I used to have a rather childish (though intentionally time-consuming) habit when on long, boring road journeys of inventing the combination of words behind acronyms of obscure businesses passing by the window. It goes without saying that each had to consist of ‘rude words’ or at least silly mixtures that made no sense; in most cases, I’d have no idea what the real words were, but I knew they would seem extremely dull by comparison. For example, LTN might stand for Lesbians Terrify Nonces – when in actual fact it stands for Low Traffic Neighbourhood. I know which I prefer, but then I’m not possessed by misguided righteousness that says placing roadblocks in residential areas to effectively outlaw the internal combustion engine there will somehow save the planet. The green lobby has been instrumental in the giving over of sections of the queen’s highway to those genial and generous road-users known as cyclists, though its enthusiastic endorsement of public transport has been somewhat hampered by the relentless reduction of bus services, not to mention the astronomical price of train fares. The Low Traffic Neighbourhood scheme is its latest brainwave, even if – as ever – those who suffer most at its hands are those for whom the motorcar is not a luxury item but a livelihood.

Certain neighbourhoods in London – not the wealthiest ones, by pure coincidence – have been subjected to the LTN treatment and the measures have begun to encroach into other big cities of late. LTN is largely imposed upon the people who live in these locations without prior consultation and redirects traffic back onto the main thoroughfares, leading to increased congestion and consequently more air pollution as vehicles pump out their poison in gridlocked queues that extend the rush hour and make the lives of motorists as miserable as those of pedestrians. A street subjected to LTN makes getting in and out especially difficult for car-owners who live there as well as small businesses whose premises are essentially on wheels; it can also severely impede the rapid response of the emergency services, with ambulances confronted by a sudden roadblock forced to find an alternative route; it can then literally be the difference between life and death. In short, it is the little people who are being punished for the crimes of corporations and conglomerates; those whose vehicles are vital to their survival are not responsible for climate change, yet the vehicle in its extortionate electric incarnation is only within the price range of those who don’t rely upon it to make a living.

At a time when small businesses are struggling enough as it is for obvious reasons, the kind of wet dream Caroline Lucas must wake-up from every morning is not necessarily what most people have been waiting for this Government to promote with a fanfare; but that’s what has happened this week. The unveiling of a 10-point plan for a ‘green industrial revolution’ – basically a bit of environmentally-friendly recycling of a discarded policy found at the back of Gordon Brown’s old Downing Street desk – couldn’t have been more ill-timed. Like the LTN schemes, Boris’s ‘Net Zero’ agenda is something that will be given the green light (pardon the pun) without the need to consult those whose lives it will most impact upon. And, needless to say, those whose lives it will most impact upon probably aren’t known for their handsome donations to the Conservative Party coffers.

It seems when the dust has settled on the economic apocalypse that has already begun, the only companies left standing will be the corporate behemoths, reducing the free market to an exclusive private members’ club; maybe it always has been, though it used to be sold (certainly back in the Thatcher era) as something that would open doors to wannabe entrepreneurs and any aspirational sort with a bit of ambition. But cynically adopting fashionable causes is now second nature for our corporate overlords, whether plastering the rainbow flag on their logos or showing ‘solidarity’ with BLM, so as long as they sing from the same green hymn-sheet, we can all clap for corporations. The fact that the kind of green policies usually advocated by opportunistic administrations are ones that tend to benefit a small and already affluent minority at the expense of the rest is something that either eludes its advocates or simply exposes their absolute disregard for the potential losers. After all, how many times do we have to be lectured on the evils of air pollution by jet-setting celebrities to realise how the general approach to environmental issues chiefly consists of the haves telling the have-nots to do as they say and not as they do?

A pushy salesman from British Gas turned up at my door a few weeks back, informing me a smart meter will be installed; I never requested one beforehand or was given the impression there and then that I had a choice, though a swift phone-call to the landlord informed me it wasn’t compulsory; I could contact British Gas and let them know I was content with the current arrangement and didn’t desire a replacement. As things stand, I take my own meter readings; I’ve had enough dubious estimated readings (and suspiciously high bills) from energy suppliers in the past to be sceptical when it comes to any allegedly foolproof upgrades in which I have no participation. But at least I had the option to cancel, even if it wasn’t immediately apparent to me. Replacing domestic boilers with expensive ‘heat pumps’ and phasing out petrol and diesel vehicles – all of which form part of Boris’s (or Carrie’s?) green revolution – will not require consulting those affected; the plan can simply go ahead free from any democratic process.

