West of England metro mayor candidates make bold pledges on transport, environment and housing at hustings
Scrapping new roads and forcing land sales to tackle the housing crisis were among a series of bold pledges during a debate between West of England metro mayor candidates.
Transport and the environment were the key themes during the hustings held by Bristol 24/7 and Watershed, with Conservative Samuel Williams revealing he had developed asthma since moving to Bristol.
The Greens’ Jerome Thomas promised using the regional mayor’s as-yet-untapped compulsory purchase powers to buy land for new homes.
Both he and Liberal Democrat Stephen Williams said they would tell officers to stop working on new roads.
The Lib Dem pledged to set up a social enterprise backed by the West of England Combined Authority (Weca) to build homes, while Labour’s Dan Norris said more council houses and flats were needed.
Here’s a glimpse at what they said during the debate on Thursday, April 22nd.
Q: Will you scrap new roads that are in the Joint Local Transport Plan?
Stephen Williams said: “On day one I would instruct officers to stop working on new road schemes and work up how bus franchising would work best.
“We have got to clean up all our buses, which is why I’m keen to use bus franchising powers so we can say to bus operators if you want to work in this very profitable part of the country, you have got to have clean buses.
“I would like to clean up our taxis, and on every major road in Bristol and Bath I would set aside space for an electric car club to break that link in people’s minds that you must have access to your own vehicle.”
Samuel Williams said: “I have developed asthma since moving to Bristol.
“I worry for our residents and my two daughters that they are growing up in a city that is polluting their lungs and risking serious harm of poor health.
“I would like to introduce mobility credits as a method of using the money raised from Clean Air Zones (CAZs) towards other forms of transport such as e-scooters.
“I don’t think fundamentally there is a need to build new roads, however, some areas like the fact we have not built the M49 junction means large lorries are trundling through residential regions and not on the motorway.”
Jerome Thomas said: “Greens would stop any new road building. We really want to see those budgets invested in alternatives.
“We have a crisis with transport, it accounts for 34 per cent of our carbon emissions.
“I would like to see that road budget properly allocated for cycling infrastructure in the way European countries have repurposed their road budget so it’s proper spending rather than the occasional bit of funding from central government to put a cycle lane here or there.”
Dan Norris said: “We have been let down by all our politicians, including my party, Labour, as well as the others, because we have not been ambitious enough or cared enough about the things we have been saying.
“I am determined to change that.
“The public has not been fully involved in the way it needs to be to shape policies and make sure they can be delivered.”
Q: What new and innovative solution would you implement to tackle air pollution?
Dan Norris said: “I’m not sure the role of metro mayor is to come up with new and innovative ideas, it’s to look at best practice and not reinvent the wheel.
“It’s to look at what has worked really well in other parts of the world and implement it.
“The budget is too limited to be experimental.
“We want things we know work and to implement them as quickly as possible.”
He said a big difference between himself and Tory incumbent Tim Bowles, who is retiring, was that he would make himself accessible to constituents and listen to them.
Jerome Thomas said: “We have got to get the basics right, and implementing the CAZs will have a significant impact on air quality in its own right.
“The bus and taxi fleet has been cleaned up over the last few years, the next stage is to start tackling congestion and making alternatives to the car more appealing, which is very closely linked to air quality but a different problem.
“We need to get public transport moving quicker. An innovative solution is electric scooters and e-bikes.
“Those have fabulous potential to link in with other forms of transport and e-scooters can extend commuting distances.”
Samuel Williams said Mr Bowles secured Department for Transport money for the pilot Future Mobility Zone in the region that enabled the e-scooter trials and work on integrated ticketing.
He said: “I would be looking to roll out innovations such as trams when we talk about longer-term ambitions of mass transit.
“We need to consult with you, our region, so I will be launching very quickly collaborative future forums so together we can start delivering the solutions we want to see.”
Stephen Williams said: “The headline policy in my manifesto is to use the mayor’s soft power to set up a collaboration called the West of England Centre of Excellence for Green Technology bringing together our four universities, world-class companies that do innovation and our skills providers so we can design the products, services and training packages to transition to a greener society by 2030.
“One of the ideas is to break the association we have that to be successful we must own our own car and instead think it would be better if we know we have access to a vehicle when we need it that runs on clean fuel.”
Q: How will you ensure people can afford to live in the region and that there are enough new homes?
Stephen Williams said: “The current Conservative mayor botched the land use plan which is almost the most important thing he had to get right in his first year in office, so I will have to put that in place with the three partner local authorities.
“We have to build communities that are socially balanced, so house builders don’t just build executive homes which are the most profitable but homes of all different sizes and we plan holistically so new development sites are linked from the outset to public transport.
“In terms of direct building there is a role for combined authorities.
“I propose setting up a new social enterprise, West of England Homes, to build homes for sale, for private rental because the sector is very important for thousands of young people who come to the region to start their new career, and use the surplus from both those activities to reinvest in building homes for social rent.”
Samuel Williams said: “We have a big challenge in building new homes and communities that people want to live in, which could be up to 130,000 more homes over the next few years.
“I would not set up new infrastructure to build but work in partnership with housing associations and the private sector.
“But I would want to implement and use stronger direction using the spatial development strategy to develop homes that are nature friendly, low carbon, sustainable and affordable.
“We need to engage the market. Too much land is being held and banked and we need to change that narrative and start building.”
Jerome Thomas said: “We are building homes in the wrong places where people are dependent on cars and we are overdependent on the ‘volume house builders’ who have been making record profits while building homes which have unacceptable energy efficiency standards.
“We need to use the power of the metro mayor. They have compulsory purchase powers, so where we have sites that are undeveloped, the metro mayor has the right to purchase those sites.
“This gives a great opportunity to deal with stalled sites.”
He said by investing 15 to 20 per cent of the Avon Pension Fund’s £4.5 billion more locally, the region would have the resources to start building homes for social housing.
Dan Norris said: “The market needs change because the private sector gets money out of building executive homes which are the most profitable, not affordable homes which is what our area needs more than anything else.
“But the thing that is holding us back is partly land-banking by the large private house builders who have rights over the land that they have procured which limits the options to the rest of us who want to build homes which don’t make money but meet our needs.
“We should make sure each part of the region does its share producing the new homes in its quota because local people in rural areas want to live in their community but are forced to move into the cities which creates even bigger pressure for people who live there to afford homes.
“So I want to see a bigger emphasis on money going to council homes and housing associations because only twice since the Second World War have we met our housing target in England and that was when huge numbers of council houses were built.”
Adam Postans, LDRS
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