. If we can make the narrative as positive as possible, it will be all the better. Let us work together on this journey towards active travel to make people’s experience of getting from A to B as pleasant as possible, learn the lessons of the past and ensure that the health benefits are realised in a way that respects the needs of different communities and how they facilitate their businesses. The needs and challenges of different people in the way that they travel should always be kept in mind.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Thank you, Mr Macpherson. I call Rona Mackay, who will be the last speaker before we move to closing speeches.

Photo of Rona Mackay Rona Mackay Scottish National Party

Time is running out before the damage that we are doing to our planet becomes catastrophic, and active travel is a huge part of how we mitigate that damage.

All speakers here today have highlighted the positives of active travel, but, as we have heard, the negatives are when consultation and inclusivity are not part of the planning when setting out strategies. I will talk about that later.

I am proud that Scotland leads the UK in its active travel investment. It is punching above its weight, as usual, especially following devastating Tory cuts in England. At £58 per head, Scotland is not only a UK leader on active travel spend but a European leader as well. That compares with a spend of just £1 per head in England outside London.

The Scottish Government has massively increased investment in active travel, with almost £190 million in 2023-24, which is a major step towards the commitment of 10 per cent of the transport budget by 2024-25. That confirms active travel’s important role in meeting the Scottish Government’s priorities of equality, opportunity, community and building a fairer, greener Scotland. The minister’s announcement of the transformation fund is extremely welcome.

The route map of how we get there contains more than 30 interventions. Some of them are being delivered in the short term, including the groundbreaking policy of free bus travel for under-22s. Other actions will take longer, and some will prove more challenging than others and will need a mix of infrastructure, incentivisation and regulatory actions.

A key milestone is the introduction of low emission zones in four of Scotland’s cities—the first of which, in Glasgow, is already in force this month—which will enhance the quality of the environment and improve public health. Of course, changes to our daily life are difficult for everyone, and there will be bumps along the way. However, the importance of low emission zones and reaching our climate change targets cannot be overemphasised. Since the first low emission zone for buses was introduced, in 2018, in Glasgow, air pollution levels have dropped dramatically.

We know that active travel is good not only for the planet but for our health and wellbeing, both mental and physical, as John Mason said. It can combat obesity, heart disease and other serious illnesses related to inactivity. The Government has delivered a significant step-up in investment in spaces where people can walk, wheel and cycle safely, and it has ensured that there are more spaces that put people, not cars, first. As someone who has started to walk much more since getting a puppy this year, I already feel the benefits of regular walks in the countryside.

My local authority, East Dunbartonshire Council, first published its active travel strategy in 2015, and it has progressed significantly since then. However, it is true that several well-intentioned initiatives, such as cycle lanes in Bearsden and shared space in Kirkintilloch, were not planned inclusively with road users, residents and disabled people, and that caused much concern. That was almost 10 years ago, and I am confident that the council has learned those lessons as it goes forward with its active travel strategy.

The council’s current policy focuses on reducing car dependency. In East Dunbartonshire, rates of car ownership are higher than the Scottish average, and modal share for active travel, particularly cycling, is low. However, there is real merit in the adage that Mark Ruskell used: “If you build it, they will come.” Where there is more infrastructure for active travel—such as cycleways safely separated from the road—there are higher rates of active travel.

For example, in the Netherlands, where active travel infrastructure is comprehensive, 30 per cent of all journeys under 5 miles are cycled, and 36 per cent of people list the bicycle as their most frequent way of travelling. However, as Evelyn Tweed pointed out, the infrastructure did not happen by accident—it involved long-term planning, much investment, attention to all aspects of how it would affect everyday life and, of course, public transport investment. In Seville, where extensive cycling infrastructure has been constructed recently, rates of cycling have skyrocketed, with an elevenfold increase in the number of cycling journeys following the creation of a comprehensive 120km network of cycling infrastructure.

The East Dunbartonshire travel survey clearly illustrates an opportunity to increase active travel in the area. However, the survey identifies that the main barriers to active travel are safety, convenience and carrying things.

