Two speeches in Parliament on the impact of cars vs cycles show how deeply out of touch with common sense some of the people who sit in Parliament really are. We need decision makers who are willing to pay attention to facts, rather than the fiction rattling around in their own heads. That both of these speeches are from Conservatives may be a coincidence. On 21st February in the House of Lords there was a debate on Air Pollution and one of those who rose to his feet was Norman Tebbit:
“My Lords, did my noble friend hear the answers given by our noble friend Lord Ahmad concerning more cycling? Is he aware that sometimes it can take more than an hour to drive from Parliament Square to the Tower of London? That has been caused by the barricades that have been put up to assist cyclists, who also get in the way on the main carriageways….a principal cause of the excess nitrogen dioxide in the air of Westminster and along the Embankment is those wretched barricades that were put up by the former mayor.”
A fortnight later on 6th March a debate on the related subject of Vehicle Technology took place in the House of Commons and one of those who spoke was Sir Greg Knight who is the Conservative MP for East Yorkshire:
“Reference has been made to air quality. Do Ministers know when they are likely to publish the air quality plan? Is there not a case—I say this with respect—for making local authorities take into account the congestion effects of their crusade to remove road space in favour of wider pavements and more cycle lanes? Someone said to me the other day that there are fewer cars entering central London but that pollution is going up. Well, obviously it is going up because pavements have got wider and road space is being turned over to cycle lanes. The Mayor of London cannot have it both ways. If he wishes to reduce air pollution, he and others need to take care when they are seeking to remove highway lanes.”
It seems as though the speculation and personal choices of people like Tebbit and Knight are seen as relevant in our place of Government. Their nonsensical views which are of course something they are entitled to hold may be nowhere near as extreme as some of the ideas that we have heard from Donald Trump but surely the place where are laws are made should not be a place where whimsy is encouraged?
In June NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) is due to publish guidance on actions that can be taken to reduce air pollution. Their draft report called: Air Pollution: outdoor air quality and health. includes the recommendation “Avoiding the creation of street and building configurations (such as street canyons) that encourage pollution to build up where people spend time.” which may go some way to address one of the elements of these two speeches but also “Provide an infrastructure to support low- and zero-emission travel. This could include: cycling and walking routes. The guidance also calls for “raise awareness of road-traffic-related air pollution on NICE’s guidelines on behaviour change (in particular, recommendations on behaviour change interventions and programmes) and community engagement” Whilst these silly comments by Lord Tebbit and Sir Greg Knight have certainly raised awareness of this issue, they have done so in a way that brings both Houses into a certain level of disrepute. We need Lords and MPs who have a good grasp of common sense and who understand basic elements of cause and effect. It is these two gentlemen who are adding to the pollution, not the traffic barriers they seem to dislike!