Have you ever noticed a problem in your area and thought that somebody should do something about it? Have you then wondered if you might be that somebody?
We have on many occasions. But if we do decide to act, who are we? Do we act as private citizens, or a family? What if there isn’t a campaign to join in with? Should we start our own charity or campaign of some kind?
LEAF is an experiment in answering those sorts of questions. It’s an umbrella group, a shared name for environmental projects in the Luton area. It allows individuals, families or small groups to take action under a wider banner. If you’ve got a project that you’d like some support with, let us know. We’ll be trying some things and sharing the resources to inspire local action too.
We’re also interested in networking green organisations in Luton, celebrating each others successes, and building a stronger and more powerful civil society around environmental issues.
Where some councils have declared a climate emergency and then gone away to think about it, Luton have chosen to do the strategy first. So yesterday we also saw the publication of a broad timeline for how those carbon cuts will be acheived. It includes more use of public transport, walking and cycling, and encouraging electric vehicles. There’s a cycling audit underway in the town. A council operated bus company has been proposed to serve routes that commercial firms aren’t covering, paid for by a workplace parking scheme.
The council is already working on housing, improving energy efficiency in its own housing stock. There will be new schemes for home insulation, and transitioning away from gas boilers. Climate change will be incorporated into all council operations, and all new schemes will be assessed for their impact on climate change. A new scrutiny group will be formed to keep things on track.
The council’s target also includes the airport. While it doesn’t include the flights themselves, this is still an unusual step. Other cities that control airports have made climate plans and left their airports out. Luton Airport, in conversation with Luton Council, have agreed that they will bring their efforts in line with the town and aim to be carbon neutral by 2040.
LEAF will be working to support Luton’s plans, and find constructive ways to accelerate them where possible.
A study of 146 towns in Britain has ranked Luton last for air pollution. While other areas create more pollution, Luton’s tight streets make it slower to disperse, increasing risks to health.
At the opposite end of the scale, Milton Keynes’ wide and leafy boulevards presents a low risk of air pollution.
Professor Rob MacKenzie from Birmingham University explains: “What we’re interested in is not just how much pollution is produced, but how much is in the air. Our study shows how effective the particular urban form of a city is in dispersing air pollution.”
This is bad news for Luton, although from a ‘glass half full’ perspective, coming last means that we can only improve from here. LEAF will be looking for projects to address our dirty air, and if you are aware of interesting local initiatives around air pollution, please let us know about them.
Because the problem is to do with Luton’s street layout and buildings, there are no immediate solutions. Tree planting is a real science in urban areas, and badly placed street trees can trap pollution and make dispersal harder, so that’s not a quick fix either. The best solutions will be in encouraging greater use of public transport, and more active forms of transport – especially around schools, where idling diesels are a major source of air pollution.