Can We Trust Transport Modelling?

Are you intending to comment on East Sussex County Council’s Local Transport Plan 4 ( LTP4). For those who want to review the proposals the future projections for transport look good. Predicted to have fewer car trips whilst buses, pedestrians and cycling numbers are all up. That is  good news! …. but as a reminder LTP3 had similar aspirations

Perhaps now is the time to ask why planners are generating such positive scenarios, that you may feel are not achievable. The predictions are derived from complex algorithms. Often the process is described as a ‘black box’. The definition of which is ‘a complex system  whose internal workings are hidden or not readily understood’ . That makes anything it produces as hard to verify

Let us examine the accuracy of such models. From a lay person’s perspective the optimistic scenarios, over the last 10 years, never seem to have been delivered.

This table below , with 19% fewer cars trips, is from the LTP4. Some scenarios deliver an even larger drop in car trips. [As background, on a number of the workshops it had been asked, if some explanation could be be provided as to how the ‘black box’ generated these outputs]

In sharp contrast, in LTP4 it does admit that, across the county, the number of residents cycling has reduced by around 33% in 5 years. Plus there was a large decrease in bus provision over 20 years and even with an increase in funding, bus passengers are only 90% of pre-Covid numbers.

The largely ‘positive’ models are endemic throughout the planning process. Over the last 10 years many focus on a 10% ‘modal shift’, away from cars, towards buses and cycling. However these predictions then feed into other local plans and permeate through the whole planning process.

As an example ESCC’s ‘Hailsham, Polegate to Eastbourne corridor ‘, from 10 years ago, predicted a 10% reduction in modal share for cars. This scenario is then used by developers, on that key route, to show the extra traffic, from their developments, will be offset by the modal shift this original report had predicted. The example used here is taken from the Transport Assessment for Hindsland in Willingdon. (see Tables 6.2 and 6.3)

Method of Travel – Currently (left) and with planned improvements (right)

Notice that the developers take current traffic data and then adjust to the new modal share. So that cars, including passengers, are down from 80% to 70% and this would suggest traffic levels will be lower. To compensate, for the lower private transport, there is an increase in bus trips from 4% to 9%. That is a 125% increase, alongside  an increase for cycling up 150%. But there has never been a demonstrable increase in either.

This general approach, to overstating modal shift, is also seen in Eastbourne, by developers, on schemes such as the Magistrates Court and TJ Hughes. The positive transport assessments, produced around higher levels of active travel, seem to satisfy both developers and councils. They do not alter the reality.

Now look at Black Robin Farm (SDNP/23/04238/FUL). Aecom ,in their transport review for Eastbourne Borough Council, provided a comprehensive analysis of transport options. Their algorithm produced –

The reality check is that for Eastbourne 5% of trips are by bus  and on the Downs nearer 10%. However there is no explanation as to how 50% Public Transport could ever be achieved. Plus in this scenario cycling at 4% would be an increase from an original estimate of 1,000 to 4,000 trips p.a. Cynics might think the data was to convince South Downs National Park that there would not be a high demand for car parking. Based on the  100,000 visitors predicted p.a.

Many of these models have shown to exaggerate the modal shift away from private cars. To provide reassurance, models need to be validated, to see how accurate they were. The Government’s Transport Analysis Guidance (TAG)  “provides an overview of good practice in planning the evaluation of transport interventions to ensure robust evidence can be collected about the difference that they are making in practice. It is intended to support evaluation planning and stronger business cases for a range of transport interventions in terms of mode, type of intervention” Model guidance from Govt

In summary we are asked to take on trust the ‘black box’ approach, that transport planners are using, when our lived experience would suggest something different. Perhaps now is the time to reassess the accuracy of the predictions. If you have doubts then make this clear in your comments for LTP4 and question them about their methodology

Paul Humphreys EEAN Transport Group

This Summer – Food Project with Ambition

Nutrition, hydration and sleep are the cornerstone foundations to our health and well-being. They are the building blocks with which everything in life works from. Without them, a human being cannot thrive. Yet the principles such as ‘food as medicine’, the importance of microbiome and gut health are topics that are not well understood by most people.

The problems connected to poor nutrition are global, but perhaps the most urgent need is to help people below the poverty line to nourish themselves and their children. All those who through no lack of worth ethic find themselves one of this year’s many first-time food bank users, asking ‘Do I pay my rent, or feed myself’, all those parents going hungry to feed their children.

