The growing climate emergency has always been at the front of our minds and it remains ever more so today.
Recent floods in Germany, Turkey, Italy and China and wildfires raging in Europe surely focus our attention to this issue.
It appears that UK government thinking has now moved from pandemic to climate change and while this in itself is certainly an overdue step in the right direction, most of us have known that climate change has always been the omnipresent threat, hidden while the country grapples with the pandemic.
We in the Labour Party remain steadfast in our determination to promote active, healthy communities across our city, as well as tackling climate change.
When in administration, we declared a climate emergency, began development of the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP), the Local Transport Plan, delivered the next phase of Valley Gardens, rolled out electric vehicle (EV) charging points, signed up to the Road Safety Charter, set up the city’s first ever climate assembly, closed Madeira Drive to cars and called for a car-free city centre.
More recently, in opposition, we secured funds to explore a 20mph city, an EV car club and 20-minute neighbourhoods.
I would like to reassure the residents of our city that the Brighton and Hove Labour group carefully considered all the Active Travel Fund schemes alongside listening to the residents, businesses and other stakeholders of our city before coming to the decision to remove the temporary Old Shoreham Road cycle lane – and that it in no way represents any lessening of our commitment to a carbon-neutral future.
On the contrary, we are keen to ensure there is more active travel infrastructure built around the city but we have always been clear that we must take residents with us on this urgent journey and their opinions must be respected.
The government’s Active Travel Fund imposed a punishing timetable on a council already under enormous pressure. This helps to explain many of the problems that have arisen since with respect to delivery.
Pandemic emergency or not, rushed designs will be weaker and may ultimately fail in time if they do not secure broad public support – and we have been very open about wanting to ensure our residents were better consulted when we came to tranche 2 and beyond.
In addition, the recent City Climate Assembly delivered 10 key recommendations, including a demand that Brighton and Hove City Council should actively consult and engage with the community.
It was the Labour group therefore that called for a pause in the roll-out of the active travel measures and for a meaningful consultation with our city’s residents and businesses.
To plough ahead without the support of our residents would be irresponsible, as it is they who will need to make significant lifestyle changes in order for us to become a carbon-neutral city within the decade.
To make those changes, we need to bring them with us , not leave them behind.
The recent consultation with the city was the true test of local opinion and, despite its limitations, Labour feels that residents made their feelings overwhelmingly clear in wanting the Old Shoreham Road cycle lane to be removed.
It is important to be able to say “stop” when necessary and make the right decision in the face of sometimes powerful pressure.
Councils need to be honest enough to understand when something has seemed a good idea on paper but is simply not working and not used.
To say all cycle lanes are good is as pointless as saying all cycle lanes are bad – some work, some do not.
We supported the extension of the schemes at Preston Park, Western Road and on the A259 seafront road, as it is clear that there is demand there, and that in the long run it will greatly improve the road and pavement space for all users. However, we do not see the same rationale for the extension of the Old Shoreham Road cycle lane.
To become a carbon-neutral city, we must all work together to respond in meaningful ways that engage and carry our communities.
This is the challenge facing not just Brighton and Hove but every city at this crucial moment in time.
Fundamental to this is trust. Good governance is built on a deep and abiding relationship of trust between our leaders and our residents. To be candid, trust is preserved by how we are seen to fix and not hide or deny problems.
I believe we have come to this position in the best interests of all in the city, in seeking to understand the successes and failures of all the temporary schemes so that we can plan effectively for more and better cycle lanes in the future.
Labour remains absolutely committed to further active travel measures, to carbon neutrality and to a car-free city centre but we must ensure that schemes work and that we listen to our communities.
It is now time to unite and move on.
Councillor Gary Wilkinson speaks for the Labour opposition on the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee on Brighton and Hove City Council.