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  • Gareth Davies

The Bright Bits - In the Midst of a Storm There is Always a Brightness. May 2020

Updated: Aug 30, 2021

The brightness to come out of the country’s present strange situation is there for all to see. People, communities, businesses, local councils, charities, traders are all demonstrating that there is no need to dash distances around the country at speed. Covid 19 has told us to slow down and take stock.

More importantly it is telling us to seriously examine how much and what sort of mobility we need in the future. It tells us that too much of the wrong sort of mobility is damaging to the environment and our health. Above all it tells us we can work towards a sustainability within the community.

This is true of both urban and rural society and economy. Two plain examples emphasise this.

  • The success of the work from home drive and the new ethos it has given us. The situation is not perfect as currently practised, mostly due to the entanglement of the need to work and spend time educating children from home. That however should resolve itself with the return to school.

  • The revitalisation and success of the community and local business in supporting and helping people. The fact that your local town or village with and its businesses is worth supporting has been brought home. The traders themselves have risen to the occasion with a growth in local deliveries and the use of local produce.

The lockdown has taught us to look and think local. This has had a dramatic effect in reducing traffic and the need for unnecessary journeys. and this in turn has given us better air quality, clearer skies and an improvement in road safety.

To abandon all this post lockdown would be a disaster from which the nation may never recover.

The Essence of the Lesson

The essence of the lesson is simple. Sustainability means working towards reducing the need for wasteful travel and transport. That means a move from the large to the small in the way we operate and that in itself means the building of sustainable communities, societies and economies in both the rural and urban environment.

In 2010 Jesse Norman, MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire wrote the book The Big Society. In it he states ‘A deep worry had become evident, a kind of moral panic about where our society is headed and what it is becoming’. He goes on to link this with what he calls Rigor Mortis Economics where: ‘The world of textbooks economics is perfect in itself but importantly flawed as a tool of policy’. The current crisis tells us the same; conventional economics no longer work and in the post lockdown and a post Brexit year to come economics, policy and society dramatically have to change.

Strange that it takes a pandemic to show us the way forward. Let us go back to 1973 and the words of German born British economist E. F. Schumacher Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction. We are now at that point of necessity to move in the opposite direction.

Herefordshire is a rural county. It is well placed for a rural policy that puts at its heart sustainable development of clusters of villages directly connected, socially and economically with a market town. Market towns should be the engines of the rural economy, but the traditional links between villages and town have been eroded over the years in favour of longer distance travel to large out of town urban retail parks. Providing the essentials i.e. work, retail, education, leisure, community in a good environment is the raison d’être of the market town in association with its network of villages.

The Herefordshire Local Plan to 2031 (including the Core Strategy) goes some way to realising this but the outcome is not clearly defined in terms of the hierarchy of settlements and their interaction. This is especially so with regard to the need for sustainable public transport working toward a zero-carbon target.

A move toward localised sustainable public transport networks is a necessary and direct part of ensuring the viability and future of both villages and the market town that serves them. At another level it is equally as important to maintain the essential links between the market towns and Hereford City. In this respect please see the important report Departure in the Sustainable Transport Herefordshire series which gives account of the emerging crisis in the provision of bus services.

Herefordshire Needs a Bus Strategy

That Herefordshire needs a bus strategy is more important now than ever before. Such a strategy should include:

  • A minimum level of service for all rural communities.

  • A structured network of tiered rural services based on: 1. Local market town networks connecting with catchment area villages; 2. Market town hubs for interchange with the main inter urban services

  • Strengthening the possibilities for bus/rail interchange at the county’s railway stations.

  • Multi modal/operator county wide ticketing and reduced price bus travel for the young linked to employment opportunities.

  • The reintroduction of a County wide timetable booklet and the introduction of digital timetable information displays at important nodal locations in towns and country.

  • Putting buses at the heart of air quality in Herefordshire’s towns and the city. This means a proactive bid by Herefordshire Council for Government grant for low or nil emission electric buses to be used on specifically designed town and city bus networks as part of local transport plans to reduce traffic congestion.

Failure to move to a policy of public transport improvements as a matter of urgency will just add to the ongoing woes of rural communities and market town economies. Such woes have been accelerating over time with the closure of schools, surgeries, shops, post offices, pubs and now the potential disappearance of the bus. All this has been and still is the cause of a continuous rise in the need to travel distances. That need can be substantially reduced if we now think local and act positively and quickly on the bright bits to come out of the present Covid 19 crisis.

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