Monday 2 October 2023

Environment Monday - Time for the Borough of Barnet to take going green seriously

 Did you know that the London Borough of Barnet is the most populous London Borough? Did you know that Mill Hill Broadway bus station had the worst recorded air quality of anywhere in London? Siting a bus station, where children wait every day for buses, under the M1, in a dip in the road, where buses belch out diesel fumes is a recipe for serious health issues. The Mayor of London's solution to air pollution is the ULEZ, but TFL still has a diesel bus fleet. Last year, in May, Barnet switched from a Conservative administration to a Labour one. One of the first things they did was to declare a climate emergency. I waited with bated breath for a raft of sensible plans to address the issue. Barnet put together a website and put together a Barnet Citizens Climate assembly - You can see the deck here - from the sessions in March.

As an engineer, I always look for practical solutions. Before you can fix anything, you need to understand the problem. So lets start with a look at how Barnet and its citizens assembly might actually address the climate emergency.

1. Buildings. Barnet has many old buildings that are not energy efficient. Often, the residents are on low incomes and with the cost of electricity and gas, this is adding to their poverty. Barnet should be taking action to ensure that everyone on low incomes has the most energy efficient home possible. Grants should be made available to ensure that work is undertaken. This will not only be good for the environment, but it will make a practical improvement to household budgets. As for new builds, I would like to see every new build to be as energy efficient as possible, with solar panels, heat pumps etc. Barnet should insist on a minimum energy standard for all new properties. Barnet owned properties should also have solar panels and batteries. I've been urging this for a decade. Buildings such as libraries are ideal for solar panels.

2. Roadside pollution. One of  the worst causes of lung damage are particulates. Many of Barnets roads have grass verges. Simple changes such as planting certain shrubs that have sticky leaves such as cotoneasta franchetii have been proven to lower pollution by up to 20%  (Read what the RHS has to say) It is beyond my comprehension as to why Barnet are not doing this.

3. Public Transportation. When you look at Barnets transport links, we have some wonderful routes into Central London. I cannot fault the Thameslink service (when it works and is not on strike). The Northern line is also pretty good. But to my mind, it is crazy that the last new railway station in the Borough was built in the 1920's. We will soon see a new one open at Brent Cross, but given the problems we are having, what we really need are new lines. Croydon, that has less people, has tramlink. It is high time that Barnet had a similar network. Getting from East to West in Barnet is difficult and time consuming and for many people, journeys to important sites in the Borough such as Barnet Hospital and Brent Cross are only practical by car. One thing that I simply cannot understand is why the Northern Line is not being extended to Copthall, where Saracens are based. There is a disused railway line that could terminate at the stadium, which is also an important college site now. That would make journeys to Barnet far easier for residents of Mill Hill. I'd like to see a tram network linking Brent Cross, Edgware, Mill Hill,  Barnet and Finchley. Some of this could exploit disused rail lines and some would, like the Croydon system, run on roads. I'm not an expert, but electric trams, running to fast and reliable timetables would massively cut the number of car journeys in London. As a Manchester City FC fan, I've seen first hand the benefit of such a system in Manchester. These systems are not cheap, but they make a huge difference and the investment gets payback for decades, if not centuries.

4. Cycling and walking. Cycling on many of Barnets roads is a nightmare. I'd like to see far more dedicated cycle paths and better schemes to encourage cycling to schools. You only have to see the traffic around schools to know we are getting it wrong. I would like to see proximity to a school being the primary selection criteria for local schools and parents urged to sign up to cycle to school schemes. Schools should have safe and secure bike parking. Schools should be given financial incentives and penalties to encourage cycling and walking. I also believe that actions should be taken to have cycle provision on all major traffic lights. That will make cycling far safer.

5. 15 minute cities. For some reason the alt right get hot under the collar about this. The concept is that you have everything you need within a 15 minute walk or bike ride. Technically, I'd say I already live in one. My house on Millway is 15 minutes from my work, doctor, shops, pharmacy and there are schools as well. The only real issue is that the nearest hospital is in Barnet. It is 1 hour 27 minutes walk and at least 40 minutes by bus. Hubs like hospitals really do need proper public transport links. I like the idea of 15 minute cities and having local ameneties should be part of the planning process. Barnet needs to make a proper commitment to this in its planning criteria.

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