Andrew Selous: The suggestion voters weren’t consulted on LTNs is wrong. Local elections suggest they approve.

30 Jul

Andrew Selous is MP for South West Bedfordshire and founded the Conservative Friends of Cycling.

One thing that Conservatives – and, through clenched teeth, our opponents – can agree on is that the Prime Minister is good at winning elections, often in quite unpromising circumstances. 

But over one subject, at least, is the PM losing his judgment of the public mood? He is about to announce more measures to boost walking and cycling – including more bike lanes and “low-traffic neighbourhoods” (LTNs), where residential side streets are closed to through motor traffic to prevent rat-running. Cars are not banned from these areas: you can still drive to or from any point, but you might have to take a longer way round.

Some in our party fear the pursuit of these policies will be damaging, saying that the measures already taken during the pandemic, including dozens of new LTNs, have caused “huge…anger across the country,” are devastating local businesses and have been “pushed through…without asking” people.   

Just under three months ago, though, people were asked what they thought – at the local elections where, in dozens of wards, a controversial LTN or cycle lane was the major local issue.

In London, our mayoral candidate, Shaun Bailey, made opposition to bike and walking schemes one of the main planks of his campaign, promising that if he won the election, he would remove them. In Manchester, Oxfordshire, and the North East, local candidates did the same.  

It didn’t work for us. It didn’t win us votes. In Conservative West London, the Bailey campaign did direct mail, leaflets, Facebook videos and personal visits against a new separated cycle track along the Chiswick High Road. Our vote went up in the borough (and in London) as a whole.

But in the three Chiswick wards with the cycle track, we went down by between 10 and 12 per cent. Similar, intensive efforts against LTNs in Ealing again saw the Conservatives underperform in most of the wards concerned, losing one, Ealing Common, that we won in 2016. In Enfield, our vote went up in most of the LTN wards, but by less than the borough average. In Oxfordshire, Manchester, and other places, we flatlined or fell in the LTN wards.  

Of course there were many reasons why this might have happened. I’m not claiming it proves that all cycle schemes work – or that the same approach is right for everywhere. What works for London and other cities might not work the same way for a smaller town. In my own constituency I have been lobbied to complete the cycling green wheel in Leighton Buzzard and to increase safe cycling routes in Dunstable.

But most schemes have been in cities and larger towns. In those places, cycle schemes do make some people angry, but the election results appear to back up something already found by every professional opinion poll – that more people support them.  

Why would this be? Cycling went up by 46 per cent last year, more than in the previous 20 years put together – but it is still not a majority pursuit. I think these schemes attract support because they benefit far more people than simply those who cycle: local residents, pedestrians, and indeed also businesses.

Streets not dominated by cars are more pleasant places to shop; people visit and spend more. Cafes and restaurants that fought to keep parking or motor traffic have discovered that they can make more money by putting tables in that space instead. It is often Conservative councils, such as Westminster and Wandsworth, that have led the way here.   

But if things are better within the LTNs themselves, what about outside them? Don’t they just push more traffic or pollution on to surrounding roads? Surprisingly, perhaps, early monitoring results show that on most, though not all, surrounding roads this does not seem to be happening, once traffic patterns have settled down.

The people living in the LTNs appear to be changing the way they travel – taking fewer short local journeys by car and walking or cycling more. In most cases, though not in every case, this takes local traffic away from the surrounding roads too. And the longer a scheme is in, the more travel habits change.

As that happens, even schemes which are highly controversial at the beginning become much more widely accepted. Over time, by switching more journeys to vehicles which take up less roadspace, we free up that space for the many people who still need to drive. Cycling means fewer cars in front of yours at the lights.

We have a traffic problem, an obesity problem, a pollution problem, and a climate problem. Schemes that get more people cycling and walking can be part of the answer to all those problems. That is why I’m glad the Government is acting to make cycling a pursuit for the many, not just for the brave.

Andrew Selous: How to green our homes

16 May

Andrew Selous is MP for South West Bedfordshire.

