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Council's war on cars is a myth. There is, however, a war for the money in our pockets

Cabinet Meeting 21.02.23

One of the topics on the Cabinet meeting agenda was the environment and more specifically, cars.

“We are not anti-car, we are pro-environment”, exclaimed the councillor whose portfolio it is.

Presumably, she has been accused of this otherwise she wouldn’t have made this statement. So what would make someone make such an accusation? And even if she was, is that so bad anyway?

The council have plans to install more electric charging points for electric cars, which should encourage people to buy electric cars. This is not anti-car, in fact, it is pro-car and clean air.

The council are also reviewing the entire cycle network across the city to make it easier for people who wish to cycle. Again, this is not anti-car necessarily - though it depends on the detail.

The council have funding for ‘behavioural change’ to attempt to shift people from car to bicycle. Slightly nefarious way of putting it, but the intent is still not anti-car.

The council is the official partner of ‘clean air day’. Not sure what that is, but clean air is good, so we still have not encroached on any anti-car notions.

They want to introduce ‘quiet streets’. This friendly term seeks to close particular roads to cars, but allow for walking and cycling.

Hold up. Say that again?

Quiet streets.

For a minute I thought this was a scheme to guide cyclists down different roads that are quieter, but this does not appear to be the case.

‘Quiet Streets’ is a sub-header within the construct of the ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhood’, which is intimately linked with the 15-minute City, a concept that seeks to fine motorists multiple times for travelling through districts within a city.

Unless I have got my wires crossed, and I want to be corrected on this, if the council are pursuing this, then the foundations of the 15-minute city in Southend are already happening.

And if there are denials, then the similarities are such that the name doesn’t matter. Shut roads to cars - check. Instigate ‘LTNs’ (Low Traffic Neighbourhoods) - check. If there is a large-scale plan to implement cameras that read number plates across the city then we are there.

I hope I am wrong.

In regard to Quiet Streets, the result of vehicles unable to make it through certain roads will bottleneck them elsewhere. It will shift the traffic rather than see it dissipate. According to the link below, traffic may be reduced if planned correctly. Big if, and if not, then all we will see is an exacerbation of traffic problems as the cars that previously knew of alternative routes are now added back into the traffic.

Is this anti-car? Possibly. It certainly isn’t pro-car. Even electric cars are penalised. I am not even sure it is pro-environment as the reduction in traffic is not guaranteed.

I find this propensity to influence people like Greek gods never really gleans the results that the original intention desired. It just causes disruption at the taxpayer's expense.

So, after years of hearing about reducing emissions on the road, and seeing that nothing has really changed, I think it is worth exploring why people have not reduced their travel by car.

Even as a driver myself, I am in principle, against all vehicles that cause our air to be toxic.

I want to breathe clean air, as I would imagine all of us do, and I know that the fumes a car generates are unequivocally toxic. (You would think then, that I am a hypocrite for driving my car and you would be exactly right!)

I believe if there was a vote about whether the air should be free of any toxins that harm our bodies, the outcome would be unanimously in favour of clean air.

So, if that is the presumed starting point, why is it that nearly everyone who owns a car - including myself - decides to continue driving in the knowledge that they contribute to toxic air?

Is it that we cannot physically see the toxins in the air?

Ironically, if you stand in the middle of the road and a car heads your way, you move to avoid injury or death. You can see the problem. To state the obvious, air is not visible and therefore the danger is not clear. Perhaps it is time to take inspiration from those wonderful Dettal adverts that visually highlight where the germs are. I have never seen anything like that for air, and therefore I have no real fear of contaminating my body even when standing in, say, a bus station. The only time I ever consciously try to avoid poor air quality is when I drive through the Dartford tunnel!

Is it that we do not know the results of breathing in these toxins?

Again, I have a low-level awareness that bad air ain’t good. But do I truly believe that when I step outside and breathe the air next to a road, I am killing myself? No. The truth is I barely think about it. Because I barely think about the effect on me, I never think about the effect my car fumes are having on everyone else. If I knew what was in the air, what levels are genuinely dangerous, whether our bodies rid the toxins or whether they are permanent, and how many people have died or been adversely affected, I can see my mind changing. I do not want to harm others and I am sure none of us does. If we knew that, for example, each other’s children were being seriously harmed I should think there would be quite a change. At the moment I think we would all rather turn a blind-eye.

Is it that there is an underlying tacit belief that because cars that pollute our air are legal, we, as individuals, do not truly believe the seriousness of the situation?

Whether we believe every law is correct or not, there is an implication that for it to be a law in the first place, it must have been important enough to warrant its existence. Therefore, anything that has not been legislated on could by definition be deemed the opposite. In this case, by governments across the world allowing polluting cars to continue to be used, it relegates the whole argument to an individual’s morals and ethics. And when our national political leaders are flying around in private jets and yes, using cars, it undermines any potential internal argument people may have with using their cars.

That is not to say that our local leadership cannot set the example despite their superiors.

So do they?

Does the Chief Executive Officer, the other Directors, the Leader of the Council, and the other councillors responsible for overseeing our city use polluting cars? What is their mode of transport? How often do they use their cars? Presumably, they have cars because they are entitled to free parking across the city. If they came out collectively and said they will no longer be using a polluting car then that is a message that might break through. Because every day they don’t, is every day none of us will be inspired to change.

Is it that the solutions that have been presented by the government are not adequate alternatives?

Well, what are those solutions in Southend?

Buses. They can be late, may not turn up at all, stop times are too wide, the journeys are too long because of all the pick-ups and they can be too busy at times. And can be expensive depending on where you want to travel. If you are shopping that is very difficult. If you are shopping with children even more so. Need to walk to the bus stop, which may not necessarily be close. There is no suggestion any of this will change because the council do not have control over the bus companies.

Trams. Long gone.

Underground trains. None-starter.

Trains. Pretty good if you want to leave Southend!

As enticements to leave the car at home, they fail entirely. So what is left?

‘Active Travel’

This is the term the council uses to categorise anything that relies on the individual to do the work: Walking, running and cycling.

And this IS the strategy to change the way we transport ourselves.

As mentioned, money is being earmarked for cycle lanes across the city, which I should say is not inherently wrong. Creating a great environment for people who wish to cycle is fair. But expecting residents to seriously consider cycling as an alternative mode of transport is a forlorn hope.

People want what they want and will do what they want as much as they are legally allowed to do so. And even then people still do what they want!

The council are principally correct in wanting to reduce toxins in the air via polluting cars, but cycling is not the hero in all this. It is great for exercise, but not good for transport for so many different reasons and scenarios (see: On the Cycle Path to Nowhere (

They endlessly pursue cycling and other active travel alternatives such as walking, which is fine to do as a supplement for a strategy to reduce emissions, but not as the sole solution.

Only it isn’t the sole solution. Their solutions also consist of fines.

The portfolio holder responsible for the environment spoke of an Anti-Idling Policy, which will no doubt generate revenue for the council for leaving the engine on a second too long.

There are those that are salivating for ULEZ to be introduced.

And worse still, we indeed have the 15-minute city to contend with.

The councillor is right - there is no war on cars. In fact, the budgets reflect that fact. Parking charges are revenue generators and they are going up by 10% with new charges introduced between 6pm to 9pm on the seafront and never-before-seen charges in Southchurch Park, Belfairs, Priory park and more. If everyone stopped using their cars overnight there would be a major black hole in the budget and how else would they be able to fill it?

No, what is happening is an excuse to tax us under the guise of the environment.

There is a war, and it is on the money in our wallets.


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