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If there was an award for the biggest casualty in the UK’s Net Zero mission, perhaps the top contender would be the car.
What was once the pride of many Britons now seems to be something far less dazzling; an asset to be hidden away, in fact. At least, that’s the impression politicians give, many of whom are forcing motorists to either phase out or replace their vehicles – in the name of environmentalism.
Today, for instance, one paper reports that Bristol council, where the Green Party and Labour hold the same number of seats, is considering charging motorists “more than £400 a year to park at work under proposals to cut air pollution and make car use less affordable”.
The scheme is established in Labour-run Nottingham and is being considered in Oxford, Leicester and Glasgow. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has published guidance for boroughs on how to introduce the charges.
What’s the problem, anyway? A representative from Bristol council said the plans will “reduce the number of journeys” and that the money can be used to boost public transport.
It all sounds very idyllic until you ask what the immediate effects of such a policy will be. Demand for parking is not going to magically go away overnight, after all; motorists will hunt for new spaces, and congestion will merely grow.
Moreover, it’s another example of motorists – who are expected to pick up the bill for this policy, as has been the case in Nottingham – being disproportionately affected by the green revolution.
We seem to have forgotten there are perfectly reasonable explanations for why people might need to drive to work. A). It can be expensive to live near the office. B). They may be living in parts of the country where transport connections are few and far between. I can go on… Yet councils treat driving as an indulgence the public could give up – if only they cared about the environment more.
In general, policymakers – from across the political spectrum – are the most callous when it comes to getting through eco policies. All practical considerations seem to go out of the window, in terms of what Joe Bloggs can financially cope with, so long as we can “Build Back Better”.
One of the most cumbersome examples of this is Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), which block cars going down roads. Many were installed during lockdown and proponents think they’re a fantastic green policy. Speak to tradesmen/women, however, and it’s a different story. They talk about being stuck in traffic for hours on end and losing jobs, among other disadvantages.
Then there’s Ultra Low Emission Zones, which have been expanded in London. These force drivers to upgrade their cars – often to the tune of thousands of pounds – should they not comply with the ever-changing minimum emissions standards.
Similarly, when I talk to local tradesmen about this policy they are unbelievably frustrated, having had to trade in fairly new, decent vehicles to meet the requirements. Freelancers are the most affected, as they have to pay for these costs, as opposed to having a company to absorb them.
At this point, I should add that I don’t drive; I happily walk and bus around London. Yet it irks me to see hard-working people, with little or no option but to use a car, being treated with contempt. Whenever I have raised concerns about affordability, the attitude seems to be “well, there’s going to be a bit of economic pain in this eco revolution”. That economic pain is hitting the people who can least afford it hardest, though.
Interestingly, James Frayne warned last year for ConservativeHome that “London-based, upper-middle class officials and advisers [who] lead work on environmental policy” who can “end up with a warped view of what most people’s lives are like”, and that “they can make woefully unrealistic and unpopular recommendations which ordinary people can’t adapt to.” This is what I have seen in my area – and now appears to be widespread.
Politicians have got to wake up. The public may support green policies, but not at serious personal inconvenience – in the case of Bristol, for the crime of trying to get to work.