MP Jeremy Hunt: Seize the moment to reduce town traffic
WHAT silver linings can there possibly be to the world’s biggest health catastrophe since Spanish flu a century ago?
One in particular in Farnham it so happens.
Data appears to show that, thanks to lockdown, pollution levels in the town centre have been legal for the first time since records began because so few cars were in town.
Both the Herald and I have long campaigned on this issue, even organising an emergency pollution summit in October 2019.
That was just a couple of months before the first Covid case – little did we know it at the time.
Aside from the lockdown-inspired reduction in traffic, Herald readers will know that since then much progress has been made with Surrey County Council to develop a long-term plan for the town, including reducing pollution in the town centre.
As Herald readers know the A325 has been formally reclassified so it does not go through the centre of the town, HGVs have been banned from East Street and West Street, 20mph limits are being introduced in many parts of the town subject to a consultation and £2.5 million has already been spent by Surrey County Council on immediate improvements.
I still strongly support a town centre which is largely traffic free.
This is not just to reduce pollution but also to enable the kind of community spirit you get when cafés can put their tables out, people can stop and chat and parents can push prams without worrying about the impact of fumes on their babies.
But because we must not just shift polluting traffic to another part of the town – something that would be extremely unfair but also inevitable if we just pedestrianised the centre tomorrow – we will need to get to the promised land in stages.
That is why Surrey is now doing an updated traffic plan which can look in more detail at the best way to deliver the tangible changes we all want.
The Farnham Project Board, which brings together the town council, Waverley, Surrey and local elected representatives from all parties, hopes to announce the plans in the early summer.
Then everyone can have their say – the wisdom of crowds, we all hope!
Let’s seize the moment. There has not been such an opportunity to make changes like this in my entire time as an MP.
I have always said I could not with a clear conscience represent Farnham without making a sustained effort to deal with its biggest problem, namely traffic.
I believe those efforts, with cross-party support, are beginning to bear fruit.
If they do, who knows the joy of a pollution-free town centre may not just be a silver lining to the Covid cloud but the permanent change that many Farnham residents have long wished for?
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