We must tame the car in Liverpool

You can’t always see exhaust fumes as you can here but vehicle emissions are a major factor in poor air quality in urban area. Poor air quality can lead to early deaths.

Yesterday (26th August) Liverpool had an appalling level of air pollution and was, indeed, one of the worst cities in the Country, if not the world for the level of particulates and toxins in the air. Remember that this was not a very busy day. It was a Bank Holiday with less lorries on the road and with less queues at the morning and evening rush hours.

We had a real advantage with air pollution when I was a boy. You could see it, smell it and taste it. Your clothes stank of smoke and it was absolutely clear there was a major problem which led to the passing of a number of Clean Air Acts. Today you cannot see it but is just as deadly if not more so. You could yesterday see a low-level smog but the toxins were nevertheless entering your lungs and some of the micro particulates then proceed through the body to attack vital organs.

The effects of these are felt most clearly in the young and old where the body is either forming or degenerating. Let no-one be under any illusion that this type of air pollution is a killer. The effects of where you live can be very clearly mapped. Live in the centre of Liverpool or near a main road like Smithdown Road and your air quality is worse than average and the chances of you having lung-based disorders.

On July 17th we solemnly debated the Climate Change Crisis and declared a state of Emergency for Climate Change. The question that the people of Liverpool must be asking is, “did the Council mean it?” The indications are that the Council is paying lip service to the issue. It has appointed a Cabinet Member for Climate Change but 6 weeks after the Council meeting the climate change committee has yet to meet and no work programme or set of priorities has been agreed.

Crucially, there are three key things happening where the Council has made clear that it is not taking its own motion seriously:

  1. The appalling mess being made of bus routes in the City. The need for people from the North of the City to easily access the South of the City Centre and vice versa has been totally ignored. Like Berlin in the 50s our City is being cut in two with a ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ in place and a shuttlebus to move people from one bus hub to another. We need to be making bus transport easier not harder.
  • The expansion of the road system through the former International Garden Festival site. This is predicated entirely on the assumption that we need to move cars through the system more quickly. The problem with that is the cars may move more quickly at that stage but will still hit existing bottle necks at Jericho Lane and along Aigburth Road.
  • The idea that the Rocket flyover should come down to facilitate easier movement into town. I have no comment to make on the suggestion that the flyover might need to come down for technical reasons. I am no engineer and if that is what the engineers say I believe them. Again, though, we have the suggestion that we can improve that very difficult junction and help ease the traffic system. This never works. Making a way through by making traffic conditions easier always increases the number of cars and vehicles using it until the system becomes as clogged up as it was before.

Liberal Democrats oppose all these suggestions. We look to different ways of doing things.

Last Sunday Meredale Road was closed to through traffic for two hours to let kids play and adults natter. A great example to the rest of us.

On Sunday, thanks to a great initiative from residents, Meredale Road was cut off for through traffic for just 2 hours and it was great to see children playing in the street and adults emerging from their own homes to talk to their neighbours in the warm summer sun. It was good for the environment, good for the kid’s health and good for the development of a community. Four other roads also do this on a regular basis and there are proposals to create even more such respites from cars and fumes.

This is just one small effort but if we all took small steps like this we could, together, make a huge difference.

  • Perhaps, some of those steps could be real ones! What about walking to and from the shops or the restaurant instead of getting in the car. The vast majority by number of car journeys involve journeys of less than a quarter of a mile.
  • The Regional Mayor should use his powers to regulate bus services and increase their frequency and their connectivity on routes which do not go in or out of the City.
  • Develop higher parking charges for Chelsea tractors in our Car Parks
  • Develop an extensive car fee day in our City Centre on one Sunday every month
  • Review every school to see if ‘no traffic zones’ could be established at peak school drop off and pick up times.
  • Increase the number of charging points for electric cars in the City Centre and in main suburban shopping centres.
  • The oft talked about cycle lane scheme should be developed and implemented along with preferential treatment for buses and a review of our sadly depleted bus lane system.

These are just some of the things that we could do. There are others and no doubt better ones. What we must not do is say one thing and do another. The whole point of the one topic council meeting was that we would agree on the big issues and then work together on big issues, especially when they are are unpopular as some of the above list will be, so that there is no Party-political game playing.

This fragile partnership will only last if everyone continues to work together, to listen to each other and to moderate views if there is some element of disagreement. I am still optimistic that this will work but I am keeping my fingers firmly crossed!

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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