Newcastle – a working city?

Our city has strong working class and labour roots. Coming from the mining, steel and shipbuilding industries, we are of solid stock and history. We, at Newcycling, believe that is something to be rather proud of and should be celebrated much more than is currently done. We also must forge this heritage into a future for Newcastle.

With this history in mind it is surprising however that our transport system does not cater much better for its working citizens, job seekers, school, college and university goers and the older population. Instead, the council, through using old-fashioned approaches to city planning, legitimises and invites car use. The council’s motto is ‘To, not through’ – but we ask: what does this actually mean? For the council this seems to mean making it easy for people to drive to our city, on the way inviting motor traffic to destroy and poison suburbs and their residents, inviting to park motors in an ever-growing number of multi-storey car parks in the city centre. The urban structure makes it easy for people to move out of the city and commute by car by focussing transport spending on commuter routes. Where other cities are now tearing down highways, our council still wants to build them. We are behind the urban curve.

Cycling down Grey Street . Photo: Shannon Robalino
Cycling down Grey Street . Photo: Shannon Robalino

Road building sends the message to everyone that driving is ok, and possibly even something to aspire to. But driving is often not ok: it leaves a trail of bad air and public health concerns, inactivity and personal health problems in its wake. It creates congestion, with huge amounts of space necessary for parked cars, which sit unused for around 23 hours a day.

The car is legitimised through urban space, roads and an abundant availability of car parking spaces – at the total expense of other forms of transport. Yet alternative ideas exist and are, or should be, part of the staple toolkit for planners and engineers. If these alternatives were designed into our city, the whole of Newcastle would benefit. If sensible space would be given to walking, cycling and better public transport these forms of transport would be legitimised, destigmatised and people would feel much more invited to use them instead of the car. Many people cannot afford a car, and we should not forget that 42% of households in Newcastle do not own one. For all these reasons, our city should now implement space efficient transport. Cities are the best places to enable a car free lifestyle – free of the financial burden of car ownership. Journeys are short, and good city planning can keep those short for the future.

Cycling up John Dobson Street Photo: Sally Watson
Cycling up John Dobson Street
Photo: Sally Watson

In future, Newcastle must be rethought. Newcastle must plan and design a good quality cycle network. Making it redundant to aspire to a car. Newcastle should be proud of its roots, and look to the future holding social justice firmly at its heart.

We believe that Labour councillors should take up that baton and push for a socially inclusive transport system, especially since social justice and fairness are core Labour values. To this end, in the past we have given key councillors copies of Sustainable Development Commission’s “Fairness in a car-dependent society” and Lynn Sloman’s “Car Sick”. We wish to restart the debate about our city and the inclusive transport planning we deserve. A fresh look at the working city and its needs and desires, histories and cultures is required.

We are delighted that Chi Onwurah MP has agreed to speak at our Annual General Meeting. We look forward to hear her thoughts about cycling and social justice.