Monday 19 February 2018

Barnet Conservatives Deputy Leader doesn't seem to know his own councils policy on car usage

There is an air quality crisis in the London Borough of Barnet. This is not a matter of opinion. It is not a subject of political debate (although the solutions certainly are). It is not a matter of debate as to whether people are dying because of this. It is accepted on all sides. It is not a matter of debate that the already overloaded NHS is being put under strain by the number of people being treated for asthma and other lung disorders related to pollution. It is not a matter of debate, it is agreed across the political spectrum that in London, car usage is the main cause of this pollution. All responsible councillors in Barnet (and across London) have been working on local strategies to address this issue. The Barnet Eye supports the efforts of all councillors of any party who seek to address this crisis with solutions that will end the misery that is being caused. (If you read this blog to the end, you may understand why).

Barnet Council is no exception. Are you aware of the Barnet Council official policy on clean air? If you are not, I suggest you have a look at it.

This policy is meant to combat the issues related to poor air quality in the Borough.

Actions have been identified under six broad topics:
 Reduce emissions from developments and buildings: emissions from
buildings account for about 15% of the NOX emissions across London and so
have a significant impact upon overall NO2 concentrations;
 Localised solutions to improve the environment of local neighbourhoods
through a combination of measures;
 Improve public health and raise awareness of the causes of air pollution:
increasing awareness can drive behavioural change to lower emissions as
well as to reduce exposure to air pollution;
 Delivery servicing and freight: vehicles delivering goods and services are
usually light and heavy duty diesel-fuelled vehicles with high primary NO2
 Reducing emissions from Council fleet vehicles The Council fleet includes
light and heavy duty diesel-fuelled vehicles such as mini buses and refuse
collection vehicles with high primary NO2 emissions. Tackling the Council’s
own fleet means leading by example; and
 Incentivise walking, cycling and cleaner transport: road transport is the main source of air pollution in London. A change to walking, cycling and ultralow emission vehicles (such as electric) needs to be incentivised as far as possible.

I have highlighted the sixth of these actions as this is absolutely key. It states in unambiguous language that "Road transport is the main source of air pollution in London". The Mayor of London has produced a report stating that poor air quality could be causing nearly 10,000 deaths per year in London. Clearly Barnet Council has rightly recognised that such a death toll is socially unacceptable.

The council is currently looking to regenerate North Finchley. The document that they have produced could not be clearer that a modal shift away from driving and non essential car journeys is desirable. Here are the relevant sections in the councils own report -  North Finchley Baseline Report - Oct 2017 

2.27 The Draft Mayor's Transport Strategy published in June 2017 builds on the established sustainable transport agenda for London further strengthening commitments to sustainable transport mode transfer away from the private car. The ‘Healthy Streets’ initiative seeks to support the creation of appealing streets and street networks to encourage walking and cycling and public transport use,
and minimise the health problems associated with car use.
2.28 Sustainable mode-based transport is seen as the means to unlock growth in a positive way to the
benefit of everyone. Along with walking and cycling, in Outer London the vision is for public
transport to provide for better travel over distances too long to walk or cycle and reduce the number
of vehicles on London’s streets. The stated transport principles of this Good Growth are stated as:
 Good access to public transport
 High-density, mixed-use developments
 People choose to walk and cycle
 Car-free and car-lite places
 Inclusive, accessible design
 Carbon-free travel
 Efficient freight

Another opportunity identified in the report states
 Improve the town centre setting and environment for non-car users

The policy also states that the following is one of the main objectives.

O 3. Improve walkability across the town centre by reducing car dominance

And just to re-emphasise, they identify the following threat

T 4 Traffic dominance & car parking as a blight on pedestrian experience

In short, the council has an identified objective of reducing unnecessary car journeys, as a way of reducing risk to residents and improving quality of life. One might reasonably conclude that the Council has decided that unnecesary short car journeys are in many ways socially unacceptable, where there is no medical need or specific purpose (deliveries or collections of large bulky goods etc), given  their contribution to the health crisis being caused by air pollution.

