In one of last week’s less shocking news items, a council in Cornwall has suggested that the best way to meet local air quality targets could be to move people out of the affected areas.
Yes, that’s ‘moving them’ as in, ‘compulsorily buying families’ homes and relocating them in new houses that have been built farther away from the traffic congestion’.
Presto, they breathe easier, only a bit farther away. The new homes would still be nearby, obviously. They’re not monsters!
Funny old world, when this is one of the less odd things going on in it. I don’t imagine it will happen, although it does have the ring of an ‘all options on the table’ idea that gets mentioned between biscuit breaks and which everybody is slightly surprised to find bulldozers acting on five years later.
And it’s peculiar that a region whose income is based around people visiting its historic towns and enjoying its communities, open spaces and fresh air – but which is blighted by the time it takes to get to and around the place – wonders if the best way to improve things is to put houses on the open spaces and devastate the communities but leave visiting traffic stationary and thus not make Cornwall any easier to visit, or its air any cleaner.
Apparently it’s cheaperthan building bypasses, even though we have a housing crisis and I thought that new houses had roads going to and from them. So instead of one bypass, you build houses served by congested minor roads.
It’s an example of how phobic about building roads we’ve become.
Which is a pity, because I know how a bypass transformed Petersfield town centre, where I grew up, and how much cleaner and more pleasant Hindhead is since they put a tunnel under it. In both cases – in all bypass cases – it deals with the problem, by taking vehicles away from houses and keeping traffic moving.
The alternative is that the car continues to be demonised, which is stupid, because we need it. London did it when it built bus stops that extend into the road so cars couldn’t overtake and phased traffic lights to deliberately slow traffic.
Turns out there’s nothing quite so bad for air quality as a running engine that’s going nowhere. Who knew?
But still the vilification continues. This week Westminster Council said it will increase the amount it costs to park diesel cars there. London is to increase the congestion charge for diesels.
VW has hardly improved the reputation of the diesel, but in neither case are these authorities acknowledging the quantity of harmful particulates that come from vans, taxis, buses or lorries. And in neither case does it do anything to improve anything but the bottom line of the council’s finances.
The thing is, it’s not like experts – come on, some of us do still listen to them – don’t understand this. In one 2012 report, titled ‘Understanding the Value and Impacts of Transport Investment’, the Department for Transport concluded that: “In simple terms, the better our transport system, the more of our lives we can spend being productive and doing the things we enjoy, with the people we care about, in a better environment.”
Governments and councils would do well to remember it.