My five-year-old daughter returned home from a school trip to the Bradford Industrial Museum last week with a mixture of fascination and horror about life in the “olden days”; days when childhood deaths from disease and industrial accidents were commonplace. It served to remind me that in so many ways our quality of life is as good as it’s ever been.
However, our attitude to transport is probably an exception.
For decades we have chosen to prioritise movement over place. Meaning that to facilitate our desire to move about, our homes, workplaces and recreational areas have become blighted by air pollution and noise, we have diminished the urban and rural landscape and contributed to climate change, through fossil fuel driven transport.
But now we are approaching an exciting crossroads regarding the future of travel in our District, which will impact our quality of life and that of our children and grandchildren. In 2017 North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) employed consultants WSP, to examine traffic congestion in the District and produce a report, tellingly entitled “Harrogate Relief Road Review”, with the intention of undertaking a public consultation on road proposals in late 2017.
Thankfully the contents proved to be more enlightened than the title, indicating there are many different interventions that can be used to tackle congestion, which when taken together could be more effective, cheaper, more quickly implemented and less environmentally costly than building a new road.
The tremendous support for these sustainable measures and opposition to a new road, not least from an overwhelming majority of locally elected councillors, had a positive effect. The public consultation was postponed; the process renamed the “Congestion Relief Review”; an engagement group of a wide range of stakeholders established and WSP was asked to produce a more detailed report.
WSP are due to make this more detailed report public on 2 November ahead of the NYCC Area Constituency Committee (locally elected councillors) for comment on 8 November. Then on 15 January, 2019, the ten-member NYCC Executive will decide on which options to put to public consultation.
If we are to make serious strides to improve air quality and reduce our carbon emissions in the District then any public consultation needs to focus entirely on sustainable transport interventions rather than any new road options, which would lead us in the wrong direction. Recent UK road projects have consistently led to increased carbon emissions.
Last week’s IPCC Climate Change Report called for a rapid transition away from fossils fuels in the next 10 years, cutting our emissions by 45% to prevent permanent climate destruction.
That means everyone, everywhere, choosing lower carbon options. Harrogate District has the potential to be a leader. There are numerous examples from around the world we can draw on for inspiration and copy or modify to suit our area.
Nearly half the car journeys in the Harrogate and Knaresborough area are under 2.6km - short journeys that could be made using sustainable alternatives. We need to make active transport (walking and cycling) and public transport more attractive and reduce the dominance of the motor vehicle in our residential areas.
Let’s hope that 2019 brings a new direction of travel, which concentrates on finding and implementing the best sustainable measures for our District.
You can of course make your views known to your local NYCC councillor or write to the ten members of the Executive Committee.