I was delighted to be asked to talk at the Transport Conference in Glasgow today. I’d written a long speech with lots of statistics and evidence and was all geared up. But on my way there, I stopped for petrol and saw the Mirror’s home page. It made me think!
So, I thought I’d share the transcript of what I had to say, to ask for your thoughts and ideas. (Not that rural transport isn’t important of course.. but are our priorities right?) This is a slightly abridged version, because as usual, I went a bit random when talking, but you’ll get the gist of it!
Good Morning! My name is Amanda Burgauer and I’m speaking to you today as the Chair of Scottish Rural Action (or SRA for short), a charity that works on behalf of rural communities in Scotland. In the interests of transparency, I should say that I also wear another hat as Chair of the Infrastructure Theme Group for South of Scotland Economic Partnership, the predecessor of the new South of Scotland enterprise agency that will come into place in April 2020. But don’t blame them – I’m here on behalf of SRA.
Every two years, Scottish Rural Action holds a national rural parliament that sets out the priorities of rural communities in Scotland and influences our workplan and community engagements between parliaments.
It probably will come as no surprise to those in this room that Transport has been in the top 3 priorities at every rural parliament since the first in Oban in 2014. In fact, the 2016 Brechin Rural Parliament developed a Manifesto that included “Effective, integrated and affordable transport solutions are essential for the economy of the nation and of rural communities”.
Since then, SRA has delivered several pieces of work related to transport. At the first rural parliament in 2014, a young teenager stood up in front of 350 people to declare that transport should be free for young people, influencing as it does their ability to stay in their home villages, their access to education, training and work and their ability to participate in their communities. He made a good case, which had the strong support of all the participants.
In the last 6 years, Scottish Rural Action has responded to our participants’ demands. We have set up a short term working group on Rural Transport; we have worked in partnership with Transport Scotland to deliver a National Rural Transport Convention that fed into the National Transport Strategy and we have consulted across rural Scotland, firstly on the Fare Enough Campaign that engaged with young people and asked about their challenges regarding rural transport and then, in collaboration with SRUC, on a report on Airport Passenger Duty relating to the Islands.
Over our entire history, SRA has always had transport, especially rural transport, in our top three priorities. It’s great that we’ve seen significant change over that time and there has been real progress. However, evidence suggests that there have also been unintended consequences of some of the best initiatives. For example, the NC500 has been a massive economic driver encouraging tourism, but emergency services and local people report issues with over crowded roads and drivers who don’t understand how single track passing places are supposed to work. The Borders Railway is a massive success – so much so that they need to start adding additional carriages to meet demand – but local retailers are taking a hit from customers having easy access to Edinburgh shops and local businesses are seeing pressures on wages, now that local people can easily access work elsewhere. These examples just demonstrate the complexity of our situation.
And that’s as far as I’m going with the speech for today that I wrote two months ago. I wanted to talk about access to work and education, about healthcare and how transport matters, and about how rural Scotland has suffered from insufficient infrastructure, including transport, to encourage resilience and sustainability. I wanted to ensure that you understood that money spent on rural infrastructure is not a subsidy but an investment and one that returns maximum dividends in terms of economic growth and social impact. I had a long speech with lots of statistics all ready for you, including that 37% of emissions in Scotland come from Transport.
But then, I saw the front page of today’s Mirror and I ripped up my talk.
I realised something. The world is burning.
(If you didn’t read today’s Mirror, and I’m not surprised if you didn’t, it features a full page photo of young boys swimming in the sea in a 22 degree heatwave – nice you think, but the picture is 700 miles north of the Arctic Circle and the temperature at this time of year should be 8 degrees, not 22.)
- Gradual change is no longer an option.
- Catching up rural to urban norms is no longer enough.
- Traditional infrastructure spend is no longer enough.
What we need now and for all the tomorrows to come is urgent, transformative, decarbonised innovation across our transport system that harnesses the phenomenal renewable energy resource of Scotland’s rural areas and makes that energy available and accessible to rural people.
My greatest fear is that the race to decarbonised transport will be urban centric: that is, it will cut rural Scotland off even more from opportunity and viability.
The solution is glaringly obvious to me.
Rural Scotland is the breadbasket of our nation’s renewable energy resource. Rural Scotland’s hills and waves and hydro schemes are where we start powering our net zero transport revolution.
The time to start this revolution was 30 years ago.
But now that the world is on fire, we need to prioritise decarbonisation above almost everything else.
With our extraordinary renewable resource, embedded in our rural communities, Scotland is uniquely placed to take a global lead on investment in net zero rural transport infrastructure and innovation. There’s no time to waste. It needs done now.