Transport plans approved despite 'lack of' climate change measures
- Credit: Danielle Booden
Blueprints for the future of travel in Norfolk have finally been agreed after being pulled at the 11th-hour earlier in the year and despite fears they don't go far enough with climate action plans.
The Norfolk Local Transport Plan (LTP) sets out County Hall's vision for improving highways, encouraging walking, cycling, bus and rail use and delivering major projects like the Norwich Western Link and Long Stratton Bypass.
The plan had been due to be approved by Norfolk County Council in September, but the government's decarbonisation plan, published in July, meant it was withdrawn.
Despite the pause, opposition councillors at a meeting of Norfolk County Council on Monday said the plans failed to demonstrate how carbon emissions would be reduced and had not significantly changed from their previous outing.
Ahead of the meeting councillors and officers admitted the plans were fundamentally the same as before it was withdrawn, with only a few changes.
Those changes include acknowledging the government's decarbonisation plan and the council's recently approved electric vehicle strategy.
Setting out the vision, Martin Wilby, cabinet member for Transport, said it was a key document that will help the council reach its target of going carbon neutral by 2030 by reducing the need for people to travel by making sure that jobs and houses are in “easy reach”.
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Lib Dem Steffan Aquarone said there had been a public awakening to the climate crisis and the need for investment in public transport since the LTP was first unveiled that was not met.
He said: “Bus services are vital for our communities and a lifeline for many many of our most vulnerable residents.
“They shouldn’t just be for people who want to go to Norwich.
“In cities across the country public transport is the preferred option but the continuous cutting of routes and lack of investment has made it unviable for people in Norfolk.”
Green councillor, Jamie Osborn, criticised the lack of an implementation plan for reducing carbon emissions, which Mr Wilby said was coming next year.
Mr Osborn said previous infrastructure projects, like the Northern Distributor Road (NDR), had pushed up emissions and there was no evidence this would not do the same.
Mr Wilby also insisted the plans had been checked for legal compliance and the council had “met all of the objections to develop the plan” but this was disputed by Mr Osborn who said the council was “on shaky legal ground” over its carbon assessments.
Deputy council leader Graham Plant defended the plans, saying they set out an “ambitious and forward-looking strategy” and set out carbon reductions plans in line with targets through things like moving to electric vehicles.
The move towards electric vehicles as means of reducing CO2 was criticised by Green councillor Ben Price, who said was "not a magic bullet", with electric vehicle production and maintenance still releasing emissions.
He added: “We need to move over to a sustainable model now before the county needs to adopt boats rather than cars to get around it.”
Tory councillor, Brian Long, said there was a “war against the motorcar” particularly from Norwich councillors, who think everyone can rely on regular buses.
“If there was a bus running past my house every 10 minutes to where I wanted to go to I would be using that bus. I don’t.”
He was greeted with laughs from opposition councillors, with one responding “exactly”.
Mr Long added that they needed to balance transport planning so people who need to use cars can and that it was disappointing that train stations had been shut in the past but they had to “live with that decision”.
The LTP was approved 44 votes for, 21 against and 2 abstentions.
Ahead of the meeting, Norwich solicitor David Pett, from the Stop The Wensum Link campaign group, wrote to the council saying he did not believe they have "any intention of delivering a legally compliant LTP".
"Quantified reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is a major factor that needs to be considered not at the implementation stage, but rather at the time the high-level policy is formulated.
"The Roads Minister has recently said that local authority transport plans will need to set out 'how quantifiable carbon reductions will be achieved' and that future central funding will be 'dependent on those plans being robust, ambitious and achievable’."