Local authorities, including Manchester City Council, are considering more long-term moves to restrict car use in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
Senior figures in local government have suggested local authorities are looking to take advantage of the crisis to push for environmental and sustainable travel plans.
Ministers told a recent transport select committee that while such moves were not being directed from central government they were aware councils were looking at the issue.
Chair of the ADEPT engineering board, Mark Stevens, who also sits on the UK Roads Liaison Group (UKRLG), which brings together national and local government for roads strategy and policy talks, said there was a significant opportunity to make environmental gains.
Local authorities are looking at reclaiming 'some of the existing road space away from road vehicles and giving it to those sustainable travel modes,' he said.
'Part of the thinking is that action needs to take place fairly quickly and that is happening in local authorities at the moment. There are some really strong lessons to be learned here from and environmental and sustainable travel perspective and I think that’s what we have to capitalise on.'
Manchester Evening News reported that while the plans were not underway yet, the city council was considering closing some roads permanently to traffic if it could make suitable arrangements including bus diversions.
The Times reported that Cllr Angeliki Stogia, council lead for environment, planning and transport, said: 'We must seize the opportunity to give more space to safely walk and bike.'
The news comes after scores of councils have declared a climate emergency.
Last month, Manchester City Council’s executive backed a framework for how the city will combat climate change in the next five years - and approved the council’s own action plan setting out how it will play a leading role.
The plans include:
- Spending £15m on the second phase of a Carbon Reduction Programme which will cut carbon emissions from council buildings by 3,000 tonnes a year, on top of 1,800 tonnes of reductions from completing the first phase.
- A new investment fund of £1m will be created to plant new trees across Manchester. Trees play a crucial role in capturing carbon dioxide.
- The council is also aiming to cut 7,000 tonnes of carbon emissions a year through large scale solar and wind power energy schemes. Detailed feasibility studies will start soon.
- The Civic Quarter Heat Network (an underground heating system shared by the Town Hall, Central Library and other buildings) will save another 1,600 tonnes a year of carbon emissions
- Switching to electric vehicles will also make a major contribution. The council will initially replace half of its refuse collection vehicles with 27 new electric bin lorries to cut 900 tonnes of emissions a year with a further 100 tonnes a year saved by increasing the number of electric vehicles in the council’s fleet.
- Completing the replacement of the city’s street lighting with low energy LED lighting, a programme now in its final year, will save 220 more tonnes of emissions a year.
- The plan also looks at how the Council can help galvanise the wider change needed through its powers and policies while lobbying Government for the funding and broader policy changes to remove barriers to cutting carbon.