Net Zero Targets and Decarbonising Transport — [Caroline Nokes in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:11 am on 4th February 2020.

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Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy) 10:11 am, 4th February 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Nokes. It is important to acknowledge where we have made progress. We do not want to discourage our citizens and make them so afraid that they cannot get behind the big changes that we need to make. It is also important to point out where we have made no progress at all, namely on surface transport. It stubbornly remains one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions in our country, which is why it is so important that we concentrate on it. A lot of the problem has to do with our focus over decades on transport by car. I do not blame anybody; I suspect all hon. Members here are motorists, at least part time. The real issue is, how do we achieve a big shift in this country when there has been a lot of focus on car transport and when there are no proper alternatives?

It worries me that the Government make a haphazard announcement such as that made today about the ban on petrol and diesel cars by 2035 without having a proper plan behind that for infrastructure to support a big shift towards electric vehicles. The Government need to put their mind to that. To give an example, in a consultation meeting with Highways England about new road building in the south-west, which was all well and dandy, I said, “All right, you are building new roads, but what about the infrastructure that we need for fast charging points along our new highways and motorways?” I was told that it was not their problem, so who is talking to who about building new roads and the infrastructure to integrate them with the capacity in our electricity grid? The Government need to put a plan together to ensure that people work on these things in partnership, rather thinking in silos.

Another important issue is how to structure buses and public transport. I went to Berlin over Christmas, but not by plane. Travelling by train on the continent was perfectly competitive, but the bit from London to the channel was incredibly expensive. Unless we change the cost of travel, consumers will go for what is cheapest, and they will continue to fly unless we make train journeys a lot more affordable, particularly in this country.

I am a cyclist, in addition to being a motorist, and have been for many years and have campaigned for cycling. The main problem in this country is not the weather or the hills. There are now electric bicycles and, because Bath is quite steep, I bought myself one, as did my husband, and we got rid of our second car. Those things are important considerations for households. The main hindrance is not the weather or the topography, but safety. As a parent, I was scared to let my children cycle, as are lots of parents. One of the biggest contributors to air pollution and surface transport in my constituency is the school run.

We have been consulting young people about how they would like to travel. Their preferred mode of transport would be cycling independently, but the parents do not want that, so they take them to school by car. That creates a vicious circle. The roads in Bath are full of cars during school time—during school holidays they are not—because parents do not allow their children to go on the road because it is dangerous. We need to break that vicious circle. I urge the Government to look at Cycling England’s proposals for how to create safe cycle routes.