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November 5, 2003 12:00 AM

Scotland's local authorities will play a vital role in delivering better transport services, Transport Minister Nicol Stephen said today.

The Minister was speaking during a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the proposed transport agency for Scotland and new regional partnerships of local authorities. The agency is planned to help deliver the significant investment secured for improvements such as extending concessionary fare schemes, supporting direct air routes to Scotland and integrating improvements to roads and public transport.

Mr Stephen also announced the Executive's largest ever cycling investment to the cycling charity SUSTRANS for the upgrading and maintainance of the National Cycle Network. He said:

"Our investment today is our largest investment in cycling to date and will bring real benefits to cyclists and walkers across Scotland. By upgrading the whole of the cycle network in Scotland, we can invest in attracting more people to cycling and the benefits this activity can bring.

"The impressive work already undertaken by SUSTRANS shows what can be achieved by working together."

The Minister outlined a series of four regional conferences that will be held by the existing voluntary regional partnerships over the next few weeks to discuss how best to deliver services in their area. This will be followed by a national conference to be hosted by the Scottish Executive in Glasgow on 25 November.

The Minister also said he would shortly be announcing details of extra funding for public transport projects across Scotland. He said:

"Scotland's local authorities are key to delivering better transport services. Reliable, safe services are key to connecting our communities and supporting business. We have the resources in place - we must now agree the best way forward to deliver the benefits this investment should bring.

"I will shortly be announcing details of extra funding for public transport projects which will be allocated to the four regional transport partnerships and Strathclyde Passenger Transport. These organisations do good work and we want to encourage more improvements for passengers across the country.

"By setting up an agency we can better integrate the way services are delivered and improve the quality of people's journeys. I want a framework that allows people to deliver to the best of their ability and the regional conferences that begin from next week are a way of agreeing how that framework might look."

Scotland's Transport: Proposals for a new approach to transport in Scotland was published in September and consultation closes on 17 December 2003.

The regional conferences will start in Glasgow on 12 November and will be followed by events in Nairn and Aberdeen on 17 November and in Edinburgh on 18 November. The national conference will be held in Glasgow at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre on November 25.

SUSTRANS is an UK-based charity group with a proven record of partnership working. It works on practical projects to encourage people to walk, cycle and use public transport. SUSTRANS' National Cycle Network aims to create 10,000 miles of routes throughout the UK. Further information can be found at www.sustrans.org.uk.

This money is in addition to the Executive's core-funding of the Cycling Scotland promotional organisation and the dedicated allocation to local authorities for Cycling, Walking and Safer Streets (CWSS) projects, including Safer Routes to School (the latter totals nearly £38 million over the period 2000-2004).

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