Having made suggestions as to how to include active travel in party manifestos (here and here) and the Scottish Budget coming up, I though it time to write to my MSPs about this issue. So I sent this message to them via WriteToThem.
Dear Sarah Boyack, Neil Findlay, Margo MacDonald, Alison Johnstone, Kezia Dugdale, David McLetchie, Gavin Brown, and Marco Biagi,
As you know, I am keen to see an increase in Active Travel, so welcomed the recent announcement of an additional £6m to be spent on encouraging cycling. Although I was rather disappointed to hear that it was to be spread over two years and that £500,000 will be wasted on the “Give me space” campaign (Where is the research that this sort of campaign produces any long term benefit? Surely policy should be based on sound evidence?). The small increase in funding is a long way short of the level of funding needed to achieve the CAPS target of 10% of all journeys by 2020. In order to reach this target, spending needs to be at least £25 per head of population, which is rather more than the 50p per head which has just been announced.
The problem with this approach is that nowhere enough is being put into actually making the roads safe for people to cycle. The economic and social benefits of increasing levels of Active Travel are well known. When the economic analysis of the English Cycling Demonstration Towns was carried out, it was found that the overall benefit-cost ratio was 19:1 (with the bulk of the benefit coming from health improvements). This is significantly greater than any of the high-cost road projects which the Scottish Government is currently investing. It is in contrast to the claims that “We are using every possible opportunity to support economic recovery, create growth and maximise the effect of every pound spent”. If this were the case, the Scottish Government should be putting far more into active, sustainable travel and cutting back on the vanity projects.
There are claims that it takes years for the health benefits to be seen, but these clams are not supported by the medical literature. There are an increasing number of papers which show that when sedentary, often over weight patients are encouraged to take regular exercise their health shows improvements within weeks. Like wise with air pollution, there is plenty of evidence to show that reducing motor vehicle traffic dramatically improves air quality and this impacts on people health. Recent studies from China have shown that the improvements to air quality prior to and during the Beijing Olympics, there was an clear improvement in the health of people living in Beijing. That this declined again after the Olympics ended as air quality declined following the restrictions on emissions.
Scotland currently has one of the worst health records in Europe, twenty years ago this place was taken by Finland. Now Finland has a good health record with some of the healthiest citizens in Europe, they made the change by encouraging people to eat healthily and take regular exercise. Currently 10% of all journeys in Finland are made by bicycle, they improved the health of the nation by encouraging healthy eating and regular exercise. Active Travel is an important part of the mix in encouraging regular exercise, it makes it easy and also make life more pleasant for everyone. At a time when resources are being squeezed, it is better that money is spent to benefit the greatest number of people. Improving infrastructure to make Active Travel safe, easy and convenient, can improve the health of the whole nation. Whereas spending billions of pounds to reduce the journey time between Perth and Inverness by 12 minutes is a waste of money.
Please ask the Finance and Transport Minsters to support Active Travel and stop wasting money on nonsensical road schemes which offer very low social and economic returns.
The reply I have received so far are given below in the order in which they were received. The first was from Neil Findlay (Lab):
Thanks Kim, I too believe that active travel is better than spending money on Tarmac and road building and will speak to colleagues about this in the run up to the budget.
Next was Alison Johnstone (Green):
Thank you very much for getting in touch on this important issue. As we work closely together, you know that the Scottish Green MSPs have consistently called for substantially increased spending on public transport and active travel within the Scottish Government’s transport budget and the levels announced are, indeed, far below what we need. I believe the Government’s spending priorities are wrong, by prioritising an absurdly expensive second road bridge across the Firth of Forth ahead of other areas, such as active travel, that would be far healthier for people, better for the environment, and reduce costs and congestion.
Our most recent manifesto included a commitment to target 10% of the transport budget towards active travel. It is vitally important to ensure that those who wish to cycle are encouraged to do so and the provision of new and maintenance of existing cycle lanes will help progress this aim. Safe streets with well-maintained pavements are required if we wish to see an increase in those walking to work and education. Street furniture should be streamlined and safer routes to school should be in operation across the school estate.
I have, and will continue to do all I can to challenge the Government, so that money within Scotland’s budget flows in a direction that improves people’s health, livelihoods and our environment. To this end, as you know, I have spoken about active travel, public transport and infrastructure within a number of Parliamentary debates. I hope that our new-ish Cross Party Group on Cycling can act as a focus for these messages to the Government.
Please be assured of my continued support on this matter.
So far Sarah Boyack’s (Lab) staff have acknowledged my letter twice,
but Sarah herself has yet to reply, which is unusual and has now sent a pdf rely.
The most recent reply has been from Marco Biagi (SNP)
Dear Mr Harding,
Thank you again for raising this issue, and there is indeed much in your email that I agree with. As you know I was involved in the parliamentary side of securing the first additional £13m and indeed also this further £6m. I spoke on Thursday in Perth [at the SNP party conference] to many of my colleagues about the importance of creating foot-friendly cities both in terms of walking and cycling, and I will continue to work in Parliament toward that end also. I do believe the necessary framework is now in place, provided local authorities seek to show leadership. I think we can also both agree that neither of us would object to increased resourcing of the plan as set out.
I will add further replies as I receive them.