It was great to get elected to Southwark Council in May and thanks to all the Green Lib-Dems who helped. I feel the biggest single environmental issue in Saint George's Ward is air quality, but it hardly registered with the voters. The ward is between the Elephant and Castle and Waterloo in central London. Car ownership is low, nearly 70% of households don't have a car. The area is well served with buses, trains and a number of London underground stations.
Whilst I tried to promote an environmental element to the campaign, it was difficult to introduce air quality as an election issue. The key issues were crime and housing provision. The housing element was salient on the many housing estates, following the demolition of over 1,000 council homes at the Elephant. Similarly, the proposal for the redevelopment of our shopping centre was contentious, (although no one asked me about the embedded carbon footprint of the building proposals).
Two of the streets in the ward particularly suffered from ratrunning, compounded by the growth of home delivery, and the use of mobile apps like Waze, which helps drivers avoid traffic hold-ups, often by directing them along residential streets.
We organised a survey asking residents if they wanted any changes to the traffic movements in their area. Most of the respondents were drivers, the responses from non-drivers centred on road safety, rather than air quality.
Cyclists also replied, the survey results tended to be car or cycle centric, focusing on parking provision, or the need for a cycle route. These two groups continue to fight for road domination. None of the pedestrians asked for fewer car parking spaces, to counter the apparent insatiable car domination of the kerbs. We made a video about one of the streets, and posted it on our Youtube channel. We Tweeted and linked to it from our Facebook page, we had a few dozen views during the election campaign, we also offered an on-line survey, which brought in more responses.
In summary, few respondents cared primarily about air quality, while car drivers and cyclists seemed most motivated to take part in the survey, and then only to demand more road space.
Graham Neale is Chair of GLD
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