Environment and transport, where does the priority lie?
In My Opinion
Trevor Hammond, MP GSD Opposition
Little in the past eighteen months can serve better to highlight the total confusion between the Government’s Environment and Transport policies than the issuing on the same day of two press releases, the one suggesting that it will shortly be announcing the means by which it will be discouraging the ownership of private vehicles, the other the announcement of a huge multi story car park at Grand Parade, right next to the Alameda Botanic Gardens.
It is worth examining this oxymoron in rather more detail.
On Transport and car ownership Government say it:
“will be shortly making clear its long-term views and commitments known regarding the sale of all new diesel and petrol cars in the future. It will lay out very clearly the aims and objectives that will commit Government and future Parliaments’ to an environmental policy which will cut across the political divide, simply because our environment has to be far more important to our long-term wellbeing…”
Very laudable. I assume by future Parliaments they mean future Governments and if this is so, we must hope that they are prepared to consult prior to legislating so that a Bill can be brought to Parliament which enjoys universal support, because there are many measures that could be introduced to curb vehicle ownership but I believe any measures must be both reasonable and fair. If the goal is to improve our air quality, something that is very much needed as we continue to suffer from some of the worst air quality in Europe, then that objective and how to achieve it needs to be kept at the forefront of thinking. This must not become an exercise in taxation of motorists for the sake of it. If taxation is to be considered, then it must be based on the emissions a vehicle puts out.
Lorries and buses are major pollutants, probably the worst. How will these be tackled? I look forward to hearing Government’s plans. The new bus fleet, for all its failings have new low emission engines, a great positive. Trouble is, the Government sold the old buses to a local private bus company for a measly £15,000 which means these more polluting vehicles remain on our streets to the detriment of our air quality, a pity Government did not consider this when making the sale.
When I speak of fairness it is because I have heard many ideas that need to be carefully considered and balanced. It has been said that vehicles with larger engines should be taxed highly, but as I’ve already mentioned, if the objective is to reduce emissions then any taxation, whether on purchase or annual should be based on those emissions. A small diesel engine might be worse than a large petrol engine, an old engine is likely to put out more emissions than a new. When talking of emissions, and digressing for a moment, Government has opted not to place particle filters in the new power station, not only reneging on its commitment to use the best possible environmental technology on that project which sits so close to so many homes, but ensuring that if those generators need to run on diesel, and they may, it will be to the detriment of our air quality and a missed opportunity.
Back to fairness; another measure I’ve heard advocated is the taxation of multiple vehicles registered to the same home.
While it might be fair to tax a wealthy individual with many cars living alone in a large house, it would not be fair to apply the same rule where families are forced to live in the same home for financial reasons and are being penalised for each owning a vehicle to go about their daily business. The nuances, cause and effect of measures needs to be carefully examined at every stage.
We now come to the announcement of a huge car park construction in Grand Parade. You might say we need more parking in this area, and we might; but does it not fly in the face of the policy on discouraging vehicle ownership announced on the same day? Does this not simply encourage vehicle ownership?
It must be pointed out that there is no mandate for this car park, it wasn’t in the GSLP/Liberal manifesto and while the Government seeks new and imaginative ways to spend your money without asking you if you want this, I’d remind them that they still have to build five schools, provide hot school lunches, build two new affordable housing estates, a fire station, theatre and much more that was promised at the last election.
What this Government seeks is to be all things to all men and women. If the Environment is your priority, they tell you what you want to hear, if you have concerns about parking, they do likewise. Trouble is in doing so they show no leadership or direction, in fact their policies become opposing and contradictory.