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Sustainable Travel in the Scottish Isles: An interview with Ellie Grebenik

5 min

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To boost active travel and reduce carbon emissions in the Scottish Isles, Energy Saving Trust is aiming to deliver investment in active and low-carbon transport projects in island communities. After announcing the two successful applicants for the fund, Quadrant Transport sits down with Energy Saving Trust’s Ellie Grebenik to learn more.

With the aim to empower millions of householders every year to make better energy choices, Energy Saving Trust (EST) deliver transformative energy programmes. The independent organisation is working to address the climate emergency and support businesses with energy efficiency strategies, research, assurance and communications. This enables them to play their part in building a sustainable future.

EST has announced two successful applicants for the £270,000 Islands Green Recovery Programme: Sustainable Transport Fund. Administered by EST and funded by the Scottish Government, the fund forms part of the £2 million Islands Green Recovery Programme.

Aiming to deliver investment in active and low-carbon transport projects in island communities, the programme will support economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ellie Grebenik, Energy Saving Trust

Following the announcement of the two successful applicants, Quadrant Transport spoke to Ellie Grebenik, Senior Programme Manager for the Scottish Transport team in EST. The work involved in the Islands Green Recovery Programme: Sustainable Transport Fund is funded either by Transport for Scotland or by wider Scottish Governments.

Hoping to “help individuals, business and organisations to think about how they’re travelling” EST are “are trying to help people save money and carbon by their travel choices,” said Ellie.

One example of the work EST does to boost sustainable transport is to offer an interest-free loan to people looking to purchase e-bikes or electric vehicles. By spreading out the upfront cost of investing in an electric mode of transport, EST hopes it will remove barriers for people considering the switch to electric mobility.

Connecting the Scottish Islands

The Island Green Recovery Programme: Sustainable Transport Fund was launched earlier this year. Ellie explained, “what we’re trying to do there is get greener initiatives on different islands in Scotland to encourage residents and tourists to travel in more sustainable ways.”

Supporting the ‘Just Transition’ in Scotland, which aims to boost electrification and decarbonisation across the whole environmental sector, Ellie believes “everyone is going to benefit from [an inclusive net-zero economy].”

As people living on islands and in rural areas in Scotland tend to have greater distances to travel to get to work, school or even the shops improving transport is vital. By boosting sustainable options in the Scottish Isles, the fund will help boost decarbonisation in these areas.

It is a really key priority for the Scottish Government that everybody in Scotland should be able to reap the benefits of this zero-emission transport system

“It is a really key priority for the Scottish Government that everybody in Scotland should be able to reap the benefits of this zero-emission transport system. Not just those living in urban environments or in cities, but all of Scotland can enjoy electric vehicles and active travel,” explained Ellie.

To ensure the areas get what they really need in terms of sustainable transport, the project “has engaged with locally-led community groups and charities,” said Ellie. These groups and charities are “going to be taking the lead on these projects,” which will greatly benefit the community, she continued.

EST’s programme “is really looking at how [they] can support these island communities to build back better” from the Coronavirus pandemic.

Although the pandemic has shown we can stay at home, it has shown the negative impact this can have on mental health. The organisation wants to encourage people, when they can, to think about how they travel in more environmentally friendly ways.

“Taking active modes is going to improve your physical health and also your mental health,” said Ellie.

Taking active modes is going to improve your physical health and also your mental health

As “tourists come from all around the world to see the islands” EST want to make sure tourists have a viable way of getting around the island without bringing their private car. This is “really important for the air quality side of things and CO2 emissions, but also congestion on the island,” Ellie explained.

Projects for the community

Voluntary Action Barra and Vatersay, who are one of the successful applicants, seek to promote the long-term social, economic and environmental prosperity of the islands. The charity wants to deliver low-carbon community transport, including the introduction of an electric minibus.

They are also going to develop a Castlebay mobility hub in the area. This means there will be “a whole host of different sustainable transport options for people to choose between” Ellie told Quadrant Transport. This project will result in investment in low-carbon transport infrastructure including a rapid electric vehicle (EV) charge point and e-bike charging.  The project will also lead to the provision of training to upskill local mechanics in EV maintenance.

Isle of Kerrera Development Trust are the second successful application and will establish two e-bike schemes using the fund. The schemes will each focus on either e-bikes for tourists or e-bikes for community members.

E-bikes are just fantastic, they’re a really good way of getting around and enjoying nature

This project aims to help people to increase their physical activity and improve mental wellbeing. It will also reduce peoples reliance on carbon-intensive car journeys through greater access to cycling. “E-bikes are just fantastic,” Ellie told Quadrant Transport, “they’re a really good way of getting around and enjoying nature” she continued.

By encouraging people to “explore the island in a zero-emission way and also remain healthy,” Ellie explained EST hope people will choose not to bring their cars onto the islands.

Discussing the applicants, Ellie said: “These local initiatives are a brilliant example of how communities can invest in measures to provide easier access to active travel and low carbon transport options. We look forward to working with the successful applicants as they work to improve the local environment and wellbeing of island residents and visitors alike.”