The Scottish Government’s £30 billion spending plans for 2015-16 were examined recently by the Scottish Parliament, including by the committee that I convene, which considers issues relating to transport, housing, infrastructure and capital investment. The parliament and its subject committees look to see if government spending plans are fit for purpose. I and my fellow MSP were looking at how the money our taxes contribute to helps to reduce Scotland’s carbon footprint.
Making our transport greener and housing more energy-efficient will clearly play a vital role in reducing climate change and our committee was particularly interested to hear how the budget would support Scotland meeting world leading climate-change targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Whilst public spending is under strain, new focus is needed to ensure that the large investments made by the Scottish Government in transport and housing infrastructure also help us to meet our challenging climate change targets.
We need to encourage more people to take public transport or to walk or cycle or make their home more energy efficient. But if this is to happen to the scale required, we must be making the right infrastructure decisions now so that we can influence the decisions that we make as individuals.
Encouragingly, our committee heard about a number of innovative projects being developed in parts of the country to increase the support given to public or active travel.
For example, MSPs heard of a successful project in the city to make city roads safer for cycling and walking. Lothian Buses is also using technology to encourage people to use the bus instead of taking the car, through its innovative app.
Whilst I am proud that Edinburgh is leading the way in spending seven per cent of its transport budget on active travel, our committee was clear that this good practice needs to be encouraged and put in place across the whole of Scotland if we are to make a real difference. Everyone will have an opinion as to how we can do better and, of course, the cost of public transport and its availability is always something that will dictate how we travel.
The committee called for substantial additional funding to be considered to roll out sustainable and active travel projects, which could include cycling infrastructure. We need to do this if we are to bring about the modal shift required and meet our ambitious cycling and climate change targets, as well as improve the health of the people of Scotland.
Our committee also highlighted opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in areas such as home energy efficiency, and to roll out broadband connectivity.
For example, the committee heard of community-based renewable heat schemes based on solar energy which could both reduce carbon emissions and help alleviate fuel poverty. The committee is keen to learn more of the Scottish Government’s plans to help bring superfast broadband to towns and cities across Scotland, providing opportunities for more home-working and reducing the need to travel to work.
The committee recognises that there are difficult spending decisions to be made and, of course, balancing the books is never easy. But a step change in our approach to infrastructure investment is needed if we are to make a real difference in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and to safeguard our environment for future generations.
Jim Eadie MSP is convener of the infrastructure and capital investment committee