On Saturday the 28th April we held a meeting for supporters of our campaign against the Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS) in central London. I chose to drive to the venue as I was carrying quite a weight of equipment and papers, but it turned into a typical nightmare trip on London’s roads. It ended up taking 2 hours to drive the 15 miles there. We were doing well until we hit a closure of Upper Thames Street and The Embankment with all traffic being diverted across Southwark Bridge south of the river – the exact opposite direction to where we wanted to go. So I turned round and aimed to take a route around to the North via City Road and the Angel, Islington. But that route was also closed by apparent crane work. There was no advance notice or signs of these closures on two of the key routes in London. Even on a Saturday they are now very busy. What a dreadful way to run a transport network of a major world city!
I did eventually manage to get there in time to give my presentation, but one or two people didn’t make it perhaps because of the traffic congestion. Here’s a brief summary of what was said at the meeting.
After a brief explanation of the objectives and background of our organisation I explained the key themes of the Mayor’s Strategy. These are to turn streets into places for “active travel and social interaction”, and to reduce “car dependency”. The latter is of course an emotive phrase when nobody talks about “cycle dependency” or “public transport dependency”. Why should it be used to describe people’s rational choice of transport mode? Such phrases are just part of the “spin” put on these policies and the graphic I showed taken from the Mayor’s document demonstrates how unrealistic are the depictions of London in the future. Such graphics often ignore the needs for local transport deliveries of goods and services in London. In addition the Mayor has ignored the needs of the growing proportion of elderly and disabled people in London, many of whom have responded to our campaign as they are dependent on private cars or PHVs.
I talked about the Mayor’s problems which the Strategy aims to counter. This includes a rapidly growing population in London which is putting a stress on public transport capacity and road congestion, and also leading to higher air pollution (and not just from traffic). These of course result from past policies adopted by London Mayors. But one of his key problems is shortage of money with a massive budget deficit looming. This results from public transport fare freezes which he promised to get elected, increasing subsidies and general financial mismanagement.
I explained that the answer from the Mayor are policies that will extract more money from Londoners (and those who visit London from outside) and restrict private travel in the name of making the population healthier. There are a number of ways the Mayor can implement these policies, via the encouragement of the London boroughs if not directly.
What alternatives could the Mayor have proposed? Obviously one of the key factors has been the growing population of London and he could have reduced that by encouraging redistribution of business activity and population as was done in the 1960s via New Towns, or by not promoting it as “more open” to immigration as he has done recently. The implementation of cycle superhighways in the manner done, road space removal (road closures, removal of gyratories, etc) and other detail policies emanating from TfL have also contributed. I suggested that it was possible to improve the road network for cyclists and for road safety without such damaging impacts on the road network.
There was a brief explanation of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and the misleading claims made about deaths from air pollution in London (as one member of the audience put it: “40,000 deaths a year in London”, which shows how spurious statistics are being propagated). There is no major health crisis, Londoners are living longer and air quality is improving! We then had a session from Howard Cox of FairFuelUK. He explained what his organisation has been doing to obtain 1.7 million supporters for a campaign that is well worth supporting. He has been good at obtaining both media and political support as a result. He questioned why the Government have not looked at alternative ways of improving air quality and looked at other sources of emissions rather than just focussing on vehicle owners. FairFuelUK are working with others to produce better scientific evidence on the real health impact of emissions and the cost of ignoring alternative solutions to reducing emissions.
I explained what the campaign against the MTS had been doing and what we will do going forward. The audience was encouraged to support us in several ways to enable us to generate more supporters and more funds to fight the campaign.
Lastly there was a session on how to defeat the MTS. This can be done in local boroughs (for example I explained earlier how we had defeated a proposed congestion charge in Greenwich promoted by Ken Livingstone over ten years ago), or perhaps by ensuring Sadiq Khan does not get re-elected as Mayor in two years’ time. As he is doing a good job of becoming unpopular for other reasons, just like Ken Livingstone at the end of his reign, perhaps the slogan should be similar to the popular one in that era – namely “anyone but Khan” for Mayor at the next election.
It was noted that we can give assistance with local campaigns in several ways – you just need to ask for it.
We covered how supporters can help the campaign. Recruiting more supporters is one key aspect over the next few months, ensure that people find out what is being done in their local boroughs (a member of the audience suggested that people ask if there are any proposals for a local congestion charge) and provide funds to fight the campaign. It is important to ensure that more London residents, and those in surrounding areas, know what is being proposed because there is general ignorance on the subject – few people have actually read the Mayor’s Transport Strategy document but it will dictate many aspects of travel and parking in London over the next few years.
There was plenty of time for questions from the audience. Two particular subjects that arose was the status on Cycle Superhighway 11 (CS11) and Bank Junction closure in the City. On the former, which was proposed to result in the closure of Regent’s Park to vehicles, it seems that it may be being held up by objections from affected borough councils after all. CS11 is a good example of how local opposition can delay or thwart unreasonable proposals. On Bank this is an experimental scheme but will be subject to a review in a few months’ time and I explained what representations we had made on this topic.
The key as always if you want to have an impact on politicians is not just to moan in private or on social media, but to directly contact the political decision makers – the Mayor London, London Assembly Members, your local M.P, local Councillors, et al. It is also necessarily to respond to relevant public consultations and get the vote out when necessary.
In my experience politicians do listen, particularly when it seems they might be at risk of losing an election by pursuing unpopular policies! Please bear that in mind. That was perhaps one of the most important points communicated at this event.
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