One Potential Solution

This Summer sparked an idea. Inspired by my own gut health awakening, the works of anti-hunger activist Jack Monroe, working on recruitment for the Trussell Trust, John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby’s imaginative 2013 UK School Food Plan and nursing my own mother’s poor gut health, I began putting together a project. A new UK School Food Foundation. A public private partnership that would ease the burden on the government with free school meals, raising private capital, and working collaboratively with the government on the matter to fix policy and curriculums. Bring in venture capitalists and businessmen to the SMT and run it with their mindset and efficiencies. A pipe dream of course, but one that might get me into working in an area about which I was increasingly passionate.

So I made case studies of my two previous schools and reached out to national private catering company bosses to understand the situation seven years after the school food plan. Talking to my old schools it was obvious just how far we’ve come, but there was of course still room to improve. The main feedback was that the food and nutrition-based standards introduced in 2014 are still not policed in practice, Ofsted has to enforce them, schools make ‘tweaks’ at their own discretion and vulnerable children, in particular, are still unaware of the consequences of bad food choices.

Why is this necessary?

And that fact is hardly surprising because where would they get that information from? When even the comfortable families are more overworked and disconnected than ever before – parents work all hours, children out – we’re not teaching younger generations how to cook. How many of us went off unprepared to university and came out with pancreatitis, IBS, or ulcerative colitis? Even GPs have little training on food as medicine and are more likely to question alcoholism and prescribe drugs than any considered analysis of diet. Surely this would go a huge way to reducing the crippling burden on the NHS?

School wise, we’ve heard a lot about the introduction of compulsory cooking classes for all students up to the age of Key Stage 3. Just talking to my two old schools they seem to be doing brilliantly with state of the art facilities and really attractive lesson plans. But they’re the good end of the scale and those cooking classes are still once a fortnight for year nines. GCSE cooking is more about comparisons between different types of food packaging than it is about cooking skills.

Having lived across the continent as a languages student in France, Germany and Russia, it’s clear we’re a laughing stock internationally. Before lockdown forced us to take up home cooking, we spent a smaller proportion of our income on meals at home than any other European country. We tend to rush our meals, spending almost half as much time eating as the French. We eat out more, cook less, and are much keener on ready meals. (Our household spend on pre-cooked food is 28% higher than in France, 64% higher than Spain, 101% higher than Germany and a whopping 178% higher than Italy.) When I wanted to cure my mother’s gut health at the start of the Summer it was the Polish section I turned to in the supermarket as well as the best of Gousto’s anti-inflammatory range (fish, vegan and vegetarian meals). Eastern Europeans are champions of seasonality and fermented foods, the friendly bacteria that we all need to fill ourselves with in order to boost our immune systems and fight disease. Their biggest well-kept secret within that is Kefir, cultured milk which repaired my misused gut many times whilst living away from home. It’s now a regular in well-stocked shops here thanks to Eastern European immigration.

So how did we fall so far behind everyone else?

The History of Free School Meals

As far as school food culture is concerned the story goes back probably to the end of the 19th century.

After the introduction of compulsory education in the 1870s, the city of Manchester became the first to feed impoverished students. In 1906 the Education Bill attempted to combat the shocking state of national and infant health and placed the responsibility under the remit of local authorities. Unfortunately, despite multiple worrying reports compliance remained low until 1944, when laws were passed to ensure all children had access to free nutritious meals. Free milk burst onto the scene two years later. School children over the next two decades are widely believed to be the best nourished of the twentieth century.

Policy first turned against state involvement in 1968 when the Conservative government withdrew free school milk from all secondary schools. Margaret Thatcher launched her infamous extension of this scheme for the over sevens in 1971 followed by the Competitive Tendering Act in 1980. The responsibility of the government was, as they considered, to provide the parts parents could not, the buildings and books. Not the peripheral services. The move towards parental and consumer choice was predictably accompanied by a move towards meals that were cheap rather than nutritious and the rise of powerful food and drink companies.

Worse was to come. The 1986 Social Security Act cut the numbers of children who were eligible for free school meals at a time when unemployment and inflation were rising. Aggressive advertising of unhealthy foods continued. This changing food pattern, towards fatty, sugary, and highly processed foods – has become known as the “nutrition transition”.

