Tuesday, March 11th, 2014
Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone, co-convener of Holyrood’s cross-party group on cycling, is raising concerns that the dualling of the A9 will make it harder for people living along the route to get from A to B by bicycle.
Ms Johnstone is also warning that the £3bn project risks unnecessary additional costs by not including cycle routes in its design.
In answer to a parliamentary question from Ms Johnstone, Transport Minister Keith Brown states that the Scottish Government is “actively engaged” with “non-motorised” users to consider the dual carriageway’s design.
But in correspondence with the Perth branch of the Scottish Green party, a Transport Scotland official working on the project says the new road is unlikely to have parallel cycle routes due to environmental impacts and costs, despite also claiming not to hold information about such costs.
Alison Johnstone MSP said:
“The Scottish Government is under enormous pressure to get the rate of cycling up from the current one per cent of journeys to ten per cent within the next six years. It would be monumentally daft if they spent three billion pounds on a dual carriageway that did not incorporate better cycle infrastructure for Perthshire and Highland communities along the route, not to mention the opportunities for cycle tourism.
“It seems ministers are not in tune with officials managing the project, and they need to sort it out. Cycling campaigners are already weary of the SNP’s excuses on active travel and this latest mess shows they cannot be trusted when they claim to be committed to making cycling the everyday travel option it should be.
“As for the bizarre excuse of cycle lanes’ environmental impacts, I would remind Transport Scotland of their own appraisal of dualling the A9. It shows that the project contradicts the government’s policies by encouraging rather than reducing traffic, leading to increased climate change emissions and noise pollution.”
Roger Humphry of Perth Greens said:
“Dualling of the A9 gives an opportunity to improve facilities for walking and cycling. However we have no confidence that this will happen.
“The correspondence received from Transport Scotland implies that many of the existing crossing points are to be lost and the government agency has failed to do standard costing of a cycle-path alongside the new road even though they are ruling them out on the basis of cost.
“Close to my own village, Errol, it has taken many years of local campaigning to retrofit the A90 Perth to Dundee road with safe crossings and cycle routes. We shouldn’t make the same mistake again along the A9.”
Questions by Perth Greens:
1. Please would you send me the details of proposed crossings.
The reason for parallel cycle routes on either side of a dualled A9 is
that it will safely connect communities and now is the chance to do it. It
will also allow safe access by communities to the various crossing places that
have been included into the design.
2. Please would you also tell me what consideration has been made for parallel
cycle routes on either side of the proposed dual carriage way?
3. From past data, or from predictions of this project, please can you give me
a rough estimate of the cost of building-in cycle routes from the design stage
in comparison to building them in piece-meal retrospectively?
Transport Scotland’s response:
1 – As the design work is just commencing, we are not able to provide you with
details of the proposed crossing points for cyclists. They will be developed
during the course of the design work to be undertaken over the next few years.
As part of the further work required, we will undertake assessments into
cycling facilities and non-motorised users as part of the requirements of the
Design Manual for Roads and Bridges, Cycling by Design, Transport Scotland’s
‘Roads for All, Good Practice Guide for Roads’ and also consult with cycling
and sustainable transport groups regarding future proposals. We have already
held discussions with organisations such as SUSTRANS. We can advise that there
will be no at-grade crossing points on the dual carriageway so safe crossing
for cyclists will be ensured. Given the high number of existing crossing
points, the strategy will be to provide for crossings at new grade-separated
junctions or other structures provided specifically for non-motorised users.
We may seek to connect existing tracks, paths and other routes to make best
use of the crossings provided whilst maintaining the network of tracks, paths
and routes currently used.
2 – The strategy for cycle routes for the A9 corridor is currently being
developed. However, at this stage we consider that it is unlikely that
parallel cycle routes will be provided immediately adjacent to both sides of
the A9. The A9 corridor is highly constrained with features such as
internationally protected ecological sites, designated landscape and the
Highland Mainline Railway in close proximity to the route. There would be
significant additional environmental impacts and costs that would result from
providing parallel cycle routes on either side of the proposed dual
carriageway. Where existing cycle routes are affected or where a need for a
new route is determined a parallel route is likely to be provided. Also, we
will be considering opportunities to enhance existing provisions for cyclists,
where appropriate, to support the scheme objectives.