The Scottish household survey found that 70 per cent of East Dunbartonshire’s residents agreed that climate change is an urgent problem and that two thirds believed that their actions and behaviours contribute to climate change. John Mason spoke of parents driving children to school, which reminded me of when I used to drop off my son. I am ashamed to say that I was one of the many people sitting in cars outside schools. In that regard, things have improved dramatically now.

The “Hands up Scotland” survey on school travel provides modal share data for school travel in East Dunbartonshire between 2012 and 2021. It found that walking and cycling increased marginally to 45 per cent and 2.5 per cent while car use decreased by 3 per cent to 23 per cent. There is still a long way to go.

East Dunbartonshire has an ageing demographic, which must be taken into account when considering active travel. I agree with many of Ben Macpherson’s points: everyone must be taken into consideration, and those who are able to should benefit. We must take everybody’s circumstances into account.

The picture is evolving nationally and globally. Unless we embrace active travel—which, of course, must be supported by the correct investment to provide the infrastructure that is needed—we will continue to destroy the planet for future generations. I certainly do not want that on my conscience, and I suspect that none of us does.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Ms Mackay. We move to closing speeches. I call Sarah Boyack to close on behalf of Scottish Labour.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

The debate has been mostly constructive. It has been really good to hear about the mix of national targets and ambitions and the strong local insights, including the focus on individual communities and what is happening where we live. This is about making sure that we have the national targets and the funding while ensuring that the roll-out is as good as possible.

As everyone who has spoken in the debate has said, active travel is central to our health and wellbeing. Keeping people active will potentially help us to address poor health and the increasing number of people who are obese. Colleagues have cited powerful statistics.

Active travel is critical if we are to give people affordable and safe routes to services, schools, education, retail and work. Having a joined-up approach is key to our sustainable travel ambitions and to ensuring that Scotland can meet its net zero targets and tackle the climate crisis. In addition, as Mercedes Villalba said, we need that approach to support our nature recovery. Her points about air pollution were really important.

As we move towards the summer holidays, active travel should also be part of our tourist offer, not only for people who live in Scotland but for those who come here, given the beauty of our country and the hospitality that it offers. I was thinking about that as I travelled to Parliament this morning.

If we are to deliver on all our ambitions, we need investment and expertise across the country, in all our councils. That has been one of the criticisms throughout today’s debate. Councils need the knowledge, the staff and, critically, the funding to make things happen—and not just in existing communities. As our amendment says, we need to ensure that, from day 1, active travel options such as walking and cycling are included where there are new developments, including housing developments. There must also be investment in buses. If we are to give people an alternative to using cars, those options must be there from day 1.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

It will be extremely brief. That is exactly what they are doing in Midlothian—I mentioned the large housing development in Shawfair.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Thousands of houses are being built all over the country as we speak. They must all have active travel links. We have many houses that are not connected because, as Ben Macpherson said, a lot of our towns and cities were built with car use in mind.

We must have not only ambition but investment.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

No, I need to get on. I have taken a couple of interventions.

We thought that the Scottish Government’s motion is a bit self-congratulatory, and it does not address the key issues that put many people off cycling. It is good that addressing that has been one of the themes of today’s discussion.

Ensuring that children have safe access to cycling is partly about planning and partly about our road infrastructure. However, it is also about ensuring that there is cheap or free access to bikes, and many community groups are working hard to provide that.

During Covid, short-term investment made it easier to accommodate the increase in the number of people walking and cycling as they worked from home and used their local communities for exercise or just to get out into a safe environment. However, we need on-going investment in our communities right across the country.

Claire Baker’s point about coming on to and then off cycle spaces is really important. We need to ensure that, when we retrofit existing roads, that work is done as well as possible, because we need the infrastructure at the local level.

Potholes, which have been mentioned quite a few times, are dangerous for cyclists. I have had several crashes as a result of potholes. It is particularly hard to see them at night, especially when the lighting is not good.

As Claire Baker said, there are particular issues relating to the condition of our paths and networks. That is a critical point for disabled people. If people are to walk as part of their everyday lives, we need to ensure that our pavements are safe for people with crutches or walking sticks and those whose sight is not perfect or who have no sight at all. Recently, when I was recovering from a broken ankle, I tested out the pavements and found that they were not good enough in a lot of our communities. We need to think about infrastructure repair and maintenance.

