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The LCR’s Green Summit - Report #4: Transport & Air Quality Workshop and our Conclusions

This is the fourth and final report on the LCR’s green summit. To read the other instalments, visit our campaign’s news page.

One of the biggest reasons for attending the summit was to take part in the workshop on Transport & Air Quality, which couldn’t have been more relevant to Rimrose Valley, the surrounding area and Highways England’s A5036 Port of Liverpool Access Scheme.

Cllr Liam Robinson

The workshop was led by Cllr Liam Robinson, who holds a number of senior positions relating to transport in the city council, the city region and across the north west. He was there in his capacity as Lead Member for Transport and Air Quality within the LCR Combined Authorityand is also the Chair of MerseyTravel. He was joined by the Combined Authority’s Lead Transport Officer, Huw Jenkins.

There was a brief presentation with an overview of some of the issues and what is being done to address them.

Importantly,there was an immediate acknowledgement that air pollution is killing peopleand that something has to be done. Cllr Robinson highlighted that the biggest threat is to our children, with much of the NO2 and particulates from traffic being spread ‘at buggy level’, which was shocking to hear.

The purpose of the session was to discuss and document ideas on how both the LCR and all of us can tackle some of these issues.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the right forum to discuss the LCR’s views on Rimrose Valley and Highways England’s project. However, we have since requested a follow up meeting with Cllr Robinson and Huw Jenkins to discuss our situation and the wider implications for transport within Sefton and will update you on this if and when it happens.

They began by discussing the link between transport and poor air quality; citing the Government’s previous initiative to shift people to diesel cars. Whilst this addressed one element of pollution from petrol vehicles, it had the unforeseen impact of negatively impacting the quality of the air we breathe.

They made the point that air quality issues across the city are nothing new and shared images of soot-covered public buildings and houses. Historically, sulphur dioxide, soot, carbon monoxide and lead have been the problem.

In today’s world, it is nitrogen dioxide and particulates from transport, such as brake dust, which are the biggest threats to our health. Figures were shared showing that we walk less, use our cars more… and that half of the cars we buy are now diesel.

This has to change.

They confirmed that there are currently 11 Air Quality Management Areas in place across the city region.

Worryingly, Sefton has more than a third of these with the locations those which were the subject of the recent clean air zone plans announced by Sefton Council:

  • South Road

  • Hawthorne Road

  • Princess Way

  • Miller’s Bridge

What is the LCR doing about it?

We were told that they have established an Air Quality Task Force and they went on to share details taken from its interim action plan, which, as far as we could tell, are a mixture of initiatives that are either underway, nearing completion, or still at the ideas stage. These include:

  • A change of approach: doing things differently, spending money differently

  • Deliver new policies and powers to create clean, liveable places

  • Deliver a radical programme of walking and cycling upgrades within the next 4 years, which they termed “active travel” and referenced the 600km of safe cycling routes currently being delivered

  • Shift to better public transport: new trains, cleaner, hydrogen buses. We were told that the number of young people using our bus service has doubled, so there is definitely the demand, but we need these buses to be clean

  • Deliver an LCR-wide vehicle scrappage scheme

  • Deliver speed management and ‘liveable streets’: including the rollout of 20mph zones, across the city region

  • Enforcement of idling and emissions sanctions

  • Speed reductions on motorway network: reducing emissions at source. We were told that they were working with Highways England on this, with a view to implementing 50mph zones in the worst sections of the local motorways, as has been done by the Welsh Assembly

  • Government support: secureclean air funding to pursue new initiatives and to underwrite any scrappage scheme

Again, we hope to learn more on the above should we meet with representatives from the LCR on this in the future. Specifically, we want to understand how closely they are working with each of the boroughs in delivering these initiatives and how joined-up the approach will be across the different authorities.

Changing our behaviour

Next followed a discussion around what we, as individuals can and must do to play our part in creating a cleaner and healthier city region.

The point being; the combined and local authorities can put initiatives in place; such as improved cycling and running routes, but without a change in mindset of getting people out of their vehicles and using a green way of getting from A to B, this will mean nothing.

There has to be a coordinated message and publicity campaign; this cannot be done piecemeal with different ‘rules’ in different areas. We all need to play our part bymaking some tough decisions on how we choose to travel, heat our homes, shop and even how we holiday.

The example given on how this is possible was society’s shift in attitude towards smoking. What was once seen as something that was ‘OK’ to do, has since become socially unacceptable and a taboo in lots of situations. We need people to think twice before completing an unnecessary journey in the car, which could easily have been done by other means.