It was not until April 2001 that school meals were again called to adhere to standards. But by this time the impact of so many years of aggressive low cost food advertising had taken its toll.

Then came the establishment of the Food Standards Agency in 2000 to promote healthy eating practices. This was bolstered by new regulations on healthy food in schools, in part as a response to a campaign by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

But fewer children were entitled to free school meals, while unhealthy food was cheaper and more readily available than ever before. Fast forward to the present day and fast food after ten years of austerity the extent and causes of child poverty are, according to some commentators, remarkably similar to those at the start of the twentieth century. Enter Marcus Rashford’s much-needed campaign.

So that’s how we got here.

Results of that Decline

The resulting crisis in our habits has arguably now led us to the staggering number of obesity-related covid deaths. It’s also worth noting that lots of them will have absolutely nothing to do with wealth and being too well-fed, but rather due to poverty and food insecurity and malnutrition.

There is a lot to say about the hidden scale of poverty in the UK today, but probably something that more people are confronting post Brexit. The one point I would like to raise awareness of from a nourishment perspective is the emergence of food swamps inside already barren food deserts.

More than a million people in the UK live in so-called “food deserts” – neighbourhoods where poverty, poor public transport and a dearth of big supermarkets severely limit access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables, a study has claimed. Nearly one in 10 of the country’s most economically deprived areas are food deserts, it says – typically large out-of-town housing estates and deprived inner-city wards served by a handful of small, relatively expensive corner shops.

Public health experts are concerned that these neighbourhoods – which are often also “food swamps” with high densities of fast-food outlets – are helping to fuel a rise in diet-related conditions, as well as driving food insecurity.

The most deprived areas include Marfleet in Hull, Hartcliffe in Bristol, Hattersley in Greater Manchester, Everton in Liverpool and Sparkbrook in Birmingham. Eight of Scotland’s 10 most deprived food deserts are in Glasgow, and three of Wales’s nine worst are in Cardiff. The question I’d love to investigate is what is food education and school canteens like in these deserts? Disadvantaged kids will have to fight twice as hard as it is in life to break into better education, be accepted, taken seriously and paid the same in top tier firms. Can we not at least ensure the foundations for social mobility are secure?

Pitch to the Sector

So, to come back to my project. Having made case studies of my schools and spoken to catering company bosses I began putting together a presentation. One catering company I had reached out to offered to discuss the idea to see if they could help push it forwards.

My argument was that the scandal in free school meals comes amidst a much wider crisis in our food system, exacerbated by growing levels of poverty. And the issues loom like a perfect storm over the heads of the most vulnerable facing Brexit. There were seven key problems, as I saw it, which could be alleviated by the Foundation and more hard-hitting education. Yes we’ve had plenty of healthy eating campaigns, but the information definitely hasn’t reached many in my corner of rural Northamptonshire and I suspect that’s the same in many places outside the wealthy home counties.

The issues were:

  1. Rising inequality where people at the bottom have less money to feed themselves
  2. Poor public understanding of basic food education and good gut health.
  3. The school food system is overcrowded, fragmented and heavily subsidised.
  4. Obesity and eating extremes are at their highest ever levels ever, placing a crippling burden on the NHS.
  5. Agriculture and food production in this country are unsustainable. Yes, we will adapt, but not with a heavy toll on the most vulnerable.
  6. Needlessly high levels of food waste
  7. Disjointed political will and accountability. No one government department takes responsibility for hunger or free school meals

At the start of the Summer I wanted to fight them all, to set up a body like Nutrition England which would offer education outreach to schools, businesses, hospitals, prisons, and charities. How many of us know we actually have control to reduce anxiety, slow down ageing and fight the big avoidable killers linked to chronic gut inflammation: arthritis, dementia, cancer, autoimmune disease? But the problem seemed too broad, many people in the most need don’t have cooking facilities and education will probably only scratch the surface. The Food Standards Agency of course does a lot of good work already. So my thinking evolved and it seemed clear that schools were one environment we could control, influence and fund, irrespective of division in social classes.

So, in the middle of November I pitched my plan to the senior management of one wholesale company and the feedback was that’s it a very worthy idea, the link between mental health and gut health is definitely under-reported, but the business case still wasn’t there. There was still nothing to differentiate the Foundation from all the other well meaning outlets in the over crowded school meal industry. Holiday hunger is by far the most burning issue to solve.


