Scotland is a world leader on tackling climate change, claims the Scottish Government. Yet recent reports reveal a persistent gap between words in policy documents and facts on the ground.
Take the findings of two recent research projects – Audit Scotland’s report on the Queensferry Crossing, and Living Streets Scotland’s study of new housing developments in Scottish cities. Link those to the Climate Change Bill and we find persistent gaps between words and the actions needed to reduce carbon emissions in time to meet the Paris Agreement.
At the end of a summer when accelerating climate change finally made headline news across Hothouse Earth, there is clearly a pressing need – or, if you prefer, a huge opportunity – for planners, policy makers, political parties, property developers and the voting public to start making the vital connections between housing, transport and truly sustainable development.
Value for money – but what comes next?
Let’s start with Audit Scotland’s report on the Queensferry Crossing. The dazzling new bridge is designed to carry 24 million crossings each year and, says the Scottish Government, “one of the fundamental aims is to maintain traffic capacity at 2006 levels” [SG estimates 2006 levels at around 20 million crossings.]
According to Audit Scotland’s Forth Replacement Crossing, one of Scotland’s biggest publicly funded infrastructure projects for many years is ‘value for money’. The £1.34 billion project, delivered within budget, maintains reliable connections between Fife and Edinburgh. Moreover, it sets an example of good practice in construction and project management.
So far so good. But as Auditor General Caroline Gardner says in the accompanying video, now Transport Scotland needs to show they can deliver the other elements of the project: public transport, active travel (aka walking and cycling) and more reliable journey times.
The report makes that even clearer (it is worth reading in full but this extract is from paragraph 69). Note the emphasis on enabling bus travel and options for light rail across the Forth Road Bridge.
“Transport Scotland now needs to set out a clear plan for improving public transport across the Forth
“Transport Scotland’s policy is to support an increase in people using public transport and active travel, including cycling and walking. The FRC project has provided some opportunities for improving public transport across the Forth.
“Transport Scotland now needs to clearly set out its plans for how it will support public transport providers, such as private bus companies, to meet increasing demand for travel across the Forth. This should include how it plans to encourage more people to use public transport, including actions and timescales. The FRC project has put in place infrastructure to help increase the number of people using public transport. This includes:
- a dedicated public transport route, including the Forth Road Bridge, with buses using parts of the hard shoulder on approach roads when they are congested
- improved resilience and reliability of bus travel in bad weather, by using the hard shoulder on the Queensferry Crossing as a bus lane
- new and improved park and ride facilities in Fife
- an option to introduce light rapid transit on the Forth Road Bridge, such as guided bus or tram based light rail.”
Car sick housing schemes
Public transport takes us to new housing developments. Or does it? “New housing developments leaving Scots car sick” was the heading on the press release for this report. Research by walking charity Living Streets Scotland for CoMoUK investigated how easily people could live in new developments without a car. The report, Progress on Low Car Neighbourhoods in Scotland, found “failings in the location and design of housing, which limited choices for residents in terms of walking, cycling, public transport and car clubs.”
A detailed follow up by Rob Edwards in The Ferret highlighted the failings of the new housing developments – West Pilton Crescent, Edinburgh; Whitfield, Dundee; Athletes Village, Glasgow, and Winchburgh, West Lothian. “Designed for cars not people” was the verdict.
Councils disputed the findings, insisting they are prioritising public transport, pedestrians and cyclists. And the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) told The Ferret that local authorities were doing their best to meet housing needs within local development plans. “The local planning process ensures new homes are built in the right places and there are guidelines for designing streets and providing active travel links,”
Again it is worth reading the report in full – but overall it finds a difference between theory and practice.
It is great that Scotland has the policies in place to support reducing reliance on private cars in new developments and encourage more active lifestyles; however, this study shows there is a gap between the policy and the reality. Susan Jeynes, CoMobility Specialist for CoMoUK
Living Streets Scotland further amplifies the gap between aspirations and actuality [see the report’s conclusions and recommendations]
“Enabling Low Car Living
“ National and local planning policies aim to deliver developments which enable residents to live without owning a car. Whilst guidance such as Designing Streets makes this ambition clear, these case studies illustrate that Scotland is still not creating low car developments.
“The mismatch between ambition and what is delivered has multifarious causes – from where we choose to build to underdeveloped active travel and public transport networks. Moreover, relatively low cost interventions by developers and local authorities greatly improve travel choice in new developments and even have the potential to increase the commercial success of a development and improve residents’ quality of life.”
Scotland’s climate change bill ‘hugely disappointing’
Transport is just one element in the strongly argued case presented by Stop Climate Change Scotland (SCCS), a coalition of over 40 civil society organisations in Scotland, campaigning on climate change.
But transport is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland. According to SCCS, a quarter of all our emissions come from transport with two thirds of that coming from people using the roads. “yet it is the sector which has seen by far the least progress in terms of policy effort from Government and actual emissions reductions.” Their evidence to the Scottish Parliament Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee in February 2017 stated:
Emissions from Transport have hardly fallen since 1990 and are only projected to fall by an average of 1.3% per year from 2017-2032 – well below the 3% annual reduction required by the 2009 Act. The Draft Plan is heavily reliant on market-led technological change and on actions by the UK Government or EU to reach its emissions targets. There are insufficient measures in place to manage demand or to encourage shift to more sustainable modes of transport.
Robustly critical of the ‘hugely disappointing’ Climate Change Bill, SCCS is campaigning to make the bill much more ambitious. Scotland must cut emissions to zero by 2050. Increase the 2030 target to 77% and, crucially, commit to actions on integrated policies to make that happen.
The Bill, published in May (before the global heatwave) now has to work its way through Holyrood. Last week Scottish Labour announced backing for the zero emissions target by 2050 at the latest. Scottish Greens and LibDems also demand stronger action [if we have missed the Scottish Tories please put us right]. Now SCCS is planning a mass climate lobby on the Scottish Parliament on 19 September to keep up the pressure on MSPs of all parties.
It matters, says SCCS, because the Climate Change Bill lacks the ambition and action needed for Scotland to play our part in tackling climate change. “ The Scottish Government claims that they’ll be one of the first countries to achieve net zero emissions, but the Bill doesn’t commit to that.”
We need to start joining the dots.
Featured image: Put up with it: traffic queue by Richard Paterson, CC BY-NC 2.0