People power can turn tide


Originally published as a column in the Edinburgh Evening News on Thursday 1 October 2015

Last Saturday, Edinburgh came together to call for urgent, decisive action to tackle climate change, one of the greatest threats our society faces. I took part in two grassroots demonstrations – first, the People’s Climate Rally on The Mound, and later on, Scotland Against Fracking down at Holyrood.

Saturday’s events proved that concerns about our impact on climate and on our local environments concern people from all walks of life. Both rallies attracted a varied range of speakers and participants, young and old, showing how the concern over the catastrophic impact of climate change is growing in our communities. The 30 years leading up to 2012 were the warmest three decades was the warmest in the last 1400 years. Our seas are getting warmer, higher and more acidic. Ice sheets are melting at an incredible rate and this water is flowing into our oceans at speeds never previously recorded.

The IPCC, or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, tells us that all the warming that has occurred in the last 50 years is due to our behaviour. To me, that is also a clear signal that if we want to, we have the power and the ability to halt the dangerous path we’re on.
The big businesses that make their money from drilling oil and fracking for gas would have us think that we have to choose between cutting back on emissions and building a prosperous economy – according to these corporations, there is no real alternative to the fossil fuel industry. But people in Scotland are starting to realise that they are bluffing. The oil barons are simply trying to secure profits for themselves, while pretending that they’re doing our society a favour.

There is an immense wealth of economic opportunities beyond fossil fuels; renewables, decommissioning, sustainable forestry, home insulation – the list goes on. There are also plenty of ways in which our government could support people to tackle emissions in their daily lives, through policies that tackle climate change, for example.

By grasping those opportunities, we would secure growth, jobs, a safe climate and better health for people. Yet, our political leaders are struggling to pluck up the courage to move away from business as usual. The SNP still can’t make up its mind about fracking and Underground Coal Gasification, and Westminster is pouring in billions of pounds to subsidise failing oil companies and short-sighted nuclear power projects.

Nearly half of Scottish adults think that climate change is an immediate and urgent problem – that means tackling emissions should be at the top of our decision-makers’ agenda. This December, 195 countries will come together in Paris to discuss how to keep global warming within a rise of 2C. It was clear to me on Saturday that people in Scotland recognise the opportunities and solutions we have to tackle climate change, and are ready to do all they can to secure a safe, prosperous society for the next generations. I hope the UK Government won’t let us down, and will take our vision for a better future to the negotiating table in Paris.


Stop risky development at Brunstane

This week, local campaigners and councillors have alerted Edinburgh City Council to concerns over the safety of a site the city intends to develop as part of the new Local Development Plan. The site in the Brunstane Farmlands has coal reserves very close to the surface, and mine works have been carried out in the area in the past.

Our worry is that building on this areas may trigger leakage of toxic substances such as mine water, methane and carbon monoxide. These would cause serious public health and environmental risks.

I have signed a letter have submitted an official letter to the council, highlighting these concerns. You can read an Evening News coverage on the issue here. I have also lodged a motion to alert my MSP colleagues to the situation, which you can read below. I have also lodged two written parliamentary questions  to gain more information from the Scottish Government on this matter.

Written questions:

Question S4W-27681: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 24/09/2015

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on land classified by the Coal Authority as a high risk development area being identified by a local authority as a preferred option for housing development under a local development plan.

Question S4W-27682: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 24/09/2015

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the Coal Authority requiring near-surface coal reserves to be removed through opencast mining from land identified by a local authority as a preferred option for housing development under a local development plan, prior to development being undertaken.

Motion S4M-14378: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 24/09/2015. Brunstane Campaigners Identify Omissions from Local Development Plan

That the Parliament notes that the Second Edinburgh Local Development Plan was approved by the City of Edinburgh Council in May 2015 and is now being considered by the Scottish Government’s Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals; understands that campaigners opposing housing development at Brunstane Farmlands in Edinburgh have identified potentially serious omissions from the plan in relation to environmental and public health risks resulting from near-surface coal and associated historic mine works present on the site; notes that this additional information has been submitted to the Scottish Government’s Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals, and calls on the Scottish Government to take full account of this information to ensure that the final form of the Second Edinburgh Local Development Plan fully complies with Scottish and European environmental regulations relating to strategic environmental assessment.

