Posts Tagged ‘policy’

Last week saw daily outbursts of indignation at the proposals by Westminster council to extend parking charges and restrictions into the night in Central London. I’m amazed that because people are famous as actors or for running strip clubs they think their opinions on transport planning should carry more weight.

The ‘outrage’ at those facing a challenge to their cosy cars reminds me of similar opinions expressed before the congestions charge was introduced by Ken Livingstone. It was predicted to decimate the retail economy in various ways. Although the congestions charge may have changed shopping patterns, these gloomy predictions of its effects haven’t materialised, but air quality in central London has improved.

Air pollution remains a problem, costing us in terms of health treatment and quality of life (see, for example this page from Client Earth on the health impacts of air pollution or, for quantitative figures, this table from Defra on the damage costs per tonne of pollutant). So those opposing the current proposals should remember how the majority of pedestrians will benefit from restrictions on the minority who drive.

There is one argument currently put forward against the parking restrictions which I sympathise with. Many travelling late at night, particularly women, don’t feel safe on London’s streets. Those able to drive can protect themselves somewhat from this, others can’t. Again we can learn from Ken’s congestion charge: its political acceptability was helped by the reinvestment of revenues in public transport. Part of the revenues from the proposed parking restrictions should be spent increasing police (or community officer) presence on the streets. This would help the whole of London, including the polluters displaced from their cars.

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Working with some Belgian colleagues on valuing the management of nature conservation areas at the moment. Their Government situation is an interesting one. There are strong governments in Belgium’s two regions (Wallonia and Flanders), but they have had no national Government (in the elected political sense) for over a year. The machinery of Government is still working, but the political energy of leadership seems absent.

The intriguing fact is that the Belgian economy is performing ok (growth for 2010 predicted at 2%). There doesn’t seem to be an obvious explanation for this (no big sectors that are driving GDP growth), but performance is just better than several neighbouring EU countries. So are there alternative explanations?

I’ve often thought that UK politicians change things for changes sake – to be seen to be doing something. The NHS is maybe the best example. There seems to be a major overhaul every other year. Are any of these systems ever allowed to develop and achieve their aims? Maybe like me you’ve wondered if the NHS wouldn’t be better off if the Government didn’t interfere so much: set the objectives, and the budget (including the need for savings) and let the professionals get on with it…

Maybe that’s what is happening in Belgium? Politicians aren’t interfering. The socio-economic system is the same as last year. Everybody does roughly the same thing, only slightly better. Maybe 2% better?

So should we reduce how often Government implements change – they should only reform the NHS once every decade, they should only make new policies every other year, and in between leave us to get on with it?

Or should we limit the extent to which Government intervenes – set a system and let us get on with it?

The latter question is one that we will be asking more often in the UK in near future especially in the context of how to marry the localism and big society agendas and environmental protection that requires some national systems to be in place….

Where is the balance? Brussels?!

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