Why we need to prioritise people in Yorkshire’s response to climate change - Leah Stuart

It’s never been more important for us to prioritise inclusivity, particularly as we respond to the challenge of the climate emergency. Climate change will impact all of us, but, due to inequalities in society, not everyone will be affected in the same way.

Women, minority groups and older people can often be at greater risk from climate-related effects such as flooding, as they are more likely to be on lower incomes or primary caregivers, which impacts their capacity to adapt.

We must urgently address these issues and design Yorkshire’s built environment and transport systems with more people in mind as we prioritise climate resilience.

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Tackling climate change is now a top priority on a national scale, and a major focus of investment. Here in Yorkshire, the Mayor of West Yorkshire and West Yorkshire Leaders declared a climate emergency in 2019, going further and faster than the national Government to set a target for the region to be Net Zero by 2038.

Leah Stuart is a director at Civic Engineers.Leah Stuart is a director at Civic Engineers.
Leah Stuart is a director at Civic Engineers.

In West Yorkshire, plans to decarbonise transport include the rollout of more than 200 zero emissions buses; an electric vehicle charging strategy and a local electric vehicle infrastructure programme; the Leeds city bike scheme and funding for active travel schemes.

The impetus to change is clearly gathering pace. Earlier this year, the Government announced its ‘Vision for Leeds’ plan, which will see six of the city’s neighbourhoods transformed as part of a 10-year programme. Significant infrastructure investment such as this presents us with the opportunity to deliver a just, fair and more equal future. An integral part of this should be taking a more inclusive approach to our public spaces and transport, as well as making them climate responsive.

We must ensure that any data and information we use to inform our design and planning decisions is representative of local communities, and factors in women, gender-diverse people and minority groups. For example, if we spot a marked increase in cycling, as has been the case in West Yorkshire, we need to interrogate the data and understand in greater depth what has prompted this shift and who is cycling more.

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Creating more walkable, well-lit pathways and streets, open gathering spaces and safe cycling routes for those travelling with children, are just some of the ways we can improve accessibility and safety.

Improving routes for those taking smaller micro-journeys is also key. In Manningham, Bradford, teenage girls from Hollings Youth Association are working with social enterprise Street Space to create safer snickets, as a brilliant example of community engagement.

But more must be done to incorporate personal safety and inclusivity into designing our transport networks. For example, making sure bus routes take into account the school run, and that we’re gritting pavements so that they’re passable with a buggy in the winter is a must.

Diverse teams deliver better and more inclusive results, so on all levels, we must involve women in policy making and planning throughout the industry and increase the diversity of the teams that are going to design our way towards Net Zero.

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It’s also imperative that we connect with and empower communities most impacted by inequalities to tackle issues that are important to them, finding better ways to collaborate as we plan for the future.

Leah Stuart is a director at Civic Engineers.

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