Last week Thetford Town Council was surprised when 200 angry people turned up to protest at plans which they were told would mean people being fined for leaving their neighbourhood. Leaflets which had been circulating in the town described this as a conspiracy by a shadowy organisation “UK 100”, determined to limit people’s freedom. So who is plotting against us all?
What is UK 100?
UK100 is a voluntary alliance of 108 Local Authorities who have agreed to work together, with the aim of achieving net zero at least five years before the government’s target date. Together they represent over half the UK population.
They include all the County Councils in the Eastern Region, the Unitary Councils of Central Bedfordshire and Peterborough, and the District Councils of Cambridge, Norwich, St Albans, Stevenage, Three Rivers, Watford and West Suffolk. They are not drawn from any political party, 8 are Conservative controlled, with 3 each for Labour and Liberal Democrats.
If this is a conspiracy, its hardly a secret one. None of these Councils hides their involvement, and UK100 has an extensive website, which details what they do, with examples of policy recommendations, research and local projects. And only the most hardened climate denier is likely to object to the principle of what they are trying to achieve.
What do they do?
UK 100 brings together Council leaders and staff to share ideas, experience and training; to agree policies; and try to influence government. Each member Council aims to achieve net zero for its own activities by 2030, and for the whole Authority area between 2045 and 2050.
They support the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sustainable Finance, which brings together MPs and a wide range of experts to understand how finance can help achieve net zero. It is chaired by Jerome Mayhew, the Conservative MP for Broadland in Norfolk.
In addition, UK100 has a “Countryside Climate Network” which brings together rural Authorities to focus on the distinct issues which face rural communities in achieving net zero. It is chaired by the Chair of Cambridgeshire County Council.
The work of UK100 focuses on six major areas:
- Homes and buildings
- Clean air
- Financing the transition to net zero
- Local powers
- Decarbonising transport
Examples of projects undertaken through UK100 include a scheme funded jointly by Essex County Council and Anglian Water using green infrastructure to reduce flooding on Canvey Island. Not something local residents are angry about.
What about traffic restrictions in Thetford?
Decarbonising transport, and promoting clean air are two policy objectives of UK100, but the organisation has no connection with Thetford. Although Norfolk County Council is a member, neither Thetford Town Council nor Breckland District, where Thetford is located, are members.
The organisers of the Thetford protest claimed that the Council was planning to place restrictions on people driving into or through some areas of the town, and to set up CCTV systems and fine people for breaking these rules.
The origin of this idea is plans by some local authorities to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion. Air pollution reduces life expectancy for tens of thousands of people every year, and congestion causes delays and frustration for many people. Local Authorities have been required by law to monitor air quality since 1995.
In some parts of the UK levels of particulate matter in the air (much of it generated by vehicle tyres, brakes and exhausts) are much higher than the World Health Organisation’s recommended safe maximum limit. Hundreds of thousands of people have their life expectancy reduced as a result. But the government aims to reach the WHO limit only by 2040. UK100 is campaigning for that to be brought forward to 2030.
However, these are problems largely of cities and large towns (as anyone in Norwich would confirm). So far in the UK there are only nine places (all major cities) which have introduced clean air zones (CAZs), to tackle the very real health risks caused by traffic air pollution. Only three of these charge drivers of the most polluting private cars (mainly diesels).
Most people in Thetford would probably welcome cleaner air, safer roads and easier access to local amenities. They would probably be more cautious about plans to restrict traffic movements with CCTV and fines for motorists. But no such proposals have been made or considered anywhere in Norfolk. Thetford Town Council does not have legal powers to introduce such a scheme, and the idea that anyone would want to do this in a community like Thetford is fanciful.
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