Controversy ahead over new Lib Dem policy group’s work on the local environment

Barbie Dolls around a pothole

Chances are you missed it in the paperwork for the Liberal Democrat conference in York. I missed it too until a text message hit my inbox from someone working at Lib Dem HQ gently chiding me that surely I of all people would have read the paperwork fully and spotted it.

It’s an innocuous looking appendage to the Federal Policy Committee (FPC) report about a new mini task force set up at the behest of FPC chair Tim Farron. Its remit? To identify Liberal Democrat policies that could helpful be refined in order to help the party’s leader ‘pick a ward and win it’ strategy. Do we, for example, have good policy answers for all the main casework issues which most commonly come up, so that our campaigners can not only do the casework but also link up their actions with promoting the party’s overall approach, core votes style?

So far, so promising – and frankly I wish I’d thought of it myself.

But look carefully at the list of members and you’ll see an unfamiliar name. The Professor of Urban Renewal at Warwick University, best known for her work on improving the local environment by cutting pollution from traffic and fostering super-small local ecosystems. Good on the party for getting an expert non-member involved in this way – that’s very much in tune with the thematic campaigns approach I’ve been pushing as part of a core votes strategy.

She has become an ardent opponent of super smooth tarmacked roads which remove the bumps, dips and imperfections that not only slow down traffic but also provide opportunities for water to pool, creating temporary water-based micro-systems that encourage insect life. Those insects, many too small for the human eye to see, in turn regenerate wildlife from the bottom of the ecosystem upwards. The saved tarmac, or even worse concrete, also cuts down on carbon emissions.

Sometimes these patches are only one-metre square (micro-acquatic systems is the new jargon), but a mini pool of water like that is still enough to encourage wildlife.

No wonder letting roads age naturally is a growing trend in California, where two otters have even been spotted living on one of the interstate highroads. (Yes, California does live up to its cliches even more than me in a chocolate shop.)

The trend is especially popular with long-term environmentalist California Governor Jerry Brown, who has a track record of embracing causes that at first are mocked for being absurd but then become mainstream.

So if the Professor’s track record is anything to go by, it looks like the Liberal Democrat love of campaigning against potholes is going to get turned on its head.

From opposing potholes, we’re headed towards embracing them as low cost, organic traffic calming with a side order of ecosystem renewal. If, that is, Professor Loof Lirpa gets her way.

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