Leicester Transport Plan Consultation

Leicester Traffic
Leicester Traffic

Leicester City Council is consulting on its Transport Plan, so I sat down earlier and submitted some comments. It would be good to see what other people and groups are submitting to the consultation, and to get a sense of what kind of discussion is happening?

This whole plan is not ambitious enough. It is piecemeal and won’t deal with the major problems that will challenge people who are resident in the city in the future. It is dependent on partial and incremental improvements, and doesn’t demonstrate what can be gained overall in terms of social justice, sustainability or wellbeing. The document presents no evidence of consultation with the public, only giving the views of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor. Where is the evidence of a citizen’s jury or other forms of public engagement? Likewise, it does not  contextualise resident’s transport needs in experience, and presents information in technical and administrative terms only. The improvements that are suggested are marginal and limited, the timescale for implementation is protracted, and the demonstration of independent thinking is weak.

The essential problem is that this plan proposes to work within the existing framework of provision, rather than offering a vision of a new framework. The policy overview does not propose going to central government to negotiate additional powers, or working collaboratively with other authorities to establish consistent, needs driven action. For example, Figure 2 – Key Priorities for Strategic Documents is a half-completed amalgam of policy priorities. Why is the Rail Station improvement not aligned with the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy? Why are the priorities of DHSC and PHE only indicated in two of the strategy boxes? Work should have been done to ensure that each strategy area is accounted for by each model of improvement and development.

For example, the City Centre policy priorities only indicate that DfT and Midlands Connect have been considered, despite the clear evidence that the City Centre is increasingly used as a space for public wellbeing, health, eduction, business interaction, and so on. This indicates that the revised policy statement needs to indicate that there are developed and extended plans that bridge these gaps. On your own account, this document can be read as a partial and incomplete policy approach, and these gaps urgently need addressing.

None of these proposals go far enough or fast enough, and are fundamentally flawed by a number of working assumptions. There is an indication that consultation on climate change defined the priorities of Aim 4 – the Climate Emergency strategy, but this is not expanded or illustrated with examples of how that priority was determined, and what the alternatives are. The suggestion is made that this involves ‘investing in infrastructure,’ but there is little indication of what this will involve and at what scale it will need to be applied. The phrasing suggests ‘encouragement’ of behavioural change without defining what form this will take, or to what extent change may have to be ‘enforced’. Simply stating that there will have to be a ‘huge investment’ in electric vehicles is not specific enough. Where are the targets and milestones that need to be met in order to achieve the strategy?

As a set of actions, much of these proposals will happen over time anyway, as investment decisions are made. The question is, how does this plan drive additional change over and above the baseline of natural change that will occur anyway? This is why the proposals are playing it safe. There is no menu of change vectors that indicate what would happen if we just rely on natural market and infrastructure churn, or what would happen if more defined ambitious indicators of change were pushed at different levels and different rates. These proposals to address climate emergency are not adequate, they don’t give a sense of the pressing need, and they don’t confront the inevitable scale of the problem. Incrementalism will not address the climate emergency, bolder action is required. A more convincing argument needs to be put before the public so that they can deliberate on these changes, and start planning for the major changes that will be necessary to address the climate emergency.

Similarly, the proposals to support local growth are very weak. The number of new homes is a low estimate of what will be required, and the concentration of provision on the outskirts of the urban area will compound the problem. Significant attention needs to be paid to the quality of provision in the centre of the city, both for housing and for economic development. A clear strategy to stifle road capacity is needed, but will challenge the expectations of many who see motorised mobility as the only way to conduct business. The provision of flexible business hubs, teleconferencing and remote working, as experienced through the Covid-19 pandemic, have indicated that economic change can happen quickly. The proposals for enabling growth presented here are following and not leading change.

Health and wellbeing likewise needs a radical change in expectation. Time and again, the car lobby wins resources that other residents can only dream of. A clear prioritisation of the voice and needs of pedestrians and cyclists is essential. Too often, non-vehicle travellers are dismissed and their concerns de-legitimated. In order to address wellbeing and health, the decision-making process has to prioritise the voices and expectations of those who are most vulnerable or most at risk. Air pollution is a clear risk to people’s wellbeing and health, but so is noise pollution, speeding, congestion, safety. To improve perceptions of accessibility and choice, a piecemeal and incremental approach won’t do.

A comprehensive strategy for public transport can only be achieved if ownership and control is given to the relevant local authorities. The private provision of public transport services needs to end, and fully integrated municipal services needs to be re-established with the explicit aim of addressing these priorities. Buses are expensive, uncomfortable, infrequent and difficult to use in Leicester. Change to the public transport system can only be delivered through a democratically accountable strategic transport authority that is designed to meet the integrated needs of residents of the city. Too much attention is paid to funnelling commuters in and out of the city, and not enough provision is made for high-quality transport for those resident within the city.

