Breathe – Implementation

This is the fourth and final SPACE for Gosforth blog that together make up our response to the Council’s Clean Air consultation.

Our first blog set out our review of the Council’s proposed measures. In our second blog we proposed measures for the city as a whole and in our third blog we proposed measures for the Gosforth Air Quality Management Area (AQMA).

In our final blog we respond to the Councils’ questions about future funding and implementing air quality measures. Measures to meet air quality targets will need to be funded by Central Government, but if part of those measures include a toll or clean air charge there is the opportunity to use that money to further improve air quality and transport in the city.

SPACE for Gosforth response to the Council’s Clean Air consultation: Part 4

Priorities for future funding

The Government have stated that surplus money received through charging or tolls must be spent on transport improvements.

The Council has decided a set of criteria for these transport improvements that they should:

  1. Improve public health in our area in the shortest possible time;
  2. Enable future economic growth and sustain jobs and communities in the region; and
  3. Promote a fairer society and not detrimentally impact vulnerable populations.

We support the Council using these objectives to judge and prioritise schemes for future investment.

Walking and cycling schemes would score highly on this basis. Evidence is available that demonstrates investment in good quality walking and cycling facilities would achieve all three objectives and can be implemented quickly. Seville, for example, implemented a good quality traffic-free cycling network in under two years.

The UK Health Alliance has some useful information about how air pollution, inactivity and obesity, all major public health risks, can be tackled by enabling more active travel

SPACE for Gosforth has already completed a Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) assessment of Gosforth / north Newcastle. Selected extracts are provided in Appendix E, with the full blog here:

A key priority for Gosforth will be to improve walking and cycling access to the Gosforth “Plus” cluster of destinations for the benefit of residents, visitors and businesses operating in the area. That might include the extension of Trinity Square across West Avenue and Ivy Road, potentially with additional planting, a bigger event space, outdoor seating or even play equipment for children.

A similar approach could be taken to other locations where through traffic is no longer allowed both in Gosforth and in the city centre, especially on Grey Street and Blackett Street.

In order to achieve objectives (b) and (c), the cycling network should be usable by children, by businesses e.g. using cargo bikes, by older people or by people with disabilities. The Council need quickly to implement a design standard to avoid the mistakes it is about to make at Haddricks Mill where the proposed routes are slow, inconvenient, create conflict with people walking and require lots of tight turning and starting and stopping.

The SPACE for Gosforth review of how local cycling facilities support inclusive cycling (or not) would be a good starting point for future investment. A similar review for public transport would be beneficial.

SPACE for Gosforth has also completed its own survey of what people would support to make Gosforth a better place to live and travel locally. Our proposals in section 7 include many of these elements.

Figure 6 – Residents’ priorities for building a better Gosforth

More trees and greenery was a very popular option and we hope more greenery can be incorporated as part of plans to create low-traffic neighbourhoods.

Other ideas for funding, in addition to those listed in figure 6, might include:

  • Ensuring cycle routes can be used through the winter, especially when icy
  • On-street bicycle lockers where requested by 3-4 households or more
  • Routes to and secure cycle parking facilities at major destinations and transport hubs
  • Implementing additional ‘school streets’

The SPACE for Gosforth assessment of the Council’s proposed longer-term measures is set out in the table below.

Proposed longer-term measures SPACE for Gosforth assessment
Improved routes for clean buses; It is not clear what this means or why it only applies to clean buses. Bus lanes are already available on many routes and should be open to all buses.
Road maintenance (including potholes); This is essential but doesn’t meet the Council’s objectives. Road maintenance should be covered out of the main highways budget and should prioritise the safety of vulnerable road users.
Working with schools and parents to help people get to school / college without using the car; Evidence suggests behaviour change initiatives have only a very limited impact unless as part of an infrastructure upgrade.
Work to make it easier and safer for people to walk, including changes to town/city centres to pedestrianise areas; Agreed – this will meet the Council’s objectives.
Investment in intelligent traffic signals to improve traffic flows and public transport on key routes; There is no real evidence to suggest this will meet the Council’s objectives and might even make air pollution worse.
New park and ride facilities to expand the reach of Metro, bus and local rail; Agreed if this does not result in additional miles driven. Cycle, park and ride should be incorporated in any such scheme.
Working with employers to help them implement new working practices and ways for their staff / deliveries to travel; Evidence suggests behaviour change initiatives have only a very limited impact unless as part of an infrastructure upgrade.
Investment in cycling networks, particularly routes leading to Metro stations, transport interchanges and to local facilities like schools; Agreed – this will meet the Council’s objectives if the routes implemented are of a good standard i.e. they are coherent, direct, safe, comfortable and attractive and are usable by all ages and abilities.
A charge on employers in Newcastle city centre who provide free parking spaces for their employees; We would support a workplace-parking levy, but suggest it covers a wider area rather than just Newcastle city centre.
Making Metro services more frequent, reliable and convenient We believe this should already be addressed through the provision of new rolling stock. Every effort should be made to bring forward the date when these will be put into service.

