September 2015

Cash for cycling – or for trunk roads?

UK Chancellor George Osborne, whilst cutting public transport and active travel, has in effect ring-fenced trunk road construction against cuts.  Will the Scottish Government follow his example or will they use this opportunity to strengthen investment in active and public transport?

The recent UK budget announced that Vehicle Excise Duty, instead of going into general tax income, would be ring-fenced for motorways and trunk roads.  This means that trunk road spending gets a guaranteed source of income, whilst cash for maintaining other roads and for investing in sustainable transport is continually threatened with budget cuts [as we are seeing already, e.g.  cycling and rail].  The new roads cash guarantee will help to fund “the biggest, boldest and most far-reaching roads programme for decades.”

It will be up to the Scottish Government to decide whether to allocate its share of VED revenue to trunk roads, or for other uses.  Seven major Scottish charities  [including Transform Scotland and Sustrans Scotland] have asked Finance Secretary John Swinney to use the cash instead for ..

  • a repair fund for the existing local road network and footways.
  • infrastructure to increase walking and cycling
  • better integration of sustainable transport modes (bus, rail, walk and bike)

Whether the government will listen remains to be seen.  You can help by asking your MSPs to raise this with Ministers, and to let you know the response.  Find your MSPs here.

With the Scottish Government’s big trunk road plans needing at least £9,000,000,000 in the next few years, Ministers will be sorely tempted to follow George Osborne’s example.   Meanwhile rail projects such as EGIP [the Edinburgh-Glasgow scheme] have been reduced in scope, mainline routes north remain single track, and cash for cycling remains under 2% of transport spending [Spokes Bulletin 121, page 7].

Additionally, VED is being restructured so that low-emission vehicles no longer receive a discount (except in the first year).  Thus the English VED plan will increase emissions in two ways – by encouraging dirtier cars as well as by encouraging more car travel.

In contrast, says one of the seven charities, WWF Scotland, “If spent wisely on infrastructure that supports alternatives to the car, such as walking and cycling, the Scottish Government could deliver the double win of improving public health and helping to achieve its world leading climate ambitions.”

Use of VED money may sound an abstract decision, with little impact on you – but before long it could mean more cars and lorries entering into cities, from expanded trunk roads – or it could mean European-level cycling budgets, double-track railway lines to the north, and many fewer potholes in towns and cities.

It is not known when the Scottish Government will make its decision on how to use the VED money, but one possibility is an announcement in this autumn’s budget statement.  Now therefore is the time to email your MSPs if you are concerned.

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