Request 3 – We do not hold the information you request.
Thursday, March 6th, 2014
The Scottish Greens have reiterated their call for more national and local investment in district heating schemes – a mature technology used far more widely to heat communities in other European countries.
Speaking in a debate at Holyrood, Lothian MSP Alison Johnstone highlighted the success of the Combined Heat and Power schemes at the University of Edinburgh, and the potential of large development sites such as at Fountainbridge for new, future-proof schemes.
Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian said:
“In decades to come, we’ll think it was incredible that a housing development of 70 flats had seventy boilers. Efficient district heating technologies are ready to be rolled out in Scotland, but we need to see more ambition from councils to make this happen.
“Over the next 40 years, it’s estimated that a hundred billion pounds worth of heat equipment will be replaced in Scotland. We have a highly centralised energy market, dominated by a few companies, which has hampered the ability of new companies to deliver the levels of district heating that we see in Norway or Holland.
“Councils have a huge opportunity to invest locally and secure a lasting income by selling electricity produced in association with heat, as well as tackling fuel poverty and cutting climate emissions.”
Thursday, March 6th, 2014
Commenting on the publication of “refreshed guidance” on school meals, Green MSP Alison Johnstone is calling on the Scottish Government to beef up its commitment to improving access to fresh, local food.
“Better Eating, Better Learning” is a revision of advice published in 2003.
Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian and education spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, has published Freedom of Information data showing that many school dining facilities are at capacity, and that many schools have no kitchens for fresh food preparation.
She has also shown that Scotland’s farmers are losing out, as much of the chicken served in schools is frozen and flown in from as far away as Brazil and Thailand.
Alison Johnstone said:
“It’s never been more important to get our children’s nutrition right but I’m afraid what has been published today is simply a reheat of old advice. While it’s sound advice what we really need is a commitment to improving schools’ access to fresh, local ingredients and a challenging of the unfair buying power of the big four supermarkets.
“We also need to address the serious issue of lack of space in our schools. I fully support the roll out of free lunches to P1, 2 and 3 but we must make it an enjoyable experience, not a cramped feeding frenzy.
“Advice is also being promised to local authorities to help them combat the appeal of junk food beyond the school gates. This was due almost a year ago; it is an issue of great concern to many parents and we await the details with great interest.”
Wednesday, March 5th, 2014
Green Yes, the Scottish Green Party’s campaign for a Yes vote in the independence referendum, is welcoming comments by a leading economist that the best currency option for an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK would be an independent Scottish currency pegged to the pound.
The view came from Dr Angus Armstrong of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research during questioning at Holyrood’s economy committee by Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian.
Alison also questioned Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, about the chance to reform the tax system. Mr Johnson said that independence presented lots of opportunities; he also highlighted the need to reform the council tax.
The Green Yes campaign supports the short-term logic of sharing Sterling but believes that Scotland should stand ready to develop its own currency as its economy diverges from the rest of the UK. Green Yes has also highlighted the need to reform local democracy and taxation in Scotland with the publication of a research paper by Andy Wightman.
Alison Johnstone said:
“It is increasingly clear that a Yes vote opens up opportunities that a No vote is extremely unlikely to. The need to create a fairer and simpler system of taxes has never been greater, and if we want to make different economic choices from Westminster we will need flexibility on currency in the longer term.
“There are of course a range of views on the way forward but crucially Scotland would get to decide. If we want an economy that works for everyone we need to put democratic decisions at its core.”
Tuesday, March 4th, 2014
Speaking in today’s Scottish Parliament debate on welfare reform, Green MSP Patrick Harvie challenged those who argue that the UK is the best way of sharing economic risks and rewards.