The Transport Objectives a weak and piecemeal. The proposals indicated here will not achieve the objectives set out at the scale and the pace needed. Encouraging people to make responsible decisions is a recipe for more of the same. Significant behavioural change will only come about with significant infrastructure change. Incentive-based models will quickly be gamed or will fail to gain popular consent. Changes in policy and provision must be driven by the needs of those who are the least able to be heard or accounted for in the political process. Where is the indication of how these plans will affect and change children’s expectations of transport provision?

Most of the objectives and changes outlined in this section are simply competent management provisions, and we should be ashamed that these have not been in place over previous decades. An enhanced partnership scheme to facilitate the Leicester Bus Services Plan will be inadequate. More time will be spent negotiating and subsidising changes, rather than implementing changes and expanding services. The local authority needs direct control over the provision of services and infrastructure to ensure these basic changes are implemented. More than this, however, is the need for radical change in the provision of transport services, which won’t be achieved in the proposed partnership model. We don’t have the time or the resources to hang around building consensus with a multiplicity of commercial operators who are intent on maintaining their market position rather than making provision for the good of the entire residents of the city. It would be helpful if policy proposals like this did not try to ‘polish’ perceptions of the status of Leicester’s infrastructure.

Labelling the rail services that service the city as ‘good’ is a misjudgement. Our rail services are expensive, irregular, and do not make journeys other than a few cities a feasible alternative. The CrossCountry service to Birmingham, for example, is disgraceful. The lack of a service to Coventry should be shameful. The cost of getting to London is appalling. Leicester is not well-connected. The decision not to electrify the Midlands Mainline beyond Market Harborough is an indication of how devalued Leicester is in transport priority. This document and policies should be realistic and challenging, instead they are afraid to ‘rattle the cage’ and make the case for more radical change.

For example, simply investigating the potential for a work-based parking levy is inadequate. Either there is a strong case for this, or there isn’t? Likewise, the ‘hub-and-spoke’ model must be abandoned. It is impossible to travel across Leicester, instead passengers have to change in the centre. This reduces the potential for integrated services and keeps busses locked in the centre when they could be routed in many other directions using the arterial routes and bypasses. This is a major structural failing in provision and thinking.

The narrow and technocratic formulation of this document suggests that there is much more work to be done. It should be revised every six month after wide public consultation and deliberation. The proponents of the plan should be widened. Two civic leaders is not enough, and it indicates that these leaders have a lack of ambition because they are exclusively identified with the proposals. The discussion needs to be opened more widely and inclusively. This is a poor document that will not meet the needs of the residents of Leicester now or in the future.

The focus on Connected Corridors and Hubs is inadequate. The only solution to ensuring there is sufficient infrastructure at scale is to put in a tram network. A comment reported in the media attributed to the Mayor suggested that Leicester is not the kind of city that would suit a tram, despite the fact that Leicester had an integrated tram network until the 1960s. Other similar-sized cities across Europe have implemented comprehensive tram systems and are able to demonstrate that their public transport meets climate emergency, social justice and economic development needs. All the rest of this plan is simply tinkering if it does not have the ambition to transform the public transport infrastructure with a system that can be managed and controlled at scale.

Measures to encourage behaviour change will not work by themselves. People are aware of the need to change, but they still anticipate the use of cars and private vehicles. The approach for Leicester has to be more radical and ambitious. It isn’t possible to argue for a long-term approach any more, as the climate emergency should necessitate a sense of urgency. It isn’t difficult to find a partner city that has already made these changes, and to model a Leicester response based on their lessons. None of this work is new. It is well established in urban planning and transport management thinking.

Tinkering with coordination and encouragement of behaviour change will not bring about the structural solutions that are required. Any system that is integrated must be able to get people across the city, and not just into the city centre. It should be possible to get from Fosse Park to Syston, or Oadby to Blaby with ease. The lack of ambition in these proposals suggests that Leicester will remain a problematic place to move around without a car. The hub-and-spoke model must be abandoned, as this will not force the provision of integrated services.

In order to address the imbalance of power between pedestrians and cyclists, and vehicle drivers, Leicester should institute a comprehensive speed-limit restriction for the entire urban area, with a cap of 20mph on main roads, and 10mph on residential roads. The standard of driving in Leicester is poor. The level of speeding is high. The voice of the pedestrian who raises their concerns is usually dismissed or ignored. All road crossing points should have pedestrian priority and should be limited to 10mph. Additional cycle lanes are welcome, but the existing roads should be safe. The quality of the guttering is poor in many places, making it difficult to safely cycle on standard roads.

