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Orthopaedic surgeon Scarlett McNally tells the conference the cost to ourselves and society in our older years if we don’t adopt a more active lifestyle.

Taking the pulse of the Active Travel movement

Are we making progress towards a world more oriented towards Active Travel choices and away from the private car? Anna Sabin took herself off (by train) to the Sustainable Transport and Active Travel Summit in Eastbourne to find out.

We’re not supposed to jump in the car for every journey any more. We should be walking to school, cycling to the shops, e-biking to work, hopping on the bus to get out into the countryside, taking the train from town to town and just renting a car when we really need one. It would be better for the planet, better for health, more affordable and just what the Government says we should do.

But instead, cars have got bigger and are parking on pavements, buses have got slower and less reliable, cycle routes are promised but not delivered and walking makes you a second class citizen who has to cross roads by dashing-or-dying, or by pressing beg buttons and waiting for lights. What would it take to tip the balance to travel under your own steam feeling easy, accompanied by birdsong, fellow travellers and very few careful, slow moving, cars?

Eastbourne Eco Action Network put on a Sustainable Transport and Active Travel Summit in the Eastbourne Welcome Building last week to ask that very question.  Two vast rooms full of speakers, activists and professionals, who have been working the Active Travel pump for years and know we really need to get on with it, spoke, listened, networked and were inspired or depressed by turns. Most expressed extreme frustration that so little progress has been made for so long.

Scarlett McNally, orthopaedic surgeon, told us that moving about under our own steam was a magic cure, better for a long healthy life than any pill, and that we simply can’t afford all the years of care for ill health that sedentary car-dependent or car-constrained lifestyles will dump on us if we don’t change our ways.

Norman Baker, of the Campaign for Better Transport, electrified us all with a clear sighted understanding of our current commercial, under regulated, destructive spiral of cars getting bigger and more dangerous – electric or not – and there still being ESCC plans to widen roads to accommodate them. He also warned that spending a large proportion of the £41m of Government Bus Service Improvement Plan money on the fashionable, but inevitably loss-making, Demand Responsive Transport buses would end in 2026 with no change in travel habits to show for it. What we really need is bus only routes which could be there for ever without subsidy.

Improved bus services are part of the answer: a poster at the conference.

Buses are the future

Joel Mitchell, managing director of Stagecoach Bus, South East, told us he drove in for the Summit but would rather have come by public transport if only such a route had existed. His buses are going slower than ever, passenger numbers are still 10% lower than pre Covid but, in spite of current failures, he knows buses are the future. He just needs roads made better for buses so more passengers use them so he can put on more services to bring more passengers…

Tom Druitt of Brighton’s Big Lemon bus company talked back-to-the-future about buses as a public service stitched into the fabric of society with the profitable services subsidising the loss-making ones to make the whole system viable. Lovely public spirited enthusiasm.

Joanna Yarrow from Human Nature told us about a 680-home development being built in Lewes with great connectivity for all its residents but hardly any cars or parking. Hastings, by contrast, has greenfield housing developments going up in the north and west of the Borough which are designed and advertised entirely for the car driver. Don’t be young or old or unable to afford a second car there – you’ll be marooned unless someone gives you a lift or you have a tolerance for walking miles alongside traffic.

ESCC’s Jon Wheeler demonstrates his mastery of the flowchart.

Non inspiring speakers

There were many more inspiring speakers plus two very different ones. Jon Wheeler, from East Sussex County Council Infrastructure, Planning and Place, demonstrated to us his mastery of the concept flowchart to such a degree that it seemed very much that he’d only ever have time for the charts, never real streets.

The other anomaly was Rupert Clubb, ESCC’s director of Communities, Economy and Transport, interviewed by the tall and smiling Dougal Fleming from the University of Brighton, who introduced him as the main man who knows everything transport. And no wonder – he and his team have worked for five years writing the glorious Transport for the South East Strategic Investment Plan.

His head is full of Road Investment Strategies, the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail and the Future of Freight with an investment requirement of £1.5bn per year for 27 years to 2050 – which is all very well but has utterly pushed out his capacity to enable the good people of Eastbourne to cycle safely along their sea front.

So much to talk about! But Mr Clubb wasn’t with us for long. He arrived, was interviewed for 15 minutes and left…chased across the car park to his Land Rover by a professional DfT cycle path designer who wanted a word, but didn’t get one.

This was the second time I have seen our County’s director of Communities, Economy and Transport at odds with the room he was speaking to. The first time was at his own Annual Conference of Transport for the South East last month, where he complained from the stage about road congestion, commended his department’s plans to widen road pinch points, extolled the virtues of faster trains and Dynamic Demand Responsive Transport and even suggested lives in the South East would be improved if a road tunnel were dug under the Solent.

‘Doughnuts of Despair’

His audience listened mutely and came alive only when a council leader from Surrey started talking instead about Placemaking, 15-Minute Neighbourhoods, safe walks to school, cycle lanes, frequent buses, connected trains and suburbs – ‘Doughnuts of Despair’, he called them – being made into liveable hubs of their own with no everyday need for a car.

These two events have told me that making roads better for cars is not what people want. They want affordable efficient ways to get about and nice sociable leafy places to live. Our transport planners need to flip their planning on its head – start with the super local, cheaply and systematically, as fast as possible, to make people’s lives work in tune with the needs of the climate and our need to be active and sociable right where we live.

East Sussex Transport Authority is opening its Local Transport Plan 4, LTP4, consultation on 27 November. If you know what it would take to entice you to make your journeys active rather than car-driven, respond to it and tell them.


Link to LPT4 consultation.


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Posted 10:17 Friday, Nov 24, 2023 In: Transport

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