Birmingham MPs call for more promotion of active travel

“We are not going far enough, fast enough” – claim.

In a joint letter sent to the West Midlands Metro Mayor, Andy Street, Birmingham MPs Preet Kaur Gill (pictured), the MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, and Liam Byrne MP, Shadow Mayor for the West Midlands, have called on the Metro Mayor to do more to promote active travel here in Birmingham and the West Midlands.

A study by King’s College London last year showed that air pollution contributes to hundreds of deaths in Birmingham every year, including up to 59 deaths in Edgbaston and 85 deaths in Hodge Hill. In five of the ten Birmingham constituencies, the average concentration of the toxins grouped under the name PM2.5 exceeded the WHO guidelines of 10 micrograms.

In their letter, the Birmingham MPs state their concern over the low priority that Andy Street has given to the promotion of active travel: “…we are concerned that your existing plans for cutting car use and promoting active travel do not reflect the scale of the action we need. Plans released for the region’s post-coronavirus recovery by the West Midlands Combined Authority referred to walking and cycling just once in a 23-page document.

“Furthermore, we are concerned by your comments, reported recently in The Guardian, that you expect only 5% of residents to take up cycling even if broad action is taken.”

The letter continues: “In our view the facts do not back this up. Figures released by the WMCA itself show that 41% of car journeys made in the region are under two miles – a distance easily made on bicycle. Furthermore,research by Sustrans has found that 30% of people in the West Midlands would like to cycle but currently don’t, while 76% believed that they would cycle more if initiatives like more cycle lanes were introduced.

“These findings show that there is untapped potential for active travel across Birmingham and the West Midlands. The scope of your plan to promote it must reflect that.”

A recent study published in the academic journal Nature Climate Change which suggests that carbon emissions in the UK during lockdown in April were 31% lower compared to the same month in 2019 – the sharpest drop since records began.

Preet Kaur Gill said: “Dangerous and illegal levels of air pollution are impacting the health of millions of people across the country, including those most vulnerable in our communities here in Birmingham. We have an unprecedented opportunity to rethink how we travel for the benefit of our city’s health and the health of its citizens as we build back better from this Covid-19 crisis.

“Birmingham City Council has made a great start in outlining the steps we need to take in its Emergency Transport Plan, but it can only be a success with the support of the Metro Mayor and Transport for West Midlands.”

Liam Byrne MP added: “We led the industrial revolution, and now the West Midlands should lead the green revolution. A major push now to promote green travel would be good for our local manufacturing industry and the jobs of the future, and crucially cleaner air means longer lives. So this is a win-win for healthier lives and better jobs. Which is why we need the Mayor to get on it.”