THE MIXED FREEDOM OF THE MOTOR CAR AND HOW IT IS DISAPPEARING.
Updated: Jan 31
In my home town of Spalding as a child in the 1970’s I saw a great growth in car ownership as it became an item only a few could afford to one most can afford. I was brought up in my parent’s house opposite Spalding High School. I stood in their window and learned to count the busses as they arrived each afternoon at the school at the age of four. But, I only learned to count to three as there were only three buses and virtually no cars.
In the space of less than a decade that changed as more buses arrived, more cars were parked in the school yard, and more homeowners down the road owned first one, and then two or more cars. With the arrival of the car came great freedom. The freedom to shop somewhere other than the local corner shop owned by John Roberts, or the local butcher Norman Hipworth. The freedom to go to Peterborough, or Lincoln or further afield and buy more than you can carry as you were not confined by public transport. The freedom to visit relations out of town. The freedom to have not just ad hoc day trips to the coast at Skegness or Hunstanton, but to go there after work for a few hours in the evening. It also gave you the freedom to travel further for work and opened the door to better paid jobs in Peterborough or elsewhere depending upon your ability and desire to commute. Most of us became more mobile. Some were left behind and were both socially and economically left behind as they either could not afford to, or did not wish to learn to drive or own a car.
Increased car ownership also enabled towns and villages to grow as new houses were built that accommodated the motor owning householder. Locally we saw Peterborough grow as its surrounding villages merged into the City that grew with great parkways of roads that made it one of the fastest cities to travel in; car parks and shopping centres all car friendly with easy access by car. Similarly in Spalding new housing estates saw houses built with garages and driveways and wide roads in total contrast to the houses built in the inter war period and then in the 50’s and 60’s which tended to be narrower roads with few driveways, although some garages were available to rent from the council for those lucky enough to own a car. The local villages like Pinchbeck and Moulton saw increased housing as people were able to drive to work in larger towns or commute to Peterborough and beyond.
Employers benefitted as they were able to develop out of town processing sites in areas where in the past they had had to supply a factory bus to take people to work they were now free from providing this as employees could drive themselves to work at sites remote from the towns such as Tinsleys at Holbeach Marsh. Every factory had a massive car park and could pull in employees from an ever widening radius thanks to the car.
However, the car’s great freedom carried with it some consequences. Creating a world that provides for car travel inevitably results in a reduced ability to travel by foot , by bicycle or by public transport. Economists call this the “barrier effect”.
The “barrier effect” continuously recruits new motorists who were formerly walking, bicycling or using public transport. A greater percentage of the population travels by car. The car becomes a necessity. Down my street tis peaked in the 2010’s with the average number of cars per household being two, despite the fact several households had no car and many houses have neither a garage or a driveway.
The interests of people have diminished because of the interests of car owners.
Now this sounds harsh as in the rural area that Spalding is a car is not a luxury, but a necessity. But pause and think what we have lost. If you go around the housing estates of the St Paul’s area and Windsor Drive areas of Spalding if you look carefully you will see houses and flats that used to be shops. The corner shop was used by most living on those estates for their primary food shopping up until the 1970’s when that began to change. Supermarkets developed, firstly in the town centre with Tesco and Fine Fare, and then great out-of -town shops with Sainsbury supermarket at Bretton becoming a favourite for a large monthly shop for people from Spalding. Soon followed was Key Markets, Spalding’s first great out of town Supermarket down Wardentree Lane it was ideally situated between Spalding and Pinchbeck, could be accessed easily by car and had a massive car park. Morrisons now occupies this site. Note, access was designed for the car, excluding access by bike, foot or public transport as people shopping by those means can only buy what they can carry. The “barrier effect” excluded those without cars, thus recruited more car owning households as the corner shops closed. The town centre eventually transformed, first with Safeway Supermarket built on the Black Swan field in Winfrey Avenue, and later as the Cattle Market disappeared the Holland Market supermarkets and shops arrived, all with large car parks enabling shoppers to stuff their car boots with more shopping than they could otherwise carry. The town centre lost the supermarkets of Fine Fare and Tesco as they were not positioned to cater for the motor owning shopper. Those not owning cars had to catch the bus, walk or cycle into town as their corner shops and small butchers disappeared.
Greater employment prospects were created as the area between Spalding and Pinchbeck was developed with each factory and office having that essential car park for its employees. Factory provided transport disappeared as few required it. Again the “barrier effect” is seen as many employees could only get to work by car or have their employment choices greatly restricted. This is most vehemently felt by youngsters just starting work, who, whilst below the age of 23 can have their wages effectively reduced by the minimum pay rules (In April 2022 these will be £4.81 per hour for under 18, £6.83 for 18-20; £9.18 for 21-22) whilst having to pay very high car insurance costs. I despair when I see road safety experts push for further restrictions on under 21 drivers on the hours that they can drive as it shows great disregard for the “barrier effect” of employment that requires flexibility to work late and travel in night time hours. Saving lives is not a good enough excuse when it excludes young people from employment.
The roads also cause a great “barrier effect” to recreation. As a child in the 1970’s I could cycle from Stonegate out to Clay Lake, Weston Hills and Crowland very safely on back roads without crossing a major road. I would not be happy for a young teenager to cycle that route nowadays due to the wide fast roads that divide the countryside. There is only one bridge under the A16 enabling access to countryside of Wragg Marsh that can be cycled without crossing the dangerous barrier of this main road. The “barrier effect” again favouring the motor.