Then again, it’ll probably never happen. We’ve had a green revolution from every government of every colour for the past 20-odd years, with cheerleaders of the calibre of Peter Mandelson, Ed Miliband and Chris Huhne paying the same old lip-service to the green lobby and provoking sublime indifference in the electorate. None of it amounted to much – and, of course, who can forget David Cameron coming over all Lawrence of Antarctica with the huskies? Perhaps that image above all others emphasised the style-over-substance nature of what is usually proposed. At the same time, the fact Boris chose to announce this exciting news – with the potential beneficiaries minimal and predictable – in the middle of an economic meltdown perhaps underlines once again just how much the majority matter to the powers-that-be. Why on earth would anyone beyond the green obsessives and the Church of St Greta greet such an announcement with anything other than ‘Oh, not now’?

When electricity pylons first appeared on the landscape, I’ve no doubt many bemoaned them as ugly blots that despoiled the scenic appeal of the rural vista. Today, they’re so obligatory it’s difficult to imagine the landscape without them; the still-surreal spectacle of wind-farms provoke a similar response in the here and now to the one pylons once did, though I’m rather fond of the abstract apparitions and feel they blend in sympathetically when it comes to marriages between nature and technology. Whether they serve any purpose other than conveniently ticking a green box is another matter; ditto solar panels on rooftops. Yes, there are undoubtedly too many vehicles on the road today, though redirecting traffic down increasingly fruitless routes has been a central feature of urban redevelopment ever since the doomed designs for towns mapped out in the 1960s. There should be a way to balance the needs of those for whom the motorcar is a tool of their trade with improving the environment. I’ve a feeling this latest one isn’t it.

© The Editor

3 thoughts on “THE EMERALD AISLE

  1. In practice LTN soon translates into ‘Low Trade Neighbourhood’, mainly because the greenwashing authorities fail to acknowledge that, outside London, the general situation is that folks with cars have money to spend, folks without cars don’t have as much of it. City centres were already decaying because access and parking has been made near-impossible, the mobile classes simply headed out of cities to the more welcoming towns and to the out-of-town malls with acres of free parking – the Covid-sponsored, but soon to be permanent, ‘working from home’ approach will just accelerate that.

    For the last 50 years, any ordinary working folk have had affordable access to practical personal transport, that’s not bubble-cars or motor-bikes, but real vehicles with a roof and a few seats to transport all the family and their shopping in comfort and safety. They won’t give up that functionality easily, it’s about freedom, non-dependency and door-to-door flexibility, things which no form of public transport ever comes close to providing. Electric cars are embryonic, they’re beta-test, nowhere near the state of development of even the simplest/cheapest of standard cars and will lack the infrastructure to be a feasible substitute for quite some time.

    Two weeks ago, I drove 400 miles (through some appalling weather) in around 8 hours, door to door – there’s currently no electric car anywhere near the market-place which could replicate that: in those conditions, even the best claimed mileage would barely manage a third of that trip and, given the paucity of charging points, would probably require four or five re-charging stops along the way – I didn’t even need to stop once for fuel (but will admit to one brief ageing bladder-vacating halt half-way). That’s what electric cars need to deliver and they’re decades away from it, even if we wanted them.

    We’re not even supposed to mention the long-term battery disposal issues nor the original sourcing of the raw materials to create these environmentally offensive units. You might generate some of the electricity from pretty windmills, but that doesn’t excuse disregarding the huge downsides of all batteries, basically a boxful of nasty chemicals. Someone somewhere is making shed-loads of money persuading those in power that we should abandon more than a century of progress to open up a completely new can of smelly worms – they’ll be long gone with the money before the fetid aroma of those earth-bound creatures finally surfaces and the reckoning begins: but so will I, so just remember I told you so.

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    1. Yes, I think I wrote a post (or possibly, I suspect, two) about the decline and fall of the high-street a couple of years back in which I touched upon the part played by both extortionate parking charges and overall paucity of parking spaces in city centres as contributary factors. Also, of course, the impossibly high business rates on high-street premises has brought down many a shutter – and they wonder why these places are such graveyards. The gradual democratisation of – and freedom that comes with – the ownership of wheels is something the State and its emerald allies clearly frown upon, but I know when I’ve been researching particularly picaresque books I’ve written that having to rely on Google Street View to get a feel of place is no substitute for being there; had I had my own vehicle I could’ve been there at half the price and far quicker than any form of public transport would’ve got me there, for sure – and it may well have persuaded me to make a journey I ended up avoiding.

      This distorted image of every riff-raff road-user being some sort of rubber-burning Clarkson-on-steroids singeing a hole in the Ozone layer with each trip seems to shape every useless ‘green revolutionary’ manifesto, of which Boris’s is the latest in a long line. And one, like the rest, that will probably never fully come to fruition.


  2. From what I remember from my youth. People used to live within walking distance of the town centre (or a short bus ride) and there was several choices of bakers, butchers, grocers and green grocers. What killed it was the supermarkets. English people are cheap and supermarkets, because they can bulk-buy, can undercut the traditional high street stores. The lack of parking and traffic calming are red herrings here.
    So what we see is a high street dominated by charity shops and perplexingly barbers shops (usually Turkish).

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