Coronavirus recovery gives Leeds chance to make motorway city greener - Labour MP Alex Sobel

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In the 1970s Leeds was to become the ‘Motorway City’ and the car has since reigned supreme.

The coronavirus recovery presents a major opportunity to rebuild a greener, cleaner future. But there are major dangers and pitfalls to overcome.

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The most popular measure was: “We recommend that extensive positive action is taken to make the use of private cars a last resort for transportation.”

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Labour MP Alex Sobel represents Leeds North West. Picture: Tony JohnsonLabour MP Alex Sobel represents Leeds North West. Picture: Tony Johnson
Labour MP Alex Sobel represents Leeds North West. Picture: Tony Johnson

And what a step change that would be for a city that can only be reliably navigated with the use of a car.

Our de-regulated bus service is too expensive and unreliable, our cycle infrastructure is growing but still insufficient, pedestrians still feel inferior, and it is well known that we are the largest city in Europe without a mass transit system.

It is, therefore, vital that this conversation is not about ‘having a go’ at the driver.

We must accept that car travel is the inevitable consequence of decades long failure to address mobility.

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It must be as easy as possible for everyone to be able to jump on public transport, or on their bike, and breeze into work. Not out of a sense of duty or climate guilt but because it is easier, faster and cheaper.

None of the measures to transform our city are free and I will be doing all I can in Westminster to push the Government for the funding promised in the Tory manifesto. But local finance is key.

The Clean Air Zone is a measure to incentivise cleaner vehicles whilst raising some of the funds necessary to put in place key infrastructure. It will only charge heavy vehicles and taxis, but the technology can later include other vehicles.

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The citizens jury felt that a key measure was to introduce a congestion charge to Leeds.

London has shown if you have alternative transport options that a congestion charge can have a key impact on air quality.

In Nottingham, the council introduced a City Centre Car Parking Levy which reduced business commuting and provided funds which helped build the tram.

A Congestion Charge will help provide funds needed for alternatives and, alongside other measures like bus franchising, could transform our transport options and air quality.

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The Clean Air Zone will provide the infrastructure to make this much needed radical change a reality.

Lockdown has brought change of its own. The council, as the first line of defence, has seen its financial health plummet.

As people go back to work, will we have a major issue of trust in the safety of our public transport?

Home working has made our cities air quality alpine-fresh. This noticeable change is proof of the importance of a Clean Air Zone for when normality resumes, but will our recent low NO2 readings allow our Government, who have done nothing but frustrate the process so far, another easy excuse to delay again?

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I urge every Leeds citizen reading this to join with me and demand better for ourselves and our children.

Covid-19 will bring change, we must make sure it is for the better.

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Laura Collins, editor