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Surrey Rejection Of Car-Free Day In Guildford ‘Undemocratic’

Published on: 24 Jun, 2020
Updated on: 24 Jun, 2020

A decision by Surrey County Council (SCC) to reject a request for a car-free day in Guildford town centre has been called ‘undemocratic’ by a Guildford councillor.

Onslow Street traffic before the coronavirus pandemic.

Maddie Redpath (Holy Trinity, R4GV) said: “I am disappointed at how this petition has been handled and SCC findings. This seems somewhat undemocratic.

Cllr Maddy Redpath.

“Due to COVID the meetings have been being cancelled, but it would be better if councillors, the elected officials, are allowed to comment on the petition or on the officer’s comments. The members have not heard Dr Stokes’ comments to the petition response, which should have been included in the online agenda.

“Now, here we are, three months later, debating it in The Dragon!”

The petition for a car-free day had been submitted by local author and environmental activist, Dr David Stokes. It aimed to encourage people to use alternatives to the car including walking, cycling and public transport.

Dr Stokes said that he was “very disappointed” and added: “It has never been properly considered due to Covid-19.”

The decision appeared to have been taken unilaterally by the county. Guildford Borough councillors on the Guildford Joint Committee with Surrey, made of up of councillors from SCC and Guildford Borough Council (GBC) confirmed that they had not been consulted.

Surrey councillor, Cllr Matt Furniss

Surrey Cabinet Member for Highways, Matt Furniss (Shalford, Cons), said: “I will always welcome suggestions of how we can encourage more people to leave the car at home and try other ways to get around.

“I agree with the principle of having a car-free day in the town, and suggest we start with a voluntary event initially. This is because closing the main roads in Guildford would simply move delays and congestion from the town centre to surrounding villages where air quality is also a concern. I hope this is something we can discuss at a future Guildford Joint Committee and with Guildford Borough Council as we emerge from the lockdown.

“We’re working with the borough council to reduce congestion and encourage other ways of getting around Guildford. This includes, through highways improvements, an on-street electric vehicle charging points trial, and last year’s introduction of a fully electric fleet of Park & Ride buses.

“We’re also waiting for government approval on £1.69 million of new measures to encourage walking and cycling across the county, which will follow trials of 20mph speed limits, new cycle lanes and pedestrian widening in towns like Farnham and Reigate.”

Cllr Jan Harwood

Other councillors including the lead councillor for Climate Change, Jan Harwood (Merrow, Lib Dem) supported the decision by the county council. He said: “We agree with SCC’s decision that this is not the right time, but very much agree with the concept and that it should be considered in our long-term planning.

“We will consider all measures available to improve air quality, whilst considering location-specific challenges – a speed reduction to 20mph can be appropriate in certain circumstances and locations as it reduces emissions by encouraging modal shift rather than directly through reduced vehicle emissions.”

Maddie Redpath added: “This could be a relatively simple event. I hope that the committee considers discussing this petition properly even if it means potentially delaying the event to next year. We need to support initiatives if we are to stand any chance of changing the general public’s behaviours when it comes to carbon emissions and modal shift.”

The petition response, published with the agenda for the Guildford Joint Committee’s meeting planned for 18th March 2020 and sent to petition signatories on June 15, is published in full below:

At the full Council meeting held on Tuesday, 9 July 2019, it was resolved to declare a ‘Climate Emergency’, and commit actions to support businesses and all local authorities in their work to tackle climate change by providing a strong unified voice for councils in lobbying for support to address this emergency, and sharing best practice across all councils.

A preliminary discussion has already taken place with the Cabinet Member for Highways, Matt Furniss, and he is supportive of the principle of a Car-free Day. However, with the current uncertainty concerning the impacts of Covid-19, the County Council would not support it at this time. The advice surrounding the infection is evolving and it would be inappropriate to introduce additional measures which may impact on people’s ability to travel. If any ‘Car-free day’ is progressed in future years the desire for a reduction in vehicle emissions, needs be considered very carefully and holistically.

In an area such as Guildford any closure of main classified roads will undoubtedly require diversion of through traffic onto other routes, generally making journeys longer and moving congestion and air quality concerns elsewhere, where air quality management areas are already in existence, such as Compton and Shalford. The Town is already severed by many environmental features such as railway lines, rivers, trunk roads and other features, which make diversion of traffic that much more difficult and complicated. A complete closure on many roads would still necessitate some form of access for buses, emergency services such as the Police, Fire and Ambulance services, and would necessitate a level of manned gated access, whether that be the Police or other accredited traffic officers, to ensure compliance.

The signing for diverted traffic would be quite extensive to cover all types of vehicles that would be diverted from the Town Centre, as well as HGV traffic, so the routes would have to be suitable and appropriate for this type of vehicle. Closures of more minor roads would be simpler and easier to accommodate than large areas of closure such as the gyratory system.