As our amendment notes, it is important that we think through the different experiences of different communities. It is important to bear in mind Beatrice Wishart’s point that crowded roads put off women in particular. I know from talking to InfraSisters, which is a campaign group in the Lothians, that there are routes that women simply do not feel safe using. They will not use those routes for major parts of the year, so we need better lighting, particularly during the winter months, when people cannot cycle home safely at night at the moment. Some routes are not ideal for walking, either.

I go back to the point about money. Our cash-strapped local authorities need to be given the resources to invest in our existing roads and pavements, which are not as safe as they should be, and in new infrastructure, which is critical. There should be more dedicated cycle spaces and routes to make people feel safer and to encourage them to walk and cycle for more of their journeys. The Scottish Government needs to address that key issue if we are to deliver on the ambition to reduce car travel by 20 per cent. It would definitely be worth the minister reading the really good report by the cross-party group on sustainable transport. We need to provide safe, affordable and reliable choices.

We recently debated buses. That issue also relates to the move to active travel, because people should be able to walk part of their route and get a bus for another part of their route. People should have better options for getting into our towns and cities. There should be park-and-ride services on the edge of cities, faster bus routes into town and better routes for cyclists. If someone in Edinburgh or Glasgow goes on to Google Maps, they might find that, for a lot of routes, it would be faster to cycle—it would definitely be faster than using the bus—and, given the parking situation, cycling could get them as close as driving would.

We need a culture shift, and we need to ensure that employers help to deliver that shift. We need to think about public sector employers. For example, cycling is definitely encouraged in the Scottish Parliament, but there is not a lot of space for bikes downstairs, so there needs to be the infrastructure now and in the future.

Members across the chamber have talked about the superb amount of work that has been done by people who work in our communities to give people access to active travel. For example, in my city, Edinburgh & Lothians Regional Equality Council, which is a voluntary organisation, gives people from ethnic minority communities access to walking and cycling, as well as confidence and social opportunities. At the weekend, I visited the Bike Station, which gives people access to affordable bikes and teaches them repair skills and how to look after their bike—I found that very useful. It also has a bike library, which enables parents to pass on a bike when it is not big enough for their kid any more and get a new one. Such projects are crucial.

There is much more that we need to do. It cannot be on-off. The target of spending 10 per cent of the transport budget on active travel is critical. We have been debating cycling in this Parliament for more than two decades, so it is not a new issue.

There will be a shift when we move to using electric vehicles, which will be really expensive to buy. Electric bikes are slightly more expensive, but electric cars are more so. We need active travel opportunities to be in place now. We need interchanges for buses and trains, and we need decent routes that people can use—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Ms Boyack, could you bring your remarks to a close, please?

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

This issue needs to be addressed now, not 10 years hence.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Liam Kerr to close on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

Notwithstanding John Swinney’s contribution, there has been much positivity during the debate. Members have queued up to recognise the benefits of active travel, such as the lower likelihood of conditions such as diabetes and hypertension; the mental health benefits; cleaner air; the promotion of environmentally friendly behaviours; and benefits for the community such as reduced traffic congestion. In a persuasive submission, Sustrans added that there is a reduced cancer-related mortality risk from regular cycling and a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease. Friends of the Earth Scotland flagged the economic argument, saying that a major investment in public transport could create around 22,000 direct jobs and 416,000 indirect jobs. Mercedes Villalba raised the point that active travel can save money.

The case for more active travel has been made. As Graham Simpson said at the outset, we all back greater investment in active travel. However, the debate has introduced some caveats to that positivity. It has come across that there are questions about how prepared the Scottish Government is to actually deliver its commitments. I must say that the issues started before the debate, with the minister inserting into the motion a rather snarky false equivalence with the rest of the UK, which he then doubled down on in an intervention on Graham Simpson. Then, Fiona Hyslop, in an otherwise useful and interesting contribution, particularly on planning, randomly started having a go at the UK Government.

