Simon Fell is the MP for Barrow and Furness.

Many Londoners will have noticed the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) a few weeks ago. Meanwhile in Barrow and Furness, November marked the beginning of the trial period for an active travel initiative near schools.

These very different schemes got me thinking about how we get around our towns and cities, particularly how road use has changed since the pandemic forced us all inside and off the streets.

One of the most striking results of lockdown was the uptick in walking and cycling. Across the country many of us experienced the benefits, like better physical health and mental wellbeing.

Active travel can have a wider positive impact, reducing car congestion and improving air quality. Around 40,000 deaths are linked to pollution each year in Britain, and it’s estimated to cause six million sick days per year with a total social cost of £22.6 billion per year.

This Conservative Government has made it clear that it sees walking and cycling as central to achieving net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050. In fact, the Prime Minister has said that he wants them to become the ‘natural first choice for travel’. To encourage more people to get cycling on their commute, financial incentives should be introduced for companies that build new lockers and showers on site, as pledged in the Autumn Budget speech.

For those people already strolling and pedalling we need to do more to make areas appealing, safe and accessible. Central government should work with local authorities to reduce congestion and, crucially, improve the lives of residents.

Lockdown saw the introduction of more cycle lanes and active travel schemes, like Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), all with the best intentions of making it easier and safer to walk and cycle, instead of jumping back into the car.

The problem is that the urgency of the post-Covid implementation left little scope for consultation with local residents. LTNs in particular have faced a substantial backlash for being imposed on residents. A lack of dialogue with the people directly affected by the scheme explaining the what, where, when, how and why of introduction understandably leads to frustration and makes long-term success harder.

‘School streets’ initiatives, like the ones in my constituency, strike the right balance of travel restriction. Roads covered by the scheme restrict vehicle access for up to an hour around school pick up and drop off times, with the aim of reducing traffic and improving air quality. They have exemptions for residents and emergency vehicles and, importantly, in Barrow and Furness these schemes are being trialled for six months first.

In the future, active travel schemes should be a collaboration between local authorities and residents. A study on local attitudes towards LTNs conducted by independent social research organisation NatCen will be coming out very soon. But early discussions suggest residents aren’t opposed to them in principle.

They would, though, like more consultation, not just at the initial stage but throughout implementation. Even something as simple as better signage could go a long way to make schemes better to live and get around in.

Or to put it another way: people want clean, peaceful streets that are pleasant to walk and cycle along, and where children can play safely. But it’s not enough to just close off roads and be done with it.

Government, both central and local, should also listen to those that can’t easily walk or cycle, and consider the role of emerging low-carbon technologies like e-scooters, as well as affordable and green public transport.

Designing active travel infrastructure is not a battle between cyclists and car users, as is so often depicted in the media and online. It can be an opportunity to invite residents to do what they’re very good at, which is advocating for their community and the issues they care about.

If we hope to succeed in making active travel the ‘first choice’ for getting around, central government needs to work with councils and councils need to work with residents.