The surprise announcement of a General Election on 8 June has risked sidelining the local elections already scheduled for 4 May – especially given our London-centric media.
Yet the polls for county councils, unitary authorities, Welsh local government and new ‘metro Mayors’ in city regions across England are vitally important for transport.
Every community has its own challenges and priorities, but there will be some common themes for transport campaigners and green groups to raise over the next few weeks.
In six areas, new combined authorities will be electing executive Mayors to oversee a range of services, including local transport.
With our partners in Green Alliance, we’ve produced a new report, ‘Greening the City Regions – opportunities for new metro mayors’. The report is out next month and we'll link to it then. It’s full of important policy areas where Mayors can make a real difference, from using new powers to deliver better bus services to piloting workplace parking levies to tackle urban traffic.
If you live in the Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester, Tees Valley, West Midlands, West of England or Cambridge & Peterborough, then the Green Alliance report will be a must-read for identifying the areas where your successful Mayoral candidate could really have an impact.
Alongside our allies in the Healthy Air Campaign we're calling on the new Mayors to take a lead on fighting air pollution: better buses, walking and cycling and stronger controls on polluting cars and trucks are a major part of the solution.
While the combined authorities have a particular role on transport, the local election messages don’t stop there.
Counties and unitary councils also have a vital role to play on securing the future of bus services, promoting walking and cycling, locating new homes and jobs in the right place, encouraging the shift of freight from road to rail, and helping clean up our polluted air.
As highways authorities, they can choose to stop squandering money on new roads that simply create more traffic, instead taking a sensible ‘fix it first’ approach to tackle the pothole backlog and prioritising support for high quality local public transport, particularly buses, that help solve our congestion and air quality problems.
Local councils in Wales have a great opportunity to support new bus routes – and oppose damaging roads like the hugely controversial M4 plans.
Getting planning right is also a priority, with a reformed approach that integrates land use and transport planning. It's not just about the location of new development. although that is important,: it's also about density of development and creating new communities that can sustain high quality public transport services by having a critical mass of people living there.
Here are some good questions to ask your candidates in the local elections:
- active travel is good for personal health and the health of our high streets: how will you improve facilities for walking and cycling?
- buses are a lifeline but under threat: will you use the new powers from the Bus Services Bill to defend and improve local bus services?
- delivery vehicles are filling our streets and HGVs adding to danger on our roads: will you support measures to manage road freight and safeguard land for railfreight terminals?
- new roads create new traffic while existing roads go unrepaired: will you commit to a ‘fix it first’ approach and invest in good local public transport not new roads?
- traffic is choking our roads and our lungs: what action will you take to reduce traffic and clean up our air?
- carbon emissions are rising, transport is now the major source of carbon emissions in Europe: how will you help shape a low carbon transport future?
- planning matters: urban sprawl is concreting over the countryside and adding to noise and traffic: will you use the planning system to locate new homes & jobs near public transport hubs (and vice versa)?
With more elections on the horizon, now is the time to get sustainable transport firmly on the political agenda.