Climate Blogs

Photo: SPACE for Heaton. Councillor Nick Forbes at the Council’s Climate Change event

In January SPACE for Gosforth submitted a response to the Council’s Call for Evidence relating to Climate Change. We haven’t blogged about Climate Change before, mostly because resolving how our children get to and from school safely, and minimising the effects of polluted air on ourselves and our families, has always seemed more pressing.

Much of what we have done though, about making streets in Gosforth and Newcastle safe for children, and cleaning up the dirty air, will also help reduce carbon emissions. In this blog we look back at some of our earlier blogs that are relevant to climate change.  We have arranged the blogs in the same themes as we used in our response to Newcastle City Council’s call for evidence.

Call for Evidence about climate change – January 2020

Urgency

In paragraph 1 of our Climate Change response we said “Taking urgent action now, starting in 2020, will ensure Newcastle’s residents get the maximum benefit from the transition to low-carbon transport.” It is also critical if the Council’s target is to be met.

The Council’s target is for the city to be carbon neutral by 2030.  Newcastle City Council has previously had to meet targets for reducing air pollution – and their failure, and the Government’s failure, to meet those targets raises questions over their ability to achieve the new climate change target. The timeline we set out in our blog Fixing Air Pollution – at a Snail’s Pace shows that despite air quality limits being absolute and set in law, substantive work to meet air pollution limits through the implementation of a Clean Air Zone still hasn’t started over ten years after air quality limits were suppose to be achieved.

Stopping current Council activities that will lead to increased green house gas emissions

Sections 6-10 of our response was about stopping current activities that will lead to greater emissions. These should be fairly straight-forward for the Council, and could be an early test of the Council’s commitment to the target.

  • In our blog Junctions West of the City – Comments by 6 October 2019 we explained how the Council’s recent proposals, focused almost entirely around how to move more vehicles, would only add to carbon emissions. The Council has money to implement changes to help people travel but alternative approaches are possible prioritising more sustainable transport options that would avoid, or at the very least minimise, extra emissions.
  • In Horrible Haddricks and Horrible Haddricks – part 2 we explained how the Council’s design, with vehicle flows prioritised throughout and walking and cycling pushed to the edges, would neither support the Council’s policy on air quality or climate change.  Because of the way it is designed, it is also unlikely to have any great effect on encouraging more people to cycle.
  • In Must do Better, we asked the Council to stop forcing people walking and cycling to share a narrow pavement during the Killingworth Road roadworks.
  • In our blog Alive After 65 & Live Long with Clean Air we looked at how subsidising parking incentivises increasing traffic and vehicle emissions.

A common theme here is the prioritisation of private vehicle traffic, and in particular travel time for private vehicle traffic, over other road users. Over time, this has meant that driving has become more attractive compared to walking, cycling or public transport, and as a result the city’s emissions from transport are much higher than they could have been.

Reducing the need to travel using the Council’s Planning Policy to prioritise net zero emissions

Sections 20 to 26 of our response was about reducing the need to travel. This is not likely to be something that can be done quickly, but preventing new developments from being dominated by roads and trapping people in car-dependency will be important and the planning rules to support that will need to be put in place quickly.

  • Development locally should be in accordance with the local authority’s local plan. Part of this in Newcastle is the still not yet finalised Development and Allocations Plan (DAP). We provided detailed input to the DAP consultation outlined here Development and Allocations Plan (Comments by 16 November 2018) and here Pedestrian and Cycle Movement – Comments by 20 November [2017].
  • SPACE for Gosforth has also responded to consultations about protecting local parks and green spaces: Protecting Open Spaces – comments by 20 November 2017. We have provided further background on the planning system and how sites are allocated for housing in our blog South Gosforth Green – comments by 25 September [2017]. Permission was granted for building at South Gosforth Green, despite it being contrary to the Council’s own Open Space policy at the time.
  • In A Busy Citizen’s Guide to the Planning System we shared Blue Kayak consultancy’s helpful guide to how the planning system actually works.
  • In Poor Planning means Bigger Junctions? we looked at a planning application at Gosforth Business Park for new homes, and showed why such poor designs will force people into car dependency when an alternative design would reduce the climate impact and give people living there a much greater choice for how to travel.
  • In Why is the Town Moor special? we examined what the environmental assessments for the Blue House proposals revealed about the Town Moor: information that needed to be taken into account for any proposals for its future.
  • Generally there is a trade-off between place (making somewhere nice) and movement (how to get there) and often Councils get this wrong. Gosforth High Street is a case in point with four lanes of traffic in some places and narrow pavements made even smaller by bollards to protect people from moving vehicles.  We looked at this in one of our first blogs in September 2015:  We love Gosforth High Street, but …

Reducing emissions by reducing vehicle traffic and miles driven

Petrol and diesel vehicle emissions can only be reduced at the scale and speed required if in future there will be fewer journeys. Sections 27 to 45 of our response set out proven approaches such as road pricing and reducing road capacity as ways to achieve this.  We have also looked at these issues in a number of blogs.

