'Leeds City Council have a lot of important choices to make to tackle climate change'

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Councillor Stewart Golton, leader of the Liberal Democrats group at Leeds City Council, pens his latest column.

Contrary to the perception that political parties can’t come together on issues that are important to both the public and themselves, in March 2019 Leeds City Council voted en masse to declare a Climate Change Emergency, and pledge to make Leeds carbon neutral by 2040.

Climate change protestors in Leeds.

Climate change protestors in Leeds.

The motion was jointly proposed by the Lib Dems and Labour, the two Greens added some detail, and the Tories chuntered about teachers allowing kids on a Climate Change strike on a school day, before voting it through.

Not soon after, the YouthStrike4Climate group challenged all councillors to live up to our promise, and think again on some commitments the council has made that the group consider “dangerous” and “fundamentally incompatible” to achieving a carbon neutral future.

They listed the council’s support for the Leeds Bradford Airport expansion strategy, £100million in road-building activities (some for a new airport access road), parking spaces at Kirkgate Outdoor Market, and the destruction of 49 trees at Lawnswood Roundabout for a new junction.

We need to accept their challenge, but also widen the discussion as simply stopping doing something might not solve the problem we want to solve, and could actually make it worse.

Coun Stewart Golton.

Coun Stewart Golton.

On top of this, people need to be brought along willingly, otherwise a Brexit-style reaction could be the result.

The council now has a new Climate Change Advisory Committee which will shape the council’s approach to achieving it’s Carbon Neutral target, and Leeds Liberal Democrats are taking our participation seriously.

The biggest decisions need to be made around transport, and coordinated between Westminster and Civic Hall, and involve behaviour change for every citizen in the city.

The Department for Transport recently released its National Travel Attitudes Study, and when asked about their willingness to reduce travel to tackle climate change, 43 per cent were happy to reduce their car travel, but only 17 per cent were happy to reduce their air travel.

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Any restriction of people’s right to fly would be a job for national government, but encouraging local people to reduce emissions on their holiday plans has a local dimension.

Given the above statistics, should the council encourage more people to travel to Leeds Bradford airport, as driving the car all the way to Manchester burns more fossil fuel?

However, would investment in a better airport rail station than the glorified bus stop that is currently planned at Leeds Bradford get more people off the road in the first place?

Perhaps persuade the airport to waive the hated parking fee for electric vehicles?

And what about investment in roads?

The National Travel Attitudes Study also showed that the number willing to switch from driving to cycling is actually reducing as safety fears rise.

Potential cyclists fear proximity to heavy vehicles and potholes.

So if we are serious about promoting cycling, will we not have to spend more on our roads to repair and segregate them better?

We have a lot of important choices to make.

Make sure that your representatives know how you feel, and most importantly make sure the choice they make is not simply to do nothing.