Let me nail my colours to the mast right now. I am a big fan of the motorcar, not that I would always use it whenever possible, but rather because of the freedom of movement and flexibility it has brought to generations of people, particularly post war baby boomers like me, who remember how insular and static everyday life used to be when we were growing up.
On the housing estate on the outskirts of Leicester where I lived I think that for many years only one or two families owned a car. We used to get about by public transport or we would walk or cycle.
Once the Ford Populars, Morris Minors, Austin A30s and Vauxhall Victors started to arrive in the late 1950s life was never the same again.
I vividly still remember a trip down the A6 to London in 1959 in our next door neighbour’s Ford V8 Pilot – no motorways then and just greasy spoon cafés for the frequent stops required in what felt more like a polar expedition than what would now be considered a quick trip down south.
I was a great fan of the bike back then and spent most of my holidays between the ages of 15 and 18 cycling around the country with school mates, staying at Youth Hostels (I haven’t got the T shirt; but I do still have the badges!).
It was during these years, particularly in the early 1960s, that we started to see the main roads we tended to use becoming increasingly crowded with cars and lorries. In fact it was becoming increasingly hazardous to be on only two wheels!
The early 1960s saw the demise of many of our rural railway lines, thanks mainly to Dr Richard Beeching. Given that the minister who ordered the review, one Ernest Marples, allegedly owned a haulage firm, it draws into question the impartiality of the findings.
In fairness to Dr Beeching, he had hoped, I am led to believe, to create so called ‘railway hubs’, where motorists would leave their cars to finish their journey by train. In practice what tended to happen was that a person wishing to go from A to B would not visit C but go straight from A to B. In the immortal words of Robert Burns, “The best laid schemes of mice and men go oft awry”.
So here we are in 2014 still arguing about the best way to get from A to B and, as far as greater Lincoln is concerned, largely on roads that evolved for the benefit of the horse and cart.
On a wider scale, we appear to be rediscovering our love of the train. As far as I am concerned I am practising what the good Doctor preached. If I want to go to London I drive to Newark on the excellent A46, park my car at the station and get the train to Kings Cross.
Why drive for hours on busy roads and pay a fortune for fuel when you can sit in comfort for just the couple of hours you need to reach your destination (and pay a fortune for the privilege – but that’s another story)?
Whether or not you are a fan of HS2 (personally I would rather spend that sort of money radically improving the existing railway infrastructure first) or of privatisation (I would turn all franchises into not for profit bodies, like the one running East Coast trains, when these franchises run out), the train has a great future again.
However, whatever schemes are devised, there must be a place for the increasingly efficient and environmentally friendly new breeds of motor car. There has been a lot of time and effort put into creating what is termed a ‘modal shift’ in trying to entice motorists out of their cars into what are termed ‘more sustainable’ forms of transport. I’ve no problem with that.
It’s fine if you just want to go from A to B, like going from North Hykeham into Lincoln and vice versa. But, what if you want to go from A to C, like North Hykeham to Sleaford, for example? Or what if you work off Whisby Road and live in Metheringham? Can you get a bus direct or would you fancy tackling Waddington Cliff on a bike? Would you really choose to get a bus into Lincoln and then finish your commute on the train, if there were a viable alternative?
If we accept the logic of the previous paragraph, why then should we deny ourselves some new strategic roads? After all, since Tritton Road and the Western Bypass were completed in the 1980s, that’s about the sum total of the new major roads that have been built around here in over a century.
We have the prospect of the Eastern Bypass and the East West Link becoming a reality in the next few years and, who knows, some kind of relief road for North Hykeham. If we could only sort out level crossings on Doddington and Skellingthorpe Roads (how about using some of the millions earmarked for HS2 to take the railway under these roads?) we could have commuter trains running in and out of the city. And let’s not forget Park and Ride.
I am sure that the anti roads lobby will trot out the usual mantra that building roads just creates more traffic. I don’t buy that argument any more. Besides the fact that we have built virtually no new roads around here for many years, I think that numbers now driving regularly, which, indeed, did go through the roof from the 1960s until fairly recently, are now starting to plateau.
Many young people are now choosing a greater variety of transport modes and older people are increasingly being forced by old age to forsake their beloved cars. My own mortality was brought home to me personally last year when I had to renew my driving licence!
Those of us for whom the motor car has been our mode of transport of choice for many years will have to start thinking seriously about a future without our friend if we keep living longer. That’s why it’s important that there is a public transport system worth a damn to cater for us and everybody else. Oh yes, both my wife and I already have our bus passes.
John was a councillor for thirty years, finally retiring in 2017. A schoolteacher by profession, he served on the North Hykeham Town Council (1987-2011), the North Kesteven District Council (1987-1999, 2001-2007) and the Lincolnshire County Council (2001-2017). He was also a County Council member of the former Lincolnshire Police Authority for eight years until standing down in 2009. In 1997 he was the Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate for Sleaford and North Hykeham. He is currently not a member of any political party.