An image of Christopher Hammond and the title of this update on a graphic
Decarbonising Transport
Collaboration in Gloucestershire is a shining example of local government leadership. An example we hope the Transport Secretary and the national government will follow in supporting regions across the country to collaborate for local Net Zero.

The Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, may currently have his head in his hands over the train, with calls for the government to end the impasse in order to save the economy.

Beyond the train and bus disruption, however, is an enduring problem that threatens to wreak a lot more havoc in the long term; the slow pace of transport decarbonisation and the lack of alignment between the decision-makers in our regions.

There is, however, a cross-party desire in those regions to become the engines of economic growth, whether it is Andy Burnham in Manchester or Andy Street in the West Midlands.

This should be music to the ears of Ministers facing an IMF growth forecast which predicts the UK will see negative growth and an economy more sluggish than internationally sanctioned Russia. 

But whether Labour or Conservative, there are positive noises that a quiet consensus is taking root that maybe, Whitehall and Westminster don’t always know best.

Especially when it comes to transport, the largest greenhouse gas emitting sector, producing 24% of the UK’s total emissions in 2020, overtaking the energy sector. 

And emissions have remained stubbornly high, as a lack of good, convenient and cheap alternatives have yet to materialise outside our big urban environments. Emissions won’t come down significantly, and our air won’t get cleaner if we don’t seriously tackle this. 

That’s not to say that delivering this change will be easy, in fact, it’s the thing that politicians in our network regularly tell us that keeps them up at night. 

Even the most committed progressive politicians baulk at some of the spatial planning needed to drive changes in emissions. Politicians in the social media age look back covetously at a time in the 1970s and 80s when the roll-out of pedestrianised high streets failed to attract the white heat of hate and misinformation from anonymous trolls.

Now, bold transport interventions are battlegrounds of the local Net Zero transition. In Oxford, the city of dreamy spires, local politicians are living a nightmare over a number of proposed bus gates (to improve bus reliability and ease congestion). 

The measures have become a lightning rod for a US-led campaign against so-called ‘Climate Lockdowns'. USA Today recently felt compelled to provide a fact-check on the Oxford scheme for its American audience. Meanwhile, councillors across the region are getting death threats, hate mail and protests outside their homes, workplaces and children's schools.

The big bold transport interventions may get the headlines, the hope and the hate, but just as important as these schemes are the small but significant steps towards the planning and alignment needed in our regions and between councils across the UK.

And the good news is that Mark Harper does not have to look too far to see it in action! In his own backyard, working with UK100, all seven councils of Gloucestershire came together to sign an agreement pledging to work together to align their housing developments and transport strategies.

In practice, this will mean the sensible integration of new housing developments alongside high-frequency public, active travel options to existing or new services. Meaning fewer stranded housing developments built in rural areas, cut off from bus services, health facilities and schools. The agreement will help to tackle air pollution and bring health improvements for local residents.

Gloucestershire's ambition is to align its local development and local transport plans with the aim of significantly reducing transport emissions while building connected communities. The agreement will support efforts to create sustainable neighbourhoods, which give people the freedom to choose to make fewer or shorter journeys by car. The upshot will be a shift to active travel and public transport while boosting the sustainability of those journeys that still require private cars.

Gloucestershire is home to 640,650 people and nearly 30,000 businesses. Four-fifths of all trips start and end in the County, with 21 million day visitors each year. As the benefits of these policies snowball, the people of Gloucestershire will see a significant positive impact and benefit from less congestion, cleaner air and safer and healthier streets. It will also be a big boon to the 40,000 households without a car, who will find it easier to access basic services thanks to improved public transport connections.

This might all sound like common sense, and it is. But, sadly, common sense is frustrated by an overly centralised state that often overlooks the potential of regions. 

Working with all seven councils run by parties including Conservatives, Lib Dems, Greens and independents, I saw a collective will to make a difference. Local leaders of all stripes put aside party political differences to reach common ground on a shared goal to serve their communities better. It is a refreshing antidote to the divisions we see elsewhere.

It is also a shining example of local government’s leadership. An example we hope the Transport Secretary and the national government will follow in supporting regions across the country to collaborate for local Net Zero.