I will continue to work with campaigners and the Council to ensure that any new developments are considered carefully, with public safety in mind.


Bring food producers and food consumers closer together

080912 AJ GC Local Food Fair_small

Yesterday, I spoke in a Scottish Government debate on agriculture, focusing on the need to try new techniques and approaches to ensure we produce more locally and bring food farmers and food consumers closer together.

Read my full speech below.


Most people in Lothian live in urban areas, but that does not mean that agriculture is not vitally important to them. Who produces our food and how is of interest to everyone.

Local people who are campaigning to save Damhead in Midlothian from the new A701 have proposed an alternative use for the green belt: an Edinburgh food belt, which would change our perceptions of the green belt. It is hoped that opportunities can be offered for people to start businesses on croft-sized areas of land, leading to short food chains. That resilient approach would be embedded in future development plans.

We need to shorten supply chains, reduce inputs and improve the environment if we are to have a sustainable food system. The authors of the Scottish Government’s paper, “The Future of Scottish Agriculture: a Discussion Document”, which was published in June, clearly get the challenge. The content is refreshingly clear for such a publication. Action is suggested on improved innovation, resource efficiency, skills and profitability. The need and opportunities for Scotland to be a world leader in green farming are recognised. Advice, training, education and demonstration farms are all proposed, to support farms to be “environmentally and commercially successful”. In the not-so-long term, the two concepts are absolutely inseparable.

However, the Government’s discussion document misses our food system’s reliance on fossil fuels for transport, pesticides, fertilisers and much more. Breaking that link is one of our biggest challenges. We must ensure that we can sustain a system of affordable food production without fossil fuels. That will need innovative thinking and a willingness to try new techniques.

I ask members to imagine walking down a road with a field of crop on their left and natural woodland on their right. Which is more productive? The field gives us a uniform crop, but the woodland is layered with a vastly greater weight of plants and biomass, all without fossil fuel inputs. We still have many lessons to learn from nature.

As with so many industries, co-operation on innovation and the sharing of good ideas will be key to success. There are plenty of strong communities in farming that can do that. Co-operative models are working to help farmers get the best deal and share resources, but our production numbers from co-operatives are very low compared with other EU countries.

CAP reform has finally got rid of some of the artefacts of the old system, but the wrong decision was made on allocating the convergence uplift uniformly across the UK. I support calls for the decision to be revisited. Across 521 businesses in the Lothian region, the new CAP is expected to deliver gains of €1.4 million and losses of €5.4 million—a net loss of €4 million.

The Government’s motion also refers to the red meat levies, and I agree with it on that subject. However, the Scottish Government could take action right now by supporting new abattoirs in Scotland. That would solve the levies issue and improve animal welfare by reducing transport distances.

New farmers are faced with lots of barriers, including high land values. Land reform should be seen as a way of opening up more opportunities for farms of all sizes.

Many farmers now have renewables or use low-carbon energy, but there is always more to do to maximise the benefits to farmers and to wider community initiatives that need land for projects. The UK Government’s attempts to pull the rug from under those initiatives demonstrate why Scotland needs much more influence on energy policy as well as in EU agriculture debates.

Broadband infrastructure is another issue for rural businesses. My colleague John Finnie will mention the importance of the Royal Mail’s universal service obligation in his members’ business debate tomorrow, but the same principle could be applied to broadband provision, so that rural businesses are not stuck with a loading page instead of the latest price data.

The transatlantic trade and investment partnership is a risk to Scotland’s reputation for quality, safe agriculture. I ask the Government to step up to the plate and to be clear in opposing it. It is not a trade deal; it is a corporate power grab that is bad for food.

In his welcome speech, Rob Gibson asked what agriculture is for. I agree that it is not about providing profits to huge monopolies but about ensuring that we all have enough to eat. We should remember that the right to food is established in international human rights law.