This may indeed be less convenient, but surely it’s a price worth paying for cleaner air and – ultimately – a longer life?

Idea generation

The workshop concluded with a call for ideas which could be explored by the LCR’s Transport & Air Quality Team and many of those present contributed. A record was made of these and we were informed that these would be shared with the group at a later date.

Here are some of those we contributed. Many are based on the fact that we have previously been told that austerity has impacted Council budgets and there simply isn’t enough money to go around. This cannot be used as an excuse to do nothing – we need our politicians to be innovative in their approach. This explains the suggestion of exploring public-private initiatives:

  • A free hydrogen/clean shuttle bus service to take residents to train stations to enable their commute to work. This is because, for many people in our borough, their nearest train station is a lengthy walk or bike ride away. It could be paid for by private sponsorship and/or selling advertising space on the buses themselves

  • Making sure train capacity (the new rolling stock) can cope with the increase in demand that we want to encourage – not overcrowded at rush hours, which might put people off

  • Electrified sections of the busiest roads/motorways for highly polluting HGVs and busses to switch to when near residential areas (for an example, see Report #1)

  • Installation of more and more electric car charging points across the LCR; for example ‘on-street’ charging at suitable locations, or even devoting parking spaces for this in council-owned car parks. This could be paid for by encouraging energy companies such as Burbo Bank to sponsor the scheme. Great publicity for them and providing a valuable service in the process. The point was made that the demand isn’t there yet, but if we make life easier for people, it could help to stimulate that demand

  • Re-launch cycle-to-work schemes with major stores offering discounted bike sales through workplaces, with an added incentive for regular, continued use and smart ways of tracking this. Free anti-pollution masks and safety equipment could be offered and funded by the LCR. The costs wouldn’t be huge

  • Encouraging, or even forcing large companies operating within the LCR such as Peel Ports to use sustainable haulage companies (HGVs) and shipping companies (container ships that don’t use ‘bunker fuel’ or fit better filters on those that do) so that they too are playing their part in creating a cleaner city region – otherwise it is being left to the rest of us, which is not only wrong, but massively unfair

  • A powerful and sustained publicity campaign to encourage as much take up in public transport and ‘active travel’ as possible

Other ideas from the group included:

  • A conversion, rather than a scrappage scheme: moving diesel cars to electric engines, with the suggestion that this should be trialled with the city’s aging taxi fleets

  • A 500m-wide ban on car parking next to schools to tackle emissions from idling vehicles, impacting children’s health

  • The promotion of car-sharing schemes to employees

  • The long-term goal of making all public transport emission-free and free to use

The workshop concluded with both Cllr Robinson and Huw Jenkins saying that they want to be held to account on this. There are genuine efforts being made to consult with citizens across the LCR and that they welcome the public’s input.

We are therefore looking forward to being invited to contribute further and have remained in contact with them on this matter.

The Summit: Our conclusions

So, what did we make of it all?

Well, we aren’t seasoned environmentalists, scientists or analysts and we’re sure that more ‘battle-hardened’ delegates have attended many similar events in the past and have seen and heard much of this before… with little or no change.

BUT as a list of areas requiring attention, the LCR’s work appears to be comprehensive and it would seem that serious efforts are being made to listen to the specific needs of our residents.

There will always be calls for more action to be taken and for everything to be done faster and there was indeed an acknowledgement of this by those representing the LCR and a commitment to achieving objectives ‘sooner’, wherever possible.

For our part, we can’t just sit back and wait to see what happens; we need to keep the pressure on, to keep asking questions and to keep demanding action; ideally by being part of the solution via the Climate Change Partnership announced by Steve Rotheram during his speech.

This is everyone’s responsibility.

Perhaps the most poignant part of the day came when Extinction Rebellion took to the stage, unannounced, to bring home just how serious the situation is – and just how urgent and huge the response needs to be.

They cited the recent example of the community of Fairbourne in north Wales, which has effectively been written off, due to the cost of maintaining sea defences from 2050 onwards.

The village will be evacuated and will cease to exist.

The point being; if we don’t start turning our words into action, everything discussed at the summit, for many of us within the City Region will become a moot point.

We’ll be under water.

This link shows just how much of the UK’s coastline is under threat of rising sea levels if we don’t change our ways. It may even be too late.

Zoom in, take a look at where you live… and work out if you’ll still have a home in just a few decade’s time, or if you need to invest in a boat.

So, let’s hold our politicians and corporations to account.

But let’s be ready and willing to play our part, too.

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