By David Spereall, local democracy reporter
Leeds is developing a reputation as an “anti-car city”, a councillor has claimed, after it emerged local drivers could be hit with more charges in future.
Conrad Hart-Brooke, Liberal Democrat councillor for Rothwell, said he backed ambitions to get people out of private vehicles, but that they needed “carrots” before “sticks”.
A senior member of the administration insisted the council was not “anti-car” but that charges could be a “silver bullet” to improve air quality.
Leeds City Council is targeting a 30 per cent cut in the number of local journeys being taken by car by 2030, as part of its pledge to make the city carbon neutral.
To achieve this, it’s trying to develop so-called ’20-minute neighbourhoods’, where people can get to everywhere they need on foot, by bike or via public transport.
But as part of a presentation to the council’s climate emergency advisory committee on Monday, councillors were told that “charging measures to reduce demand for travel” by car could be considered in future years.
Responding to that, Councillor Hart-Brooke said: “I worry when I see things like that, because ultimately charging and adding costs in disadvantages the poor in our society, disproportionately.
“It’s not the guy in the 4 x 4 or the Volvo who won’t drive, they’ll pay whatever.
“All it does is hurts the people who need access to the city.”
He added: “We really need to get the options stood up that are carrots, before we go in with the sticks.
“We’re developing a reputation as an anti-car city. That’s great, but we need the options for people to use as an alternative.”
Bus and train services in and around Leeds have been stretched to breaking point since the pandemic, with bus operators in particular cutting routes due to a driver shortage.
Meanwhile, Leeds City Council has already come under attack in recent weeks for its plans to charge drivers for parking at parks and green spaces around the city.
It’s not believed there are any more specific proposals to charge Leeds motorists being developed at this stage. But clean air zones, toll roads and pricier city centre parking are all examples of policies that have been put in place elsewhere to discourage driving.
Leeds was due to have a clean air zone introduced in 2020, but that was scrapped after local taxi drivers and bus companies switched to greener vehicles before it was introduced.
Responding to Coun Hart-Brooke, Councillor Helen Hayden, the council’s executive member for climate, said: “There will be people who accuse us of being anti-car.
“The strategy is for Leeds to be a place where you don’t need a car, and that will benefit the poorest the most because they don’t have cars at the moment, yet they suffer five times more from air quality-related illnesses.
“We’re not anti-car. (The ambition) is not ‘you shouldn’t have a car’. It’s ‘you don’t need a car’.
“I don’t want to bring in any more charges than there are at the moment, but that’s not to say you don’t have it in your arsenal.”
Councillor Hayden said efforts were being made to improve public transport, install more cycle ways and make walking and biking “easier and safer”.
But she cautioned: “If all those don’t work you need something in your back pocket to be a silver bullet, or to really move things along.”