YORK could bid to become the first zero-emission city centre in the country when the lockdown is lifted.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced the government wants at least one city centre to be restricted to bikes and electric vehicles only – as people are encouraged to cycle and walk while public transport capacity is reduced due to coronavirus.
And councillors are calling for York to bid to become the UK’s first showpiece zero-emissions city.
It could mean only bikes, pedestrians and electric vehicles are allowed in.
The government is already asking local authorities to create pop-up bike lanes, widen pavements, establish pedestrianised or bus-only streets and boost bike fixing hubs – to get people moving without adding more traffic to the roads or overwhelming public transport.
The York Labour group has written to council leaders asking them to argue that York should be chosen as the first zero-emission city centre.
And City of York Council deputy leader, Green Party councillor Andy D’Agorne, said he would support a bid.
Councillors have already voted in favour of banning private car journeys within the city walls by 2023 – except for people who have disabilities or other conditions that mean they must travel by car.
Cllr Jonny Crawshaw said: “Though Grant Shapps isn’t a natural ally of Labour we were pleased to hear how much Government’s thinking on future transport policy chimes with the steps York has already begun to take towards a lower-car, low-carbon, people-friendly city.
“Lockdown has given us a glimpse of what significantly quieter, more peaceful streets can be like.
“Fewer cars on the roads has already lead to vast improvements in air quality and it’s been great to see more people – including many families – getting out and about on their bikes, exploring parts of the city they might not previously have felt safe venturing into on two-wheels. We are really keen to find ways of retaining these gains as and when the lockdown is gradually eased.”
York is the first city in the country to roll out a voluntary clean air zone – and Cllr D’Agorne highlighted other moves the council has made to boost environmentally friendly transport, including getting greener buses and plans for electric vehicle charging hubs.
Anti-idling fines of £20 for anyone who refuses to switch off a parked vehicle when asked were also launched last year.
Cllr D’Agorne said: “I think York would be in a very strong position to bid for this.
“I would be very supportive of the idea – as with everything our chances depend on the circumstances.”
The government is telling councils to reallocate space on roads for more cyclists and pedestrians.
The council has already closed the southbound side of Bishopthorpe Road to provide more space for pedestrians and cyclists to stay 2m apart.
Mr Shapps also announced that electric scooter trials will be fast tracked – as a possible alternative to cars or buses. He warned it is everyone’s responsibility not to overcrowd the network, something he said could lead to a second spike and more coronavirus deaths.
Cllr Paula Widdowson, executive member for climate change, said: “We’re committed to building a greener and cleaner York with carbon emissions reduced to zero by 2030.
“York was one of the first pedestrianised city centres in the UK and we invested £1.2M to become the first voluntary Clean Air Zone in the UK in January 2020. A further £2m is being spent to install electric charging points across ensuring that 5 per cent of all council car parking bays have EV points.
“As a result, we are in an excellent position to become the UK’s first carbon free city and we will take every opportunity to work with the government to sustain the positive environmental benefits that have come from the reduced number of vehicles on our roads.”
“However, for councils like the City of York, to make as big an impact as possible we need clarity over national funding.
“So far York has received just over £10 million to cover our Covid-19 response that is estimated to cost £34 million. Our local authority has been continuously under-funded in recent years, particularly when compared to other parts of the UK.
“We need the Government to deliver on their promise of fair funding for councils, including for support with zero carbon schemes, during the Covid-19 crisis.”