09 June 2010

S3M-6476 Active Travel [Closing Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 9 June 2010

[The Presiding Officer opened the meeting at 14:00]
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Active Travel

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-6476, in the name of Patrick Harvie, on the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee's report on its inquiry into active travel.

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Stewart Stevenson:

Four Fishermen's Friends in, we come to the end of a very engaging and interesting debate. As Patrick Harvie pointed out, the inquiry was the first committee inquiry into active travel, and, as such, it is very much welcome. He picked up a theme that we heard in a number of contributions to the debate, which is that safety and the perception of safety—in other words, the perception of a lack of safety—are clear inhibitors to people moving on to cycling from other modes of travel. That is certainly something of which we will tak tent.

Patrick Harvie also talked about active travel not being a high enough priority in local authorities, so central Government should dictate to them what they should do. Actually, I think that there is quite an effective relationship with local authorities. We must foster that and ensure that good experience is shared around the local authority system, because local delivery is crucial to what will work.

Charlie Gordon developed further the barriers to people going into cycling. I have temporarily forgotten who suggested that seeing the minister in Lycra was not necessarily an outcome to be greatly desired, but I agree with whoever said that. Frankly, when I cycle—I do more walking than cycling—I do not tend to wear Lycra. There are many other ways. I am of the old bicycle-clip brigade, which is my standard uniform. I am quite content with that.

Charlie Gordon also talked about leadership and the minister's personal travel. I am happy to tell him that I have already used the train and the bus today, and I will be walking to the station at the end of today's parliamentary business. I am slightly puzzled by Jim Tolson's suggestion that he gets an hour's exercise between here and Waverley. He must be doing it more often than me. [Interruption.] Ah! I have had the explanation. Apparently, Dunfermline is getting the benefit of his delicate little feet as well. Would that we all took the approach that Jim Tolson does.

Charlie Gordon also talked about infrastructure, and there is a very important point in that. I spoke yesterday to a conference for disabled people about getting access to our systems. A survey that has just been completed has discovered that there are 35,000 barriers across Scotland to allowing people in wheelchairs and with other disabilities to make use of our network on foot or by wheels. We face a formidable challenge in that regard that has existed for a long time and which every Administration has a duty to do something about.

Alex Johnstone said that walking and cycling are of interest to a great many people. He unwisely referenced Norman Tebbit. I was pleased to hear that Alex Johnstone used to cycle 3 miles to school. I will speak to his wife, Linda, to ensure that he returns to that so that we see less of Alex Johnstone in future. He knows what I mean.

Alison McInnes made the valid point that active travel is best when there is a purpose to it rather than when it is simply a recreation. In other words, it is best when it is embedded in normal life and behaviour. That is a good point. She mentioned the Gorbals Healthy Living Network, which spoke to the committee, and told us that the Scottish Association for Mental Health said that exercise is a huge contributor to ensuring good mental health. I echo that.

Let me nail a few points on investment. There was reference to the extra money that Tavish Scott provided. That was correct, but the money was a one-off £10 million that came when the yellow bus pilot did not proceed and the money was diverted into cycling. I absolutely support that, but I would say that, under this Government, the budgets for cycling have risen from £10.78 million in 2008-09 to £11.53 million in 2009-10, and by 16 per cent in the current year to £13.35 million. Yes, more could be done, but we should not pretend that we have neglected this area of policy.

Patrick Harvie: I am grateful to the minister for giving way to me a second time on that point. I do not think that any of us imagines that, if the Government suddenly provided even a six or eight-fold increase, that would be the most sensible way forward. We need to increase investment in the area at a reasonable pace. However, does he accept in general or in principle that a sustained increase in investment substantially beyond the low level that we have at present is the only way in which long-term progress will be made?

Stewart Stevenson: I think that a 16 per cent increase in the current year gives the answer to that question.

Aileen Campbell, like others, talked about rail rolling stock. In the refettling of the 158 fleet on the rail network, we have improved bicycle accommodation, although it is still more limited than it was in the days of the guard's van—that is true. We will certainly take every opportunity to look at that.

Rob Gibson mentioned safer routes to school and the issue of right turns. He was correct to do so.

Jim Tolson confused or conflated efficient and effective. Effective is doing the right things. Efficient is doing things right. They are not in conflict. They both have to be done.

I belatedly welcome Jackson Carlaw to his new brief. Some Tory spokesmen have set high standards. Bill Aitken once said of me—it was in October 2006—that Stewart Stevenson is a very special person. I look forward to hearing that sort of thing again. He went on to say, "He can trace his ancestry all the way back to his mother." Presiding Officer, I am sure that that falls within parliamentary language, but only just.

In closing, and to preserve what remains of my voice for the next debate, when I will appear for the Government again, I remind everybody that cycling is fun and healthy. It is an activity that is virtually free for those who have access to a bike. Walking is fun. It is a social activity, as we heard, because we can chat to people. We can meet people in the street and chat to them as well. Learning to cycle safely can help young people to become confident, independent teenagers and adults. Designing our communities to make walking and cycling safe and easy leads to increased visibility of cyclists and pedestrians and helps to drive the dynamic. That is why the publication of "Cycling by Design" today is so important.

Finally, I reiterate the Scottish Government's commitment to active travel in all its various forms in the present difficult economic climate. Unlike Jim Tolson, I do not yet know what money will be available to us next year. I thank members for a well-informed and welcome debate, to which we will listen very carefully indeed.


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