HOUNSLOW EMERGENCY ACTION PLAN

Summary
Hounslow Cycling is very pleased that Cabinet, Councillors and Officers are engaging with the climate emergency. The commitment and hard work of all involved is plain to see. The Climate Emergency is an important issue for everyone in the borough, not least our members.

There is much that we like in the Action Plan and nothing of significance that we dislike. The target and seven programmes relating to the Council’s own carbon footprint are genuinely ambitious. We would like to see similar ambition in Sustainable Travel Promotion. Specifically:-

  • In our experience the Council works thoroughly but decidedly cautiously on transport matters. The Climate Emergency demands a different “tone at the top”, with a focus on vigorous and effective action.
  • The Council has an existing target of increasing the proportion of journeys made by active travel or public transport from 56% to 71% by 2041. We propose that the target is brought forward to 2030.
  • Sustainable travel must be London-wide – journeys don’t stop at the borough boundary. We ask the Council to support the programme set out in the LCC Climate Safe Streets Report 2020, and to work with the Mayor and TfL to deliver it.

We agree that the Council needs more delegated powers and budget to tackle the Climate Emergency. We will support the “ask of government” as best we can.

Q7. Urgency
Our members were already aware that there is a Climate Emergency – some have been arguing for change for 15 years. We have found it frustrating that politicians – local and national – have seemed so uninterested in such an important issue for so long. We hope that it will remain near the top of Councillors’ agendas.
In relation to our experience of highways projects in Hounslow:-

  • Central government has forced the Council to operate within a very tight budget for many years. Moreover, the budget fluctuates unpredictably from year to year as Hounslow does well or badly in the lottery of competition for funds. Delegation of powers has been minimal, unlike delegation of responsibility. This makes it hard for Councillors to act quickly and decisively.
  • Councillors and Officers work hard to polish every detail of every proposal. This ethos is praiseworthy in normal circumstances but inappropriate for an emergency. Proposals need to be good enough, not perfect, when speed is of the essence.

Addressing the Climate Emergency will need a different “tone at the top” with a focus on vigorous and effective action. That action will sometimes be unpopular in the short term.

Q8. Challenges
Covid-19 presents severe challenges, perhaps slightly offset by opportunities:-

  • All discretionary projects are temporarily on hold so that the initiation of the Action Plan is bound to be delayed.
  • The financial impact of the pandemic will make it significantly more difficult to fund the transition to a low/zero carbon economy.
  • The green movement had gained momentum in 2019. That momentum has been dissipated in 2020.
  • Increased working from home in the long term may reduce pressure on the transport network.
  • National politicians may have learnt lessons in how to encourage people to change their lifestyle for the common good.

The perennial challenges in our domain are lack of road space and motorists’ resistance to behavioural change. Highways engineers in Hounslow rarely, if ever, have sufficient space to accommodate all road users as they would like.

Q9. Exemplars
The traditional “best in class” for cyclists is always The Netherlands. Paris, Oslo, Copenhagen and Manchester are often mentioned too.

Hounslow was ranked 21st in a London Boroughs Healthy Streets Scorecard published in 2019, as described in this Evening Standard article. LCC’s comments are here. Inner London boroughs generally scored higher, as did Waltham Forest. It is a moot point whether their highways engineering is any better than Hounslow’s; they may just be better at winning funds in TfL competitive bidding processes.

Q10. Analysis of Council direct emissions
The dry statement on Hounslow House in 4.10 somewhat understates the impact of the move to Hounslow House. The transfer of the Council’s executive decision makers to environmentally efficient premises has symbolic importance.

Q11-14. Internal programmes
The target and seven programmes relating to the Council’s own carbon footprint are genuinely ambitious. Hounslow Cycling does not have a mandate to speak for its members in areas too far removed from cycling and transport. We hope that individual members will respond supportively to the online consultation.

On a point of detail, Programme Four should refer to Councillors’ travel allowances and practices. We know that most Councillors use public transport frequently and many choose to cycle around the Borough instead of driving. The reduction in carbon emissions is, presumably, tiny but the symbolic impact is significant.

Q15. Target
We support the target of net zero Council emissions by 2030.

16. Analysis of Borough-wide emissions
The significance of transport emissions is striking, with transport accounts for around a third of Borough-wide emissions. It would be helpful to know how much of this is on Borough roads, rather than TfL or DfT. The Council can, given the political will, control transport choices on its own roads but not on the trunk roads.

17-19. Borough-wide Programme Two
We would like to see more ambition on Sustainable Travel Promotion. If we interpret the analysis correctly, then an 11% cut in borough-wide transport emissions would have the same carbon benefit as replacing gas boilers in all council housing, schools and offices. Achieving such a cut does not rely on any radical ideas or yet-to-be-developed technology: Londoners have been using active travel for centuries and public transport for decades.

The Council has an existing target of increasing the proportion of journeys made by active travel or public transport from 56% to 71% by 2041. We propose that this is brought forward to 2030. The vision and outline programme have already been approved by Cabinet in the Local Implementation Plan for Transport 2018-2041. We appreciate that there would be an impact on the timing and quantum of funding required from TfL. Broadly speaking, the total spend would be similar but the run rate would double.

The transport network must work across borough boundaries as well as within them. London Cycling Campaign, our parent organisation, has published a road map for decarbonising London’s roads. LCC is calling on the candidates for the (delayed) Mayoral election to make London’s roads zero carbon by 2030, to put London’s roads on a firm pathway to achieving that goal on their watch, and not to simply make promises for future leaders to inherit. The Climate Safe Streets report can be downloaded from the LCC website.

We make four additional suggestions on sustainable travel promotion:-

  • The Council is currently bidding for Liveable Neighbourhoods funding in Chiswick and Feltham. Experience of other boroughs suggest that these are effective and economical interventions.
  • The Council is currently introducing School Streets treatments around selected schools. If this persuades parents to give up the school run then that will address many problems including carbon emissions.
  • Charges for parking on public land are significantly lower than the economic cost of the road space. Increasing the parking fees could potentially help to fund green transport projects.
  • Consistent Borough wide road management policies (speed limits, enforcement, closures to through traffic, bike hangars etc.) would reduce the management overhead of multiple local schemes.

17-19. Other Borough-wide programmes
We hope that individual members will respond to the online consultations on the other five Borough-wide programmes. Hounslow Cycling does not have a mandate to speak for them in areas too far removed from cycling and transport.

We have reservations about the transition to electric mobility (Borough-wide Programme Three). Electric vehicles perpetuate many of the disadvantages of petrol and diesel cars. The reduction in lifetime carbon footprint is open to question, particularly for low mileage users. That said, electric mobility may serve a purpose analogous to the promotion of vaping to reduce smoking.

20. Ask of government
We will support the council’s “ask of government” as best we can.

21-22. Governance
We are aware that individual members have registered an interest in participating in the community reference group. Hounslow Cycling does not have the mandate to speak for members on such a wide range of issues.

Who we are
Hounslow Cycling is the borough group of the London Cycling Campaign. We campaign for better cycling facilities in the borough, offer training, rides and generally provide a focus for those interested in cycling locally.

Les Scrine,
for Hounslow Cycling