We cannot come out of the Covid-19 crisis only to tumble back into the climate crisis.

The below text is Cllr Phélim Mac Cafferty’s speech in proposing an amendment to encourage the council to do more for cycling and walking as we come out of the crisis.

I think one of the glaring omissions from the government recovery strategy is the necessary focus on achieving environmental outcomes as well as those for health, economic and social outcomes.

But our local strategy has to focus on the way that we recover ensures delivery of the council’s goal of lowering toxic emissions to achieve ‘carbon neutrality’ by 2030.

Here and around the world the pandemic has been awful but it has been joined by the worrying signs of a planet in the middle of a climate crisis-warm seas in the Arctic, the latest recorded snow in New York state, 32’C in Siberia with unprecedented rainfall in East Africa.

We cannot come out of the Covid-19 crisis only to tumble back into the climate crisis.

The Green Group strongly felt that the report did not go far enough. It didn’t seem to capture the spirit of our amendment to P&R on 30th April or the spirit of our amendment from the urgency sub on 14th May. 

The AA through the week had a depressing statistic that their roadside recovery rates were at 80% of their pre-lockdown rates. We are being reminded that the window is fast disappearing that we have to intervene and support a healthy recovery while helping people travel in more sustainable ways. The window is disappearing and it’s disappearing fast.  

We now need to just get on with achieving a city that will help us make a better city fit for recovery. 

remembering that with a pandemic that attacks our lungs we have to do something about this through the recovery. We are a city with a centre with illegal levels of the toxic gas Nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter which causes deadly damage to the lungs; we have a disproportionate amount of people dying because of the problems caused by traffic. 

This is also about recognising that this is a key moment in time. We are rapidly being left in the shade by cities around the country- from some of the London boroughs to Newcastle- cities are moving at speed. We mention a few methods to support those we mentioned at the last committee on 14th May such as timed closures of streets and although it is too early to open schools, we want to see the city well prepared for schools opening safely, so we need school streets as a way to have safe travel to and from schools for pupils and their families. 

We have been informed in a hard hitting letter from the Department for Transport about Active Travel Emergency Fund councils have 4 weeks to start work and 8 weeks to finish. So that really rules out waiting till ETS to make decisions since that’s nearly 4 weeks away.

There is a substantial threat from DfT “If work has not started within four weeks of receiving your allocation under this tranche of funding, or has not been completed within eight weeks of starting, the Department will reserve the right to claw the funding back by adjusting downwards a future grant payment to your authority. This will have a material impact on your ability to secure any funding in tranche 2.”

Although many celebrated the bike lanes on Old Shoreham Rd I don’t believe that initiative would be bold enough to qualify for the funding, with the DFT warning: 

“To receive any money under this or future tranches, you will need to show us that you have swift and meaningful plans to reallocate road space to cyclists and pedestrians, including on strategic corridors.

It also says “Anything that does not meaningfully alter the status quo on the road will not be funded”

The question is: will the city council rise to the occasion and get this much-need funding? There’s no question the city council is going to have to work hard to deliver this but provided it works in partnership with the transport stakeholders in our city they will succeed- from our bus companies through to our walking and cycling groups. Yes- this will need significant resource but debatably it needs a refresh in mindset too, to collaborate; equally I believe it will represent a challenge to the politicians to make sure that the city delivers. 

You can watch part of his speech here

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