Public transport is hot topic at city Question Time

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PORTSMOUTH’S public transport and roads were the burning issues at a lively public debate at the city’s Central Library.

A panel of five city leaders were put on the spot as they answered questions raised by residents in questionnaires sent out to Portsmouth libraries.

How Portsmouth City Council would improve public transport was at the heart of Friday’s discussion, which was held to mark Local Democracy Week 2011.

Panellist Benjamin Dowling, chairman of the Portsmouth Youth Parliament, told the meeting: ‘Very clearly, we have more cars than car parking spaces.

‘Everyone mentions that we should have fewer cars on the road.

‘The council needs to address improving public transport because in Portsmouth, everything is within 20 minutes’ reach.’

Fellow panel member, Lib Dem MP and city councillor Mike Hancock, admitted changes needed to be made, but added: ‘There is a low rate of car ownership in the city compared to others across the country.

‘The problem is Portsmouth is constrained geographically. The biggest mistake that was made was when Mrs Thatcher deregulated bus services.

‘By doing that, competition went through the roof. But we can’t turn the clock back and we need to solve today’s transport problems.

‘Take for instance the road route between Gosport and Fareham. Years ago the council looked into building a tunnel, but we were looking at building costs of £440m.

‘There was no way we could afford to do that.’

Another issue raised in the two-hour talk was the need for more schools to teach children their human rights.

Councillor Simon Bosher, leader of the Conservative group, said: ‘We need to encourage more teaching in schools about the understanding of human rights and what that means to kids. It’s important they know so they’re equipped for the wider world.’

Other panel members the who took part in the Question Time-style event were Dr Paul McVeigh, a lecturer in European Studies at University of Portsmouth, and George Brown MBE from Portsmouth Red Cross.

The debate will be broadcast on Express FM during Local Democracy Week, which will be held from October 10 to 16. It aims to encourage more people to get interested in local politics.