Disclaimer: Articles on this website are written from the perspectives of various Localists, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Local Matters. Our contributors come from a wide array of varying political backgrounds, and we believe that cooperation across the political spectrum is essential.
In the past few decades, the ways in which we travel have changed dramatically. Not only are we travelling more but public transport, in particular, has gone under a massive revival. This is mostly due to unsustainable population growth, zero-hour contracts, low pay and a change in the public consciousness. The moral thing to do now to stop pollution is to take the train or bus, instead of driving. Public transport uses a quarter of the resources per passenger compared to individual cars. Road traffic has got so bad though that it has led to overcrowding on trains. Not only do we recognise that the UK’s current infrastructure is overstretched but also that the population of the country has gone beyond an optimum sustainable limit and the solution can no longer be more growth and more building.
This is the result of the government’s desire for eternal growth. Unsustainable goals of eternally expanding the economy have only ever meant more people, more houses, more travelling and more transport infrastructure. This expansion has created many long-distance commuters. The cause of people working so far from their homes, especially in the London commuter belt, isn’t only due to high housing prices continuously increasing due to population growth increasing demand, but also the types of jobs people are doing. An example of this is the UK economy’s heavy reliance on the financial sector; the most profitable place for banks and insurance firms to have offices is in central London. This leads to most construction being in London and even more people commuting to and from the city. This much reliance on the financial and entertainment sectors needs to stop in favour of returning to the primary and secondary industry which is most efficient being spread out evenly across the country but to where the everyman lives. This will lower commute times for many, being able to live near work, lowering pollution and controlling house prices.
England must look at how she trades. More industry needs to be brought home to lessen the high levels of pollution caused by sea and air freight. Even back in the times of the empire, only materials or foods that couldn’t be produced or mined in Europe were transported long distances. Nowadays, all manner of objects come from far away, polluting the ocean and massively increasing foreign dependence. With this return of industry to the British Isles, factories need to be positioned next to railway tracks to make rail freight the default and decrease road freight. Rail freight uses much less fuel and one driver can pull 30+ wagons compared to 1 or 2 on a lorry.
At the top of the list of modes of transport that have to change are air and sea. There has to be a huge reduction in these due to the heavy levels of pollution of both and the environmental and community damage massive airports and seaports cause. Airport expansion must stop as it is usually done over arable land or leads to the destruction of peoples homes. Heathrow’s 3rd runway involves demolishing 2 villages, one with many unique, historic buildings.
To achieve this, overseas trade and foreign business need to heavily decrease along with a severe reduction in immigration. Potentially, some airport terminals could close and airports can be smaller. A common argument for expanding airports and aviation is the money made from connecting flights but once again this is the ‘more money, more jobs, more everything’ argument which doesn’t consider the damage that is done to make room for it. Short-haul flight distances should all be moved to high-speed rail where possible and long-haul flights should mostly be reserved for tourism and travelling but a greater emphasis upon holidaying within your own country should be pushed to fuel the local economy and encourage families to get in touch with their heritage.
With regards to the rail infrastructure, we need to be more diligent over how much new construction is necessary. While many areas of our railway need upgrading, our government is more interested in these huge flashy infrastructure projects instead of recognising necessary improvements. Most people aren’t fascinated by these ‘mega projects’ and simply want the railway network to work reliably. A perfect example of this is HS2. The main argument for HS2 is to increase rail capacity, but this is only needed around large urban areas. Most of the benefits of HS2 can be achieved by upgrading or relaying track in pre-existing rail corridors which will be far cheaper due to not having to buy so much land and all of the money saved can be spent on other rail projects such as more electrification and suburban rail. The early works of HS2 are already ruining rural landscapes and ecosystems and while there needs to be a real alternative to flying between London and Scotland, this much construction work isn’t necessary.
We as a country must work towards driving less and large scale road construction should stop. With a return to living closer to work, fewer long-distance business meetings and using local companies as much as possible, the need for so many roads will disappear. Road construction takes up more space than rail construction and frequently, unknown historical sites are heavily affected by large road projects yet this destruction rarely makes it into the news. Even with a decrease in road usage, I wouldn’t advocate for closing any major roads. Currently, the UK’s road network is over capacity but if it was under capacity, imagine how much faster, safer and stress-free driving in the UK could be.
The one thing that I believe must expand is a town and city-based travel. Ineffective transport infrastructure has often led to people opting to use personal vehicles for even the shortest journeys. This has led to mass gridlock, rage, air pollution and large areas in city centres being taken up by a car park. Few cities in the UK have tram networks even though they would greatly solve bad traffic. If tramways and bus lanes are built into every suburb of large towns and cities across the UK, the need for the car would decrease greatly and they could be replaced with parks for example.
Finally, city cycling needs a renaissance, but due to gridlock, lots of people are too scared to in British cities. However, in Amsterdam, almost all city-centre streets are cycle paths and pedestrian areas. If we can pedestrianise city centres and add cycle paths that extend to the nearby suburbs, such as the cycle superhighways in London, this gives another option to ditch the car and make the city centre a more bearable space. Overall, I think more people going carless and using public transport or their bike for every journey won’t just make one healthier and happier but also improve social and community cohesion.