  • In our blog about Remembrance Sunday 2019, Gosforth Remembers 2019, we got a chance to see, albeit briefly, what Gosforth High Street could be like without traffic. The quiet, with only distant traffic-noise, added considerably to this solemn occasion.
  • In our Air Pollution consultation responses Breathe – In Gosforth and Breathe – In the City we shared proven ideas for how to reduce pollution. Air pollution is a slightly different challenge to greenhouse gas emissions as, for air pollution, it is the local concentration that matters rather than the overall level of emissions. So air pollution can be resolved by redirecting traffic or moving queues from one junction to the next, but neither would help address Climate Change.
  • The blog Air Quality – What Works? summarised options proposed for addressing air pollution and which were effective. In it we shared the Government’s analysis that traffic management aimed at improving flow of traffic could actually make things worse.
  • In East Gosforth – Streets for People we set out some ideas for how to reduce traffic on the residential streets east of Gosforth High Street, which in some cases are being used as a cut through by people on longer journeys. Implementing the same ideas across the city would be a powerful and quick way of reducing vehicle miles driven, while improving quality of life while retaining access by car for anyone who needs it.
  • Possibly the most effective thing the Council has done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city, those perhaps not deliberately, was to close Killingworth Road for roadworks. In Roadworks, Air Quality and Disappearing Traffic we used Council data to show that there were approximately 12,000 fewer vehicle journeys every day (almost half a million over a year) as a result of the closure.  This is an often observed phenomenon known as ‘disappearing traffic’.
  • In our 2017 blog on Garden Village we set out a process for how to work through the pros and cons of various options to make Garden Village a safer and better place to live, which could also lead to reduced carbon emissions. Delays to schemes like these that could be implemented quickly, just means faster deeper cuts will be needed in the future.

Supporting alternatives to driving

About half of our response, sections 46 to 91, was dedicated to alternatives to driving.  We have explored these issues in a number of blogs, as might be expected given our focus on walking and cycling. These blogs include:

Co-benefits should be sought and highlighted

As one of six guiding principles explaining how we had structured our response we talked about ‘co-benefits’.

Modal shift away from driving towards the lower carbon alternatives presents an opportunity to deliver co-benefits e.g. public health, a stronger and more resilient local economy, strengthened communities, reduced road injuries and deaths. These co-benefits should be sought and highlighted.

We have written about the benefits of active travel a number of times. Perhaps the most comprehensive of our blogs is The Case for Healthy Streets, which sets out the beneficial effect of active travel on rates of cancer and heart disease, how it combats negative health effects associated with inactivity and obesity, and of course the fact that walking and cycling, unlike most other forms of travel, are not responsible for air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions.

Other blogs that look at this issue include:

  • In Traffic Crash Injury 2019 we summarised a year’s worth of ChronicleLive news articles about people in Newcastle upon Tyne who had been hurt or killed as a result of a traffic collision.
  • Exhaust fumes ‘killing babies’ was the title of a Chronicle article in May 2004 – that’s not a typo, it really was 16 years ago when we knew about the nasty effects of air pollution, and yet we are still to meet air quality limits now. The blog lists all the air pollution related articles we could find locally, over 130 and still growing with the vast majority being in the last few years.
  • “We feel unsafe” shared a letter from children attending Archibald First School about their experience walking to school.
  • Billion Pound Issues on Gosforth High Street set out the six big negative impacts of too much vehicle traffic that together cost the UK between £38bn and £49bn pounds a year in 2009. Ironically greenhouse gases has, at the time, the lowest associated cost. The other five were delays, collisions, air pollution, inactivity and noise.

The Future

The Council has committed to producing a plan to achieve net-zero in Newcastle upon Tyne by 2030. Many of the proposals and ideas we have shared could be implemented quickly and easily for relatively little cost as part of that plan.

By implementing these proposals the Council could also meet its policy objectives of cleaner air, safer more accessible streets and improving choice for how people travel.

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