South Yorkshire to play a “leading role” in maintaining eco-friendly transport after lockdown

Mayor of Sheffield city region Dan Jarvis has responded to calls by the Prime Minister urging regional leaders to act collectively to avoid a resurgence in car use as lockdown measures are eased.

Boris Johnson spoke to the “M9” – the group of mayors covering areas in Northern England, including Jarvis – on Friday afternoon to hear their concerns and to discuss the government’s plans to keep cars off the roads, encouraging commuters to walk or cycle instead when they return to work.

Jarvis welcomed Johnson’s commitment to work closely with the government and regional leaders to make the UK’s transport system more sustainable.

He said: “We must build on these constructive discussions to ensure mayors have a strong mandate to transform our economy and society.”

“South Yorkshire stands ready to not just close these divides but play a leading role in transforming our region and nation: whether that’s delivering major transport infrastructure, creating a cleaner and greener environment, and unlocking prosperity and opportunity for all.”

“We must seize the opportunity to build a better Britain – not just recovery, but renewal. It is needed now more than ever.”

The talks come days before U.K. transport secretary Grant Shapps is expected to announce emergency funding to enable local authorities to pay for “pop-up” cycling and walking infrastructure to enable physical distancing during lockdown. 

Mr Shapps told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the government was looking at a range of options for people to travel to work, including encouraging what he described as a “massive expansion” in interest in “active travel.”

New plans to widen pavements and create new cycle lanes are already being drafted in the London Mayor’s office and many other UK cities are under increasing pressure to follow suit, with the Scottish Government last week announcing a £10m funding boost for walking and cycling.

Douglas Johnson, Green Party councillor for city ward in Sheffield, believes it is the responsibility of the government and local authorities to create the flexibility for people to choose more sustainable transport options in order to continue the recent trend of cleaner air in cities, and improve the short and long term health of residents. 

He said: “Individuals can’t make choices unless there are viable options to go for – the country needs to massively invest in public transport and safe walking and cycle infrastructure, so that people can say they’ll leave the car at home.”

He believes improving the sustainability of the transport system will involve a more proactive approach to new planning applications, not just an increase in council expenditure, to make new applications support green spaces and joined-up cycle routes more effectively: 

“Walking and cycling needs to not just be an afterthought to motorists, but needs to become seen as part of the way we work and travel about. At the moment it’s still relatively cheap to drive into the city centre rather than use public transport, and that needs to change.”

Joan Miller is a retired public health doctor who is part of Sheffield Climate Alliance – she is suggesting that Sheffield council follows the example set by international cities including Madrid, who are speeding up plans to expand bike paths or take space from cars or current parking sites:

“They have to do something about the air pollution. More people are running, walking, cycling – it’s good for everybody.”

“People are starting to pressure the city region and to say ‘we don’t want business as usual.’ We have to make this a turning point – to go back saying let’s not do it the same, let’s make it better – better for the people, better for the planet.”