I received an email today from the Edinburgh central and Edinburgh north-west food bank, asking us all to watch “The Food Bank: Scotland’s Hidden Hunger”, which will air next week. Although we understand why there has, sadly, been a rapid increase in the growth of food banks—I attribute it, in no small amount, to welfare reform at Westminster—let us listen to Nourish Scotland, which calls on us to eat more of what we produce here, and to produce more of what we eat here. We should listen to people such as Professor Elizabeth Dowler and Professor Graham Riches, who tell us that relying on corporate food waste—the waste from the same corporates that do not pay farmers a fair price for milk—is not an effective, sustainable or fair response to hunger. Perhaps if we used the Poverty Alliance’s term “emergency food aid” rather than the term “food banks” we would better appreciate the urgent need to ensure that Scotland’s food success story fully benefits local producers and local people.

I ask that we continue to strive for a stronger food culture that brings producers and consumers closer together. I enjoyed Malcolm Chisholm’s speech, which focused on the right to grow and local initiatives, and I conclude by highlighting the fabulous Dig-In, here in Edinburgh, which is a community greengrocer that is making the most of local produce.

“The Government should make a clear funding commitment for walkers and cyclists”

Last Thursday, I gave a speech in a Scottish Parliament debate on the National Cycle Network.

You can read my full statement below.



I thank Jim Eadie for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject, and I thank Jim and my other co-convener of the cross-party group on cycling, Claudia Beamish, for the efforts that they have made so far in getting this important issue the attention that it deserves. I, too, congratulate all those who have been involved in the improvement and extension of our national cycle network: the Sustrans volunteers, those who are connected with other organisations and the local authorities. Their work really is making a difference. I have seen improvements in Edinburgh and across my constituency, but there are still many opportunities that we can and should harness.

Every time we dig up a road, we should see whether we can make an improvement for people who walk and people who cycle. Let us have a rolling programme targeted at dangerous or just plain annoying junctions, where walking and cycling are not prioritised. Off-road and separated cycle lanes are vital to help people to feel and be safe. Let us look at a specific example here in Edinburgh.

The first phase of the investment in the link between Edinburgh’s Meadows and the Innocent path cycleway is under way and is already making a difference. It is incredible to think that the national cycle network 1 used to involve cycling along a little narrow corridor, full of wheelie bins and bin bags, with railings where it would be necessary to dismount.

That has been transformed by investment. A cyclist can now stay on their bike and get safely across the road. That started in March and it is not finished, but I have no doubt that it will encourage people to cycle and to feel that their children are safe doing so, too. I look forward to the work on the western side of the Meadows, which unfortunately will not begin until next year. Many members campaigned about the utterly ridiculous situation whereby cyclists were banned from entering Waverley station. I am pleased to note that that is on track to being changed.

However, we need cultural change so that we do not have to campaign against such wrong-headed thinking and decisions. The situation has been a frustrating waste of time. We want to connect up different types of transport and use our energy more positively.

Leith Walk improvements are in the pipeline, too, although they have been a long time coming for residents who live and commute there. Identifying gaps and necessary improvements in our cycleways and walkways is best done by people who use the routes. Walking and cycling investment is exactly the sort of investment that should be decided by participatory budgeting. What would happen if we handed over the whole walking and cycling budget to a participatory budgeting exercise?

I think that we would start to see exactly the sorts of improvements that people want in their neighbourhoods. We should be ambitious. Scotland’s network is more than 4,000km long. Denmark’s population is similar in size to Scotland’s, but its network is more than 11,000km long and it covers a land area that is half that of Scotland’s.

There will be differences between the networks, but I make the point that we should keep our heads up when planning our cycling infrastructure. The national planning framework 3 includes the national cycling and walking network as a nationally significant development, which is a really positive move. It is the first time that the NPF has recognised distributed developments – ones that happen in lots of different places across the country as opposed to those that just involve a big piece of kit in one place. Such network developments benefit people across the country and should be considered nationally important.

