Following the recent announcements by the Government that it will be increasing funding on roads, maintaining the fuel duty freeze and neglecting to provide for active travel in any meaningful way – policies that are in complete contrast to the increasing urgent need to tackle climate change and the UK’s toxic air pollution problem – I’ve taken it upon myself to write to my Member of Parliament Marcus Jones (Conservative) urging him to do what he can, working with other MPs from across the political spectrum, to bring about a change in direction by the Government.
While the promise of £420m to contribute towards pothole repair may be welcome (although I object to this being money ring-fenced from Vehicle Exise Duty), spending almost £30bn on motorway building and upgrading is obscene at a time when the use of motor vehicles needs to be curbed, not encouraged. This money could be better allocated – not least of all, just £3bn per year would fund a high quality, comprehensive and accessible cycle network.
I would urge anyone similarly concerned (and frankly, everybody should be very worried by the Government’s current direction) to also write to their MP. To that end, I’ve copied my letter below – feel free to copy and/or amend this letter for your own message.
I’ll publish any reply once it’s received.
Dear Mr Jones,
You will no doubt be aware of the recent UN report stating that significant action needs to be taken over the next twelve years in order to avert the most serious effects of climate change; of the report from the World Health Organisation stating that 90% of children worldwide are breathing toxic, polluted air; the report from the Royal College of Physicians/Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health stating that 40,000 deaths per year in the UK alone can be attributed to air pollution.
With this in mind, I fail to understand how the Government and the Conservative Party can justify its policies with regard to new spending on roads, the continuing freeze in fuel duty, and the continuing negligible investment into active travel, never mind permitting the resumption of fracking and the reduction in subsidies for renewable power and micro-generation.
The recent Autumn Budget made no reference to climate change, nor has there been any commitment to increase funding for active travel. Instead almost £30bn has recently been promised for motorway building and upgrades, yet this will do nothing to curb the use of motor vehicles nor stem the harmful effects from tailpipe emissions and particulate matter, not to mention the health impacts from an idle lifestyle that overuse of a car contributes to.
£3bn per year for the next five years* (then falling to £1.5bn per year ongoing) is required to invest in creating a high quality comprehensive, accessible national cycle network that would over time be on par with the Dutch – that’s just ten percent of the cost committed to motorways to create national infrastructure that enables people young and old, disabled or able-bodied, to choose active travel for many shorter journeys; allows those without access to a car to travel freely and easily; that encourages an active and fitter lifestyle; and that can aid the development of last mile delivery services using clean e-cargo bikes instead of the increasing number of delivery vans. Yet, the only recent national announcement for cycling is a pitiful £100m from Highways England to fund a small number of separate projects over the next three years – effectively just £33m per year. To put that into context, the proposed local widening of the A5 alone is forecast to cost between £20m-£25m.
With the fuel duty freeze, this continues to discriminate against people who are unable to, or choose not to, run a car, be that for financial, medical, age or ideological reasons. Motoring continues to get cheaper year-on-year in real-terms, further subsidised by society despite its extremely harmful effects and the fact that driving is not a fully accessible transport option. Yet the cost of public transport continues to increase in real terms through ticket price rises. No action is taken to freeze or lower the cost of travel on buses, trams or trains, nor is any action taken to discourage the use of motor vehicles particularly for shorter urban journeys.
Significant action is needed to avert the worst effects of climate change, and the UK must also address its air pollution problems as a direct impact on the health of its citizens, yet the Government is failing to address such issues. This must change. There is evidently money available to discourage the use of motor vehicles, improve public transport, create a high quality national cycle network of Dutch standards and to truly take steps to improve air quality and reduce the country’s carbon impact – it just requires those in power to make the right choices and to divert money that is currently allocated to (or not claimed from) motoring.
Finally, with regard to the announcement that councils are to receive £420m for pothole repair, this is welcome, but ring-fencing it from VED sets a worrying precedent. Some motorists already have the mindset that they have priority on the roads because they pay ‘road tax’ whereas other seemingly lesser road users do not. In the worst cases, this leads to bullying of and aggression towards vulnerable road users. Care needs to be taken now to market this change in the correct way – that drivers are paying to repair the damage they cause, not that they own the roads or have any priotiy over others because of their duty payments. On that basis, ring-fencing money from VED for repairs must be as far as this goes and such money should not be used to fund the expansion of the road network.
It is clear that the Government and the Conservative Party is not yet committed to making the right choice when it comes to matters affecting climate change and air quality. This needs to change as a matter of utmost urgency. What assurances can you give me as to how you will work to ensure this change happens? Will you make a commitment to work with MPs regardless of party to ensure that this message is heard in Government, in order to bring about a swift change in direction?
I look forward to your reply, by email please.
* £24 per person (approximate Dutch funding level) x 64 million (UK population) x 2 (to enable a faster initial build-out) – http://stopkillingcyclists.org/1779 https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/mar/27/uk-cycling-walking-more-funding-government
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