4 November 2019
Leeds City Council recently declared a climate emergency. They set up a committee and resolved to make Leeds carbon neutral by 2030.
The committee recently met to consider the impact of transport on our CO2 emissions. The committee listened to a report from council officers. To many people listening in the public gallery the report was, to say the least, a disappointment.
The report sums up recent measures taken by the council. These include Park & Ride facilities at Elland Road and Temple Green and rail stations opened at Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge.
It is also claimed that Leeds has 172 kilometres of cycle network (including the “superhighway” to Bradford). This contrasts with information supplied by the council in recent correspondence – they confirmed that in the last 5 years less than 40 kms of segregated cycle lanes have been installed. The difference is crucial: if we are to encourage large numbers of people to cycle to work and school we need to provide a system that feels safe. That means that cyclists have their own road space.
The single recommendation from the report writers was that the committee should “note and consider the contents”. This is simply not the way to respond to an emergency.
Of course, there has to be a proper consultation but years will be wasted unless the council drives change forward.
Here are some actions the council could get on with immediately.
This plan involves spending £75 million building a new road to Leeds/Bradford airport across green fields. This will just facilitate an increase in air travel. At the same time, the city council should withdraw all political and planning support from the proposed increase in passenger numbers at the airport.
We need to drastically reduce the daily tidal flow of cars driving in and out of the city centre every working day. The council has already begun to close the Headrow and Upper Briggate. But this is not nearly enough. The city centre should be restricted to taxis and drivers with disabilities.
The boundaries of the car-free zone need to be carefully drawn so that people can continue to access important locations such as the Leeds General Infirmary and the railway station.
A parallel action would be to remove the temporary car parks in the riverside area.
This should go hand in hand with the introduction of a workplace parking levy where firms are charge an annual tax if they provide parking places for their employees. The resulting income can be used to fund improvements to public transport.
The Nottingham tram system was part-funded by such a scheme.
Cities all around the world are going car-free and the benefits are huge: less air pollution, less noise, and a healthier population.
If car access to the city centre is to be restricted then bus services will need to be significantly expanded.
Leeds is a good city for cycling. Yes, there are hilly bits but much of the city is reasonably flat. But people need to feel safe on their bikes. This means rapidly expanding the number of segregated cycle lanes so that cyclists have their own road space.
In the last 5 years Leeds has installed a total of 40 kilometres of segregated cycle lanes (this includes the Leeds- Bradford Superhighway). Copenhagen has 350 kilometres.
One sign of the council’s commitment to cycling can be seen at the Civic Hall: there are parking spaces for around 50 cars but only 3 cycle racks.
Too many Leeds children are driven to school. This is bad for their health, bad for local air quality and increases the city’s CO2 emissions. The council needs to do more to encourage parents to allow their children to walk or cycle to school.
In recent years the West Yorkshire Combined Authority has opened new rail stations (at Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge). More are planned (at White Rose centre, Leeds/Bradford airport and Thorpe Park). This is not enough. The city council should be planning to open (or re-open) stations across the city, for example at Armley. They should also be pushing for the electrification of the Leeds – Harrogate line and for platform improvements that would allow for longer trains.
The advent of internet shopping has resulted in a big growth of delivery lorries and vans on our streets. The city council should be engaging with supermarkets and other companies to ensure that deliveries are made by electric vehicles. This is not new – most of us had milk delivered by milk float just a few years ago.
The ideas outline above are only the beginning. We need to do much more. But these are things we can get on with immediately, with existing technology. This is an emergency.