Absent from the policy is noise pollution, either general traffic noise, or that which is caused deliberately. Vehicle noise pollution is a form of anti-social behaviour and can be dealt with now by proper policing that need no new powers. Similarly, poor driving standards, speeding, unlicensed vehicles, all add the climate of ‘terror’ that pedestrians and cyclists face when travelling about the city generally. These observations and experiences are too often dismissed. This policy should include ways to articulate the concerns and experiences of those who would like to make changes to their transport use, but who get drowned out by the car lobby with its culture of impunity and social status. There is nothing in this policy that indicates what will be implemented to bring about the cultural change that will be necessary to bring about responsible vehicle use.

Why are electric scooters illegal in Leicester? The police regularly stop and question people about their use, but they consistently ignore anti-social vehicle behaviour. It was a mistake to separate traffic wardens from police services, and these need to be reintegrated to that police officers can deal with pavement parking, uninsured vehicles, speeding and anti-social behaviour by drivers.

A comprehensive approach to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods needs to be developed, with the default starting point that every residential area is an LTN, with an opt-out for areas that don’t wish to follow this model. The overall traffic limit for the Leicester Urban Area should be 20mph for main roads and 10mph for residential roads and crossing points. Priority for children’s play, communal and shared spaces, increased tree provision, and other associated communal spaces must be the norm, and be implemented in every residential neighbourhood. Semi-formal crossing points need to be implemented. They are standard in Europe, but not in the UK.

Vehicle capacity can be managed down by increasing and varying the use of parking bays that are perpendicular rather than parallel. There are many well established practices in similar European cities that can be used, they don’t need to be deliberated endlessly. There is no point in supporting Low Traffic Neighbourhoods is supermarkets and out-of-town shopping centres continue to avoid parking levies and fees. The in balance between neighbourhood shopping and car-based shopping needs to be compensated so that local business that people want to use can get established and not be swamped by a supermarket that doesn’t charge for parking.

The bus services in Leicester need to be brought back into public ownership in order to provide a strategic and consistent level of investment. All the discussion in the policy proposals of partnerships and consultation will not achieve anything, unless there is clear democratic accountability and support to provide services that are comprehensive, cheap and efficient. We do not have the time to tinker at the edges, we need to change the transport system radically and comprehensively.

A social market for shared vehicle access could be a good opportunity for Leicester to address the cultural mindset of car ownership and status. This plan should demonstrate how a network of cooperative and mutual providers of shared vehicle services can be developed for residents of the city. Many people have cars and don’t use them frequently enough to justify the expense, but hire cars are perceived as expensive and focussed largely on business services. Making a variety of services available that meet different utility needs and expectations can be a role for cooperatives and mutual interest businesses. If these services are regulated locally, and there is a commitment for any profits to be retained locally, then transport access of this kind could boost the local social economy.

Parking management in Leicester is dysfunctional. The Leicester City Council parking services website is a nightmare to navigate. It is unclear what services are available, and for what periods. The parking system is a way of the authority to raise revenue rather than serve the needs of residents. The parking wardens look unkempt and unhealthy and are a disgrace to the council in their attire and manner. They reach for ‘easy pickings’ on side streets, while ignoring repeated poor-behaviour on main roads. The parking service should be reintegrated with the police, because the trust and authority that they should have has been undermined by the perception that they are focussed on raising revenue rather than dealing with antisocial behaviour or vehicle crime.

The Workplace Parking Levy should be applied comprehensively to all parking, including supermarkets and retail outlets. In addition, the Leicester Urban Area should be a congestion zone, with a charge for people driving into the area, and for vehicles that don’t meet environmental standards within the area. The revenue raised from the congestion charges should be used to implement the tram and Greenlines bus network. Funding from the work-based levy and a congestion charge should be hypothecated for the development and investment of sustainable social transport provision.

Forget behavioural models of change, they do not work. Nudging people is amoral. Use a civic-empowerment model instead. Unless the framework of services and infrastructure is significantly changed, no end of ‘nudges’ will bring about the changes needed for to meet the climate crisis. Behavioural science is pseudo-science, and should be kept at arms length from public policy development. Establish citizens juries, support discussion through community media, and use a fair voting model for elections, and better decisions will result.

If residents do not feel that they own the policies, because they have defined them, then they will not support them. Technocratic solutions will not work, now will proposals that are discussed on a narrow political party basis. Change will be assented to when there is widespread engagement and learning. We do not have the local media provision to support this engagement, so we need to invest in independent community and civic media to support deliberation and consideration of these essential changes.

The local authorities responsible for this provision need the autonomy and independence to get on with the job, and should be free from the control of central government. None of this is rocket-science, but these changes are made more difficult by intransigent expectations of governmental control, and a lack of confidence that places like Leicester can undertake ambitious programmes of transformation.

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