As new figures from SCVO show 870,000 Scots are living in poverty, Mr Harvie highlighted other figures showing the richest 100 Scots now have a combined wealth of £21billion.
Welfare reform has seen housing benefit cuts such as the bedroom tax, and fit-for-work tests described by Mr Harvie as humiliating.
Patrick Harvie, Green MSP for Glasgow, said:
“These so-called reforms are in fact the dismantling of the welfare state by a UK Coalition whose mantra of we’re all in it together increasingly sounds like a sick joke. When we see the growing gap between the mega-rich and the rest of us we must see the logic in seizing the opportunity to run our own welfare system.
“What is even more galling is the hypocrisy of successive Westminster governments who have no problem with corporate welfare. Rather than hyping the idea of skivers versus strivers government should be cracking down on wealthy tax dodgers and companies that pay poverty wages.”
Thursday, February 27th, 2014
Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian and a member of Holyrood’s economy committee, is renewing her call for reform of RBS as the publicly-owned bank posts an annual loss of £8.2billion while setting aside £576million for bonuses.
In January Alison lodged a motion in parliament calling on the Scottish Government to negotiate the transfer of RBS operations in Scotland to create the sort of local banks that exist in the USA, Japan and Germany.
The idea is supported by the New Economics Foundation, which says such banking networks work well, improving access to finance for small businesses and improving the stability of financial systems.
“The public owns 81 per cent of RBS so we should not have to put up with its failure to reform. Thousands of staff have paid the price while the small businesses our economy relies on are denied the lending they need to grow.
“More than ever we need a cultural shift in banking towards a more diverse sector with a focus on small businesses and serving the public. Germany’s successful network of locally-accountable Sparkassen banks are a model we should be trying to copy right now.”
Wednesday, February 26th, 2014
Ahead of Thursday’s (27 Feb) parliamentary debate on Stage One of the Criminal Justice Bill, Scottish Green MSPs are calling on ministers to rethink their proposal to remove the requirement for corroboration from Scots law.
Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone are due to support an opposition amendment in the debate that calls for the removal of abolition of corroboration from the Bill.
Patrick Harvie, Green MSP for Glasgow and justice spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said:
“We have real concerns about the removal of corroboration. There is a problem with low levels of reporting and conviction for serious offences such as rape but the Government is proposing the wholesale removal of the corroboration rule in all cases.
“I have met with the Justice Secretary to discuss the issue but remain of the view that ministers need to rethink their proposal while the Bill is at this early stage. Even Mr MacAskill accepts that a new system of safeguards will be needed, but he doesn’t yet know what the detail will be.
“It can’t be right to approve this dramatic change to the whole justice system on the promise that something else will be developed to replace it later.
“The Scottish Government is asking us to put the cart before the horse. It’s not a responsible way to legislate.”
Wednesday, February 26th, 2014
Green Yes, the Scottish Green party’s campaign for a Yes vote in the independence referendum, is welcoming a major report by the Church of Scotland which highlights the importance of fairness and justice over wealth in the debate.
Imagining Scotland’s Future is based on the views of more than 900 people who attended 32 community events. The findings echo much of what the Green Yes campaign has been talking about.
Participants strongly supported high quality public services, opposed the use of nuclear weapons, and called for less spending on defence and more focus on peace.
Patrick Harvie, Green MSP for Glasgow and co-convener of the Scottish Greens, said:
“It’s refreshing to have another set of voices in this debate saying they’re not considering whether they’d be slightly better off or not, and that instead they are thinking how we can build a better society. Anyone trying to sway undecided voters with talk of being £500 richer or poorer is on a hiding to nothing.
“We already know from our own extensive Green survey that fairness is a huge motivating factor, and in our view we have a greater chance of achieving that fairer society with a Yes vote. The Church is to be commended for a meaningful contribution which I think poses difficult questions for those campaigning for a No vote. They are clearly at odds with a public desire to ditch austerity, ban Trident and tackle inequality.”