The central Scotland green network, the national digital fibre network and the electricity transmission network are other examples. Although it is great that the walking and cycling network is in the NPF as policy, it is vital that walking and cycling improvements are pushed forward with funding attached. The Government makes clear funding commitments to roads for cars and lorries, so it should make a clear funding commitment for walkers and cyclists, too.

FLIGHT TRIAL: Congratulations to community campaign success

Alison Johnstone has today congratulated local communities on their campaign success after the Edinburgh Airport announced it will close its controversial flight path trial two months earlier than originally planned.

Alison Johnstone, MSP for Lothian and Scottish Green Party candidate for Edinburgh Central, said:

“I’d like to congratulate the community on their success in reducing the length of the reckless flight trial by two months.  This is entirely due to sheer determination and their well organised and effective campaign.  October will still feel like a long month for the community who have had to suffer negative health impacts and disruptive noise caused by the trial, but I am please the airport have recognised the need to listen and act. And end to this stressful situation is now in sight.

“The past few weeks have demonstrated how powerful Scotland’s communities can be, and lessons regarding the need for meaningful consultation have been learned. I look forward to working with constituents and the airport in the months ahead to ensure that the health and well-being of residents is central in all future proposals.”



“We need to insist on and be part of a new type of politics.”

On Wednesday I spoke in the Democracy and Devolution debate in parliament. I touched on “The Vow”, public engagement and whether the Scotland Bill matches the Smith Commission.

Read on for the full text of my speech.



In preparing for today’s debate, I reread the vow—the historic signed joint promise that was made by David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg and which was carried by the Daily Record exactly a year ago today. I am firmly of the view that those three Westminster party leaders felt compelled to sign that promise to the people of Scotland following polling on the referendum question, because—let us face it—signing a joint pledge promising “extensive new powers” would not have been on their week-by-week referendum planners.

Whatever our view, however, what we witnessed was people and politics meeting on the front page of a popular national newspaper, and the vow can be considered to be symbolic of an incredible shared experience in which people and politics came together. Within that changed dynamic, which is needed and welcome, people are involved and are taking part and sharing views rather than simply having politics done on their behalf by a few representatives.

In its briefing for today’s debate, the Electoral Reform Society Scotland asks:

“One year on, have we honoured the legacy of this ‘energised and enthused’ nation?”

The ERS, I suggest, thinks not, and I am inclined to agree with it. The ERS and witness after witness at the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee commented on the haste with which this part of the devolution process has progressed. Aileen McHarg, who is a professor of public law at the University of Strathclyde, said that

“It is hardly an original observation to say that the process that has been followed so far has been unsatisfactory.”

It is important to remember what it was like in Scotland in the lead-up to the referendum—how people packed out public meeting halls, how passionate were the pub and kitchen table conversations that were had around the country, and how it felt like we were all part of an important decision. We were learning to discuss and debate issues that matter. That is not divisive; it is empowering.

Today, we will support the Government’s motion and Labour’s amendment. We cannot support Annabel Goldie’s amendment. It asks that we continue to scrutinise the Scotland Bill in an “objective and constructive” way in order to allow the identification of “appropriate” improvements, yet it would delete the reference to the unanimously agreed, objective and constructive finding of the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee that the bill does not fully deliver the Smith commission’s recommendations.

The Conservative amendment also says:

“extensive constitutional change is best brought about by building a broad consensus between political parties and governments”.

That is important, but the amendment excludes—or at least forgets to mention—the people of Scotland. Participation takes time and effort, but it leads to a better outcome. I do not think that any considered body of experts charged with securing optimal outcomes for people would have designed the devolution of welfare powers that is currently on offer. I do not dismiss the powers that will be devolved, but there is concern that they are not sufficient or broad enough to help us to make the system work.

The Crown Estate is another area in which the devolution proposals seem to have been designed by someone who really did not want such devolution to happen. When the Smith commission report said that

“Responsibility for the management of the Crown Estate’s economic assets in Scotland … will be transferred to the Scottish Parliament”,

people understood that to mean pretty simple devolution of everything. However, that is not what we are offered. We will have a double-stream Crown Estate and complex transfer scheme, and Scotland will see no financial benefits from assets such as Fort Kinnaird.

