Latest Column in Suffolk Free Press

In case you missed it, we copy below the text from the most recent SudSoc column in the Suffolk Free Press published on 4th June 2020. Our next column is due in early July, keep an eye out for it!

Lessons from Lockdown – from our incoming Chairman

As we start to emerge from 10 weeks of unprecedented lockdown, it is clear that the enormous impact of coronavirus will be felt for years to come, not only by grieving families, struggling businesses and ‘the economy’ but on social behaviours and how we interact, work and live together.

In urban areas our normal way of life has been transformed by the pandemic yet despite the upheaval, there have been some positives: the reduction in traffic through Sudbury and more people walking or using their bikes has offered a glimpse of what Sudbury could look like. There’s an opportunity to learn some lessons from the past two months so cyclists are prioritised; air quality is improved and people can slow down and enjoy the town and its environs.

Although I am now fully retired from engineering projects and do minimal teaching, I still follow developments in technology especially in low carbon energy and transportation that were changing even without the added impetus from Covid19.

As a hybrid/electric vehicle user, I can say they are great to drive and encourage polite behaviour from drivers. Government commitments to dramatically reduce carbon emissions by 2050 through such measures as replacing diesel/petrol with electrically powered cars may even be accelerated as a result of Covid-19 as many countries have seen skies clear of smog for the first time in years.

The absence of traffic in Sudbury during lockdown has made cycling round the town more pleasant and made a huge reduction in noise and air pollution, especially from diesel engines.  Living between Cross St and Church St, it was really noticeable and most welcome. As traffic returns, the clean air effect reduces but as working from home becomes the ‘new normal’ for a significant number of people (including in my immediate family), there should be fewer journeys.

Until a vaccine giving long term protection against Covid-19 is found, some will have to continue shielding themselves or vulnerable family members by working/staying at home and for others, the enforced lockdown has meant a re-think: the pleasures of not commuting to London will be remembered and I can’t see people rushing to return.

The limiting of outdoor exercise to walking/running and cycling during lockdown has also led to a visible boom in cycling and it has been a joy to see so many people on bikes. This is already leading to cities like Bristol and London bringing forward cycle-friendly schemes to encourage their continued use. Electric bikes are improving all the time and sales have taken off during lockdown – existing models have a range of 50 miles with a regulated top speed of 15.5 mph. I have seen a Waitrose shopper using an electric bike to whizz up Ballingdon Hill on the way home!

The challenge for Sudbury is that since 1950 we have moved steadily to being a car accessed town with plentiful and free car parking.  Whether this has saved our shops is questionable but it has ensured a lot of traffic at peak times.  The population continues to grow and judging by the number of cars parking on double yellows and quiet residential roads near the centre, parking is nearing its capacity. Our narrow streets and pavements, coupled with the funnelling of 3 major roads carrying heavy goods vehicles and other traffic into Market Hill, make it dangerous for cyclists (and pedestrians) when they have to compete for space.

The lockdown conditions have shown that cycling would be ideal for a town of our size and the appetite clearly exists when riders feel safe. As streets cannot be widened to create more space, it’s time to revisit ideas to divert lorries away from Market Hill, to speed up support for electrically powered vehicles in terms of design/infrastructure/pricing and slow down traffic speeds via a 20 mph town centre speed limit to improve safety and amenity for all.

Given the unique lockdown experiment that we’ve had to find a way through together, it would be great to see the Councils incorporating lessons learnt in their ‘Vision for Sudbury’ plans for our town’s future.

Ian Liddell