The imminent Heat and Buildings Strategy is the next step in the government’s climate and levelling up agendas. It will deliver the ambitions set out in the Prime Minister’s ten point plan, and bring certainty to the construction and retrofit sectors. Now’s the time to create a wave of construction jobs across the country by making our buildings fit for the future.

Decarbonising heat is a great example of where net zero and levelling up are one and the same. Meeting the Government’s target to upgrade all homes to Energy Performance Certificate C standard where possible means that 19 million homes will be retrofitted across the country.

By 2030, 50,000 new jobs can be created by growing our heat pump manufacturing base and expanding the installer supply chain. The sector can provide good, skilled, well-paid jobs to people everywhere as we build back better: companies like Grundfos, based in my constituency, are raring to get going on installing heat pumps.

Second, we will help people improve their homes, starting with households who are afflicted by fuel poverty who perversely pay the highest in energy bills. This means that people stay warmer and keep more of their money, simultaneously reducing strain on the NHS and wallets. Alongside Brexit and our vaccine programme, this partnership between net zero and levelling up was, without a doubt, a component of our thumping success in the local elections.

Then there is mitigating climate change, vital to the UK’s long-term prosperity. Following great success we’ve seen in the power sector with the dramatic rise in cheap renewables, decarbonising heat is the next step towards our net zero economy objective. Emissions from homes have already fallen by almost 20 per cent since 1990, but there is a long way to go and many people don’t realise that their gas boilers comprise a significant part (17 per cent) of the UK’s contribution to climate change.

Given the scale of the challenge, Parliament’s Climate Change Committee has urged the government to get on with decarbonisation of heat urgently. More than 23 million homes need to make the switch from gas boilers to zero or low carbon alternatives over the next three decades. While clean hydrogen boilers will play a role in the future around industrial clusters, experts believe that much of the progress in the next decade will come from installing heat pumps.

The Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan accepts this challenge, with a target to install 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028. Now that the Government has adopted the Committee for Climate Change’s sixth carbon budget, we must start scaling up the heat pump industry to bring their upfront costs (their main barrier to uptake) down and improve the technology. We’ll eventually need to phase out gas boilers altogether if we want to prevent dangerous levels of climate change. The Heat and Buildings Strategy is the place to begin.

As with decarbonising our power sector, leveraging private finance will be essential. Previous schemes like the Green Homes Grant have been stop-start, discouraging the private sector from investing in the retrofit supply chain. The Heat and Buildings Strategy should include bold targets for upgrading homes in all types of tenures, including owner-occupiers, and firm policies which rebuild investor confidence to utilise the financial muscle and competitive drivers of the free market.

For instance, consistent with our levelling up mission, we could frontload the funding in our manifesto promise of £9.2 billion for energy efficiency into social housing and fuel poor households, providing support where the need is greatest, while scaling up the heat pump manufacturing sector and energy efficiency supply chains.

Then, for owner-occupiers, the Government could offer attractive ‘Help to Improve’ loans through the new UK Infrastructure Bank. This would be a sister policy to the popular Help to Buy loans which have helped hundreds of thousands of people get onto the property ladder. These low-cost loans could be repaid from the savings on energy bills from the insulation measures.

Finally, the strategy could tackle the economically distorting, environmentally harmful distribution of taxes and levies on household energy bills. Currently, electricity bears nearly all the taxes and policy costs and gas none, making heat pumps costlier to run than boilers. Moving the legacy costs of renewable energy subsidies off electricity bills will make heat pumps up to £200 a year cheaper to run, according to a recent Public First report. Whether we move some of the policy costs on to gas bills or fund them from a new carbon charge on gas, we must make sure that the average dual fuel bill customer isn’t any worse off, and that fuel poor households are protected.

It’s crucial we decarbonise heat in a way that doesn’t punish people, especially those who will struggle to switch away from gas boilers straightaway. However, with the right policy package, the Heat and Buildings Strategy can bring tangible improvements and economic opportunities to people across the country.

