Green Party call for major UK cities to be pedestrianised

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With new car ownership in the UK showing no signs of slowing, calls by the Green Party for banning petrol and diesel cars in the five most air-polluted cities in the country seems to be a logical step forward in the ongoing battle against climate change.

According to the government’s vehicle licensing statistics for 2016, the number of vehicles newly licensed in the UK hit an all-time high at 3.3 million. This statistic, whilst perhaps a sign of a recovering and strong economy, is not the news that environmentalists, doctors or scientists particularly want to hear. Despite the fact that nearly 42,000 of the 3.3 million registered vehicles in 2016 were ultra-low-emission vehicles (ULEVs), an increase of 40% on 2015, the number of petrol and diesel cars on our roads is still rising. Protests from environmental groups have occurred across the country and, closer to home, the “Bristol Rising” group brought Bristol to a standstill after blocking the centre in protest over the amount of air pollution produced in the city and how it is killing thousands of people every year.

The Green Party have decided to make a stand and lobby across the country over the next 12 months for a complete overhaul of the way our city centres look and run. Jonathan Bartley, the co-leader of the Green Party, announced in his speech at the Green Party conference earlier this week that, by 2023, he wants to see London, Bristol, Leeds, Oxford and Sheffield all use zero-emission zones in their cities. This initiative is the fundamental part of his “Breathing Cities” campaign.

 “Any economy that does not redress the imbalances that are irrevocably degrading our environment is doomed.”

Jonathan Bartley

Whilst the speech didn’t go into any detail whatsoever concerning how this initiative is to be carried out, upon further questioning and an article Bartley wrote himself in the Guardian his plan begins with addressing the councils in question – asking them why their cities have got to the point they are at. From here, I should imagine the Green Party’s strong environmentally-tuned compass will hone in on the specifics of how each city should go about reducing car usage to absolutely zero.

However, I am fearful of the ideological rhetoric that the Green Party uses when addressing problems concerning the environment, simply due to the unachievable nature of their targets. It is without doubt that something has to be done on a major scale across our country and indeed across the world. Recent events in America highlight the undeniable fact that nature is reacting to our actions across many centuries of human development. Climate change is happening and it is here to stay, yet the effects can be minimised only through setting achievable targets and goals. It would be extraordinary if the cities in question managed to achieve, or even agree to, the Green Party’s plea.

Jonathan Bartley at the 2016 Green Party autumn conference

Companies such as Honda are beginning to make headway in the improvement of vehicle emissions. They have pledged to ensure that all their cars from 2018 onwards are all either electric or hybrid. This jump is in direct competition to Tesla, Elon Musk’s futuristic renewable consumer goods company, and they are the kind of steps that global companies need to be making if we, as a global people, are to tackle climate change. I struggle, however, to justify the Green Party’s position on removing cars from such integral cities in the UK. The steps taken by global companies encorporating zero emissions technology into their business is a much more efficient and less costly way of making their products and their customers greener. Instead of completely changing our city centres by planning for new widely pedestrianised zones and more park space, costing millions of government money, zero emissions technology should be drip fed into our society.

Through the continued improvement of public transport and the engagement of local councils in electric car technology and other renewable energies, our city streets can remain the way they are. I am a complete advocate of the electric car and would even favour a policy that requires all second family cars to be electric. It is these kinds of non invasive “introductory” policies that are required to point the people in the right, renewable direction. One thing is for certain: tearing up what we already have and starting again is certainly not the answer.