The council also has a specific policy regarding the "school run" and getting children (and parents) out of cars. You can find the full details of this policy here. This is the summary (I suppose it is worth pointing out that the current administration has been setting policy for 15 of the last 20 years, however they seem to have started to see sense)

Over the last 20 years the number of children walking to school has fallen dramatically, while the number of car journeys to school has increased, adding to traffic congestion and pollution.
It is recommended that children take 15,000 steps a day, so walking to school can contribute to this, as well as giving opportunities to develop road safety skills and a chance to talk and socialise with families and friends.
Schools are encouraged to develop a School Travel Plan (STP) which outlines a package of initiatives that promotes sustainable forms of transport such as walking and cycling while reducing car use.

You may have concluded that the current adminstration running the council understands the health and lifestyle problems posed by the current patterns of car usage in the Borough. It appears that you would be wrong. The Deputy Leader of the Council and a series of Tory Councillors have spent the last day monstering Anne Clarke, who is hoping to get elected as a councillor in May, for a tweet supporting the councils policy of trying to get people to dump the car for short journeys, where people are able bodied. Here is what the Deputy Leader said.

Interestingly the poll he refers to does not mention people driving to Golders Green. I am mystified as to where this reference came from. Another Tory Councillor who jumped on the bandwagon, ignoring their own administrations policy was Councillor Gabriel Rozenberg, who is taking an ever more hawkish and right wing stance on social issues.

Yet another Barnet Tory Councillor also jumped on the bandwagon, defending the School run for short trips, when his own council policy is clearly to discourage such short trips.

Just to show how nasty and dishonest these chaps are being, here is Anne Clarkes poll.

As you can clearly see, Clarke states that if someone is not able to work, then she has no issue with a car ride. It is also 100% clear that Rohit Grover is distorting what she was saying for party political ends. It doesn't surprise me that when such distorted tweets are clearly encouraging people to vote in a politically charged manner that Tory activists will jump on the bandwagon and rig a small twitter poll. They probably think it is a "jolly good jape".

It is clear that these three rather well to do chaps, who represent the richest wards in the Borough are not in touch with the poorer urban areas of Barnet such as Cricklewood, where Anne Clarke lives. Are they too lazy to read their own administrations policy on car usage and air quality? They clearly think that seeing thousands of Londoners dying due to poor air quality generated by car fumes is 100% socially acceptable, their tweets leave us in no doubts on that. I am particularly surprised that Rohit Grover has tweeted in support of short, unncessary car journeys to drop children off at schools, when the council is clearly working to discourage it.

Barnet Council Pollution Map
Sadly, until community leaders such as these councillors start having the courage to say "Having thousands of Londoners dying due to poor air quality is simply not socially acceptable. We all have to take personal responsibility and make a conscious effort to walk or cycle where it is feasable, especially for short journeys". Lets be clear. Saying this does not demonise anyone, it simply means that we accept that adults should take responsibility for their actions.

It is not socially acceptable to smoke in public spaces anymore. No one demonises tobacco smokers, we simply required them to modify their behaviour, so there was less impact on the rest of us.

Five years ago, a friend of mine died from an Asthma attack. His condition was brought on by pollution. The pollution map of Barnet shows just how serious this is for many people in the most densely populated parts of the Borough (Mill Hill Broadway bus station was measured as having one of the highest pollution levels of anywhere in Western Europe, so it is close to my heart, especially as many children pick up school busses their every day).

As far as Daniel Thomas, Rohit Grover and Gabriel Rozenberg are concerned, such people are just sad statistics generated by people indulging in perfectly socially acceptable behaviour. Sadly I can remember seeing his small granddaughter distraught as the box disappeared in the crematoria. Maybe one of these councillors would care to nip around and explain to her that this completely unnecessary death, which could have easily be avoided if councils in London took air quality seriously, was in their opinion completely fine, because we don't want people to feel bad about driving around the corner to get a bottle of Moet whatever is their tipple of choice.

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