Concerns have been raised about how Perth and Kinross council will pay for its climate change plan after it used half of its available funds to cover overspending on a new road.
SNP-led Perth and Kinross Council (PKC) approved an extra £32.5m of funding for the Cross Tay Link Road (CTLR) at a meeting of its finance committee on 7 September. This brought the total budget for the project to over £150m.
The extra money for the road – which will include a bridge over the River Tay connected to the north of Scone by 6km of new carriageway – comes from £70m of “uncommitted capacity” in PKC’s capital spending budget.
Although there were no “specific commitments” on what this capacity would be used for, the council budget documents recognised that the extra funding would likely be needed to pay for its climate change strategy as well as other important projects.
This has prompted one Labour councillor to question what “magical solutions to climate change” PKC will be able to deliver with “half of the money”.
The climate plan includes schemes to make the city more resilient to flooding, which is likely to become more frequent as the climate crisis deepens.
Perth has already been one of the worst affected areas in Scotland by flooding. A flash flood hit the city the day after extra spending on the road was approved.
Critics of the CTLR claimed it will “increase traffic and carbon emissions, cut through communities and destroy wildlife areas”. “It should not be happening at all, let alone taking away funding from the climate change strategy,” one local MSP said.
PKC hopes that the new road will ease issues with congestion in Perth city centre which have caused it to become one of the worst areas for air pollution in Scotland.
The council has blamed “inflationary pressures that are pushing up the cost of materials” for the increase in spending on the road.
It added that many of the actions in the climate change plan are “already incorporated within the budgets for our services” and that the council is exploring how to “effectively re-prioritise resources” to ensure the policies in the strategy are delivered.
Transport is Scotland’s biggest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the main cause of the climate crisis. Cars produce nearly 40 per cent of this transport pollution.
In its updated climate change plan, published in 2020, the Scottish Government committed to reducing car travel by 20 per cent by 2030. This is part of a wider pathway to reach net zero GHG emissions across Scotland’s economy by 2045.
But according to traffic modelling carried out in 2019, the number of vehicle journeys taken in the overall Perth area is expected to increase by 2038 if the CTLR goes ahead. More cars on the road will make it more difficult for Scotland, and Perth, to meet its climate targets.
Two days after PKC councillors voted 12 to 4 in favour of the extra spending on the CTLR, the Accounts Commission – which audits Scotland’s local authorities – told Scottish councils to put climate change “at the heart” of their decisions.
Construction on the CTLR has started with forestry cleared and earthworks prepared along the route.
PKC has already sunk £23.5m into the project including buying the land on which the road will be built. The Scottish Government is also providing £40m worth of funding for the CTLR.
Planning permission was granted in 2020 despite a host of objections.
As part of the consultation on the CTLR, the director of public health at NHS Tayside, Drew Walker, said he was “concerned about the negative health impacts of exposure to poorer air quality” for those living and working close to the CTLR, particularly children and people with underlying health conditions.
Another public health official has also claimed that the CTLR will move the problem of air pollution to a new housing development north of Scone. This would pose a “health risk” to the people living there, the official argued.
Baillie Alasdair Bailey, a Labour councillor on PKC who opposes the CTLR project on climate grounds, said that the road was a “solution looking for a problem” and plans to build it predate the “very real air quality concerns that it’s now touted as fixing”.
He claimed that no “alternative schemes” had been considered for solving the air pollution issue in Perth city centre, and that the council was employing a “build a road and they will come” approach to economic development.
Bailey added: “To spend nearly half the funding on a new road which will demonstrably contribute to climate change makes me wonder what magical solutions to climate change the administration at PKC have in mind that will be deliverable with half of the money.
“The reality is that there aren’t any and that’s the sad thing here. We’re spending money we allocated for tackling climate change on a road which will be a big contributor to climate change.”
Mark Ruskell, the Scottish Greens MSP for mid-Scotland and Fife, said that projects like the CTLR “belong to a by-gone era” and that schemes like it could no longer be afforded “either financially or in terms of carbon impact”.
“It should not be happening at all, let alone taking away funding from PKC’s climate change strategy”, Ruskell said.
“It is time to scrap the link road plans and start investing in public transport, active travel infrastructure and measures that will reduce traffic rather than boosting it.”
Jill Belch, a community councillor in Scone, branded the move to increase the spending on the CTLR an “awful, shocking decision”.
Belch said: “In the same week that the government’s accounts commission told councils to put the climate emergency at the heart of decision making, and Perth experienced more severe flooding, as it has done nearly every year for 10 years, PKC approved a £32.5m overspend for a ‘climate wrecking’ road.
“And even more unbelievable, the decision leaves less money for the climate change strategy and economic wellbeing funds, the very ones supposed to be used for items such as flood resilience”, Belch added.
A spokesperson for PKC said the road would “improve the local transport network, reduce journey times and unnecessary journeys through Perth city centre”.
The spokesperson said: “As with all construction projects, the Cross Tay Link Road project is being impacted by inflationary pressures that are pushing up the cost of materials as a result of supply and demand.
“The project design is itself intended to minimise carbon emissions during the construction phase, and once it opens the CTLR will deliver a significant economic boost to Perth and Kinross.
“The CTLR has also been identified as the number one priority project in addressing the Council’s statutory obligation to improve air quality.”
“Many of the actions to support delivery of our Climate Change Strategy are already incorporated within the budgets of our Services, and to assist with accelerating these actions the Council approved additional, non-recurring funding. However, we are also continuing to explore how we can most effectively re-prioritise resources to ensure we can fully address the actions.”
The council has previously said that scrapping the CTLR project at this stage would put it at “significant legal, financial and reputational risk”.
Photo credit thanks to Will fox / Perth Transport Futures