Andrew Selous: How ministers can put Britain at the forefront of the net-zero flight revolution

12 Nov

Andrew Selous is MP for South West Bedfordshire

In mid-October, I had the pleasure of calling a Westminster Hall debate on the work of the Jet Zero Council, an industry-government partnership comprising the great and the good of the aviation and aerospace sectors.

Tasked with delivering net-zero emission commercial flight, the Council’s formation in June could not have been more timely.

As we all long for a holiday-filled return to normality, bringing a much-needed boost to our aviation sector, it is vital that we keep our sights set on achieving net-zero aviation by 2050. The Government can take pride in its launch of the Jet Zero Council, but there is still much more to be done.

The UK’s aviation network is the third largest in the world, and has a proud history of designing and manufacturing cutting edge aircraft and engines. Today the sector contributes £52 billion a year to GDP and provides 230,000 high-value jobs, including hundreds in my South West Bedfordshire constituency who work at Luton Airport.

However, when we return to the skies, it’s important that we reconcile heightened demand in air travel with our binding net zero target.

This is another area where we can confidently say we lead the world. We were the first country to set a legally binding climate change mitigation target in 2008, and last year we were the first major economy to introduce a legally binding 2050 net zero target. As we look beyond Brexit and Covid-19, we need to play to our strengths, particularly in areas where we already have a reputation as global pace setters – areas like aviation and climate mitigation.

Thankfully air travel and cutting emissions are not mutually exclusive. We can balance our custodial commitment to the environment with our need for a foreign holiday and reliance on trade through air freight. Commercial flight with a clear environmental conscience is not just possible but within our grasp this decade, thanks to the development of sustainable aviation fuels.

Sustainable aviation fuels are a here-and-now solution that can be used in existing engines and transport pipelines, requiring no modifications to aircraft or refuelling infrastructure. These fuels are also the only option long-term for decarbonising long-haul flights, which account for 80 per cent of global aviation emissions. Battery and hydrogen technology will play a part in decarbonising short and medium-haul flight, but simply will not propel a commercial flight over the Atlantic anytime soon.

Developed from sustainable feedstocks like waste oils, fats, and even solid waste like everyday black bag rubbish, the market is taxiing for take-off – provided there is sufficient Government backing. The first facility planned for the UK, Altalto Immingham, is a partnership between Velocys, British Airways, and Shell and could be fuelling flights by 2025, cutting lifecycle emissions by 70 per cent.

In February the British aviation sector came together through the coalition Sustainable Aviation to become the first national aviation body in the world to publicly commit to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The target is ambitious but achievable, and research from the group shows that the UK can become a world leader in sustainable aviation fuel production.

According to this new data, investing now in these new fuels can deliver over 20,000 jobs and almost £3 billion in GVA from 14 production facilities across the country by the mid-2030s. The ideal locations for these facilities are in seven industrial clusters in Humberside, Teesside, South Wales, Hampshire, the North West, Grangemouth and St Fergus, areas where we have a competitive advantage over other European countries in refining and chemicals infrastructure and skills.

These former industrial heartlands also desperately need to find ways of transitioning away from fossil fuels, so this is a perfect opportunity to not only create new green jobs but save jobs and redeploy skills. Additionally, the majority of these areas are earmarked to become carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) and/or hydrogen hubs. Sustainable aviation fuel production can benefit from sharing the infrastructure and skills required to develop these new green industrial clusters, so can play a key role in re-focusing and future-proofing these areas.

However, to get the first few production facilities off the ground and seize the first-mover advantage, the Government needs to unlock private investment. Government-backed loan guarantees – a tool already used for other infrastructure projects – could cover capital costs and make these investments more attractive for private investors. The revenue support mechanism, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation, could also be reformed to give greater price certainty for these sorts of projects. Importantly, these are policy levers rather than capital grants.

Speaking to the International Gas Turbine Institute last September, the Prince of Wales said that “the need to decarbonise flight must remain at the top of the agenda”. His Royal Highness’ words have found added sentiment a year later in light of the ongoing pandemic. We cannot let Covid-19 blow our decarbonisation agenda off course. Nor do we need to let it destroy our aviation sector.

