COVID has forced a massive change on our lives over the past year. We hear talk of “returning to normal” but it seems certain that the years ahead will be very different from the past.

In part it’s a result of how the way we’ve done things has changed under COVID lockdown, such as our much greater use of online shopping. But climate and environmental change, increased population, technology, a greater focus on leisure, increased demand for health and social care provision, heightened inequality – all require rapid and substantial change across society as a whole.

ALL CHANGE BUT NO CHANGE?
One key difference will be the way that people and goods move around. For example, in just nine years’ time, the sale of new cars and vans powered wholly by petrol and diesel will be banned in the UK.

That will have a positive impact on air quality but it’s unlikely to do anything to reduce the volume of trips we take by car. And bear in mind that the average length of a car journey in England in 2019 was just 8.4 miles (cyclinguk.org). How can we be weaned off those short journeys? And what can be done to reduce the vast amount of land required to park our vehicles, whether in housing estates or town centres?

The good news is that there are exciting new ideas being developed – such as the concept of Mobility as a Service, described as a “carefree, environmentally sound alternative to owning a car”.

TWO WHEELS & TWO FEET?
The pandemic has seen a substantial increase in the use of cycles (average trip length 3.3 miles). If that continues, it will have an impact on town centre roads, cycle parking, relationships between cyclists and pedestrians.

As part of the future of Melksham town centre, there have already been calls for pedestrianisation – particularly along Bank Street/ High Street – as well as improvements for all forms of public transport, cycle ways and footpaths.

There is no shortage of guidance and advice about how to make town centres more attractive, healthy and people-friendly. And there are plenty of innovations being discussed and introduced in communities across the UK and Europe facing similar challenges to Melksham. We can learn from them and adapt some of their ideas to our own needs and wants.

* David Engwicht, ‘The 4-Week Mind Makeover’