However, to tackle this crisis, we need to do things differently – especially when it comes to transport. In early 2019, thanks to a motion put forward by Green Party councillors, Bradford led the way in our region by being the first authority in West Yorkshire to declare a climate emergency – at the time the largest council in the UK to make such a bold statement.
This was followed soon after by the other authorities in West Yorkshire – Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield – all pledging to do what it takes to tackle the biggest crisis we face.
Similarly, following pressure from West Yorkshire’s Green Party councillors, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) also made this bold declaration.
This should have started a seismic shift in the priorities here in West Yorkshire. However, instead of bold actions, our councils and WYCA have just carried on with business as usual, as if simply stating that the problem exists was enough.
A declaration of climate emergency requires a fundamental rethink of how our councils implement their statutory functions – particularly when it comes to areas like transport and how we get around.
The reality is that our region is too dependent on using cars to get around. Seventy per cent of all commuting journeys were made in private vehicles. Likewise, the number of bus journeys has dramatically decreased.
Far from trying to address these problems, our Labour-run councils and WYCA are still obsessed with building new roads. This is plain to see. WYCA’s Transport Strategy 2040 – on page four, under core themes – priority number one – the road network. Twenty-seven out of 35 projects being funded by WYCA’s West Yorkshire-plus Transport Fund are either road building or highways improvement connected to vehicle use.
Planning policy is also part of the issue. Too little focus is given to how new developments fit in with the wider transport network. All developers have to do is work out the distance to the nearest bus stop and copy and paste the timetable. Then they can write a short statement congratulating themselves for going to the effort.
In Bradford, there are plans to spend millions on building new roads. These schemes include a £64m link road through the Tong & Fulneck Valley – which will destroy one of the last green spaces between Leeds, Bradford and Pudsey. Also on the cards is £47m on widening Canal Road between Bradford city centre and Shipley – funnelling more cars into Shipley, a town already suffering from severe congestion and pollution.
Bradford is not alone with these dangerous plans. There are similar schemes across Yorkshire – £120m to improve the A629 between Huddersfield and Halifax, £37.5m for the Wakefield Eastern Relief Road and £57.16m for the East Leeds Orbital Road to pick just a few.
In fact, of the £875m allocated as part of the West Yorkshire-plus Transport Fund, £660m is allocated to road building programmes and only just under £20m to building railway stations – just the one in Elland.
If the West Yorkshire Combined Authority is committed to reducing road traffic, tackling air pollution and getting to grips with climate breakdown, this grotesque mis-prioritisation of funding needs to be fixed.
We must make promoting active travel (walking and cycling) a priority. This is better for our health and the health of our environment.
There needs to be a dramatic increase in the use of public transport as well. After years of cuts to buses, shambolic mismanagement of our region’s rail network (thanks Northern!) and now the challenges brought upon by coronavirus, there is a real danger that public transport use could plummet.
The only way to reverse this is to ensure that we provide reliable, comfortable and affordable public transport that is easy to use and safe.
We need to be investing these millions into building even more stations, increasing capacity on our rail network and connecting the bus and rail network to make it easy for the service users.
The coronavirus crisis has shown us that change is possible. Now all we need is the leadership and political will to make it happen.
Hawarun Hussain is a former deputy lord mayor of Bradford. She is campaigning to be the Green Party’s candidate for the West Yorkshire metro mayor election.
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