Scotland’s transport system has become too reliant on cars. It doesn’t give the necessary priority to walking, cycling, the bus and the train to help us improve public health and tackle the climate emergency.

The new National Transport Strategy is a major step in the right direction. But it will require funding and long-term change.

To support this necessary change we need to consider whether our spending on roads matches our priorities for health and climate.

Over £800 million is spent by national government on our trunk roads and motorways every year. And by any standard that’s a lot of money. This figure also doesn’t include local spending on roads, like fixing potholes on the street you live on or improvements to your local high street.

But funding for local roads isn’t the issue, it’s the major spending on national projects with questionable benefits.

The environmental impact of more roads is unsustainable and often doesn’t fix the problem it sets out to.

The main argument for new roads is to cut congestion and speed up journeys. But the reality is that having more roads encourages more people to drive, leading to higher volumes of traffic.

You can see this any time you are near a major road or listen to a traffic bulletin.

More traffic leads to more pollution and more health issues, which in turn leads to greater inequalities for people across the country.

Scotland’s new National Transport Strategy, which closes for consultation today, recognises the important role that transport plays in helping people lead healthy and active lives.

This is the first time a transport strategy has acknowledged that unless we get transport right, it can have wider negative outcomes for certain people and communities.

The strategy also recognises that carbon emissions produced by transport are nearly unchanged since 1990 despite regulation and improvements in technology. This is because people are driving more than ever before.

The new strategy has ambitious aims to end transport’s contribution to carbon emissions – a major change that I strongly support, but one which can only be possible if investment in walking and cycling along with public transport are prioritised over road building.

We need to press pause on road building projects. They are damaging to the environment and our health. They encourage more driving and carbon emissions (electric vehicles are coming too slowly to meet our targets for 2030). And this money can be better spent elsewhere.

Hundreds of millions of pounds will be available if the Government stops building new roads. In 10 years, with an emphasis on communities and local roads, the backlog of road maintenance issues across the country could be fixed and there would still be around 80 per cent of the current road building budget left each year.

The Government could use this money to help lead change and ensure cleaner, more affordable public transport choices for everyone.

Greater investment in low-carbon bus fleets and bus priority infrastructure to make buses travel fast, convenient and green would make it a more attractive choice to people across the country.

Continuing the electrification of the railways would also help bring faster journeys with lower carbon emissions.

Money could be better spent on building a more comprehensive network of continuous and segregated cycle routes in and out of town and city centres, as well as more crossing points, improved pavements and more space for walking in busy areas.

Creating more protected cycle routes on main roads would also help make sure that leaving the car at home is an easier and more attractive choice for people to make – they are vital if the aims of the new transport strategy are to be met.

Making walking and cycling the safest, easiest and most attractive option for people helps to address social inequalities around transport. By providing everyone with the same access and opportunities for getting around, people are not penalised for living in an area with poor transport links; or being forced to run expensive cars because they have no other choice in how they are able to travel.

There is a growing appetite for changes to the way we travel in Scotland.

This is matched by the need for people to change the way they get around due to the climate emergency.

The recently completed independent review of Cleaner Air for Scotland suggested a freeze on road building projects in the next five years. It also proposes to increase the national active travel funding to around £30 per head.

Meanwhile the new National Transport Strategy does away with promoting faster journey times in favour of journey reliability and declares that transport must contribute to delivering net-zero carbon emissions. The logical conclusion is that building more roads is incompatible.

The status quo that building new roads is the solution to Scotland’s transport woes is being repeatedly challenged by evidence to the contrary. It’s time to recognise that new roads come at a cost we can no longer afford.

John Lauder is the deputy CEO of Sustrans.