Letter To Michelle Donelan

Dear Michelle,
thank you for your response where you highlight the governments claim to have reduced CO2 emissions by 40% since 1990.  I note that Ms Thunberg rebuked the government for quoting this figure as it does not include aviation, shipping and imports.  Ms Thunberg said that the real figure was closer to 10% but that depends on how the accounting is done and as we all know accountants can be very ‘creative’.  
My concern in this response is the contribution of transport to CO2 emissions as the 2017 government figures show that it’s the biggest contributor at 27%.  The actual amount of CO2 in tonnes has not really changed since 1990 even though there have been vast improvements in engine efficiency etc.  There are more vehicles and the average engine capacity size is increasing which tends to negate those efficiency improvements. This size increase is exemplified by the popularity of SUVs which now accounts for 24% of the market.  The following diagram illustrates the reductions in CO2 emissions from other sectors compared to transport.
So why is there talk of a Major Roads Network program (MRN) with up to £15B for local authorities to bid for?  Earlier this week I talked to the head of sustainable transport at Wiltshire Council about this who told me that they are bidding for major ‘improvements’ on the M4 junction to A350 and for continuing the dualing of the A350 around Chippenham as well as other sites across Wiltshire.  The recent implementation of 800yds of dual carriage way around Chippenham cost £4.5m and will only encourage more traffic through ‘induced demand’.  I believe this measure will therefore increase climate change and will be detrimental to peoples health.       
I would therefore like to know
  1. How you think increasing road capacity through the MRN program will reduce CO2 emissions? 
  2. Why is Walking and Cycling so poorly funded?  
At this time we need a concerted effort to increase walking and cycling as a core part of reducing CO2 transport emissions, improving public health and enhancing the public realm.  The main recommendation put forward in a Public Health England briefing to local authorities, ‘is to prioritise walking and cycling’ as a way of tackling a range of health issues as well as addressing climate change.  
Anecdotally I have not seen a sustained increase in the number of bikes where I work or parked in local supermarkets etc. for the past 20 years.  There are arguably more bikes being used for recreation but the ‘modal share of cycling’ in Wiltshire remains at a poor 2%.  This is down to planning being 20 years behind in their thinking, the low priority given and pitiful funding for walking and cycling.  Below are some examples of this. 
The M&S food store and Costa in Methuen Park attracts 100s of people a day who WALK from their offices yet walking was not considered as part of the design of that development.  So people either access it by the bins or through the green border around Costa.  Another example of the neglect of walking is the resurfacing of the Gastard road between Corsham and Chippenham which produced smooth new tarmac for the road but ignored the pavement which remains in a neglected state!  This would also have been an opportunity to implement better traffic regulation around the Linleys where the road narrows and make it safer for pedestrians.  Yes people walk (commute) every day between Gastard and Corsham.
The cycling infrastructure also gets neglected as planners prioritise motorised traffic.  The cycle route in Chippenham on the A4 from the Pheasant roundabout towards the town centre stops when it get the the railway bridge forcing cyclist onto the road where it narrows and is most dangerous.  Cycle Routes in Corsham are similarly intermittent as exemplified by the Valley Road cycle route markings that disappear when there is a junction or street furniture (traffic islands).  These implementations makes it more dangerous as they invite drivers to take priority over vulnerable road users. So only the resilient and brave cycle. 
We do not need a ‘better’ road network.  What we do need is less traffic in an enhanced public realm that is aligned to pedestrians and cyclists so that people can use active travel throughout their daily lives.  It seems that it is easy to spend £4.5m on 800yrds of bypass dualing while the public realm is impoverished.  We need to reverse this direction and as our local MP you need to be at the heart of this change.
There is a public realm plan for Corsham costed at £4.5m and no doubt there are similar plans for Chippenham.  They remain as plans only with no meaningful funding in place.
I feel you are going to talk about the MRN improving traffic flow and the increase in electric cars reducing future emissions but I would point out that
  1. 25 years ago there was no A350 bypass around Chippenham so these road ‘improvements’ will need further improvements in only a handful of years. 
  2. that it takes a third of a gallon of fuel to get a gallon of fuel to the petrol station.  That extra third is not fully accounted for in government stats.
  3. The production of Lithium based batteries (for Electric cars) is an environmentally ‘dirty’ process.   A Nissan Leaf  24 kWh battery pack requires 15MWh of energy to produce which translates into 4246kg of CO2 emissions. They are also subsidised by the government. Tesla S class has a battery pack three times the size!
I do not blame Wiltshire Council for bidding for MRN money as they are just ‘playing the game’.  The rules of the game have been devised by central government and results in increased obesity, increased Type 2 diabetes, increased cancer etc., increased in CO2 emissions and a poor quality urban environment dominated by cars.
There are so many good things that could be done with £15B that would reduce climate change, improve public health and the places we live.  Subsidising the implementation of electric busses, prioritising active travel, more frequent trains, Corsham station, reducing the dominance of traffic, the list goes on.      
I look forward to hearing from you soon with your ideas.
Richard Moulton

Written in response to 

Dear Richard,

I wholly agree that climate change required urgent and decisive action. The manifesto on which I and all Conservative MPs were elected last year promised that we should be the ‘first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it in.’ This is something I firmly believe in doing as we come to leave the European Union and I am pleased that so many young people have shown their support for this in recent demonstrations.

Unfortunately Government business prevented me from meeting Ms Thunberg when she came to Parliament, this was a great disappointment as I share Ms Thunberg’s passion for the environment and sustainability and would have liked to discuss some of her ideas with her. Despite being unable to meet Greta in person I have watched her speech to MPs during her visit and was struck by her passion. One of the major points that Greta raised during her visit was that of fracking, something that I am not in favour of. The last time the threat of fracking was brought up in the constituency, I completely opposed it and you can read what I said at the time here: https://michelledonelan.co.uk/fracking/ .


Another issue that Ms Thunberg highlighted in her visit was that of greenhouse gas emissions. I am pleased that since 1990 the UK has cut emissions by more than 40 per cent while growing the economy by more than two thirds, the best performance on a per person basis than any other G7 nation. The Government’s Energy Act also puts Britain firmly on track to meet the 2050 target to reduce emissions of all greenhouse gases by 80 per cent and has been crucial in securing the remarkable investment that the UK has seen in its low carbon economy since 2010.


The Government is taking the opportunity provided by leaving the EU to do even more to protect the environment. A new Environmental Principles and Governance Bill is being developed to ensure that environmental principles, such as the ‘polluter pays’ and the ‘precautionary principle’ are embedded into UK law. The Bill would also create a world-leading, independent environmental watchdog to hold the Government to account.


However I want to see the UK go even further in protecting our environment for future generations and am pleased that Greta Thunberg’s visit has drawn attention to one of the most important and pressing issues that we face. I am hopeful that the awareness raised by activism such as Ms Thunberg’s will provide the necessary momentum in Parliament for meaningful change and I will attempt to harness the momentum to this end.

Thank you again for sharing this with me, I look forward to working with you to do more to combat climate change.

 Kind regards,

Michelle Donelan

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