Implementation and Monitoring

Even without the specific ministerial direction issued by the Government, the law is clear that limits must be achieved in the shortest possible timescales. The Council’s planning and project delivery should support that. This means in particular that work needs to start as soon as possible and that the Council should request from government the necessary resources to expedite the implementation of its proposed plan.

D01 Seek early funding from the Government to start work immediately. To save time we suggest where possible that measures are implemented on a temporary basis then adjusted as the actual impact becomes known, rather than relying on further time-consuming and potentially inaccurate modelling. By 07/2019

D02 Convene an Air Quality Executive board chaired by the CEO of Newcastle City Council and attended by senior representatives of North Tyneside and Gateshead that meets monthly to:

  • Monitor current progress in implementing the plan and take action to rectify any delays.
  • Review the effectiveness of measures and whether e.g. tweaks are required to parking charges or toll fees.
  • Identify and mitigate any risks that could prevent air quality limits being met in the shortest possible timescales
  • Look for opportunities to bring forward the date of compliance or to reduce exposure more quickly.
  • Accept and consider representations from other Council meetings and forums.
  • Be accountable for meeting air quality limits in the shortest possible timescales.

The board should publish promptly its minutes, data provided as input to the meeting and any decisions taken.

Input to the meeting should include:

  • Project report(s)
  • Plan updates
  • Risk register
  • Updated monthly traffic and air quality data
  • Other forms of monitoring e.g. business surveys
  • Feedback from the stakeholder forum (see below)
  • Reports from the Council’s transport and planning departments

By 08/2019

D03 Appoint a dedicated programme / project lead reporting directly to Newcastle City Council CEO with a mandate to work cross-department By 08/2019

D04 Appoint other dedicated project staff to support the programme / project manager e.g. for communications & behaviour change, project planning & control and risk management By 09/2019

D05 Create a simple compelling vision for what the Council wants to achieve overall covering air quality and related policy matters such as public health, climate change, healthy streets and how we travel. By 10/2019

D06 Implement additional traffic and air quality monitoring on roads where modelling or measurement has suggested air quality is poor or where traffic might divert to. By 10/2019

D07 Convene a quarterly stakeholder workshop including interested residents stakeholder groups, transport operators and business groups to report and seek feedback on progress to date. By 10/2019

D08 Implement a program of air quality monitoring covering the insides of taxis and buses operating in the city centre. Consider providing additional health advice for bus and taxi drivers.
By 11/2019

D09 Ensure Council processes and decisions for planning, transport and in other areas prioritise meeting air quality limits in the shortest possible timescale and reducing exposure as quickly as possible. By 12/2019

D10 Complete a study of transport options to identify areas of the city, which are lacking choice for how to travel. This would take account of where local shops, services and employment sites are located and would include public transport, walking and cycling. This can be used as input to discussions on how to prioritise future funding. As an example, the study might identify that north-south access to Gosforth High Street is well served by buses but there are far fewer services operating east to west. By 03/2020

Vision for the future

Overall, if the Council wants and / or needs residents and businesses to support a transition to less polluting, more sustainable, modes of transport then the Council needs to set out its vision in a simple, clear and compelling way.

The Council needs to own that vision, not blame the Government for ‘making us do it’.
Then the Council needs to implement that vision with determination, confidence and consistency. And above all it needs to act quickly because people are continuing to die from air pollution at a rate of about one a day in Tyneside, and many more are being made ill for the same reason.

If the Council isn’t confident in its vision then it needs to say so and do something about it.

If the Council wants examples from other cities, or evidence of effects or benefits, there is plenty to choose from. If the Council wants evidence for how voters reward politicians for cleaner, healthier, safer streets then there’s plenty of that too.

If the Council wants a transport policy that addresses cancer, heart disease, obesity, inactivity, diabetes, mental health, social isolation, lack of access to work opportunities, road danger, making the city attractive for families, helping older children to travel safely and independently, climate change, poor performing high streets, the answers are broadly the same.

The Council just needs to get on with it.