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Letter: We Need Action on Pollution and Car Use Now

Published on: 9 Aug, 2021
Updated on: 9 Aug, 2021

From: Jeremy Varns

In response to: We Can’t Live Safely With This Level of Car Dependency

I am grateful to the deputy leader of Guildford Borough Council for replying to my concerns on a public platform. Unfortunately, his response just further demonstrates the mountain we still have to climb if we all want to live in a safe and healthy environment. The lack of urgency and failure to grasp the scale of the challenge is alarming.

Firstly, air pollution has been a stated priority for the council for many years now, yet this hasn’t translated into any meaningful action. Those walking, cycling and wheelchair users will find that the town and surrounding roads are a hostile environment with high volumes of motorised vehicles on all routes.

There are no low traffic neighbourhoods and very few pedestrianised areas leading to cars, vans and lorries being given priority over all other groups. Laws, intended to protect those most vulnerable, are being ignored on a monumental scale by motorists and the bodies charged with enforcement.

Secondly, while a “Car Free Day” is to be welcomed, it’s a tokenistic gesture that is unlikely to change behaviour in any meaningful sense. Likewise, easitGuildford’s proposition in promoting sustainable transport is undermined by discounts that are significantly lower than can be obtained elsewhere, such as those for use using a railcard for train journeys.

While I don’t wish to denigrate the efforts of others, without proper funding, such schemes will never be able to achieve their stated aims. This is why the town’s streets are clogged with cars and pollution levels double the legal limit.

Thirdly, Cllr Harwood is incorrect in the belief that GBC does not have the authority to tackle pavement parking. The majority of the evidence I have sent over the past two years does fall within the council’s jurisdiction, including repeated daily offences along Walnut Tree Close, Woodbridge Meadows and Manor Road.

So I respectfully ask that the councillor familiarises himself with Decriminalised Parking Enforcement responsibilities. Various reasons have been cited for the lack of action, most recently “Covid”, but none, in my opinion, are an acceptable justification for this sustained dereliction of duty over many years.

Those with a driving license will already be familiar with the Highway Code, so I don’t accept that changing behaviour is simply a case of re-educating motorists. If the council is unable to meet its statutory obligations, whatever the reason, a new approach will be needed to ensure the safety of those using the pavement for its intended purpose.

Electric vehicles are no panacea either. GBC’s own commissioned research confirms that non-tailpipe emissions account for almost two-thirds of toxic particulate matter. EVs still require the same amount of space, are hugely inefficient as a primary mode of urban transport, and being virtually silent, especially at lower speeds, are more dangerous to other road users.

So, I invite the deputy leader to launch a “Think Pedestrian Week” with all relevant authorities including the Guilford Borough Council, Surrey County Council, Surrey Police and Highways England. I will be more than willing to volunteer my time to help in whatever way possible. I propose that we need to see the following four key actions:

  • The actual speed of motorists (not the police’s “preferred average”) to be recorded on routes within a one-mile radius of the town centre with particular attention to 20mph zones and areas close to schools.
  • Live pollution monitoring on routes used by pedestrians close to the town (GU1, GU2, GU3).
  • Counts of the number of vehicles on the pavement in residential areas outside of the town centre (in postcodes GU1, GU2, GU3) overnight.
  • An assessment of the general condition of the kerbs and pavement surface, width, and proximity to motorised vehicles.

Additionally, consultation must be sought with local transport providers regarding the use of bus lay-bys as parking spaces, along with the impact this is having on the ability of passengers to board and alight public service vehicles safely.

Dialogue over the run-down Friary bus station must lead to action after years of neglect. I cannot think of another university town with such poor connectivity between bus and rail services either.

In summary, there is a growing body of evidence that the council has been misleading the public over the scale of poor air quality in the town and suburbs for years. Despite the promises, public transport remains unreliable and prohibitively expensive.

The time for action is long overdue. I call on the deputy leader of GBC to work with other relevant bodies and accept my proposal for a week of positive action. Everyone has a legal right to clean air and safe streets.

The sooner the council and other authorities acknowledge this fact, and stop making excuses, the closer we will be to finding solutions. Our health, wellbeing and economic prosperity are being compromised by short-termism, indifference and a lack of ambition.

I look forward to Cllr Harwood’s response.

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test 0 Responses to Letter: We Need Action on Pollution and Car Use Now

  1. Anna Deadman Reply

    August 9, 2021 at 9:22 pm

    These are excellent and powerful points. I am shocked and depressed at the lack of action in Guildford. I have lived here for 10 years and can think of nothing that has improved traffic wise in that time.

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