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World Environment Day: Greens repeat call for urgent action to improve city’s roads and public spaces

Council must move faster to reallocate space for walking and cycling

World Environment Day, which is celebrated on Friday 5th June, is a chance to reassess the urgent need for walking and cycling improvements in the city, Green councillors have said today.

Referring to new Government guidance which now requires all councils to reallocate road space in response to ‘social distancing,’ Greens have called on the Labour Council to act swiftly to implement bolder, more far reaching transport measures, such as widened pavements, timed access in areas of high footfall, and increased cycling and walking space across the city – with a 15th June deadline.

Given the council’s commitment to lower emissions and become ‘carbon neutral’ by 2030, Greens say changes to improve road safety and air quality have been too slow – and must be prioritised as the city responds to Covid-19.

However, with several delays, including cancelled meetings of the council’s Environment, Committee, and a recent decision to pause a number of climate related projects until July, Greens say World Environment Day is a reminder that action is needed to ensure communities dealing with Covid-19 are not faced with climate chaos, too.

Councillor Pete West, Opposition Spokesperson for Environment, Transport and Sustainbility Committee said:

“Here and around the world we are recovering from the pandemic crisis- but it has been joined by the ongoing and worrying signs of a planet in a deepening climate crisis – the sunniest May recorded hot on the tail of the wettest February, 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. Action is needed now, especially given the links between poor air quality and Covid-19.

“On three occasions we have pushed the Labour administration to take urgent action to improve cycling and walking in our city to ensure that as we come out of the pandemic we are affording the city every opportunity to recover well. This has included securing a commitment that the council will completely revise its cycling and walking plan.

“While we’ve been calling for reallocation of road space since April, it’s clear that even with Government backing now for changes, action is still too slow. We are rapidly being put in the shade by cities around the country who have embraced the new appetite for cycling and walking and people’s desire not to go back to the broken ways of the past. Shops reopen on 15th June and transport improvements are the key to social distancing and supporting our small local traders. As transport accounts for a third of carbon emissions, action for sustainable transport will also help us unlock progress to achieving our climate targets. With more public space, we will see improvements to health and wellbeing, too. We can wait no longer, now is the time to act.”

Councillor Hannah Clare, Deputy Convenor of the Green Group and Opposition Spokesperson on Children, Young People and Skills Committee added:

“There is now a clear and urgent need across the city to provide more space – and time is running out to make positive improvements. We have also been reminded of just how important our access to safe, open space is during lockdown. We are already seeing increased car traffic on the roads, and there is dwindling time left to make the changes we need.

With plans to reopen schools, and worries about social distancing, we have been also been calling for “school streets” timed closure of carriageways to provide space for walk to school and to avoid crowding at the school gate. Measures like these may give parents more confidence and we have asked the Labour Council to make plans with schools before they re-open to full capacity.

“But we are hopeful there are still opportunities. The Labour Council can make use of the government’s recent conversion to the benefits of active travel – but if they fail to move quickly, we could lose the extra funding government has promised for transport changes.

“It shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for us to wake up to the importance of supporting active, zero-emission travel – because reassessing the use of our public spaces and roads has a positive impact both for our health and for our environment.”  

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