Levelling up is a laudable idea, that everyone in Britain have a similar standard of living and access to opportunity. This week is a stark reminder that, in levelling up, we must also consider the environment. Because equal access to nature and equal protection from climate change is vital.
There are enough studies out there that show climate change impacts the most vulnerable. Whether it be the elderly and low earners unable to cool their homes with AC, or insulation and solar panels being the domain of the wealthy.
Whilst we often hear about the global south disproportionately suffering the consequences of climate change, we often overlook the disparity in the UK.
Just last week, I raised the issue of ULEZ in Havering Council. I am aware we’re facing a climate emergency, but I believe ULEZ isn’t the solution. This is because it will hurt those who can’t afford a new vehicle, and because Havering’s public transport network is far behind central London. Havering’s poorest often need to drive.
We also see climate disparity in our housing stock. Those in social housing often suffer from less insulation and high energy bills make using a fan in hot weather a no-go. High rises see top floor flats become unbearable in heat and poorly maintained flats leave many having to hike their way home in unbearable heat.
So, when we’re talking about levelling up, we must talk about levelling up climate resilience.
The government launched their new Levelling Up fund this March, making £4.8bn available for investment in three key areas; Transport Investment, Regeneration, and Cultural Investment. Improving air quality being a vital part of Transport Investments, green spaces included in Cultural Investment.
These areas offer an opportunity for Havering Council, and others across the UK, to tackle climate disparity. I’m calling on Havering Council to investigate whether it can apply for this fund and to submit a bid.
My proposal is that the council bid along the following lines;
1) Green Spaces / Town Centre regen. Bid for funding to plant more trees. When the temperature outside is at record highs, we need shade for residents and wildlife. Romford Town Centre, for example, is paved over and the heat can become unbearable. This reduces trade to our stores and poses a health risk. Similarly, we benefit from some wonderful parks in Havering. However, our rising population will increasingly come to rely on these spaces for access to nature. Havering council should look at how we increase bio-diversity in these areas and request funding for a Bio-Diversity Officer in Havering Council.
2) Transport. My ward, St Edward’s (Romford Town centre), is likely to be one of the most congested in the Borough. Every rush hour and every weekend, traffic jams up around the ring road and the roundabouts. These cars chuck out fumes, generate large levels of heat, and hold up public transport. Meanwhile our cycling infrastructure is severely lacking. A bid for ‘levelling up funding’ should include plans to change the layout of some of Havering’s most impacted junctions. The entrance to The Brewery causes huge problems, as residents avoid Angel Way parking and block the roundabout. Similarly, the ring road offers no greenery, protecting residents from the heat and fumes.
We must increase the trees around these spaces.
3) Regeneration. Havering Council has already committed over £1bn to regeneration, through the 12 Estates Plan launched by the last administration. However, there is still much to do. Havering council should submit a bid to upgrade social and sheltered housing. This could cover improving their insulation, the installation of solar power or ground source heat pumps, and better insulation. It is vital that this work be expediated and we cannot allow the council’s financial situation to stall this. A bid to the Levelling Up Fund could protect this vital work and ensure more is done.
Of course, there is much more to be done and many better solutions that can be implemented. But it’s vital that we crack on with this.
£4.8bn is a vast sum of money, but it will be quickly gobbled up by other areas and we need to get our bid in. If Havering can’t, due to being a part of the GLA, then we must urgently lobby the Government to not forget Borough’s like our own.
Access to nature and shade, access to green energy, and climate mitigation measures will be vital if we are to really level-up the UK.
I recall a poll in 2018 revealed 1/3 of London’s kids have never climbed a tree, 84% of parents wished they could take their kids to the countryside more, 40% of our capital’s children have never flown a kite. These may seem trivial to some, but to others they are a red-flag showing we have an access to nature disparity, a climate disparity, across the UK.
Havering is a wonderfully green, town and country borough. But we must do more to improve and protect what we have.
We must ask our Council to bid for the levelling-up fund.
Levelling Up Fund Prospectus: Levelling Up Fund Round 2: prospectus - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)