Congestion charge could work in Norwich, King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth but make park and ride free first
PUBLISHED: 20:27 14 March 2019 | UPDATED: 20:27 14 March 2019
If you want a congestion charge in Norwich fine... but you must improve public transport and make the Park & Ride free, says Nick Conrad
I was walking with my daughter in her pushchair last week when a large spluttering, polluting, monstrosity of a lorry passed. The old vehicle was heaving itself along the coast road puffing out its filthy emissions. I looked at my little daughter, not yet one-years-old and wondered what impact this grim fog would have on her little lungs. Luckily the North Norfolk Coast is a relative haven of fresh air in comparison to urban areas of the UK, and therefore this experience was unusual – but in large built up areas people are constantly battling the dirty air. It’s a hidden killer that we should be taking more seriously. I welcome this week’s intervention from Public Health England, though some of their recommendations are, frankly, a little ‘far-fetched.’
One of the body’s key recommendations is that cities and large UK towns introduce a congestion charge. In theory, this should seriously improve air quality. They’ve also suggested that cars should be banned from around schools, redesigning cities with wider roads and more hedges, and more investment in public transport, as well as foot and cycle paths. Their wish list is extensive and will make town planners dizzy, but without making dramatic steps we won’t get near the cut of 80% emission by 2050.
If these ideas were to be implemented we would see drivers paying to access central Norwich, Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn. Yes, we need to discourage highly polluting vehicles from entering populated areas, however I’m not sure that congestion zones work effectively or bring about a real change. In fact, I don’t really believe they are anywhere near ambitious enough. Of course, cynics will argue this is a way of boosting depleted local authority coffers, and I’m sympathetic to that argument if the introduction of a charge isn’t backed by ambitious environmental plans. So, what would I like to see? We need more free recharging points for electric vehicles, investment in public transport, incentives to work from home and the promotion of car sharing schemes to help incentivise consumers to change their habits.
I’d be more comfortable with the introduction of a congestion zone if a free park and ride service was established. Imagine if you could just roll up to the fringes of the city, park your car and jump on a bus without parting with cash. Better still, add free cycle-hire into the mix for those wanting to exercise to further incentivise the scheme. I suspect drivers would consider this to evade the high parking charges in the city centre. Only once these new services have been established should we instigate a congestion zone for those travelling into the cities in peak hours.
If this is done the other way around, people will feel frustrated. Any scheme would be extremely sensitive and risky. We must not discourage people coming into our commercial areas. Customers have consistently said easy access is vital to their willingness to keep using shops and stores in our towns and city centres. That’s why any congestion zone must be coupled with lots of free incentives to ditch the car.
At present, public transport is critically underfunded to implement such a shift in how we transport people around our city. We’d need to invest heavily in our bus and train network before we get to the point where I’d feel comfortable with ‘penalising’ car users. There is no doubt something should be done. At present, 70,000 empty car seats are coming into Norwich every day. 90% of all cars travelling into the city are single occupancy. Sharing commutes saves tonnes of emissions each year. By being positive and offering more favourable alternatives, that is how we will really bring about change.
I hope Public Health England’s recommendations are largely welcomed as an interesting contribution to the debate. Redesigning cities is nigh impossible, but we do need to invest and believe in ambitious plans and targets.
The public’s view on man-made climate change is shifting. The public are more willing to make concessions in their personal lives. We have to change our attitude and quickly. We have, until now, lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption.
We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.