In the vow, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg agreed that

“The Scottish Parliament is permanent”.

As we members of the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee know, the drafting on that important provision has provided academics with many challenges, and continues to do so.

The Smith commission was hurriedly convened. It delivered its report, and now we debate whether the Scotland Bill delivers the report’s intent and the change that was agreed by the people who represented Scotland’s people on the commission.

We need to insist on and be part of a new type of politics. The people I speak to are not concerned about whether a party leader is wearing a tie; they want to debate the need for the ermine-clad members of the House of Lords. They think that we need devolution of gender politics to this Parliament. Surely that is essential to a new politics.

The further devolution of powers that we are discussing, and the way in which powers are being devolved, mean that positive intergovernmental relations are essential. In evidence to the committee, Jim McCormick said:

“Smith observed that we have weak intergovernmental working”—[Official Report, Devolution (Further Powers) Committee, 19 February 2015; c 4.]

He focused in particular on the impact that that might have on welfare devolution. The sharing of power in relation to universal credit demands a mature relationship and a commitment to work for the greater good. The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations agreed that the interconnections would be complex, and pointed out that the people who rely on benefits are often vulnerable.

We look forward to progress at the Scotland Bill’s report stage in the UK Parliament, and we hope that the bill will match the spirit and substance of the Smith commission recommendations. If that is to happen, we need clarity on the Sewel convention, the Crown Estate, welfare benefits, definitions of carers and disability, employment programmes and much, much more. The Westminster Government has much to do to deliver a Scotland Bill that matches the intent of the Smith commission.


The benefits of community-owned renewables

On Tuesday I spoke in a debate on community energy. I welcomed the focus on energy efficiency, rather than just on promotion of renewable energy, because we cannot benefit fully from investment in energy if we do not have windtight, watertight and well-insulated homes.

Read on for the full text of my speech.




As we have heard, community energy fortnight celebrates community-owned renewable energy projects and aims to promote communities owning and generating energy together. I believe that we cannot overstate the importance of the topic, and that it can and should form a more central plank of our energy policy.

In its briefing, Friends of the Earth Scotland states:

“In the context of climate change and the historical carbon debt of industrialised countries, a renewable energy transition is imperative.”

It is clear that that essential transition has many potential benefits. Renewables lend themselves to community ownership in a way that fossil fuels, nuclear power and unconventional gas do not. Community-owned renewables can help us to address the power imbalance that promotes inequality in the current system, which is centralised and inflexible and has resulted in the monopoly of the big six companies.

Scotland is energy rich, but access to that abundance is not as equitable as it should be. Even the World Bank has recognised that business as usual “will not remotely suffice” if we are to meet the goals of clean and universal energy. We will, on hearing such a statement, think of the billion-plus people in developing countries who live without access to electricity, but we should also consider those who suffer from extreme fuel poverty in Scotland. Earlier this year, at Energy Action Scotland’s conference, we learned that 71 per cent of homes in the Western Isles are regarded as being in fuel poverty.

There are many benefits to enabling willing communities in Scotland to play an important role in meeting carbon, renewables and climate change targets, and they are worth fighting for. I believe that there is a universal will in Parliament to demand change and investment in that important area.

I am a shareholder in Harlaw Hydro Ltd, which has much in common with other projects that we have heard about this evening. The learning that those small projects are gaining will be shared, and the pathways to such projects will therefore be smoother in the future. The projects can share information about stumbling blocks and can develop a shared understanding of the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s websites. They can discuss next steps and—most important—they can discuss their successes. Two projects that have tried to get off the ground are in Portobello and Leith, and hydro-power feasibility for the water of Leith is currently being considered.

We are on track to deliver almost twice as much renewable energy from community renewables as the Scottish Government’s target of 500MW by 2020. Let us increase that target to 1GW and aim for 2GW by 2030, because there are so many benefits if we commit to and invest in delivering clean low-carbon energy, in terms of local employment opportunities, community development funds and fuel poverty alleviation, for example.

