scotland (4K)
The Friends of the Far North Line
Cairdean Na Loine Tuath
the campaign group for rail north of Inverness - lobbying for improved services for the local user, tourist and freight operator

Transport Policy Options For A Sustainable Scotland

Sub-titled "An Assessment of Three Scenarios : 2000-2020", this was the subject of a lively one-day conference in Falkirk on 26 March, which I attended as FoFNL delegate.

It was based on the Report by the Scottish Forum for Transport and the Environment, edited by Tom Hart and Nigel Doar and published in February, which seeks to resolve the conflict between transport policy and sustainable development. The conference, ably chaired by Tom Hart, attracted a broad spectrum from commercial concerns and local councils - I was one of the few from the voluntary sector - and stimulated eager discussion. Setting all forms of transport in the broader context of health, education, employment, quality of life, resource management and environmental care, underlining the inescapable interaction between all these factors, gives a more reliable, comprehensive perspective.

This needs to be far more widely accepted. In turn such an outlook could give rise to wiser proposals among business interests, local authorities, the partnerships they are beginning to establish, and indeed the new Scottish Parliament, who will undoubtedly be lobbied accordingly.

There is likely to be some resistance to the need for such lateral cross-ministry vision, politicians and civil servants preferring tidily separate boxes, but the constructive need is inescapable!

The three Scenarios examined can be briefly summarised as follows, with particular reference to our neck of the woods:

  1. Modified Business as Usual. Letting road traffic continue to grow at will must cause increasing congestion and a decline in living standards: the study foresees the railway service cut short at Tain. (With maybe limited freight movement north?)
  2. Accelerated Modal Shift. Progressively introducing measures to encourage the diversion of major bulk goods from road to rail, including lower road speed limits and provision of integrated public transport, would reduce traffic growth and pollution: the railway would remain open to Georgemas and Thurso, with a bus connection to Wick.
  3. Reducing the Need for Movement. Incremental development of projected planning strategies over two decades would encourage a wider degree of localised commerce and workplaces, with enhanced integrated public transport and shared car use to reach it, to reduce long distance daily commuting and stabilise road traffic levels - given which, excessive local car-dependency could yield to walking and cycling as anyway healthier; under this scenario, with rail freight maximised and passenger services increased, construction of the Dornoch cut-off link becomes viable, bearing in mind a need to provide for developments at Lairg.

This very bald summary - the report runs to 110 pages - cannot do justice to the well argued options offered in it. The inescapable conclusion is that Scenario 1 is a recipe for accelerating decline. So it is matter of which of the other two is found to attract the wider support: full consultation and public participation will be essential in either case. Now is the time to make a start.

Personal comment

In fairness, I lay my personal cards on the table. To my mind the need to reverse environmental degradation and tackle the complex problems of climate change is far and away the prime item on any realistic agenda. If we continue, ostrich-like, to pillage our planet we are wilfully destroying the only life support system we have. Sadly, environmental concerns seem to cut little ice with any of the major political parties. After a modicum of lip-service, little is achieved; it is far easier to scuttle off and become immersed in the relative irrelevancies of other matters. Clearly little or no interest then in what sort of depleted existence we are leaving to our grandchildren. Which does somehow seem rather surprising.

Keith Tyler