The unamended motion talks about the Government’s commitment to reducing car kilometres by 20 per cent by 2030, but it fails to mention that the Scottish Government has no idea how that will be achieved. Russell Findlay flagged that car kilometres have actually gone up in recent years. Brian Whittle flagged that the Government has started with reducing cars before dealing with high-quality neighbourhoods and public transport, which might go some way to explaining the rise that Mr Findlay referred to.

All that was brought home recently in committee. As we heard from Graham Simpson, the CPG on sustainable transport produced a report on the issue in November, with five recommendations. However, exactly one month ago, when I asked the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition how the Scottish Government intends to meet the target to reduce car kilometres by 20 per cent, she said that she will not have any detail until the draft climate change plan is produced in November.

At the moment, therefore, there is no idea, no plan and, I am afraid, no chance. That is why our amendment, which demands that the Scottish Government set out in detail how it plans to achieve the 20 per cent reduction, is so important.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party


Mr Kerr not think that the chances of achieving that objective might be helped by the £20 million transformation fund going directly to local authorities and regional transport partnerships? That is the very wording that his silly amendment tries to delete.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

O f course money will help, but the Government cannot do this without a plan. The problem is that the Government, of which Mr Swinney was Deputy First Minister for so long, comes to this chamber with no plans, and that is why it will fail.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I want to make some progress, please.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Will Liam Kerr give way for a second time so that we can have a debate?

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

How long have I got, Presiding Officer?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You can get the time back, Mr Kerr.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Mr Kerr’s reaction to my point illustrates one of the dilemmas. The Conservatives come here unprepared to increase tax but wanting more spending. They come here demanding that we empower local authorities and then demanding that we tell local authorities what to do. Does that not just tell Parliament that the Conservatives are hypocrites on these issues?

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

That rather confused intervention from Mr Swinney can be responded to very simply by saying, “Cut the waste, come back with a plan and then maybe we can actually deliver a 20 per cent reduction.”

Many members, including Beatrice Wishart, brought up the very modest rise in cycling. She and others flagged the state of the roads—there are not potholes but craters, according to Russell Findlay—and asked how on earth we can encourage people to cycle and walk when the roads are in that state. We cannot. The evidence for that came in Christine Grahame’s contribution. She said that she tried cycling but was knocked off and lost confidence. That was a powerful contribution, and it is an all too common situation.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I am delighted by Mr Kerr’s concern for my wellbeing. However, it was not a pothole but a motorist.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

Forgive me—I thought that I had said that. I was talking about the dangers on the road, but I thank Ms Grahame for the clarification.

What the minister said in his opening speech was that, if we want to increase active travel, it has to be easier and safer to walk, scoot or cycle to school, and he rightly suggested some modifications. However, one of the biggest challenges that we have heard that councils face in helping to deliver active travel schemes is the fact that those can be big-ticket items at a time when councils have never been more starved of resources—as the Labour amendment, which we will vote for, makes clear.

It was flagged to us in the submission from Sustrans, which was highlighted by Brian Whittle, that councils not only lack central Government funding but have difficulties in securing the match funding that is required in order to be shortlisted for projects. [



The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Members, could we have less sedentary commentary, please?

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

Then, as the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee found, there is a jarring disconnect that can happen between ring-fenced spending and properly funding public services. We heard examples throughout the afternoon, but in the North East Scotland region, Angus Council has a £60 million black hole in its finances. It is currently considering whether to spend tens of millions of pounds of ring-fenced Transport Scotland money to turn old railway tracks, where people have been walking for decades, into footpaths; meanwhile, it cannot afford to lift trees that fell and blocked the Crombie country path 19 months ago in storm Arwen.

That is hardly surprising, given that, as per my intervention earlier, the Scottish Government does not know how much money it needs to deliver on active travel. The minister’s response to my question, “How much is needed to achieve what we need?” was, “The sky’s the limit,” which is extraordinary, given that the Government has quantified that £33 billion is needed to decarbonise buildings. When it wants to, the Government can quantify what is needed. Therefore, the Government needs to put in the work that Evelyn Tweed said is needed to achieve what we all want.