In Denmark, there is right-to-invest legislation that requires developers to offer 20 per cent ownership of wind projects to local communities. An incredible figure—70 to 80 per cent—of wind turbines in Denmark are under some form of community ownership. Denmark has the first island that is entirely renewably powered, by 11 onshore and 10 offshore turbines. That bottom-up approach has enabled that community to invest in the things that are important to it, whether it is a 3G football pitch, a youth club or—as Sarah Boyack mentioned—better housing.

Denmark is a fantastic example. In Denmark and Germany, citizens and communities have been the driving force not only for the development of renewable energy as a revolution, but for its acceptance. That is very important. I remind Murdo Fraser that fossil fuels continue to receive billions of pounds of public subsidy. Many of the constituents who write to me would like to see that transferred into the clean green low-carbon technology of the future.

Trying Out Midlothian’s New Railway

It’s been almost half a century since trains ran to the Borders from Edinburgh. The new line is up and running and although it’s called the Borders Railway, it will have a huge impact on communities in Midlothian too.

I decided to test the new service for myself and hear the views of people in Midlothian about their new railway.

The £300million project is expected to deliver up to 650,000 passengers a year. Given the attraction of the route for leisure cyclists, mountain bikers and commuters, I have previously expressed concern at the lack of space set aside on the trains for bikes.

Last week I tried to book a cycle space in advance but was told it is an “unreservable service”. In other words, first come first served. This does seem a pretty old-fashioned way to deal with sustainable travel on a shiny new railway.

This morning a colleague and I arrived at Waverley by bike in good time for the train to Tweedbank. (Hooray by the way for common sense prevailing, and the imminent return of cycle access down the main entrance ramp, an issue I had raised with Network Rail.)

After queuing for the ticket machine we attempted to search for “Eskbank” but the machine wouldn’t recognise the name. We tried other machines but to no avail. The queue in the ticket office was huge so we struck out for the platform and got a ticket on the train.

Both our bikes fitted on the train but there would have been no room for any cyclist getting on at Brunstane, Newcraighall or Shawfair.AJ Borders railway

At Eskbank we cycled to a nearby coffee shop and chatted with local people. Eskbank station is well-situated, between Edinburgh College’s Dalkeith campus with its solar meadow and a supermarket with bus stops.

AJ on a bike in Midlothian

Sadly, the footbridge over the railway is a dead-end – the path to the bus stops has not been laid. As people are already scrambling through this area, it’s important a proper path is installed soon.

Midlothian fence

Over a cup of tea I heard how the railway will benefit those who commute from Midlothian to work in Edinburgh and the feeling that more could be done to encourage travel the other way, with plenty of potential walking and cycling routes around Midlothian. At the moment all the attention is on the Borders as a visitor destination.

On the way back there was room for our bikes but only because a young family kindly moved their child’s buggy from the cycle storage area. If our railways are to be used by all, we need greater flexibility. I’ve heard the argument before from railway operators that more space for bikes on trains means less space for passengers but of course cyclists are passengers too!

As the new service beds in, I hope it does deliver real benefits for Midlothian as well as the Borders. And I look forward to Scotrail’s ticket machines recognising “Eskbank”.Alison at Waverley


Airspace is community space, not business property

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a number of people in Lothian raise concerns about noise and disruption caused by planes flying low over their homes. These planes, it seems, have appeared from nowhere without warning, and many are finding it hard to adjust.

We’re not just talking a bit of noise pollution once or twice a day. The constituents described loud noise from the early hours of the morning until late at night. One family told me that their little girl was not getting enough sleep before her school day because of planes taking off at odd hours.

The flights are part of Edinburgh Airport’s Airspace Trial for new flight routes. According to the airport and the aviation navigation provider NATS, the new routes will improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions, while at same time easing congestion and getting a foot in the door for more business.

While I support efforts to minimise fuel consumption, such efforts should always fit into the bigger picture – that is, the welfare of our communities and overall climate change targets.

