How local councils can help deliver a decarbonised transport system 


Author: Cllr James Gleave, board member at Transport Planning Society and councillor at Flitwick Town Council 

Anyone who is a councillor knows that one of the things that is most often raised by the public is transport. Whether it be the lack of local buses or the state of the roads – people often have a lot to say. You may think that transport and highways is the responsibility of your County Council, Unitary Authority, District Council, Borough or Combined Authority. But believe it or not, even local (parish and town) councils can do a lot to help make the transport system better and decarbonise it at the same time.

I should know. Not only am I a town councillor for Flitwick Town Council, but I am a board member of the Transport Planning Society. 

The Society is running its annual Transport Planning Day on 13th November 2023, this year focussing on “planning and delivering for a rapid and equitable transition to a decarbonised transport system.” Or more plainly, how can we lower the carbon emissions of the transport sector (the highest carbon emitting sector of the UK economy) while at the same time ensuring that it benefits everyone?

Local councils are about action. So, where to start? 

The biggest thing that you can do is get more people in your community walking, cycling, and on local public transport. This needs infrastructure. Some things you can do yourselves. For example, apply for a grant to install some bicycle parking outside your local community hall. Some ideas on the different types of bicycle parking can be found in Chapter 11 of Local Transport Note 1/20. Another brilliant initiative is station adoption, where local communities maintain and make pretty local railway stations in partnership with the train operator. The Community Rail Network has published an excellent guide on doing this.

Also, report potholes and other defects on pavements and cycle paths regularly to your local council. Some of the most vulnerable people in society use pavements the most, like people in wheelchairs and women, and so are disproportionately affected when they are in a bad state of repair. Services like FixMyStreet make this easy.

Those are some examples of doing small-scale things that make a difference to your community. But you know as well as I do that many people may travel to the nearest town or city for their trips. So how can we help decarbonise those trips? There is plenty that you can do. After all, even the longest trip has a first mile.

Accessing funding provided by Government often requires you to have a plan in place beforehand. That way, you can show how what you are bidding for funding for will make a big difference. There are several ways that you can make a plan.

  • The first is to be familiar with your area’s Local Transport Plan, produced by your local transport authority (usually a County Council, Unitary Authority, or Combined Authority). This sets out their plan for making improvements in your local area. 
  • Work with your Local Transport Authority to develop a Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan for your area. This will set out the walking and cycling routes you want to see, and what ones you want to upgrade. There is guidance on how to do this, so suggest to your Local Transport Authority that you are willing to work with them on one. This plan can then be used to bid for active travel funding.
  • Many local councils have also led on developing their own Neighbourhood Plan. These plans are brilliant for setting out the standards for new transport infrastructure and services to be delivered by new development. You should work with a local representative from Active Travel England and local bus companies to ensure what transport improvements you suggest are to the best standard possible.

But the most important thing that you can do? Involve all of the community in your plans at an early stage, champion their involvement, and importantly champion initiatives that will make it easier for your communities to get around without having to drive around. You know your area and the excluded groups within it better than anyone. By getting them involved early, you can make what you plan to do so much easier.

It is tempting to think from social media, and sadly from government announcements, that things that make it harder to drive are hated. The reality cannot be further from the truth. People support initiatives to reduce the amount of traffic on local roads, and experience from places like Waltham Forest and Oxford shows that those who support them can be rewarded at the ballot box. And when was the last time you saw a petition asking for a speed limit to be increased?

Local councils across the country are known for being at the heart of the community and focussing on doing rather than talking. To make transport networks and services in our local areas more inclusive, low carbon, and meet people’s needs, it needs the inspiration and hard work of Local Councils to make change happen. So lets make it happen!

The following blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered professional or legal advice. The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Association of Local Councils. Any links to external sources included in this blog post are provided for convenience and do not constitute endorsement or approval of those websites' content, products, services, or policies. Therefore, readers should use discretion and judgment when applying the information to their circumstances. Finally, this blog post may be updated or revised without notice.

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