Sunday, 21 January 2018

Improving Exeter's air quality and public transport through congestion-charging

Many UK cities have got problems with air pollution:
Futures Forum: Communities challenging air pollution @ BBC Two
Futures Forum: Air pollution: "So, are we facing up to what's being called an urgent public health crisis?"

With local councils having to deal with it:
Futures Forum: "Unfairly shifting the burden" of dealing with air pollution on to local authorities

Although, actually, it is central government which is being called to account:
Futures Forum: "The UK government is “flouting” its duty to protect the lives and health of its citizens from illegal and dangerous levels of air pollution."

Meanwhile in Exeter:
Futures Forum: A Sustainable Mobility Fund for UK Cities? >>> The polluter pays in Exeter?
Futures Forum: Gridlocked Devon >>> 'Devon Live' to debate "some of the major travel problems facing the county." >>> and to investigate "the attitude of local authorities to sustainable travel and highlight some of Devon's pollution hotspots"
Futures Forum: Air pollution and over-development: Exeter and East Devon "recording high readings" of nitrogen dioxide emissions

Exeter Council's only Green Councillor has written a piece for the Express & Echo:

A congestion charge would look less scary to Exeter residents if it paid for transport improvements

Last night's highly embarrassing voting scene would not have been out of place in an episode of the Thick of It

Chris Musgrave
12 JAN 2018

Exeter Labour would have you believe, Exeter is a well run council. However, one of the functions of council is scrutiny of its decisions. Basically here in Exeter, the 10 or so Labour councillors that make the city’s executive committee, make all the decisions that impact local residents. The role of backbench councillors is to scrutinise these decisions, accept or reject them, and to generally improve upon decisions and initiatives. At least in theory.

There’s been a fair bit of media attention recently about Exeter’s poor, and in some areas, illegal levels of air quality. Council has the legal responsibility to manage air quality and hasn’t had any plan in place since 2016. This week, after some considerable poking from me and my lean, mean and very green team of supporters, the council is finally consulting on a range of measures designed to improve Exeter’s air quality.

Some of these measures include a charge on businesses providing city centre parking, increases to car park charges and other measures such as pedestrianising certain roads or expanding cycle lanes. I support these measures and was happy to congratulate Labour on finally getting to grips with a widespread problem that causes serious ill health and premature death to local residents.

Traffic on the B3181 on the outskirts of Exeter

Scrutiny however, as I said to Labour this week, is about making proposals better. Whilst I welcome a consultation on these measures, I had a few suggestions for improvement. Number one – don’t say, as in fact council has been saying, ‘air quality is generally good’. It isn’t, but if air quality is good I asked, why do we need measures such as the ones being proposed, to improve it?

Number two – as part of the consultation council should be clear with residents about what the measures are and how they will work. Those that drive into work may be worried about increased parking charges or that their employer will remove their car space, should council introduce a new charge for employers. However, if the money raised was to be invested in making buses more reliable and affordable or for instance, certain city centre workers were issued with free or subsidised bus passes, these schemes might start to look less terrifying.

This leads on to number three – providing detail on how money raised might be allocated helps residents to decide whether they think these initiatives are a good idea. What happened next though was truly astounding.

Scrutiny committee was asked to vote on my very simple, very sensible suggestions to be clear about the problem, explain more clearly how proposals will work and provide some examples for how money could be allocated to make alternatives to cars more reliable and more affordable. There was a good five minutes where the committee couldn’t remember what I’d said, a full minute after I’d said it. There was a further five minutes pondering whether the committee could, or should, vote on my proposals. Then, most embarrassingly of all, a further five minutes where the committee tries to vote on my proposals, but can’t manage to put their hands up in the right order. Meaning the committee responsible for improving Executive decisions voted against being more clear with local residents. A well run council indeed.

You can watch the night’s proceedings here . The highly embarrassing voting scene which would not have been out of place in an episode of the BBC’s ‘the thick of it’, is roughly 15 minutes from the end and best enjoyed as I imagined it, overlaid with the theme to Benny Hill.



The idea of reducing congestion and pollution in the city is entirely laudable, as is the proposal to encourage the use of public transport. I hope, though, that provision for those from the further-flung reaches of the county who have to travel from, say, Bideford to the RD&E for outpatient treatment, will not be penalised as a result of not being able to use public transport simply on time and health grounds. For some patients, the car is essential in reaching the hospital - and getting home again.

Perhaps the City Council will accept that they have a greater responsibility than simply to their own residents given that the city is such an important regional hub for services such as healthcare.

A congestion charge would look less scary to Exeter residents if it paid for transport improvements - Chris Musgrave - Devon Live

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