Wera Hobhouse – 2020 Speech on Covid-19

Below is the text of the speech made by Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, in the House of Commons on 12 May 2020.

I wish to put on record my warmest thanks to all our doctors, nurses and care workers here in Bath, to the police and emergency services, key workers and council workers, and to everybody else who has helped us keep going during lockdown.

The covid pandemic has forced us all to change our lives in ways we would not have imagined only a few months ago. In all of the hardship and tragedy of this time, one of the brightest points has been the improvement in our air quality, because many fewer cars are on the road. As we have adjusted to lockdown, many people have commented that they have thought about the benefits of talking a walk or going for a bike ride, because it is much more relaxing and there is more time to reflect. Walking and cycling contribute greatly to our ​wellbeing. We have talked at length about social distancing measures and the space we need to give each other when we are socially distancing. In this country, safety has always been a barrier to cycling, but now, as our towns and cities are less congested, cycling has become a much safer option. Of course, we want to restart the economy as soon as it is safe to do so, but when we do we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to look at our streets with fresh eyes. We need to think about what did and did not work before lockdown, and at what we want to achieve as we put in place the conditions for a new normal.

For decades we have been overdependent on cars, and that must change. I have also spoken before about the need to tackle emissions from surface transport. We have been having these discussions in my city of Bath, which has suffered from severe air pollution, for many months now. As we slowly emerge from lockdown, we need to look at ways to avoid a dramatic resurgence in car use, particularly as many people may be nervous about using public transport. Other countries are already looking at ways to rebalance the priority given to cars over cyclists and pedestrians in urban areas, through segregated cycle lanes, speed reduction zones or new and widened pavements. I welcome the Transport Secretary’s new guidance to local authorities. Early action will be crucial, in order to embed changes in behaviour. This is a great moment for change, and we must ensure that our economic recovery is focused on the need to get to net zero.