Speech in the Scottish Parliament

Active Travel

9 June 2010

Active Travel

As a member of the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, I am pleased to take part in this debate on active travel. The committee's report brings together a great deal of evidence about walking and cycling. It restates what some might see as being rather obvious, but that restatement is necessary to underline the importance of the actions that are recommended in the conclusions.

Transform Scotland, among other bodies, welcomed the inquiry and its conclusion that

"active travel has huge potential to benefit the health of the people of Scotland as well as contributing to meeting Scotland's ambitious climate change targets",

but—and it is a big but—that will not be achieved without "ambitious increases in resources" and

"Stronger, more effective and sustained leadership"

from the Scottish Government.

It is agreed that active travel has positive impacts on a wide variety of policy areas, including the environment, social inclusion, public health and even local regeneration. It crosses over many portfolios and therefore should have a much greater profile in Government planning. However, attitudes to active travel will change only if walking and cycling are viewed as safe and convenient alternatives to other transport modes. The committee's report recommends a variety of measures that could increase participation in walking and cycling, including improvements to infrastructure and a new, nationally co-ordinated cycle training scheme.

I briefly pay tribute to the organisers of the big fit walk. On Friday, some members joined school pupils from Falkirk at lunch time in a walk around Holyrood. The walk is only half an hour—it does not have to be something huge—but it is really important. Almost 12,000 people from throughout Scotland are already registered for the big fit walk. That is a great effort on a tiny budget. However, the scheme relies on active school co-ordinators to help bring it together and to launch it.

As has been said, the Scottish Government has set a target of 10 per cent modal share for cycling in its draft cycling action plan, but currently only 2 per cent of people cycle to work and only 1 per cent of children cycle to school. By contrast, in the Netherlands and Denmark the share for cycle journeys is 27 per cent and 13 per cent respectively. We have a long way to go.

I read the equality impact assessment consultation on the cycling action plan for Scotland with great interest. It makes the connection well between cycling and health—physical as well as mental. However, it does not yet mention gender—I presume that Engender and others have not yet had the opportunity to reply. As Aileen Campbell said, it is women, and mothers in particular, who make most of the choices about how children travel. That cannot be ignored if the 10 per cent vision is to be achieved. I look forward to seeing a comprehensive equality impact assessment.

As has been said, fear about road safety is probably the most significant factor that discourages people from participating in active travel. One way to address the problem is through education and the training of cyclists and other road users. In Scotland, cycle training is provided by a volunteer network, supported by road safety officers, active school co-ordinators and school travel co-ordinators. I welcome the promise that work will be done on a co-ordinated approach to training but, sadly, far too many young people still grow up receiving no practical cycle training. It is crucial that young people gain experience of cycling to build up confidence and establish a cycling habit early in their lives. An agreed minimum standard of training has to be given to all young people, both girls and boys.

As in other places, we have a range of initiatives to promote cycling in Dundee. In addition to every school having a travel plan, there is the sustainable travel in Dundee east project, which has received funding from the climate change challenge fund to develop sustainable transport. Along with the Dundee travel active project, it encourages Dundonians to walk or cycle more to improve their health and environment. However, the project is concentrated only in the city centre, Hilltown, Stobswell and West Park. I welcome the allocation of half a day a week to the remit of a cycle officer. However, I am keen to see more action, not just from Dundee City Council, but throughout Scotland. If we are to have a really effective national campaign, it must be led nationally in the way that transport safety campaigns have been. We need a much more co-ordinated and joined-up partnership approach.

A witness from Sustrans told the committee that there was

"almost an acceptance that although we will have plans and policies, there will not be any funding to take them forward",

and

"a sense of contributing to a library of excellent policies that would not have the funding to see them through."—[Official Report, Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, 1 December 2009; c 2344.]

The promises have to be delivered on, both for our health and for our environment. As the report says, the target of 10 per cent modal share for cycling is excellent, but it is "meaningless" without the necessary resources and leadership.

 

Stewart Stevenson: Is the member aware that Sustrans will receive nearly £1 million extra this year compared with last year?

 

Marlyn Glen: I will comment on funding if I have time.

Active travel must be at the heart of new planning developments, rather than an afterthought. People's attitudes to walking would improve if paths, streets and public spaces were improved.

We have to consider seriously supporting and resourcing active travel, and I welcome the 16 per cent increase in funding this year.

However, with proper cost benefit analysis, active travel is the direction in which we must move in the future. After all, even with that increase in funding—it is an overall increase; it is not just for Sustrans—the figure is still less than 1 per cent of the total transport budget.

I commend the report and look forward to the minister taking action on its recommendations.

 

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