Even McDonalds burgers was allowed to develop the wrong side of the A16 – an obvious popular draw for youngsters that risk their lives crossing a very busy road to get there. Again the motorist was favoured over the pedestrian or cyclist. One significant failing with the “barrier effect” prevailing in recent times is the development of Springfields Shopping centre and Gardens. This is a brilliant edge of town amenity. However, the safest way for the non-motorist is bizarrely by boat! It is a great failing of planning that there is no clear, safe defined footway or cycleway that goes all the way to this facility. Holbeach Road is best crossed at one of two traffic islands and there is no footpath whatsoever at the top of Camel Gate. Yes I do “have the hump” over this point!
However, none of this surprises me as when a new “out of town” sports facility was proposed for Spalding to replace the facility at the Castle playing fields in the middle of Spalding I pointed out that young people travelling from out of town by bus would not be able to access such a facility the lady conservative councillor retorted, “ They will have to get there by car. Everyone has a car nowadays.”
I pointed out to her that not all households have two cars with one parent, if there is more than one parent, often using the car to commute to work leaving the remaining one with no available vehicle to ferry children. Her reply was, “Don’t talk ridiculous. I am paid to tell people what is best for them, and I know what is best.” Flabberghasted, I withdrew from the conversation. The “barrier effect” re-enforced by fools.
It is possibly this reasoning and ignorance that has seen a new hospital develop in Spalding that can only effectively be got to by car! Yes it has a wonderful car park. It has a bus stop, but where is the bus service! We were better off in some ways with the old Victorian Johnson Hospital in the town centre.
One of the worst factors of the “barrier effect” was the massive reduction of public transport. In the 1970’s the train service to Peterborough nearly finished, but the then Urban District Council had the foresight to subsidize it and ensure its survival. Yet most services, especially bus routes have declined or disappeared. The town bus service from the outer areas of the town to the town centre has been a welcome reduction of barriers in recent times, but both Covid and problems caused by parked cars has seen its route reduced with elderly and disabled in the St Paul’s area having to go further to get to the bus stop. The “barrier effect “ again. There used to be a bus service to Morrisons out of town, but this is now not practical as the bus will not stop. Taxis are essential to late night workers with no other practical alternative. Much of the bus transport in Lincolnshire appears to rely upon school buses, if you are not on a school bus route tough luck. In the 70’s my relations could get buses into Spalding from Bourne and Quadring. They would not achieve this nowadays. The dominance of the motorist has made public transport unviable.
Even in cities where the services are much better there is a severe problem for those going to work outside 9 to 5 hours in that public transport can be equally poor, and currently taxis in those periods are harder to get as their numbers have reduced. Indeed, in a city the option of walking can be made very hard or impossible as wide and fast roads are too dangerous to cross safely and provide barriers as significant as a river would be to cross. Indeed you only need to observe the road killed animals to understand the danger. Especially as these larger roads tend to have no pedestrian provision. Even locally in Peterborough, a very bicycle friendly city with good cycle routes, this can be a significant problem. It needs to be noted that many of those working irregular hours are often on lower pay and in lower quality housing than many of the 9 to 5 workers.
So the government in its sublime green wisdom is making the obtaining of a diesel or petrol car impossible in the future. At the same time local authorities in cities, especially London, but with Bristol, Cambridge and a good many more to follow are seeking to stop older dirtier vehicles entering their streets in the name of clean air. Now this you might think is good. Indeed it reminds me of retired man that proudly showed me his new car whilst stating, “I believe all cars over ten years old should be banned from the roads as it would be much safer and cleaner.” I begged to disagree with him, pointing out that nearly every car I bought was at least ten years old and if I walked down my road the same could be said for three quarters of the vehicles all of which were needed in our area to do essential things like go to work, access hospitals and other essential and leisure services. He insisted he was right.
Now here is the crux of the problem – the electric car and city green measures to restrict traffic both have a disproportionate effect on those that can only afford cheaper second hand vehicles. If new, effective, affordable all hours public transport is not created at the same time as these measures take place it will cause the following problems to name but a few:
- Create hardship for lower paid people working outside 9 to 5;
- Reduce employee flexibility and even make some geographically/economically unemployed as their jobs will either be too hard or too expensive to go to;
- Will leave people living and working in unadapted villages, towns, cities, housing estates or countryside that have been geared to car ownership as increasingly essential in the last 50 or more years.
- Will hit families in rural areas as those that have to have two cars so that employment and child schooling can be attended easily.
- Will reduce the viability of living and working in some cities.
In view of the 2030 date for electric cars I am alarmed by the absence of three things:
A clear effective increase of accessible cheap, green and efficient electric generation to be in effect over the next four years so that we are ready for the future.
A clear efficient implementation of a joined up and effective charging structure for electric vehicles that should be implemented at pace.
A clear vision, plan and implementation of an undoing of the “barrier effect” that has been evolved by the dominance of the motor car in the last fifty or more years.
As it stands at the moment the policy is on line to simply have thousands fewer cars on the road with fewer people travelling to work or leisure as those options become unavailable or too expensive. If this is the plan lets be honest about it. Are you prepared for one of the greatest freedoms to come from the twentieth century to be denied to you? The freedom to travel.