Monday, 3 August 2015

Traffic Response Shows East Lothian Leaders Out Of Their Depth

For over two years now I’ve been jabbing away at an important issue in East Lothian’s biggest town. Air quality is shockingly poor in Musselburgh’s High Street and North High Street due to chronic levels of traffic, including 500 buses a day. Last week I left local council leaders coughing and spluttering as I challenged them on their continued lack of action.

You can read the background to my latest effort here. In short:

-Public health is still being harmed by poor quality air

-The council haven’t come up with a plan of action

-There is no evidence that they have asked bus companies to phase out old belching vehicles, despite this being a blindingly obvious first step

-Both the council’s environment spokesman and leader have chosen not to reply to my recent requests for information

The response in the local press from the council leadership speaks volumes, and is worth examining.

Councillor Hampshire, East Lothian Council’s “environment” spokesman, insists that the authority is “trying to work” with bus companies but “cannot force them” to introduce low emissions vehicles. He even suggests I write to the Scottish Government to ask them to legislate on this.

However, a cursory glance at the Local Air Quality Management policy guidance made available to councils shows that the Transport (Scotland) Act 2001 allows any local authority to attach a condition to a bus company’s public licence to reduce air pollution.

The guidance states that the Traffic Commissioner needs a compelling case, so the questions we must now ask are:

-Why isn’t East Lothian Council making the case for low emissions vehicles, as permitted under the Transport Act?

-Is the council’s environment spokesman misleading local people about the council’s options or is he simply unaware and out of his depth in the role?

It’s also clear from the guidance available to councils that the Environment Act 1995 allows “improving air quality” as a reason for restricting access to a road or area to some or all vehicles at different times of day.

In his response to my concerns, Cllr Hampshire appears to claim that restricting traffic in Musselburgh town centre is not an option as there are no alternative roads around the town. Is it just my imagination or did we not build a new A1 bypass in 1987? No, it’s not a mirage. There it is on Google maps.

And if you plug in some typical journeys from parts of East Lothian to Edinburgh you can see it’s quicker to take the bypass than go through the Honest Toun, so another question we must now ask is:

-Why isn’t East Lothian Council engaging with commuters determined to stick with private cars to point out that by bypassing Musselburgh they will save time and help protect public health?

Finally, Cllr Hampshire mentions changes to traffic light sequences, so the last question I have for now is:

-Where is the evidence that this has improved air quality?

My vision for Musselburgh town centre is that is becomes a safe and healthy place for people, where you can spend time, run a business or raise a family. Back in 2011 a huge public survey of 1,200 people was carried out and the main comments gathered were:

So, has the council acted on local aspirations and improved walking and cycling routes to the High Street? No. Has it created community spaces for events and activities outside the Town Hall, the Brunton and by the river at Shorthope Street? No. What has it done since 2011? Added more car parking outside the Town Hall to encourage traffic!

The uphill struggle continues…

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