The war against chugging exhaust fumes, gridlocked traffic and persistent engine hum is being waged in cities around the world. But how can UK cities, and particularly London, protect the environment while simultaneously delivering major infrastructure projects that require heavy goods vehicles (HGVs)?
Take France, for example. From May, cars will be banned from the Champs-Elysees in Paris for one Sunday each month in an attempt to reduce pollution in the city. Most HGVs over 7t are already banned across the French road and motorway network between 10pm on Saturdays to 10pm on Sundays. Further restrictions apply in Paris where HGVs are prohibited from entering the area on Mondays and the day following public holidays between 6am and 10am. In addition, HGVs cannot leave the Paris area on Fridays and the day preceding public holidays, usually from around 4pm onwards.
So can we learn something from our Gallic cousins, or are blanket HGV bans a step too far?
In London, the focus on reducing carbon emissions and improving road safety has been high on the agenda for all of the city’s mayoral candidates. Both Labour candidate Sadiq Khan and the Conservative’s Zac Goldsmith have suggested they will implement tougher rules for HGVs and large vehicles on the capital’s roads. Earlier, this year Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon launched a campaign calling for all HGVs and construction vehicles to be banned from central London at peak hours.
“London is a great city, but the polluted air we breathe blights people’s lives,” commented Pidgeon. “For our health, and the health of our children, the hard truth is we can’t let the growth in traffic go unchecked. My plan to ban HGVs at peak times for our most congested roads will start to tackle this problem.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Green Party candidate Siân Berry also backed a ban on construction vehicles in the capital during peak hours. Berry’s manifesto said she planned to “introduce a rush hour construction lorry ban (as a condition of planning and effectively enforced), and a rush hour HGV ban, implemented by amending existing planning restrictions on delivery times working with businesses, local communities and the boroughs.”
The need to reduce carbon emissions and protect vulnerable road users is undoubtedly a worthy cause. But there is a whiff of hypocrisy from government leaders who preach about banning the number of construction vehicles on the roads, while simultaneously supporting major infrastructure projects like Crossrail 2 and HS2. How do we deliver on these important schemes while demonising the contractors who require HGVs to do the job?
Most firms have long been looking closely at ways in which to reduce their carbon footprint and, in fact, this is often a key requirement that decides whether a bid for work is successful or not. The focus for policy makers must be on working more closely with industry to find solutions that ensure a compromise between both delivering essential infrastructure and protecting the environment for the next generation.