Indeed, aviation – a sector we rely so heavily on as an island – can come out of the current crisis stronger, greener and more resilient. But to do that I urge the Government to build on their Jet Zero commitments this summer, and take swift and pragmatic action now by supporting the development of a sustainable aviation fuels industry in the UK.

Andrew Selous: This pandemic has left more people exploited by ruthless traffickers

13 Aug

Andrew Selous is MP for South West Bedfordshire

The Government can rightly be proud of the great strides that it has taken against modern slavery in recent years.

Since the publication of its Modern Slavery Strategy in 2014, and the subsequent Modern Slavery Act 2015, the UK Government has pioneered efforts to eradicate the worst human rights abuse of our time, both domestically and around the world. The UK is now rightly considered a leader on the global stage, and the Government is to be commended for its success in increasing international awareness and focus on the need to prevent this awful exploitation.

In my own constituency, I have seen major incidents of modern slavery with, on one occasion, the police freeing 24 slaves, 19 of whom were British and some of whom had been kept on the site for nearly 15 years.

This year, World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, on July 30th, marked a pivotal moment for the anti-trafficking and slavery movement.

The establishment of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office presents an opportunity to take stock of the good work which has been done, and consider what needs to happen next to swiftly and sustainably eradicate modern slavery.

The FCDO must, of course, do so in the context of a global community which is seeking to overcome the crisis of COVID-19 and rebuild a sense of normality.

Experts estimate that there are 40 million people around the world held in slavery. More than at any other time in history. One in four are children. Sadly, the COVID-19 crisis means that increased numbers of people are likely to suffer trafficking and exploitation. Life has become harder for many people due to financial hardship and prolonged isolation, making them more susceptible to ruthless traffickers who prey upon vulnerability. The World Bank estimates that 49 million more people will be forced into extreme poverty this year. Without urgent action, increases in violence, slavery, and other forms of brutal exploitation, could become another pandemic.

There has never been a more crucial moment to build on the powerful momentum of the Government’s action against slavery in recent years. The FCDO must make accelerating our efforts to eradicate modern slavery a priority. There are four key principles which I believe ought to form the basis of the new department’s strategy for tackling this devastating problem.

Firstly, we must bring an end to impunity. The adage that modern slavery is a low risk, high reward crime remains true in many places around the world. Whether it be a lack of resources, expertise, or political will, too often justice systems fail to hold traffickers to account, and vulnerable people are exploited without consequence.

When public justice systems are equipped to enforce anti-slavery laws, dramatic change is possible. International Justice Mission, an NGO which works alongside local authorities to build their capacity to respond to trafficking, have seen this first-hand. In cities in which they have worked in the Philippines, the number of children available for commercial sexual exploitation fell by up to 86 per cent – an astonishing result.

If the FCDO is to develop a robust anti-slavery strategy, tackling impunity and strengthening the rule of law must be at its centre. Approaches like this could see slavery stopped at source, protecting millions of people and making everyone safer.

Secondly, those who have experienced modern slavery must play a pivotal role in shaping our response. Survivors hold an expertise which most of those who develop anti-slavery laws and policies cannot begin to understand.

Across South Asia, the Released Bonded Labourers’ Association has played a pivotal role in helping workers out of exploitation. Earlier this year, I read of 13 families who had been released from forced labour in a brick kiln, thanks to the RBLA’s advocacy which began in June 2018. The families, 42 people including 13 children, had been forced to work for up to five years to repay false debts. Many of them were injured or malnourished, having had no access to good food or medical care. Several of the women were pregnant, and the children worked alongside the adults turning the baking bricks in the hot sun.

Survivors are uniquely placed to understand the circumstances which led to their abuse. We must listen to them if we are stop others falling victim to the same brutal exploitation.

Thirdly, we must see a joined-up approach across government. Modern slavery requires a multifaceted response both at home and around the world. The FCDO will have an essential role to play, but its approach must be aligned with other government departments.

