Steve Rotheram: Why funding for walking and cycling is as vital to the north as rail investment

Steve Rotheram. Image: Getty.

The Labour Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region writes.

Underinvestment in the North’s transport infrastructure has acted as a brake on our economy and a drag on our living standards for too many years.

As Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region I’ve been pushing central government for more investment in the rail network across the north, but also to devolve decision making around how we use that funding.

But I believe that active travel – walking and cycling – could be just as vital for the development of the Liverpool City Region, and the North more broadly. And it’s something we don’t have to wait for Westminster to step up and deliver.

Right now, two thirds of all journeys across the six boroughs of the Liverpool City Region are three miles or less, but half of these are still taken by car. If more of these trips were taken by bike or on foot it would massively benefit the region and the people who live here.

To achieve this we’re talking about nothing short of a revolution in the way people travel. We need to raise the profile and prominence of active travel so that it is natural a choice as hopping on a bus or taking the train. Cities like Copenhagen and Taipei have taken this approach and it has yielded huge benefits for their citizens.

It would have a positive impact on our air quality and help to cut carbon emissions. Earlier this year we became the first city region outside London to declare a climate emergency and the first to set a target to become zero carbon by 2040. As it stands, more than 700 people here die each year as a result of air pollution. We need to bring this to a stop and encouraging people to ditch their cars will be part of the solution.

Greater numbers of people travelling on bike and foot will also help improve public health. Research shows that regular walking and cycling cuts people’s risk of cardiovascular conditions like heart disease and stroke by a third.

And more active travel will grow our economy. High quality walkways and cycle paths have been shown to boost retail spend by 30 per cent, which will help badly hit high streets and town centres.

That’s why, over the next ten years and beyond, we’ll be building a network of 600km of new and upgraded walking and cycling routes linking all six boroughs of the city region – Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and the Wirral.

These routes will not only be safe and easy to use, but – as part of my plans to deliver an integrated London-style transport network – will also be linked to our buses, our iconic Mersey Ferries and our brand new publically-owned metro trains, which will begin running in our city region from next year.

Some £16m of funding for seven initial routes – about 50km in total – has already been committed and the first spade will go in the ground on these projects in the next few months, but to really kick-start a revolution in the way people travel we need to go beyond building infrastructure.

We need a cultural shift, so that people think about walking and cycling as a genuine alternative to the car. That’s why we’re introducing schemes to help people to travel by bike or foot, regardless of their background.

In the Liverpool City Region, we’ve piloted, backed and funded a host of schemes designed to make active travel easier, safer and more accessible to residents. These include training thousands of school pupils in cycle safety, supporting hundreds of co-workers to commute together on foot and providing free bikes to newly employed people to ensure that access to help ensure that access to transport doesn’t impact someone’s potential to keep their new job.

When it comes to active travel, I know our neighbours across the North are also strongly committed to building infrastructure and changing behaviour. Transport for the North is incorporating walking and cycling measures into new highways development, whilst Greater Manchester is putting their own walking and cycling strategy in place.

So while I will never give up calling for the government to redress the historic imbalance around investment in our rail network, in the Liverpool City Region we lead rather than follow. It’s time for a revolution in the way we travel, and it starts here.

Steve Rotheram is the Labour Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region


This election is our chance to treat housing as a right – but only if we listen to tenants

The Churchill Gardens Estate, Westminster, London. Image: Getty.

“You’re joking, not another one... there’s too much politics going on at the moment..!”

Brenda of Bristol’s televised comments in 2017, when told that another election was to take place, could just as well have been uttered when MPs voted to call a general election for 12 December this year. 

Almost immediately the politicking began. “A chance to transform our country”. “An opportunity to stop Brexit/get Brexit done”. ‘We can end austerity and inequality.” “A new revitalised parliament.” “Another referendum.”

Yet dig behind the language of electioneering and, for the first time that I can recall, there is mention of solving the housing crisis by all the major parties. I can welcome another election, if the result is a determination to build enough homes to meet everyone’s needs and everyone’s pocket.

That will require those who come to power to recognise that our housing system has never been fit for purpose. It has never matched the needs of the nation. It is not an accident that homelessness is increasing; not an accident that families are living in overcrowded accommodation or temporary accommodation, sometimes for years; not an accident that rents are going up and the opportunities to buy property are going down. It is not an accident that social housing stock continues to be sold off. These are the direct result of policy decisions by successive governments.

So with all the major parties stating their good intentions to build more homes, how do we ensure their determination results in enough homes of quality where people want to live, work and play? By insisting that current and prospective tenants are involved in the planning and decision making process from the start.

“Involved” is the key word. When we build new homes and alter the environment we must engage with the local community and prospective tenants. It is their homes and their communities we are impacting – they need to be involved in shaping their lived space. That means involvement before the bull-dozer moves in; involvement at thinking and solution finding stages, and with architects and contractors. It is not enough to ask tenants and community members for their views on plans and proposals which have already been agreed by the board or the development committee of some distant housing provider.

As more homes for social and affordable rent become a reality, we need tenants to be partners at the table deciding on where, how and why they should be built there, from that material, and with those facilities. We need them to have an effective voice in decision making. This means working together with tenants and community members to create good quality homes in inclusive and imaginatively designed environments.

I am a tenant of Phoenix Community Housing, a social housing provider. I am also the current Chair and one of six residents on the board of twelve. Phoenix is resident led with tenants embedded throughout the organisation as active members of committees and onto policy writing and scrutiny.

Tenants are part of the decision making process as we build to meet the needs of the community. Our recently completed award-winning extra care scheme has helped older people downsize and released larger under-occupied properties for families.

By being resident led, we can be community driven. Our venture into building is small scale at the moment, but we are building quality homes that residents want and are appropriate to their needs. Our newest development is being built to Passivhaus standard, meaning they are not only more affordable but they are sustainable for future generations.

There are a few resident led organisations throughout the country. We don’t have all the answers to the housing situation, nor do we get everything right first time. We do know how to listen, learn and act.

The shocking events after the last election, when disaster came to Grenfell Tower, should remind us that tenants have the knowledge and ability to work with housing providers for the benefit of all in the community – if we listen to them and involve them and act on their input.

This election is an opportunity for those of us who see appropriate housing as a right; housing as a lived space in which to thrive and build community; housing as home not commodity – to hold our MPs to account and challenge them to outline their proposals and guarantee good quality housing, not only for the most vulnerable but for people generally, and with tenants fully involved from the start.

Anne McGurk is a tenant and chair of Phoenix Community Housing, London’s only major resident-led housing association.