I received a letter through my door on Monday morning from my MP, Mr Marcus Jones, in response to the letter I sent earlier this month regarding the government’s prioritisation of motor vehicles over active and public transport options.
The response is disappointing, but not surprising. I’ve written to my MP on similar matters a few times and don’t seem to get much more than a list of government achievements and an explanation of why Mr Jones unwaveringly supports the government line.
In this case, I have received a list of apparent achievements in green and environmental matters including a six percent reduction in carbon emissions since 2010 (a 27 percent reduction since 1990) and that renewable electricity generation has doubled since 2009, with ministerial commitment to ensure the UK becomes a world leader in the ‘new green ecomony.’ There’s stuff about Nature Improvement Areas, the National Pollinator Strategy, Marine Conservation Zones a UK ‘Blue Belt’ in British waters and a ban on plastic microbeads.
Frankly, I’m not read up on these areas to know whether or not what is claimed in this letter is actually good, bad or indifferent, although I’m aware enough to know not to take headline claims at face value so, I’ll stick with indifferent until I know better. What I do know is that the government cannot crow about being green when it approves airport expansion, removes subsidies for renewables, pledges funds for road expansion and motorway upgrades, gives the go-ahead for fracking and continues to freeze duty on fuel. I also know that I am not particularly impressed with the next section of the letter which focuses on those areas that I do concern myself with – active and public transport and reducing the use and dependency on motor vehicles.
Mr Jones talks about the recent Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) and how the government is working hard to double cycling by 2025 and to reduce each year the rate of cyclists killed or seriously injured on English roads.
My opinion is the recent announcements as a result of the CWIS are fine, but essentially tinkering around the edges when proper investment in active travel, with a dedicated national budget, is required – and not ‘encouraging’ local authorities to spend 15% of their transport budgets on cycling, as announced. I’m also of the opinion that doubling cycling by 2025 is, hmm, okay, but hardly even slightly ambitious considering the UK’s low starting point.
What’s really wound me up though is Mr Jones states in his letter that ‘ we need to have balance and recognise it’s not practical for everyone to cycle to work or pleasure’ – at no point did I suggest (or have I ever suggested) that every car journey could be replaced by a cycle, but this suggests to me that Mr Jones holds a short-sighted view that cycles cannot fulfill a huge number of local trips. Of course, it’s not difficult to know of the varying cycle options that fulfill many different purposes including commercial offerings as evidence by the recent Sainsbury’s delivery trial and Pedal Me in London – showing the benefits of e-cycles for last mile deliveries, the transport of larger goods and indeed people; also the variety of different cycle options available to accommodate people who may not be able to ride (for want of a better term) a ‘regular bicycle’.
Mr Jones speaks about there needing to be balance, when balance is a long way from the status quo. We have a transport system dominated primarily by motor traffic and roads. If he were really keen to see balance, he’d support the calls for a dedicated national budget of £3bn per year to kick-start the creation of best-in-class cycle facilities, for active travel should be the first choice option for individual transport wherever possible; he’d support the reduction (by subsidy if necessary) of bus and rail fairs, because public transport should be the second choice option for transport, where active travel isn’t feasible; and by supporting these, he’d be enabling more efficient use of the car as a final choice option for transport due to reduced congestion caused by fewer local journeys.
And moving on to the car specifically, Mr Jones states his support for the fuel duty freeze – because ‘increasing fuel duty works against the lowest paid in society’. What does that say for the people who cannot run a car, be it due to limited finance or any other reason? Such people will rely on public transport and maybe walking and cycling too. But with the bus and/or train, price hikes are a regular occurrence whilst the cost of driving falls in real terms; and walking and cycling is hampered by an inadequate and incomplete network that places users in conflict with motor vehicles. It would seem that Mr Jones, along with the wider Conservative government, does not care about you if you do not drive a car!
Finally, Mr Jones also gives his support for an increase in electric cars. And this would be fine, in my opinion, if transport were properly balanced as above. Because if it were, those with access to a car would only use it for those journeys where it is absolutely necessary, in which case removing local tailpipe emissions is an improvement. But with things the way they are now, swapping to electric cars means continuing congestion, harmful particulate matter emissions from road, brake and tyre wear, potential emissions from power plants (depending on the electricity source, of course) and the continuation of dangerous streets for pedestrians and cyclists that motor vehicles presents today.
To sum up then, Mr Jones sticks rigidly to Conservative party lines and rarely goes against the grain. While he pays lip-service to active travel and green policies, it seems he either will not or does not understand the dire need for us to clean up our act (as highlighted in the recent UN report) part of which would be to move away from road building and the encouragement of motor vehicles as the number one individual transport choice, and to properly fund and invest in greener solutions to enable people to make better transport decisions. While he says he supports cycling as a transport choice, he does not seem to appreciate the benefits of dedicated high quality infrastructure and will not champion the need for a national budget – not even one smaller than the ideal £3bn per year.
I’ll continue to write these letters from time-to-time but I do feel like I’m wasting my time slightly. With Mr Jones being on record as a government supporter, unless my letters align with those party ideals, they seem to be entirely ineffectual. Still, keeping quiet will also achieve nothing and I can only hope that others in the constituency who feel the same as I do, also write to him to express similar sentiments.
Whether I reply to this letter in an official capacity (i.e., direct to him by email), I have not yet decided. But I will ensure he is at least aware of this article (probably with a tweet) to allow him to respond, should he so wish.
Mr Jones’s letter can be read below in the images below.