A lack of commitment from Labour?

Just a quick thing...

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Given that a Labour government looks likely after the upcoming General Election next month, and that Labour is the primary challenger to Nuneaton’s Tory incumbent MP, I wrote recently to Jodie Gosling – Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Nuneaton – to ask for her and the Party’s views and intentions on active travel. I’ve had a reply and I am concerned.

In her reply, I was pleased to see Ms Gosling acknowledge the lack of consistency in supporting car-free travel, that the reliance on cars will remain in place until the right investment is provided, and that we have a lack of a coherent network including for rural communities. However, she counters providing resources in this area with the very real and pressing need to tackle other big issues including poverty and access to healthcare. The wording of her email suggests to me that it is seen as an either/or situation that doesn’t acknowledge the positive benefits improved access to active travel can bring to these areas.

In this regard then, coupled with no real mention of active travel in the Labour Party Manifest (beyond this tiniest of passing mentions) and the Party’s “on the side of drivers” messaging, I remain very concerned that Labour will not invest into walking/wheeling and cycling and that it will maintain the status quo of car dependency and all its ills.

You can read the reply from Jodie Gosling, and my final follow-up below.

The response from Jodie Gosling

Hi Ben, apologies for delayed response.  I think the state of the roads impacts on all to users and the pothole issues of this week are an indicator of the poor investment that we have seen into travel.

In the last 14 years the focus on car-free transport has been not been consistent and until we have the right investment into bikes, buses and trains then people will remain reliant on cars.  

The lack of cycle routes and a joined up cycling strategy has been a significant issue with my county council colleagues and I agree that the current strategy fails to provide a coherent network, especially, as you highlighted for rural  settlements. 

With regard to resources, the country is broken, we have 35% of children in Camphill living in Poverty, 17,000 on GHE waiting list and 90% of crime unaddressed, I would absolutely welcome funding for an effective, green transport strategy but there are also a number of other priorities. 

There is more information on labour’s proposed policy 

Kindest Regards

Jodie Gosling
Parliamentary Candidate Nuneaton

Response from Jodie Gosling, 18 June 2024.

My final reply

Hi Jodie,

Thank you for the reply.

On the one hand, I’m pleased you can see and acknowledge the issues we have about the state of the roads (which affects everyone), the inconsistency with active and public travel investment, car dependency, and the lack of a joined-up and coherent cycle network. This is absolutely correct, and to that point I am slightly reassured to have it acknowledged.

Countering that on the other hand however, my concerns are increased by a Labour Party Manifesto that is dominated by driving, with public transport second (nothing wrong with the latter per se; better public transport is also essential), but that only makes the tiniest of passing mentions to active travel. It speaks about cars being “the most popular form of transport” – is that the case, or is it that most people don’t see a real and viable alternative to the car? The Manifesto has its priorities backwards, where walking/wheeling should be first, cycling a close second, followed by public transport third, and driving last.

Then in your reply, while you say you would welcome a green transport strategy, this immediately seems to be deprioritised against the very real and important need to solve other big issues. But these are not mutually exclusive, and this is not solely about being “green” (important as that is). Improved access to walking/wheeling and cycling, and freedom from car dependency, is not just a “nice to have”; it works to benefit the issues of health and poverty that you mention.

* Cars are expensive and a cost that people in poverty or on the borderline may not be able to afford to bear. Offering a low-cost alternative that at best frees them from the burden of car ownership, maybe means families maybe can reduce vehicles, or even just saves the cost of fuel or ride hire for some journeys – can be a big help to those who are struggling with the cost-of-living.

* There are obvious health benefits realised from building in physical activity into everyday life, reducing harmful levels of air pollution, and improved mental wellbeing. All of this can then reduce the demand on primary and secondary healthcare, freeing up resources for others. 

* Giving children the independence to travel to school on their own not only offers the health benefits noted above, but frees parental time for other purposes, which may then improve access to employment. Independence in childhood also helps build resilient and well-rounded individuals as adults. 

* People who do not have access to a car for whatever reason, which may well include cost, still have the right and need to travel for a multitude of different reasons, including access to healthcare.

* Shifting local journeys that are currently made by car to active or public transport reduces motor traffic congestion to the benefit of everyone, including healthcare professionals who will spend less time stuck in traffic and more time being able to access patients.

I’ve already mentioned other benefits including to the economy, energy security, climate change mitigation, road safety, reduced congestion etc.

Building out a comprehensive active travel network takes time and money – but in the grand scheme of things, not that much money; just £2.25bn per year. If we as a country want to realise these benefits, the investment must begin in earnest and with commitment now. If we don’t, we continue with the car-trapped status quo, locking in all of the associated problems that we’re seeing today for future generations – problems that absolutely include poor health and poverty.

So, please don’t take this in isolation, as something that should be demoted against the need to tackle other pressing problems. If you are elected as our MP, I would ask that you please do all that you can to bring this to the top of the agenda in the knowledge that this helps the areas that you are rightly concerned about; please work with the Transport Secretary to ensure active travel is at the top of the transport hierarchy; please push the Chancellor of The Exchequer to make the ongoing funding available to build-out that much needed coherent and safe network as an investment in our future.

Thanks again.

Ben

Reply to Jodie Gosling, 19 June 2024

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