My final point is one that I do not think featured enough today but was brought up by Beatrice Wishart and a couple of others. It is easy to talk about active travel and more public transport use in central belt cities, but it is not so easy to do so in rural Aberdeenshire, Ayrshire or Angus. If the Government wants to support active travel and behaviour change, it must address the issue that CLOSER set out in its submission: that urban residents were significantly more likely to engage in active travel than rural residents and that those groups should therefore be considered separately in relation to outcomes and policy decisions.

We absolutely back the sentiment of today’s debate, and we associate ourselves with the positive comments of the minister and the aims and objectives, but we must recognise the challenges that are inherent in achieving those: the challenges to councils as delivery partners; the challenges from Government aims that are not backed up by plans and funding; and the challenges of ensuring that we treat different groups of people, such as rural dwellers and those with protected characteristics, in a bespoke manner. That is what the amendment in Graham Simpson’s name seeks to do, and that is why it should be supported.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Patrick Harvie to close on behalf of the Scottish Government. If the minister were able to take us to decision time, that would be most helpful.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I begin by thanking members for contributing to the debate today, in particular those including Graham Simpson, Mercedes Villalba, Beatrice Wishart and Mark Ruskell who chose to use part of their contribution to offer their best wishes to Kevin Stewart in light of his announcement today. I hope that the whole chamber will join together in wishing him very well in recovering from the issues that he has been facing.

It is clear that there is a broad consensus on the benefits that active travel can bring, even if not all members are quite willing to accept the reality that it now comes with a higher level of political commitment and a higher level of funding than ever before. I will not have time to address every member’s contribution, but let me start with those who moved amendments.

Graham Simpson started with a personal example of how active travel can end up supporting local businesses of one kind or another with a bit more cash going into their tills. That is something that we need to recognise—it is not just a change of culture on our roads but something that can benefit small businesses when they see that greater footfall from active travel. He also reflected on the fact that we need to see a change in driver behaviour in many parts of the country.

However, Graham Simpson’s amendment deletes a significant amount of the motion, including the recognition of the level of funding that we are putting in, such as the active travel transformation fund, so we will not be able to support it. I know that the Conservatives do not necessarily like hearing fair comparisons with funding in the rest of the UK but, even in the Scottish context, it is a higher level of commitment to active travel by some margin than Scotland has previously seen and the Scottish Government is determined to continue that.

I will certainly look into the specific local projects that Graham Simpson mentioned, but it is relevant that the clear commitment to providing long-term increased investment—such as the active travel transformation fund—direct to local authorities will help them to have confidence and increase their capacity and skills to deliver active travel projects.

Mercedes Villalba also offered support for our active travel objectives. I share her view of the need to address, for example, congestion and air pollution. I hope that we are all able to welcome the groundbreaking progress that has been made in putting in place the first low-emission zone. It will be, and should be, only the first.

Mercedes Villalba also restated many of the multiple benefits from active travel: reduced greenhouse gas emissions; improved road safety; the nature recovery that comes with quieter streets and cleaner air; public health and much more. Her arguments on the costs of transport are also important. Let us recognise that, although active travel is the cheapest way of getting about, if the cost of the repair that somebody faces having to make to their bike is much more than the cost of tomorrow’s bus ticket, it might force them back on to a more expensive and less accessible form of transport.

We need to ensure that we are addressing access to bikes as well. The Scottish Government is doing that. Members know that the free bikes pilot was implemented to develop the best models of giving free bikes to young people, because one size will not fit all. We are also working with Bike for Good on the option of a bike subscription model and, later this year, with Cycling UK, we will launch an open fund to support bike share schemes, because there are multiple ways of giving people access to bikes, not just ownership.

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

Does the minister acknowledge that electric bikes are a good way of getting folk into bicycling who might need a bit of nudging to get outdoors? Will he also acknowledge that the bicycle was invented in Kier, near Dumfries, which hasnae been mentioned the day?

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I am sure that we can all recognise the member’s community’s claim to fame on that.

Although e-bikes are not my first choice, they are one of the many ways in which we can increase the range of bikes and active travel vehicles that people can access. Not only do e-bikes have potential to change the way in which people move about but e-cargo bikes also have huge potential to change the way in which goods move about.

