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Scottish Rural and Islands Tranport Community Gathering at Boat of Garten: Thursday 11 May 2023

The Gathering started with Stagecoach's electric bus taking participants to the The Strathdearn, a Community Hub in Tomatin.

The Strathdearn, a Community Hub in Tomatind

The Strathdearn, a Community Hub in Tomatin


Managed and run by the Strathdearn Community Development (SCD) Company, the building is built as much as possible from natural materials and has been designed to be airy and flooded with natural light.

It benefits from an air source heat pump and under-floor heating to provide ambient heat for the whole building, solar thermal to provide hot water and solar photovoltaic to provide on-site electricity generation, with a battery storage system (to provide emergency power during a grid power failure).

Triple glazing adds to insulation. Duncan Bryden of the SCD gave a fascinating tour, telling participants the thinking behind Community Development, the features of the Hub, and the land ownership and history of the Tomatin area, with the striking viaduct and bridges over the Findhorn river.

At the Hub, the focus was on active travel, and the provision of MaaS and public transport elsewhere in Europe. Cycling UK showed examples of electric and cargo bikes, and gave a talk on the Golspie Bothy Project, encouraging people to take up cycling. Jenni Eckhardt gave a talk on the challenges of MaaS provision in rural Finland, and Martin Schiefelbusch spoke about transportation in rural Germany. There were also apologies from Magnus Fredricson from Sweden, who was travelling from home to the Gathering via trains! He was unable to attend the Wednesday due to multiple train connection mishaps which were a vivid example of all that remains to be done in making rail travel a viable alternative to European flights!

The afternoon was rounded off with - of course - that mainstay of SRITC in our monthly virtual meetups, coffee and cake!

The next day, welcoming everyone, SRITC chair Jenny Milne referred to yesterday's Tomatin visit and welcomed Stagecoach's announcement of additional bus services. Rural transport awards had been made to Maggie Lowson and Steve Cassidy.

Jenny recounted SRITC's Six Big Asks for development of an Integrated Rural & Islands Transport Plan, a Rural & Islands Transport Innovation Fund, a Rural & Islands Transport Government Working Group, a Rural & Islands Transport Procurement Framework, a Sustainable Rural Transport STEM challenge and a Rural & Islands Open Data Framework. She hailed these STEM stepping-stones : to develop the Scottish Sustainable Transport STEM Cluster, to design and deliver a Rural Sustainable Transport STEM Challenge Framework, to design and deliver a Sustainable Transport Challenge for rural utilising recycling and reuse with an online element, to work closely with rural stakeholders and organisations (such as Scottish Rural Action) to champion rural in STEM activities and to continue fostering connections with youth organisations and groups.

Jenny Milne and Matt Kendrickd

Jenny Milne and Matt Kendrick.

© John Yellowlees

In his recorded message transport minister Kevin Stewart saw sustainability, innovation and decarbonisation as the three guiding principles to which the Scottish Government's responses include adding ferry concessions to smart ticketing, expanding coverage of the GoHi Ap, leading the islands connectivity consultation, decarbonising ferries and buses, taking forward the fares fair review and reducing car use.

Speakers and discussion touched on enhancing digital connectivity and making best use of drones while respecting community aspects of transport. The delegate who travelled by rail from Sweden had been left behind by ScotRail at Waverley!

Morag Robertson of CILT's Rural Forum saw synergy between moving people and transporting parcels, and suggested that we should examine changes in human behaviour such as online retail before looking at technological responses.

Jonathan Chatfield of the Rail Delivery Group acknowledged that we might not be able to electrify all routes or restaff all stations, but we can roll out water bottles, solar panels and herb gardens or vegetable patches in accordance with RDG's sustainable stations guide.

Paul Finch of Aberdeenshire Council thought it acceptable to start small, recognising the uniqueness of each location but also the interconnectedness of distribution systems while noting the post-lockdown reaction against twenty-minute neighbourhoods.

Subsequent speakers urged better utilisation of existing vehicles in for example school and health fleets, enabling better cross-subsidy particularly from health to other sectors while also reducing the need for journeys. Nottingham's workplace parking levy had delivered welcome reinvestment in tram and bus improvements. There was a suggestion that more stops should be made at smaller stations on the Highland Main Line.

Points in the afternoon discussion included:

- community car schemes can allow people to do away with a second car;
- skateboards are easier to take on buses than are bikes;
- a just transition must not leave anyone behind - for some disabled people their car is their mobility aid; and
- so many platforms now exist to convey transport information, but our population is aging and many older people are not tech-savvy.

Breakout sessions used virtual lego to help devise a Rural Mobility Plan.

Summing up, Jenny expressed thanks to Matt Kendrick and everyone else for all their help, and said that what the event had shown was that there is a rural transport problem. She was grateful to the Supporters without whom it would have not been possible, and hoped that further Gatherings might be possible every second year.

Report by John Yellowlees.

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