Cllr Trish Robertson introduces the way the Highland Council is developing its transport network through encouraging active travel, better supporting the public transport network and integrating Electric Vehicle infrastructure.
At the Highland Council, we are developing a strategy to deliver a modern, sustainable transport network. Whilst this presents challenges, given the council area is the largest in the UK, it also presents an opportunity to make more sensible, informed decisions about how best to support people to move around our city, towns, villages and countryside. The Inner Moray Firth Local Development Plan review sets the tone for how the Council seeks to respond to its Climate and Ecological Emergency declaration across Highland. With a strategic approach to meeting local transport needs, it considers the integration of Electric Vehicle infrastructure at key transport interchanges to support rural dwellers to transition to healthier travel habits. It recognises the massive untapped potential of public transport to connect people over longer distances by bus and rail and sets active travel at the heart of the strategy for built-up areas.
The Covid-19 pandemic presented authorities with the opportunity to make emergency improvements to aid physical distancing and support communities to use active travel during the pandemic. Through a £1.9M programme of works, the Council has delivered both temporary and permanent improvements to streets across Highland so that people can walk, wheel and cycle more safely and easily. A legacy of this project is the demonstration that by redistributing some of the available road space more equitably between cars and people walking and cycling, people can make different, better choices about how to move around, without an unacceptable impact of traffic congestion.
More recently we have set our sights on better supporting the public transport network. A partnership including The Highland Council, bus operators and other stakeholders submitted a bid to design and deliver a package of measures to prioritise buses in congested parts of the transport network. The bid includes proposals to create Park and Ride sites around Inverness and Fort William, supported by priority bus lanes and junctions, as well as mini Park and Ride sites across the strategic road network. Such interventions, coupled with improvements in Dingwall and specific measures associated with tourists in Skye, Invergordon and Fort William, set the ambition for the region to dramatically tackle its carbon footprint by reducing dependence on private cars and ensuring people have fair access to healthier transport choices.
Successive policy documents, academic studies and grass-roots campaigns are transforming the narrative about how we should invest in our future transport network. The Infrastructure Commission for Scotland sets clear and coherent recommendations for making a sustainable transition. National Transport Strategy explicitly states the travel hierarchy, beginning at a human scale of walking, wheeling and cycling, followed by public transport and ending with private car. By following this clear and well-evidenced approach, and by investing in active travel and public transport, The Highland Council can tackle the climate and ecological emergency and make the region healthier, safer and easier to live, work and visit.