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A cleaner, greener, fairer transport agenda for Newcastle - leadership on sustainability, better air quality and to meet the climate emergency.

March 5, 2020 8:56 PM

Greg Stone on the busesThere are some key challenges confronting this council, and indeed all councils, Liberal Democrats Cllr Greg Stone has told Newcastle City Council ." I think it would be unreasonable to expect the Council's Budget for 2020/21 to be able to solve these overnight. But I have heard talk from this Labour administration for some years now about the need to ensure a more sustainable local government funding model - which in practice means expecting other parts of the country to subsidise us. I have heard talk from the administration for some years now on the need to tackle the funding crisis in adult social care, but we have yet to see major progress on the local integration of health and social care. This year we are seeing the administration having to relinquish its claim to be protecting the most vulnerable by admitting it is going to have to make cuts to adult social care teams.

"What I don't often hear from this council administration is how their Budget is responsive to the issues and priorities of residents and council tax payers. But Newcastle residents have told us from the council's Resident Surveys what their priorities are. I'm not confident that my constituents will feel their priorities are being addressed by this Budget and whether they feel that they are getting value for money in return for their council tax as it looks set to rise above inflation again. They question whether the council is more concerned with its own priorities - like refurbishing this building at a cost of about £45 million.

"The Opposition group believes that there is a growing view in this city that the council administration does not have a clear and effective plan for transport and for tackling the climate emergency, " went on Cllr Stone, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats Opposition on transport matters. "We have criticised on many recent occasions the council's poor record on city centre traffic, on air quality, on Streets for People, on major infrastructure projects. We believe there is a better way forward to create a more sustainable city, and the Opposition group is putting forward proposals which will allow the city to demonstrate real leadership on the climate emergency and air quality crisis. Now we know that what often happens is the administration pours scorn and derision on the Opposition's proposals and votes them down each year, before many of them are quietly adopted by the administration the next year. I suspect this may be one of them.

"We believe that a Workplace Parking Levy will be an important tool in encouraging modal shift and reducing car dependence. We know this might be controversial at first, but we know that many large employers already operate a parking levy on employees - including this council, the NHS Trust, and the universities. We know too that this approach has been effective in Nottingham, where it is contributing around £9m each year towards sustainable public transport provision. We are starting with a much more modest estimate of the likely revenue generation.

"Labour may try to fob this off by saying it would need legislation. But there is no reason to think that this wouldn't receive support if it can be shown to be a key part of the city's cleaner air agenda. Unlike their approach, our proposal does something about tackling car dependency.

"They cannot credibly claim to be opposed to the principle of charging for parking when they rake in £10m a year in profit from its parking operations. The difference between our proposal and their approach is that we don't get to see what this surplus is being spent on. We have frequently asked for a breakdown of this. None has ever been forthcoming. We know however that the law - the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 section 55 - requires an account of how this is spent and what benefits it derives. A Liberal Democrats administration will use Workplace Parking Levy revenue to invest in public and sustainable transport.

"A Liberal Democrats administration will seek to end Live After Five parking subsidy and work with NE1 and operators to support discounted evening public transport provision. And we are proposing to lift this administration's threatened charges to blue badge holder parking. It is a scandal that the council has sought to target a cut specifically on disabled people. It is even worse that it is doing so knowing that it has not been necessary to implement this in the current Budget.

" It is time for an approach which pursues a cleaner, greener, fairer transport agenda. The Liberal Democrats Opposition is ready to offer this and offer real leadership on sustainable transport, air quality, and the climate emergency."