My concern is that in this case, route efficiency will simply be used to increase the number of flights in Scottish airspace. Edinburgh Airport have themselves highlighted that this trial is first and foremost about traffic, not emissions  – it’s about trying out ways to increase the number of flights in Scottish airspace.

Let’s be clear about this. More flight paths and routes will make it easier for some people to take a holiday to a faraway place, but adding these routes is not really in the interest of the Scottish public. It’s in the interest of the big companies that are reaping profits from the aviation industry at the expense of our environment and our communities.

Edinburgh Airport is owned by a private investment company called Global Infrastructure Partners. As much as the SNP talk about aviation routes bringing in jobs and tourism, the big money is going overseas – in this case, to New York where the owner firm is based.

The SNP’s attitude to aviation screams of a party hoping to win big companies over to their side. The announcement to abolish Air Passenger Duty is another good example of how our Government is pandering to flight company bosses before thinking about the public good in the long-term.

If we want economic growth, jobs and transport that are good for us in the long-term, we shouldn’t be expanding air capacity. We should be improving our rail networks and buses, and investing in jobs in the industries of the future, as the Scottish Greens outline in our new report.

Beyond the environmental impact and disruptive noise from expanded flight paths, the trouble with Edinburgh Airport’s trial lies in the lack of public consultation carried out prior to the new flights taking off. What happens in our airspace impacts upon lives in our communities – airspace is community space, not business property.

That’s why I’ve supported Neil Findlay’s motion calling for the trial to be halted immediately and for a thorough public consultation to be carried out to determine the future of the routes. It’s time we put the needs and views of our communities before the interest of big business.

Clean transport for public health

Alison Johnstone chamber pic

Published in Edinburgh Evening News on 1 September 2015

Last week, I met experts in heart research at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh. They talked to me about their concerns over Scotland’s high air pollution levels and the deadly impact poor air quality can have on our health.

Air pollution in the UK is illegally high – and I don’t mean figuratively speaking. Recently, the UK Government was successfully sued for letting pollution levels hike beyond limits set in European Union law.

Pollution levels in Scotland too continue to break both international and national safety standards. In Edinburgh, the council has five designated air quality management areas, where air is so dirty we need to keep a close watch to make sure it’s safe for people to breathe.

British Heart Foundation research found that the tiny particles from polluting engines get sucked directly into our lungs and our bloodstreams. For people whose hearts are already in a weakened condition, this can trigger a fatal heart attack.

According to estimates, 7.1 per cent of men and 5.3 per cent of women are living with heart disease in Scotland. That means thousands of people have to worry about whether it’s safe for them to step outside the house on a day when pollution levels are high.

There are a number of clear steps that we could take to solve this problem. Emissions from diesel engines are particularly dangerous for heart disease patients, and the British Heart Foundation recommends fitting diesel engines with filters. That seems like a pretty sensible idea to me.

We should also continue to improve the way in which pollution levels are monitored and reported. Information on when and where air quality is dangerous helps people manage their illness and avoid risks.

Research into the causes and cures of heart disease save thousands of lives every year, and using new technology and tests can also help with healthcare costs. Developing research activity is crucial for treating heart disease, and we should make sure our universities and research institutes are properly funded to do their work.
All these policies would go a long way in protecting people from the deadly effects of dirty air. But there is only one way to really address the root of the problem. Eighty per cent of air pollution is caused by vehicles on the roads, so let’s provide the cleanest public transport and attractive alternative options to car travel.

The Scottish Greens have continuously called for more funds to be put towards walking and cycling, as supporting these modes of transport would cut emissions and improve health.

Investing in buses, walking and cycling is also a transport justice issue. When 40 per cent of households in Edinburgh don’t have access to a car we need to make sure we’re providing them with the support and options they need.

Despite all this, the Scottish Government continues to treat investment in cleaner transport as “nice to have”, not a crucial change we must make. People’s lives are being limited by the state of our environment and we need to talk about it in honest terms. It’s not just pollution, it’s a public health crisis.