Ultimately most of my best intentions to launch a nation-wide food revolution and fund a nutritious safety net for all school children have already been implemented and gone full circle in the course of the twentieth century.  But as well as getting into the sector to work on the business case, I hate to give up especially when there is such momentum. What else can we do differently this time? How do we engage four-year-olds to care about nutrition? How do we police standards? How to create national leadership on the issue? Were my pipe dream ever to materialise I’d love to make cooking as important as Maths and English, for all schools to have an in-house nutritionist and push for a Minister to be responsible for the new UK School Food Foundation. That would underline just how important the task is and ensure policy never again fell victim to changes in administration. Boris’ u-turn provides vulnerable children with an extension of the holiday activities and food programme until Christmas next year. There’s also work to be done around extending the scheme to all children whose parents are in receipt of universal credit.

So if any more seasoned business people reading this have ideas on how to solve the problem and impose structure in the fragmented school meal industry, I would love to hear from them. The need is there and the momentum is clear to see from the countless local councils and businesses which stepped up to feed children over October half term: Nestle UK & Ireland, Burberry, Frankie & Benny’s, the University of Reading, Queen Mary in London, Kensington & Chelsea Borough Council, TESCO, COOP, Manchester United, the UEFA Foundation.

Rebecca Emerick

Guest blogger

Rebecca Emerick is an independent campaigner. Her background has been in executive search working on high profile headhunts for the UK not-for-profit and creative industries. She developed the idea of This Summer inspired by her own gut health awakening, the works of anti-hunger activist Jack Monroe, working on recruitment for the Trussell Trust, John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby’s imaginative 2013 UK School Food Plan, nursing her own mother’s poor gut health and then Marcus Rashford’s campaign.

One Small Step Toward Big Change

By now we are all versed in the evils of single-use plastic products and their impact on the environment, yet not enough is being done to tackle this issue. Like many, I am disheartened when I walk into a supermarket and see shelves lined with plastic packaging. It’s a big problem, which is why it might seem counterintuitive when I ask you to turn your attention to one small segment of this big problem: packaging of citrus fruits in polypropylene mesh bags. 

Hear me out.

Polypropylene mesh bags are harmful for the environment and for wildlife. Polypropylene is a plastic that has a high rate of degradation when exposed to UV light, leading to the release of dangerous microplastics in our land and oceans. Additionally, prior to and during degradation, these bags are hazardous to wildlife which can become tangled and trapped in their mesh. They also often contain one or more mouldy fruits, leading to both customer dissatisfaction and to increased food waste.

The practice of packaging citrus fruits is completely unnecessary. Citrus fruits have a sturdy rind that makes them ideal for selling and storing loose. There would be no need for a supermarket to invest in more expensive biodegradable packaging as a replacement for the mesh bags, as the fruits could instead be sold individually.   

I am therefore campaigning Morrisons Supermarkets to stop packaging their citrus fruits in polypropylene mesh bags and to sell them loose instead.

While this might seem like a small goal, Morrisons is the fourth largest supermarket chain in the UK with 494 stores in the country. Imagine the impact if 494 stores ceased using these bags to package their lemons, limes, and oranges, and instead sold them loose – it adds up.

Many people have asked why this campaign does not target all supermarkets and all of their produce packaging. I believe that by targeting one supermarket and one unsustainable practice, we are more likely to affect change than asking for a sweeping change across the entire industry. Once we have achieved this one small change, we can use it to leverage Morrisons and other supermarkets to further improve their sustainable practices.

I hope that you will consider joining me by signing the petition and sharing it with your friends, family, and networks in the UK. Together we can achieve this change for the planet and all her creatures.

Amber Erwin


A message from the guest blogger:

This campaign started two weeks ago when I was doing the shopping at my local Morrisons in Northampton. My usual frustration at seeing the amount of plastic packaging tipped into action when I reflected on how unnecessary it is to package citrus fruits. I went home and began developing a plan of action, starting with this petition.

Although I don’t live in Eastbourne, I am so inspired by the strides made toward carbon neutrality and the community effort that has gone into bringing about change. I believe that it’s exactly the type of effort needed to make this campaign a success. I hope that everyone will spend the 2 minutes it takes to sign and share!