Monday, February 24th, 2014
GREEN MSP UNCOVERS CAPACITY CHALLENGE
Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian and education spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, is calling on the Scottish Government to fund new school kitchens and dining rooms to ensure a successful roll-out of free school meals.
Using Freedom of Information requests Ms Johnstone has discovered that many school dining facilities are already at capacity, and many schools have no kitchens in which to prepare fresh food. For example, half of schools in East Lothian could not accommodate more pupils for lunch, while Aberdeenshire has 57 primary schools with no kitchen.
The research also reveals 10,000 people are directly employed in schools catering.
In answer to a parliamentary question from the Green MSP, the schools minister has confirmed that the Scottish Government has begun discussions with local authorities about the practicalities of rolling out free school meals for P1-3.
Alison Johnstone said:
“I fully support free school meals for primary pupils but this research supports my longstanding concerns about school buildings. The Scottish Government and local authorities have neglected too many schools, while new buildings have been designed without proper food preparation facilities.
“I urge ministers to make their discussions with local authorities a priority so the necessary funding can be found to build kitchens and extend dining rooms or find alternative solutions. I also think we should seize the opportunity to make local, freshly-prepared food the norm in our schools, as this would be so much better for our children, our economy and the skills of our undervalued catering staff.”
Examples of responses by local authorities to the Green MSP’s Freedom of Information requests on school kitchens and dining room capacity:
Aberdeenshire, which says it has a high meal uptake in primary schools, has 57 primary schools with no kitchens.
In Argyll and Bute thirteen schools serve food prepared elsewhere.
Clackmannanshire, which uses what it calls a “cook-freeze” system, says all its dining facilities are at capacity.
In Dumfries and Galloway 34 schools do not have functioning kitchens.
Dundee city council says it would be unable to accommodate an increase in pupil numbers in some school dining halls unless the service time was extended to over an hour or a secondary service point was introduced.
East Lothian council says 12 of its schools have no food preparation area, and 19 of its 41 school dining areas could not accommodate more pupils for lunch.
Highland council says it does not know whether its school dining facilities are at capacity.
Renfrewshire says its facilities could accommodate a further 10% of pupils, and it notes that some of its schools have three lunch sittings.
West Dunbartonshire has six schools where space does not permit a production kitchen.
Parliamentary Question lodged by Alison Johnstone:
To ask the Scottish Government what support is available to schools to improve kitchen facilities and expand dining facilities.
Dr Alasdair Allan MSP:
The Scottish Government are in early discussions with CoSLA around the implementation of free school meals for all children in P1 P3 from January 2015 and will work with local authorities around the practicalities, drawing on the experience of the free school meal trial which ran over 2007-08. Evaluation of the trial showed that implementation went more smoothly than anticipated and that local authorities and schools generated a number of successful strategies to address the challenges faced.
Monday, February 24th, 2014
As the UK and Scottish cabinets meet in the North-east, the Scottish Greens have criticised both for their deferential approach towards the fossil fuel industry.
Patrick Harvie, Green MSP said:
“Talk of the ‘greenest ever government’ and ‘world leading Scottish climate targets’ will count for little in Aberdeen. Both the Prime Minister and the First Minister are falling over each other to court the fossil fuel industry. It’s a pretty sickening sight.
“I want to hear less about a clash of cabinets and more about a clash of ideas on what we choose to do with our remaining fossil fuel reserves. It’s one of the most important decisions for Scotland’s future and our leadership in the world.
“Oil and gas can only offer a real economic value if we use them sparingly, within ecological limits. Many in the SNP still recall the slogan “it’s Scotland’s oil”. Well maybe it was, but we’ve burned too much of it already. The future must be clean, green and renewable, or it’ll be no future at all.
“Greens are campaigning for a Yes vote because we see it as a route to the political change our society needs, not an opportunity to repeat all the same mistakes from an Energy Department in Glasgow or Aberdeen instead of London.”