The Labour amendment finishes with a point that we cannot support. It slightly unreasonably cherry picks the data to compare active travel to school with figures for the previous year, which the same report recognises was strongly impacted by Covid. The pandemic had a particular impact on school travel, so it is not reasonable to make a comparison with that year. The fact is that we now have higher levels of active travel to school than pre-pandemic. We are determined to continue making progress with the improvement in that long-term trend.

Photo of Mercedes Villalba Mercedes Villalba Labour

Will the minister clarify whether he is saying that he is unable to support the amendment, which notes the findings in a report, because he does not like the findings?

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

It is certainly not because I do not like the findings. The amendment slightly misrepresents them. The report said that the impact of coronavirus on schools

In 2020 and 2021 ... was a substantial additional factor”, so it is not reasonable to present that as though it is a reduction in active travel to school more generally.

Several members, including Evelyn Tweed and Beatrice Wishart, mentioned the urban-rural issues. It is true that the easiest way to get emissions reductions alone is through busy routes in urban areas, which can achieve high levels of modal shift. However, it is not enough to imagine that urban areas see active travel and cycling as only for transport and emissions reduction and rural areas see them as only for recreation. That is not a reasonable way forward. It is not true and it does not recognise the demand for active travel in rural areas and smaller towns. I hope therefore that members will welcome the successful bids for the active travel transformation fund from rural and remote areas, including Shetland.

Several members mentioned either their local infrastructure projects or local charities that are doing excellent creative work to encourage active travel. I will be happy to visit as many of those as I can. I am a particular fan of the bike bus movement because it is one of the most joyful ways of encouraging and demonstrating the appetite for active travel.

John Swinney talked about the perception of safety and I recognised his description of that. It was one of the things that held me back from getting back on a bike in Glasgow. He was also right to say that, on climate action, we are approaching the stage at which the challenging tasks that are ahead of us need to be done if we are to get back on track with climate targets. There are those who will the end but do not will the means; we need to challenge that.

Active travel can sometimes be polarised and opportunistically opposed. Sometimes it even gets caught up in culture wars nonsense such as conspiracy theories about 20-minute neighbourhoods and low-emission zones. We need to challenge that perception.

Ben Macpherson commented on how Edinburgh might have changed for the worse as a city if it had done what others did in indulging too much in the road-building obsession of the 1960s. That is what the active travel debate should be about. It is not just about one particular bike lane on one particular route; it is about a long-term vision of the kinds of cities, towns and communities of all sizes that we want to live in in 10, 20 or 30 years. I hope that we can bring that positive vision forward. It will require on-going investment, which is tough, particularly in times of heightened pressure on resources. It will also require a willingness to challenge and change the status quo. Our approach to delivering active travel is preparing the ground for the record investment that we are committing to that will lead to healthier communities, generate jobs, reduce costs on household budgets and revitalise local economies.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I am afraid that I am coming to the end of my speech and I need to wind up.

It will also revitalise local economies in many places that are still in recovery from the Covid pandemic.

For us to ensure that we have a fit-for-purpose delivery model for active travel to meet those challenges and capitalise on the opportunities, we have undertaken a review of our whole approach in the delivery models. The transformation fund is a vital first step in that, and further changes that will follow will require not just support and funding from the Scottish Government but strong leadership and a strong approach to working collaboratively with our delivery partners.

I will finish by reflecting on what Mark Ruskell said about how much of the progress that we are making is possible only because of a movement of people demanding change and looking to reclaim their places for people instead of for vehicles. That is entirely true. On its own, the Scottish Government cannot deliver that without the community leadership that we can empower around the country. I encourage members to continue to engage with their local communities. Together we can ensure that the transformation of active travel reaches across Scotland and that the benefits are felt in every city, town, village and household. To do that, we will need that joined-up approach and the Scottish Government, local authorities and communities will need to work together to address all the issues that members have mentioned, and a great deal more besides.

Once again, I thank members for their contribution to the debate and I encourage them to take the opportunities that the Scottish Government active travel funding brings to their communities by working with them to create leadership and bring forward excellent projects that we can fund for the future.