Change habits or suffer. Why we have to change.

Our local world is not going to be the same after the pandemic and it’s not just down to the virus. The government’s directive to local authorities to clean up their air sees Bath becoming the first city outside of London to introduce a Clean Air Zone on Monday, March 15.

There are other measures the local authority wants to take to improve our city environment and that’s when we start hearing about Active Travel Schemes and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.

There seems to have been plenty of vocal activity in knocking any proposed attempt by B&NES to improve our air and the health of our children and – just for a change – l am handing over space to someone who wants to support making Bath a ‘happier and healthier place.’

Dr Richard Young

He’s Dr Richard Young – who lives in Larkhall – and this is his submission.

Make your voice heard towards a healthier, happier Bath

“I love living in Bath. But it faces real problems caused by ever-increasing numbers of vehicles driving through, into and around our city. Some of these problems are obvious – traffic congestion, noise pollution, rat running and, very sadly, the many injuries and even deaths caused by traffic. Whilst others are less visible – toxic air, increasing child obesity, diminished social cohesion, reduced outside play opportunities for children, declining independent child mobility and so on. And then there is transport’s contribution to the climate crisis; the biggest threat we face as a society.

All of this can feel overwhelming. But the good news is that there is one investment that can make a significant contribution to fixing these problems which is now being proposed by our Council – enabling safe cycling and walking on key routes (Active Travel Schemes) and preventing traffic commuting through our residential neighbourhoods (Liveable or Low Traffic Neighbourhoods). These measures enable and nudge people to make important behavioural changes – significant numbers of residents start choosing to walk, cycle or catch public transport.  

There is lots of evidence that these measures are really effective, leading to reduced air pollution levels through an overall drop in car miles, fewer injuries to pedestrians, improved physical and mental health, and more social interaction and children’s play opportunities. And local retail businesses can benefit too; evidence shows that trade is often boosted due to longer dwell times as neighbourhoods become much more pleasant places to be. People who have to drive also report less frustration due to reduced traffic congestion. And the even better news is that these schemes are (relatively) cheap – just a fraction of the cost of, for example, maintaining roads in a city. And the national government, recognising the issues above need tackling if a country is to prosper, is now providing funding to make them happen.  

What the catch? Well, it will mean some residents having to take a different, perhaps slightly longer, route to drive to their homes or work (it’s important to note that people’s ability to drive to their homes is not affected). And it will mean a change to the status quo, which in itself many people can find unsettling and even threatening.  But surely these downsides are tiny compared to the health, social, economic and environmental benefits.  As a community its vital we weigh up the benefits/costs of taking these actions versus the huge health and environmental impacts of inaction.

If you are broadly in favour of these measures to improve public health, there is an important barrier that needs overcoming. Positive change needs support. And people can often be quiet on these issues due to their busy lives, lack of awareness of how to support, and so on.  We have seen active travel schemes elsewhere be stopped or removed by a very vocal minority whose voices are amplified by social media which then dominate council decision-making. Don’t forget there were vocal minorities that tried to stop previous measures with unquestionable public health benefits, such as banning of smoking in indoor public spaces and mandatory wearing of seat belts. We wouldn’t now dream of reversing these. Residents benefitting from active travel schemes installed just a couple of years ago in London are now reporting very high levels of support for them.

So from one resident of Bath to another, please take 15 minutes to think about these issues and get involved in the online Active Travel Schemes consultation – make your voice heard. This is by far our best chance of taking a great stride towards making Bath a healthier and happier place.”

Dr Richard Young