A lot of hot air about low emissions

When you don’t get your own way, what better idea than to blame the people you hate?

That’s been the game of Lib Dem Councillor Jo Hayes over the last few days. She’s smarting over the defeat of her Clean Air motion during the last full Colchester Borough Council meeting and it has made her bitter.

It’s a slightly tricky story to unpick, so let’s start with the result.

Seventeen councillors voted for Cllr Hayes’ motion. Twenty-one voted against. The Conservative Group, including me, voted against it. As indeed did some Cllr Hayes’ Lib Dem colleagues, including Cllr Martin Goss and Cllr Barrie Cook, while others such as Cllr Dominic Graham abstained.

In other words, Cllr Hayes’ motion failed because she did not have the backing of her own party.

Rather than accept the result graciously, Cllr Hayes decided to lance the boil of her disappointment by painting the vote as some sort of evil Tory conspiracy. 

Not a word about her colleagues in whose hands the fate of her motion lay. Oh no. This is about morally bankrupt Tories who want to stunt children’s lungs.

It’s a theme she warmed to in a letter to the local newspaper, The Gazette.

Conservative councillors who voted down my motion at full Council last week to implement a Low Emissions Zone have failed in their duty to Colchester’s people less fortunate than themselves.

Clever, eh? Set aside the awful sentence structure for a moment and feast your eyes on that last bit. “Colchester’s people less fortunate than themselves.”

Yep, this is a Oxford- and Yale-educated junior barrister whipping up the old Tory class stereotype to win people to her cause.

Sweet.

But by her own logic, quite a swathe of her own colleagues have ‘failed in their duty’.

Oh. Not so sweet.

The problem is, to use a phrase she is fond of, while Cllr Hayes may be entitled to her own opinion, she is not entitled to her own facts. So when various people on Twitter pointed out that her motion was effectively destroyed by her own colleagues, she got rather annoyed. Before you read on, remember this is a woman who argued that I was ‘not a fit person’ to serve on the Governance Committee because of a marginally offensive tweet sent in the heat of the moment.

Anyway, that’s quite enough of Cllr Hayes’ rather unpleasant tweets for the time being. It’s time to look at the motion that she accuses me of ‘merrily voting down’.

I won’t reproduce it in full because it’s a 500+ word monster, with over half of it devoted to condemning the Government for its failures. In other words, a motion with lots of party political throat-clearing before it gets to the nub of the matter – the stuff that directly affects Colchester. This is it:

C. This Council therefore, as the authority responsible for the Borough’s Local Air Quality Action Plan, in order to encourage transition to zero or ultra low emission forms of transport in Colchester’s Air Quality Management Areas:

(1) Calls on Essex County Council as the authority responsible for highways and for public health across Essex to assist by phasing in one or more Low Emission Zones in appropriate streets in Colchester’s Air Quality Management Areas (including but not limited to the High Street and Brook Street), and monitoring and regulating them, as in comparable schemes elsewhere, by number plate recognition technology to identify the vehicle type and, by means of either a road pricing system on the polluter pays principle or, if so advised, a system of fines, to discourage persons driving polluting vehicles, whether cars, vans, trucks, buses or coaches, from entering those streets, with appropriate exemptions for special cases such as blue badge holders or persons requiring local access.

(2) Declares its support for all those, whether public authorities or private sector individuals or organisations, who will install more electric vehicle charging points across the Borough, whether in new residential or commercial developments, offstreet car parks or on-street bays, so as to help create the necessary infrastructure for the transition to zero emission transport.

It’s a classic Lib Dem masterpiece. Take an issue you can’t solve yourself, shift responsibility onto the shoulders of the Tory-run County Council, and then ‘call’ on them to take action.

If the motion passes, you can then wave the finger at the evil Tories in County Hall.

It’s just a shame for Cllr Hayes that her colleagues made sure it didn’t.

But since she’s so upset about it all, I might as well set out the case for opposing  her motion.

Firstly, I’m quite happy to support anyone who wants to install more electric vehicle charging points. This part of the motion is about giving people incentives to switch to cleaner technology, and I applaud that.

Where I have the problem – and where most of the Council had a problem – is over the proposal to create Low Emissions Zones.

By imposing charges to enter Colchester town centre, you’re adding yet another barrier to people using local businesses and shops. It’s about the stick rather than the carrot, and it would be detrimental to a section of our economy that’s struggling. Besides, research shows that Low Emissions Zones – at best – offer only marginal benefits to air quality at an enormous cost.

Not that Cllr Hayes thinks about it in terms of the businesses that may be struggling in her ward. For her it’s all about the emotive issue of children’s stunted lungs.

Again, it’s all the evil Tories’ fault.

But the reality is, there are many things the County and Borough Council could work together on first if we really do want to bring down vehicle emissions. Things like:

  • Investing much, much more in cycling and safe cycle routes
  • Much better design of new housing developments
  • Building schools in areas where cycling to school is made possible
  • Better road infrastructure to get traffic moving, not idling
  • Planting more trees
  • Road surface treatments and dust suppressants
  • Better traffic management and signalling
  • Free residents’ parking for low emissions vehicles
  • Investment in car sharing schemes.
  • More cycle to work schemes
  • Real time air pollution forecasts made available to the public.

Indeed, there are lots more things that can be done before you go down the route of penalising town centre businesses with an ideologically driven congestion charge based on emissions.

But that wouldn’t fit the baby-eating Tory stereotype, would it?

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