I think most people are aware that one of the silver linings to the Covid-19 crisis is that we are enjoying much cleaner air across the city. In a previous newsletter I asked residents to email my office with ideas for how we could maintain this good air quality even after lockdown ends. I had a huge number of interesting emails with novel ideas, for both government initiatives and personal ones.
The ideas I received about what people could do as individuals included a lot of suggestions around choosing public transport or active travel over driving, and for trying to car share if driving is genuinely necessary. I also received messages about people trying to work from home more, and for teleconferencing instead of travelling for business meetings. One correspondent also suggested businesses should look at ways to reduce the miles their customers have to travel to get to them. I'm seeing an Ikea satellite store, there...
One of the residents who wrote to me, Sarah from North Kingston, offered this positive insight: "By getting people to walk straight after the lockdown it might just be possible to create a virtuous circle whereby it becomes less harmful and unpleasant to walk in the streets.". It has certainly become more enjoyable to walk in this area with fewer cars on the road, and if we all keep walking it will stay enjoyable.
I think the overall message I received from these constituents is that, lockdown or no lockdown, it is really important that each time we decide to go somewhere we consider both whether the journey is necessary, and whether we are making it in the greenest way possible. One constituent, Chris from Ham, suggests this "How about a ‘fresh air pledge’ – If my journey is less than a mile I will walk. If my journey is less than three miles I will cycle." I think this is a great idea and will be looking at how we could implement something like it when the crisis has passed.
Another good idea is for parents to work now towards getting children ready to cycle on their own someday, so we can keep more of them cycling past primary school age. Our now-quiet streets are an ideal training ground to learn to cycle safely in the road. Let's take the opportunity to teach them how to signal, check junctions, turn right off a busy road etc. so that they feel confident riding their bikes alone when they get to the right age.
I also received some great suggestions about turning down the thermostat by one degree in winter, and about planting trees anywhere you can. Trees have amazing air filtration abilities, as well as being beautiful and wildlife-friendly. Green roofs are another beautiful way to use the forgotten space above your head to improve air quality. And I was asked by several residents to request neighbours not to light bonfires or burn their garden waste.
A number of you wrote in with wider initiatives that government could implement. I sent emails to various government officers enquiring about some of them and wanted to share some of the feedback with you:
Better support for active transport, especially cycling
Kingston: Kingston is in the middle of an extensive cycling infrastructure project right now. The Go Cycle programme is a £32M transformation that will "upgrade Kingston’s major highway routes to accommodate the latest cycling infrastructure, while improving the flow of road users, cyclists, and pedestrians, and enhancing the environments through which they travel." Completion of this project depends on continued funding post-Covid. You can see the latest information, plans and maps here: https://www.kingston.gov.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=1258#docForm
Kingston is also working on installing additional bike hangars and a bike rental scheme.
Richmond: Richmond has been working since 2018 on the development of a strategic cycle network, with works currently planned for lightly segregated cycle lanes in Strawberry Vale in Twickenham and Kew Road in Kew. However, the funding for this was to be provided by TfL, so there is a question mark over it now. They are also working on introducing bike hangars on residential streets and a scheme that enables residents to rent-to-own a bike. And they are hoping to be able to consult soon on the introduction of the first ‘School Streets’ which will have temporary road closures outside of schools during pick-up and drop-off times.
London: TfL has just launched a London Streetspace programme that will transform London’s streets to accommodate significant increases in cycling and walking when lockdown restrictions are eased. This will involve:
Rapid construction of a strategic cycling network, using temporary materials, including new routes aimed at reducing crowding on public transport
Wider footways on high streets that will facilitate a local economic recovery, with people having space to queue for shops as well as for others to safely walk past
Creating low-traffic neighbourhoods right across London to enable more people to walk and cycle as part of their daily routine, as has happened during lockdown
Extension of the ULEZ zone
As you may know, the small Ultra Low Emission Zone that London has currently was set to be extended and to cross into Richmond Borough this spring. This has been postponed, but will be rolled out after the Covid-19 crisis is over. This should have a strong impact on air quality in Kew, North Richmond, Barnes, Mortlake and Sheen. Any possible further extension of ULEZ will be a matter for the next Mayor and Greater London Authority to take up after the elections, which have been rescheduled for next May.
A number of residents would like to see more electric buses operating in London. TfL has been gradually greening their fleet over the past few years, but Caroline Pidgeon, our Lib Dem member of the GLA, agrees with my correspondents that London could be doing it faster and better. She has produced an extensive report on this, which you can find here: https://protect-eu.mimecast.com/s/FlLXCD135CZKWvPFWsMEm?domain=carolinepidgeon.org
Teddington Hydroelectric Dam
One of my constituents suggested revisiting the proposal to site a hydroelectric dam at Teddington Lock. Permission for this proposal was granted by Richmond Council in 2016 but then overruled by the Appeals Court due to its position on designated Metropolitan Open Land. That ruling could be overturned if "very special circumstances" were evidenced to the court, but there has not been an attempt to do so. I was unfortunately not able to reach the original applicants for an update, but hope they may get in touch after this crisis.
Car-free Sundays in Richmond Park
I raised this with Royal Parks, who were keen to explore this idea further as they finalise the development of the Movement Strategy for Richmond Park. I look forward to working with the Royal Parks on projects such as this in the near future. I think this is the kind of initiative we need to make active travel more attractive and to really make the park a part of our lives.
Bike hire, electric bikes and scooters
The government is currently looking at whether to legalise the use of electric push scooters on the roads. If they do, electric scooter hire companies could be encouraged to bring their scooters into our area. Some of the London bike hire schemes are in discussion with local councils about extending into our area already. I am hoping this will include electric bike hire, as electric bikes increase the distances people will travel on two wheels. The Cycle to Work scheme could also be extended to include electric scooters if they are legalised.
I will continue working for the environment in Parliament, supporting measures to improve air quality and fight climate change. I will also be trying to personally choose as much active travel and public transport as I can, and teach my children to make those choices too, for the sake of their own future health and environment.
I believe if we all pull together, at both an individual and a political level, we do not need to return to the days of high pollution and we can enjoy cleaner, healthier air even when our economy is thriving again.
Enjoy your bank holiday weekend!