Over the last four years, Liberal Democrats on Luton Council have led a number of green initiatives. Liberal Democrat councillor Andy Strange said,
“Liberal Democrats put green thinking at the heart of everything we do. Luton’s Lib Dem councillors have a real commitment to improving the local environment and a strong record of making a visible difference. Now we need to go further so that Luton plays its full part in tackling the global problem of climate change.”
One of the Liberal Democrats’ objectives is to make Luton a “cycling town”. Although the older parts of the town are in a steep valley, most development is to the north on fairly flat ground making it ideal cycling territory. The council’s cycling champion is Liberal Democrat councillor Clive Mead.
The success of this policy can be seen in the crowded cycle parks around the town and the increasing number of cyclists.
The council has completed a “green corridor” running from one edge of the town to the town centre and supported by a network of routes around the town, including around five miles of traffic-free paths. It offers walkers, joggers and cyclists a safe, clean and green environment for exercise.
National Cycle Network Route 6 runs through the town. Luton Council has almost completed the whole of this route within the borough’s boundary and is supporting the continuation of the route into Hertfordshire. Luton’s Liberal Democrat-led council has won an award from the sustainable transport charity Sustrans for its support to the National Cycle Network.
The council has put a lot of effort into promoting safe cycling, and runs an impressive programme of events during National Cycling Week. It has nationally accredited trainers who run free cycle training for employees, training at schools and private lessons.
When the Liberal Democrats formed the administration of Luton Borough Council in May 2003, an extra £700,000 was put into street cleaning. The new level of funding has been maintained since. This has allowed for the recruitment of over 40 extra staff in the street cleaning team, seven days a week street cleaning and an additional ‘dawn patrol’, starting at 4am, which clears areas known to regularly suffer the dumping of needles and condoms.
The council also set up a rapid response team to tackle rubbish dumping, graffiti and flyposting.
Another Liberal Democrat initiative was the Council’s anti-flyposting offensive, sticking ‘cancelled’ stickers on illegal posters advertising events in and near Luton. This has been highly successful with very little fly-posting taking place.
Gum is removed from town centre streets. Dotted around the main street are ‘stick your gum here’ boards, which seem highly popular.
Luton Council continues to issue fixed penalty notices for dropping litter and regularly publicises its zero-tolerance policy. Last year Luton made the national press when someone was fined £75 for dropping a Wotsit (according to her) or a cigarette (according to the council officer).
As part of the Liberal Democrats’ ambitious programme for a greener Luton, hundreds of new trees have been planted across the borough.
In April 2005, the Council’s Liberal Democrat Executive agreed a new approach to “Street Tree Management”. This included the policy that for every one tree that has to be removed, two are planted, and that area committees should approve plans for tree management in their area. There was also a tightening up on the rules surrounding tree removal.
As in many other areas, a fungus called Phytophora Cactorum is attacking Luton’s horse chestnut trees. This could result in removal of increasing numbers of horse chestnuts over the next few years. Also of concern is possible damage done by last summer’s prolonged drought. However the intention is to replace any trees that die, with two trees planted for every one tree removed.
Luton’s Liberal Democrat-led council has put external funding to good use in improving the borough’s green spaces. The beautiful and popular Wardown Park has been restored in time for its centenary. The renovation was funded by a £1m Heritage Lottery grant, and included a new boat house, refreshment kiosk, revamped play areas and a “Daisy Chain” wall. The play areas are very popular and busy. The ornamental lake has been partly dredged to clear large amounts of accumulated silt.
Brantwood Park, formerly Dallow Road recreation ground, has been transformed from an underused area into a true neighbourhood park.
The success of Luton’s parks was recognised when Wardown Park and Brantwood Park both received Green Flag awards, a national benchmark for quality parks and green spaces.
A major new discovery centre is planned for Luton’s Stockwood Park. This is designed to be environmentally friendly and will feature a ‘living’ roof of grass. To show visitors how the roof is constructed a section will be built at ground level showing the construction methods. Heating will be by a bio-mass boiler (there is no gas on-site) and the fuel-store will have a glass front so visitors can see the wood pellets. Solar panels will be another green feature. The access road will be largely constructed of reclaimed material. Old tarmac and hardcore will be collected during next summer and then used as the foundation for the road. Everything including the access road is designed to avoid the mature trees on the site.
Over the last four years Liberal Democrats in Luton have shown what they can achieve on the environment. Other parties may talk, but the Liberal Democrats are quietly getting on with the task of improving our town.