A LEADING climate change professor has called for “a halt to major road expansion plans” with funding instead diverted to improve sustainable infrastructure projects such as rural broadband to tackle both the climate emergency and kickstart a green recovery form Covid-19.

Edinburgh University professor Dave Reay has also warned that mirroring the path of the 2008 financial crash recovery “will waste money”.

The expert has stressed that “aligning skills, training and job creation with a green recovery is vital in terms of buffering the impacts of Covid” but has warned that “finance will inevitably be a major barrier to delivering any sort of recovery, green on otherwise”.

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The Scottish Government has committed to dualling the A9 from Perth to Inverness in a £3 billion project, while the £1 billion Edinburgh City Region Deal, made up of UK and Scottish government funding, includes plans to overhaul the Sheriffhall roundabout on the A720 city bypass.

The Scottish Government’s next phase of infrastructure proposals will prioritise a green recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

Professor Reay said: “If we repeat the mistakes of 2008 and simply invest with a view to a return to business as usual, we will waste money and any recovery will not be a sustainable one.

“The transition to net zero already required major changes in sectors such as energy, transport, built environment and agriculture. These changes are now much more pressing, with many thousands of jobs and livelihoods at risk and young people in particular facing many years of reduced opportunity and employment.

“Aligning skills, training and job creation with a green recovery is therefore vital in terms of buffering the impacts of Covid and keeping Scotland on track to deliver on its climate change targets.”

Professor Reay has stressed that it is “fiendishly difficult” for the Scottish Government to balance “short term demands with longer term risks”.

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He added: “Climate change has not gone away, but with a deep recession, job cuts and widening inequalities and social divides, the pressure for short term responses that ignore longer term sustainability and risks is magnified.

“For me, it is mainly about reprioritisation within what are very tight budgetary constraints.

“Specifically, this should include a halt to major road expansion plans and redirection of this budget to accelerate implementation of low carbon alternatives, such as rural broadband connectivity and hubs.”

The Scottish Greens have backed the calls for funding for major roads expansion projects to be diverted into protecting infrastructure from the impacts of the climate emergency and improve rail networks.

Scottish Greens transport spokesperson John Finnie said: “The Scottish Government’s infrastructure investment priorities simply ignore the reality of the climate crisis.

“Transport emissions continue to increase year after year, and there is a £2 billion maintenance backlog on the existing trunk road network. We know that Scotland will experience more severe weather in the years ahead, so investment should be prioritised in climate-proofing existing infrastructure, rather than on huge road expansion plans.

“Investment in new projects must support local economies and public transport. Dualling and electrifying the Highland mainline from Perth to Inverness, which co-incidentally runs roughly parallel to the A9, would not only make rail a much more convenient option for many passengers, but it would also make the A9 much safer by providing the opportunity to remove a significant volume of freight from the road too.”

The Scottish Government said that road building and maintenance contributes £1.4 billion to the economy and supports 31,000 jobs. Scotland’s delay-hit R100 rural broadband project includes £570 million invested by the Scottish Government.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “A safe, efficient, effective and sustainable road infrastructure, for both passengers and freight remains one of the key enablers of economic activity.

“Our next infrastructure investment plan – details of which will be announced in September - will set out our strategic plans for investing in infrastructure over the coming five years and will help us respond to the challenges of Covid-19 and support an investment-led, green recovery.

“The plan will be shaped around three key strategic themes, including enabling the transition to net zero emissions and environmental sustainability.”