ESC’s aspirational vision is colliding with public opinion

THERE is understandably huge scepticism surrounding the ambitions for getting thousands of extra people to the two new school sites.

 (Picture by Adrian Miller, 26883284)
(Picture by Adrian Miller, 26883284)

What we are seeing is an aspirational vision that hasn’t even been fully formed colliding head on with public opinion that is firmly rooted in the current reality of their everyday lives.

All through this process people have been told not to worry, the answers will be forthcoming, but the reality is that the traffic situation and therefore the quality of life will be worse in the roads surrounding St Sampson’s and Les Beaucamps whatever happens impacting on thousands more residents – there needs to be an honesty about that and people need to be convinced that it is a social price worth paying for this education system.

So far many are not.

There also needs to be some serious thought given to air pollution from the extra cars and buses that will be belched out as the States tries to encourage more young people to walk and cycle – there is a growing understanding nationally that this is a potentially dangerous mix that has not yet been spoken about here.

A move to encourage more active lifestyles in the journey to and from schools is at face value attractive, but nothing we have seen so far overcomes the obvious cultural and practical challenges.

For the new schools to work Education requires a cultural shift, but it will need to come out with proposals that are actually much more ambitious than what has been proposed so far.

There is a synergy with the transport strategy here and its desire to shift people out of large vehicles to other more sustainable ways of getting about.

The strategy has largely failed in that ambition because it was starved of funding and unable to get traction among the people whose lifestyles need to change.

It too is an example of where the aspiration is much greater than the sum of the actions actually taken to try and achieve it.

The States is bold in words but little else and that gets members into trouble.

Now if we had seen five years of decisive moves to make it safer and more attractive to walk and ride, to see more people opting for cars sized to fit Guernsey’s roads rather than for spotting rhino on a safari, then there would have been a very different reaction to what has been outlined as the transport options for the new schools so far.

But what has come out of Custard Castle on transport has been little more than window-dressing.

We have a toucan crossing which makes as much sense as putting a colander on your head and expecting it to protect you from the rain.

It is understandable that our politicians are meek, but it is of their own making.

The kickback to the simplest of changes is often fierce, but this is because the public sees them as fiddling around the edges rather than making positive, decisive change.

The 25mph changes cost Environment & Infrastructure reputationally for no benefit, which means it is held in such low regard that all it can really do is paint white lines, put up signs and send out social media messages.

That is a crying shame for all of us who think that our roads need to be much more attractive for cyclists and walkers – anyone who walks the narrow pavements dodging passing wing mirrors or watching nervously as lorries jump on and off ahead of them will attest to that.

This island has also shown that cultural change can happen, and happen quickly – the smoking ban being one leading example.

Another is waste.

There was a lot of noise about the new collection regime before it was implemented, cries of how fly tipping would sky rocket and everyone with a garden would be burning their rubbish.

The reality is actually one of the big success stories of this Assembly, indeed it has actually been more successful than anyone envisaged – that was because a committee had the courage of its convictions, was brave enough to argue its case with evidenced, and then charged the public to create a better service.

It is not perfect, the shipping of what is a resource that could be used to create heat and power off-island is short-sighted, and the financials still need to fully add up in the long-term.

But it has been embraced.

ESC wants people to wait for its final answer to the traffic issues around the schools – it would because that means it can plough on to the point of no return.

It has created this scenario with a dogmatic insistence on equality of school sizes, using Les Beaucamps and a timetable for change that seems to be driven more by the political election cycle and legacy building than the best interest of pupils, teachers and residents.

Its answer to every major problem seems to be to announce a consultation or a meeting, to say it is listening and needs to communicate better.

That can come across as being at odds with a committee that thinks it is right, is all about delivering its vision in a set period, one which it believes is worth the wider consequences.

It is a victim of the wider mishandling of the island’s traffic infrastructure, even housebuilding and planning policies but that does not matter because it has to work with where we are.

So far the transport solutions, for St Sampson’s in particular, can be described as an attempt at creating a little safety bubble around the immediate site with the inevitable consequence of creating dangers elsewhere – no more than sticking plasters.

ESC is creating a volatile mix of congestion, pollution and unnecessary danger – and that is before you debate the merits of the size of the buildings and the facilities on offer.

Its starting point for getting everyone to and from the schools should be insisting every teacher and pupil has to walk, cycle or get an electric bus there and then create the infrastructure for that to happen in a practical way come rain, wind or sunshine.

Could that happen? Yes. Will it? No.

Instead, those involved will fiddle, cross their fingers and come up with unhappy compromises.

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