With this is mind in future years the County Council may support some form
of Voluntary Car Free Day, initially.

  • Working closely with Guildford Borough Council this could be in the
    form of active publicity, to encourage those who require access to the Town
    more use of the Park & Ride facility.
  • Working with schools, parents can be discouraged from driving their
    children to local schools and encouraged to try other modes of
    transportation, including cycling and walking.
  • Poster campaigns, including radio information and publicity.

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Responses to Surrey Rejection Of Car-Free Day In Guildford ‘Undemocratic’

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    June 24, 2020 at 10:15 am

    20 mph speed limits when traffic is already down to 10mph through congestion resulting in cars leaving more, not less, pollution. The longer the journey time the longer the engine is running and more carbon emitted.

    I do wish these “slow down supporters” would study the problem before making these announcements. As for the proposal for a “car-free day” this clearly demonstrates a lack of knowledge. Guildford is a gap town and has through routes. What are those people meant to do, expend more pollution going through the surrounding villages?

    • Sam Peters Reply

      June 25, 2020 at 12:37 pm

      This is simply not true. Cars emit more and dirtier exhaust when rapidly accelerating, such as during repeated stop-start motion, and more P2.5 particles are also generated through braking and increased rubber degradation. Particularly in low speed areas, lower speed limits can also help ease traffic due to smoother traffic flow at a large scale.

      On top of this, 20mph limits encourage more walking and cycling, further reducing traffic and promoting general health while taking polluting vehicles off the roads. That’s not even to mention the reduced accident and death rates in areas with lower speed limits. All of the above has been well documented.

  2. David Middleton Reply

    June 24, 2020 at 2:19 pm

    It’s hardly undemocratic that the wishes of a petition group that garnered just 321 signatures from the many thousands of people who would be affected and no doubt inconvenienced by the closure of Guildford town, were rejected.

    Not exactly an even-handed article.

  3. Mike Murphy Reply

    June 24, 2020 at 3:49 pm

    What utter hypocrisy from Cllr Furniss. He says he is concerned about traffic congestion and supports, in principle, a traffic-free day in Guildford.

    He with his friend Cllr Spooner and their GBC Local Plan have imposed massive traffic congestion with the 300 houses at Garlicks Arch in Send and their proposed Garden Village with 2,000 houses at Wisley, on the local community of Send, Ripley and the surrounding villages. This area is at present in gridlock every morning and every evening.

    One can’t even imagine what three or four thousand more vehicles crammed into these small country roads will be like. No provision for infrastructure has been made despite the promise by Cllr Spooner that no building would start until the infrastructure was in place.

    I spoke to the Garlicks Arch developer at the so-called “consultation meeting” and basically he said it was not their problem; it was up to the relevant authorities to provide schools, buses, healthcare, roads sewage etc.

  4. Alison Moulden Reply

    June 25, 2020 at 12:56 pm

    We have had fifty-plus years of cars using the space and denying children the means to play outside on the street. All the community is asking for is one day for kids to meet safely outside on the road and cries of “inconvenience” come up, as if the whole community isn’t “inconvenienced” by the danger of cars, kids cooped up in houses unable to walk around the area in which they live and air pollution killing 40,000 people in the country year on year.

    One day is not too much to ask.

    There is no democratic justification for throwing this out without consulting councillors. We are in need of a green recovery and the government is asking councils to facilitate cycling due to the dangers of public transport.

    But what happens? They throw out this cycling-friendly initiative unilaterally. Shame on Cllr Matt Furniss.

  5. Anna Deadman Reply

    June 25, 2020 at 3:16 pm

    I was really disappointed at the response to the petition. The council did not seem to even understand the spirit of the day or what it meant. They merely came back with reasons why it couldn’t be done. It could be a celebration of walking and cycling and reclaiming the streets just for one day, with a festival feeling.

    They mentioned HGV needing other routes and referenced the school run but it seems obvious you’d it on a Sunday so minimize impact on HGV routes.

    London celebrated such a day and also encouraged local street play sessions at the same time. I would love to see Guildford do the same.

  6. C Perkins Reply

    June 25, 2020 at 10:05 pm

    The official “World Car-free Day” is planned for Sunday, September 20 (or other date if postponed). Sadiq Khan supports it, Transport for London supports it, the greatest cities of the world support it but Guildford’s Conservative Lead Member for Transport at Surrey County Council refuses to support it and the Lib Dem lead Councillor for Climate Change says that reducing car use is not the right time. It’s beyond a joke.

    This is a Car-free Day which will be celebrated throughout the world, it is sponsored by Living Streets and Friends of the Earth. It’s one single day, and a Sunday, when we are asked to leave our car at home – and walk or use public transport.

    Let’s just admit that here, in Guildford, we can avoid driving for just this one day and discover our local area, together uniting to celebrate this beautiful earth we all share.

    Or is this political hooliganism?

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