Published: 08:08, 22 April 2020
| Updated: 08:33, 22 April 2020
A Kent highways boss has urged thousands of drivers to avoid jumping straight back into their cars once the coronavirus crisis ends.
Kent County Council's (KCC) cabinet member for transport, Cllr Michael Payne (Con), said he hopes to "banish rush hour forever" as air pollution levels continue to drop due to lower vehicle activity across the county.
His comments come despite central government's long-term plans for £28bn national road schemes to relieve congestion, including the £6.8bn Lower Thames Crossing to link Kent and Essex via Gravesend and Tilbury.
KCC's highways and transport cabinet member said: "We owe it to the future generations not to squander this opportunity by rushing back into old habits and by jumping straight back into private cars rather than using public and other modes of transport at every opportunity."
He spoke during a KCC virtual cabinet meeting on Monday, the first to be held during the current pandemic crisis.
KCC's main opposition leader, Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem), supported Cllr Payne's sentiment, but said: "Frankly the public transport network in Kent, and most of the country outside London, is hopelessly inadequate."
Calling for improvements to be made, he said: "Until you have bus services which are reliable, cost-effective and timely, then we will continue to rely on the private car."
KMTV reports on the air pollution due to coronavirus
Scientist, Dr Natalie Whitehead, recently said CO2 emission levels were dropping around the world. It was noted that this was closely linked to lockdown measures and less frequent car travel.
But, Cllr Payne went a step further on Monday and said he hoped the current changes to lifestyles could assist in "preventing congestion forever".
He added: "I've never understood why rush hour was called the rush hour as it’s the time traffic seems to move at its slowest. Let us banish rush hour forever as we reconsider the need to travel to work or to school."
He later said: "One small step for Kent would indeed be a giant leap for our country, together this could be achieved."
Kent County Council's new administration, under its leader Cllr Roger Gough (Con), launched its five-year plan in 2020. A strong focus was put towards making Kent "greener" and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
A total of 1,307 solar panels were installed on five KCC-owned buildings just before the pandemic struck, KCC's cabinet member for environment, Cllr Susan Carey (Con), announced on Monday.
After the cabinet session, Cllr Gough told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: "Fewer journeys by private car and flexible working are already happening in Kent.
"But, rather like in war time, crises like these can accelerate things that were taking place and it's important to seize on that."
KCC's next cabinet meeting is due to take place in five days' time from 10am. It can be viewed via clicking here.