Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Feedback on Southampton City Council Budget Proposals

Dear Southampton City Council,

I’d like to provide feedback on the budget proposals but the questionnaire steers me to answer questions I am not particularly interested in and fails to address the issues that I and many people like me passionately care about.

So first I should say that in general the council seems to be doing a good job in rebuilding Southampton city centre from the empty unloved city it was 30 years ago into something that is beginning to look cared for and inhabited. I know that budgets are very tight and I understand all about the difficulties and compromises of making change happen in such an environment. So generally, in most respects I am a happy citizen.

But there is one area that worries me enormously.

We are poisoning the air, the world and ourselves (the people of Southampton) with pollution. The evidence I have shows that this is the biggest new threat to the health of the population of Southampton - even bigger than type B diabetes. (Poor air quality in urban areas costs the English economy between £4.5 to £10.6 billion a year at 2009 prices and values. Road transport is likely to be responsible for about half of the deaths attributed to air pollution in the 34 OECD countries. Every year in the UK, outdoor pollution is linked to around 40,000 deaths.)

Southampton City Council is responsible for this. So you are responsible for the illegal levels of pollution and the 100’s of deaths that can be directly attributed to air quality issues locally. The government (the Tory government - normally inclined to deny such science) have required Southampton to implement a Clean Air Zone by 2020.  The evidence says that we are about as bad as it gets in the UK. 

And yet you have done very little about it and this budget consultation makes no mention of dealing with the air quality issues, or the investment required to ensure we meet government's clean air zone requirements.

I appreciate that this is not a simple matter - decades of shortsighted mismanagement of the transport policy in Southampton have carved our city up with major roads encouraging HGVs to drive through the centre of our town and made it almost impossible to get around greater Southampton without a car. Changing these deep dependencies on motor transport will be a long term project.

But there is one thing that could be done now, could be done reasonably cheaply and would contribute to making Southampton an even  better place to live….. make Southampton Cycle Friendly, and make a step change in the number of short journeys done by bike, and at the same time enhance the city for all of those not encased in motorised vehicles.

This year Southampton City Council produced a draft Cycle Plan.  This plan is very encouraging and makes all the right sort of noises, yet there is no serious budget for it!  Certainly not its fair share.

At present just over 2% of journeys around Southampton are made by bike.  This is very low by most city standards - The best cities in Europe get to 50% of journeys, and even Portsmouth down the road from us puts us to shame.

The Southampton Cycle Plan suggests the modest and completely achievable target of getting the bike share to to 10% of all journeys.  

There is no question about how to do this.  It will not be achieved by publicity and encouragement. It requires investment and change in transport infrastructure. In every city where proper, *safe*, commuter cycle infrastructure has been built the mode share moves to 10% easily.  Build it and they will come.

So, any reasonable person might suggest that if the council is serious about this they would ensure that cycle infrastructure gets 10% of the transport budget.  Actually, given the serious underinvestment in cycle infrastructure for so many years it would be the right time to do somewhat better than this.  And of course the taxes collected form the Clean Air Zone could supplement this and make a step change to Southampton and provide the opportunity for the city to become a beacon for innovative good practice -  A city that turned itself around and invested in its citizens.  At present the council spends nearly all its transport budget on improving motorised access (much of it to the benefit of visitors, rather than residents). This spending actually induces *more* traffic, rather than on attempting to reduce the traffic flows through the city.

And because there is so much traffic, 15% of all accidents in Southampton involve cycles (who make up just 2% of the traffic)! How many people have to die or be seriously injured before the council will take the safety of this portion of its citizens seriously? 

Southampton’s failure to budget properly for air quality and for changing the transport priorities in the city are costing our health and in the extreme, our lives.

On the other hand a sensible re-allocation of the transport budget could:
  • Improve our air quality - at least to make it legal.
  • Improve public health by improving citizen activity
  • Improve citizen happiness by allowing the the freedom of safe and enjoyable mobility around the city
  • Allow children the independence of getting to school on their own.
  • Improve commerce in shopping ares by allowing greater footfall and pedestrian access
  • Improve accessibility for those who travel by wheel chair, or by bike as walking is difficult for them.
Please would Southampton City Council devote an appropriate amount of its budget to reducing traffic (and its pollution) in the city and increasing the number of journeys made by cycle.  This would entirely align with your objectives to ensure
  • People in Southampton live safe, healthy and independent lives
  • Southampton is an attractive and modern city, where people are proud to live and work
Thank you,


  1. By the way - if anyone want to copy or repurpose any part of this text and send their own feedback to the City Council they can still accept comments on yourcity.yoursay@southampton.gov.uk until Feb 8th.