Cleaner air and healthier food beyond the pandemic

The COVID19 pandemic is an unintentional real-time experiment in how our economy and society can cope with and adapt to a profound shock. There are already many lessons to learn from it about how to build a more resilient and sustainable economy in the future, one that also better protects people’s health and wellbeing.

Some of the environmental effects of the pandemic have been significant, such as a cleaner, more breathable air as a result of the collapse in traffic levels and a resurgence in wildlife and nature as a result of the lockdown of the entire communities.

The COVID19 pandemic is an unintentional real-time experiment in how our economy and society can cope with and adapt to a profound shock. There are already many lessons to learn from it about how to build a more resilient and sustainable economy in the future, one that also better protects people’s health and wellbeing.

clean air eastbourne

Some of the environmental effects of the pandemic have been significant, such as a cleaner, more breathable air as a result of the collapse in traffic levels and a resurgence in wildlife and nature as a result of the lockdown of the entire communities. The citizen science air quality monitoring project led by the volunteers of Clean Air Eastbourne has already recorded a 70% drop in particulate air pollution during March 2020 compared with March of 2019, confirming that air pollution can decrease rapidly in Eastbourne if road traffic levels drop far enough and stay reduced for long enough. 

This is leading to calls from across Eastbourne, mirrored across the rest of the country, for more safe cycle lanes and better walking infrastructure now, even if only on a temporary basis, so as to ensure that the much needed modal shift to active travel  –  a shift already accepted as necessary by Eastbourne Borough Council in its draft local plan  – can be accelerated during the pandemic, and sustained after it. The UK government is responding to these calls by introducing new statutory regulations authorising those local councils responsible for local highways to introduce such cycling and walking infrastructure and providing a £2 billion fund to facilitate their construction. 

The pandemic has also highlighted many of the issues around food supply and delivery in a crisis and the difficulties involved in ensuring that everybody has all the food they need, an issue that may get more urgent over the coming year given the acute shortage of foreign labour to help bring in the summer harvests. The Climate Adaptation and Food working Groups of the EEAN, in collaboration with the Eastbourne Food Partnership, organised a joint visit, just before the pandemic, to two ecological community farms at Arlington – Aweside Farm and Fanfield Farm – which are about to start providing fresh organic sustainably produced food for local delivery.

organic vegetables

More such local farms, together with the already existing local organic farms and horticultural nurseries, will surely be needed as the large commercial farms begin to struggle and the international food supply chains start to fracture during the upcoming global recession. According to Sustain, only 1-2% of all the food we consume comes from local food chains. So bringing local food producers and suppliers into a resilient local food network to provide local people with a diverse range of fresh, healthy local food is an essential part of any strategy to create a truly sustainable local food economy in the Eastbourne area, cutting down food miles, reducing food and plastic waste, reducing overdependence on fragile international food chains, and reducing carbon emissions through the sustainable care of soils practised by organic growers.

The pandemic may be a time of great tragedy and suffering, but it is also a time in which the positive changes previously thought too difficult to introduce are now becoming possible, helping to improve health and wellbeing in the long run. The EEAN aims to promote and facilitate those changes through collaboration across all sectors of our local community.

Andrew Durling

Climate Adaptation Group, EEAN Director

A waste of roof space?

Scorching through Google Maps’ 3D satellite function, Top Gun-style, the other day, I found myself bearing down on Hampden Park.

Scorching through Google Maps’ 3D satellite function, Top Gun-style, the other day, I found myself bearing down on Hampden Park. And saw familiar out-of-town places: Sainsbury’s, Halfords, B&Q, Dunelm Mill, King’s Church and Bannatynes – those temples to last-minute DIY missions or spiritual enlightenment – in a new light.

Viewed from above, their logos and functions fade and they take on the appearance of a great herd of pale grey hangars, jostling for position in the flatlands beside Cross Levels Way. The ambition of their construction – the sheer scale of the retail parks and factories, warehouses and health clubs is impressive. But is something missing – in Britain’s sunniest town at a time when scientists tell us we’re entering a full-blown climate breakdown? Could those great expanses of metal roofing and south-facing walls be smothered in solar panels?

A 2016 report for the BRE National Solar Centre seems to think so: “There is an estimated 250,000 hectares of south-facing commercial roof space in the UK. If utilised this could provide approximately 50% of the UK’s electricity demand”.

Robert McGowan

Journalist, ECO Research Group