Guest Blog: Planning reform would reduce carbon emissions – and improve activity levels

Guest Blog: Planning reform would reduce carbon emissions – and improve activity levels

With the General Election now just one week away, in our latest guest blog we hear from Sustrans North to find out more about their very own manifesto, which calls on the next Government to introduce a series of measures to help transform the way we navigate around our towns and cities to promote better environmental and public health.

Polls show that environmental issues are amongst voters’ biggest concerns for the 2019 General Election. Ahead of the event UK charity Sustrans launched its own Manifesto to demonstrate how the next Government could support local authorities to bring about practical change on the ground for transport. This could have far-reaching implications for health too.

Transport accounts for 26% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, with the main sources being petrol and diesel cars. If more people could choose to leave their cars behind and walk or cycle their daily journeys carbon emissions would decline, and we could begin to tackle health problems related to physical inactivity and poor air quality.

Sustrans’ Manifesto calls on all political parties to take bold action on road transport emissions by investing in and prioritising spaces for walking and cycling, to tackle the climate crisis for future generations. It highlights the need to make routes safer, greener, and more aesthetically pleasing and to remove incentives for driving. It also calls on planners to stop agreeing to build houses in places devoid of services, making people dependant on cars, and increasingly cut off and lonely.

Our research in Greater Manchester and six other UK cities (Bike Life report 2017) shows that while only 5-6% of people cycle to work more than half would like to cycle but are put off by poor safety on roads. If we invested in good quality cycle and walking routes which link our residential areas with shops, services and workplaces through parks and other green spaces, a pleasant bike or walk to work would be the natural transport option for more people. And evidence shows we would all be happier too.

While technology can play a role in reducing air pollution, that is only a small part of a bigger social problem caused by motor vehicles. Electric cars won’t solve traffic jams in Greater Manchester and Merseyside, improve disease from chronic inactivity levels, or tackle social isolation. It also ignores the fact that a large part of air pollution is particulate matter from brake and tyre wear.

The Government launched the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy in 2017 but levels of investment haven’t been sufficient to meet its targets to double cycling trips and we need further increases in walking.

Sustrans calls on the next UK Government to take on five main asks:

  • Provide sustained long-term investment in walking and cycling. This includes at least 5% of the transport budget to be spent on walking and cycling by 2020/21, rising to at least 10% before 2024/25; and £72m investment per year in the National Cycle Network.
  • Commit to a 20-minute neighbourhood planning principle for all cities and towns.
  • Transform the school journey to help children walk, cycle and scoot in safety and with confidence.
  • Ensure places are accessible for everyone to walk, cycle and wheel by implementing a 20mph default speed limit in all built-up areas and ban pavement parking.
  • Establish a UK-wide Greenways programme so that everyone has equal access to the natural environment.

The next government must show leadership to discouraging driving and curb transport emissions so walking and cycling are the easiest and most convenient options for more people in Greater Manchester, regardless of gender, age and abilities. Neighbourhoods where people live within a safe and pleasant 20-minute walk of everyday services will be critical to creating a healthy, zero-carbon future for everyone.

Find out more about Sustrans’ UK Manifesto here

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