Blogpost: Let’s make Harlow the Cambridge of Essex

Communities / Tue 22nd Dec 2020 at 06:22am

By Jake Shepherd

FOR many during this pandemic, myself included, our cars have been a lifeline and a semblance of normality in these times of upheaval. Both before and after this pandemic, cars enable people who might otherwise be left feeling isolated to enjoy greater mobility and participate fully in their communities.

The last census in 2011 revealed that car ownership and dependency in Harlow was significantly lower compared to our neighbouring local authorities: East Hertfordshire and Epping Forest. Harlow ranked in the lowest third of all local authorities in England and Wales for car ownership.

However, next year’s census in March might well tell a different story – and I am hoping its one for the better! Switching any or all the cars within a household to other forms of transport is seen as either more expensive, impractical or involves sacrificing an element of personal safety and security which private modes of transport like driving afford.

However, for some demographics switching represents a real term saving, carries significant health benefits and actively contributes to a collective solution to traffic, parking and pollution challenges in and around Harlow.

Since September, a secondary school student I teach has been cycling to school every day – without fail. A survey of Britons found that almost 70% of 11- to 16-year-olds own or have access to a bicycle. Yet the survey also found that ownership or access to a bicycle among 21- to 29-year-olds was just 31%. Inspired by my student and horrified by the recent inquest which found a causal link between vehicular air pollution and the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah. I decided it was time to act.

Selling my car and switching to cycling for my commute represented a £3,000 saving across the year. £1800 came from the sale of my car. Just under £900 would come from not renewing my astronomical insurance (one of the struggles faced by under-25s). Around £300 in savings from fuel costs, £42 saved from not renewing my parking permit and finally a £20 saving on the cost of road tax also contributed to the total. The saving I am more looking forward to is the ten minutes spent each day scouring Northbrooks for a parking space or turning my car around to face the right way out the cul-de-sac.

Because bikes and e-bikes don’t grow on trees, some of the £3,000 savings (approximately 1/10th of a sizable house deposit for a first-time buyer) was spent on the e-bike, insurance and equipment. With a Cyclescheme certificate, I could spend up to £2,000 on the cost of an e-bike and equipment, whilst saving approximately £500 in VAT and tax. The certificate is repaid on a salary sacrifice basis, deducted monthly before tax, showing how switching to active travel is affordable and accessible (without any credit checks). One downside, having spoken to the bike shop owner, is the 10% commission sacrificed by the retailer to the Cyclescheme. Around £120 per year would cover the fully comprehensive insurance for my e-bike and around £16 covered the cost of a home label kit having registered it with the national cycle database. Nonetheless, the saving is still substantial.

This solution isn’t possible for everybody or every household, not least because the Cyclescheme requires employers to sign up. However, for those who can – culling the car or choosing to drive one or two days less each week will have real and tangible benefits. WOW or Walk on Wednesday is a campaign to encourage children and their parents/guardians to walk to and from school (or drive half the way and walk). The time to seriously improve our air and environmental quality, lead healthier lives and tackle climate change is now. If you are able, why not try for yourself? If not you, then who?

Harlow’s supercomputer Cambridge-1 and data campus are on par with Silicon Fen, so now let’s move to match Cambridge in its cycling achievements by becoming the cycling capital of Essex. Perhaps by March, with the next census, future generations will see the strength of our common endeavour in improving Harlow’s health, environment and traffic.

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2 Comments for Blogpost: Let’s make Harlow the Cambridge of Essex:

2020-12-22 16:16:04

Let's not just think bicycles. With the science park and public health England Laboratories coming here let's make Harlow an academic and research centre to rival Cambridge

Arora mandula
2020-12-22 17:28:15

The demographic of Harlow it's not practical for most people. Cambridge is a student town

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