Take, for example, the need to address exploitation in business supply chains. British businesses often source and manufacture goods in communities where forced or bonded labour is widespread. The FCDO through our Embassies and High Commissions, the Department for International Trade, and the Home Office, must work together to create an environment in which business can thrive without the risk of perpetuating exploitation.

Finally, accountability and transparency are key. The British public must have confidence in the new department. The well-respected international aid network, Bond, are correct in saying that ‘aid only works well when it is accountable to parliament’. DFID was subject to close scrutiny by the International Development Select Committee, and the Independent Commission for Aid Impact helped to ensure value for money for the British taxpayer. Such scrutiny must be maintained to ensure we continually strive to be as efficient and effective as possible.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, and as the Brexit transition period comes to an end, the FCDO has a responsibility to be a powerful force for good on the world stage. There are a myriad of pressing issues requiring urgent attention, but tackling the causes of modern slavery must remain upmost in the Government’s priorities.

Andrew Selous: It’s time for the Government to step up the war on obesity

22 Jul

Andrew Selous is MP for South West Bedfordshire and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity.

I warmly welcome the indications that the Prime Minister is about to take further action on obesity.

The greater risks run by people with obesity in combating COVID-19 have made this issue even more urgent but the truth is that even before the pandemic the UK had a serious obesity problem.

The national child measurement programme data shows that ten per cent of children in Reception were obese in 2018-19 and that had more than doubled to over 20 per cent by year Six. The Guys and St Thomas’ charity report ‘Bitesize’ shows that London has a higher rate of childhood obesity than New York and a rate nearly four and a half times higher than Paris.

Children’s health really matters, as does equality of opportunity. Overweight and obese children grow up to be overweight and obese adults.

There is not only leads to a significant cost to the NHS and the taxpayer, but it’s also a question of social justice, as 27 per cent of the most deprived children in Year Six are obese compared with under 12 per cent of their least deprived classmates.This is an area that politicians often fear to tread in but it’s a vital public policy issue and we lack courage if we ignore it.

I think that our guiding principle should be to make the right choice the easy and affordable choice for as many people as possible. It doesn’t help when children are bombarded with advertising for unhealthy products which they pressure their parents to buy. That’s why getting the 9pm watershed in place against the advertising of junk food to children is so important.

We also need more British supermarkets to follow the example of the Dutch supermarket Marqt, which has banned the marketing of unhealthy products to children. Their CEO says that tempting children to choose unhealthy products doesn’t fit with how they want to help their customers. Unfortunately, many people don’t have much of a choice with those unable to get to supermarkets easily often being faced with local shops, with a poor choice of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Some areas have massive concentrations of takeaways. In 2017 there were 400 in Southwark, a seven per cent increase on 2014 and this was the borough revealed in 2018 as having the first neighbourhood in the country where a majority of children leaving primary school were overweight or obese. The Food Foundation have also pointed out the across much of mainland Europe, the healthy choice is often the cheaper one, yet bizarrely and worryingly the opposite is commonly the case in the UK.

Local authorities have a role to play as well. The Amsterdam healthy weight programme launched by Eric Van der Burghas, the centre-right deputy mayor of the city, focused on schools, the health service, planning, sports, charities and the business sector.

The Health Select Committee went to see what he was doing and he told us that he went to a summer sports programme one year and saw a young girl who couldn’t do a forward roll because she was so overweight. When he realised how widespread the problem was he made it a priority. We need more leaders with his tenacity.

Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to have clearer food labelling. We need the same in restaurants and the takeaway sector. Shops should promote healthy food, not junk food. The hugely successful sugar tax should be extended to more products, with the proceeds going towards child health. Energy drinks should not be sold to under-16s either.

We also must not abandon those whose lives have been ruined by obesity. Bariatric surgery can be life changing for those who have tried everything else without success. Professor John Wass of Oxford University tells me that the number of bariatric operations in England is below 5,000 whereas in France, with a significantly lower prevalence of obesity, the figure is 60,000. Similar comparisons can be made with Sweden.