MP Jeremy Hunt: Has Covid-19 killed the daily commute?

By Jeremy Hunt   |   MP for South West Surrey   |
Thursday 22nd July 2021 9:45 am
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South West Surrey MP, Jeremy Hunt

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So the restrictions have been lifted – but will we ever go to back to how things were before?

A fascinating visit in Haslemere gave me a taste of the ‘new normal’.

HasleWorks is the brainchild of Helen Bowcock OBE, one of our most remarkable local residents who together with her husband Matthew has championed numerous important causes over many years.

She set up HasleWorks as a hub, right in the centre of the town, for people who want to work low cost in a shared space locally without having to commute to London.

She points to data from Ipsos Mori showing 90 per cent of people who have been working from home during the pandemic would like to continue doing so at least one day a week – with nearly a quarter saying they would only like to work from home from now on.

Two-thirds of people say not having to commute is a major reason.

The national average commuting time is 59 minutes a day but it is much longer from South West Surrey if you are going into town – so it is as much about saving time as not having to buy expensive season tickets.

HasleWorks, which formally opens on August 16 but is taking bookings from August 5, is a beautifully fitted-out modern space with desks and meeting rooms just a stone’s throw from Haslemere’s excellent shops, restaurants and coffee shops.

It is designed for ‘hybrid working’ so can be booked on a daily basis, or for a certain number of days a month.

It allows people to benefit from the creativity of an office-like buzz without having to commute.

This is the kind of innovation we are likely to see more of.

The managing director of South Western Railways told me last year he didn’t expect to see commuting ever return to more than two-thirds of its pre-pandemic levels. That will be a challenge for city centres but an opportunity for us locally: not just a higher quality of life for people relieved from having to commute every day, but more business for local pubs, restaurants and retailers.

It will also mean fewer emissions. As the UK prepares to host COP26 in Glasgow later this year, we should be in the forefront of using technologies like Zoom and Teams to reduce unnecessary travel.

We already have an excellent track record, having reduced our emissions by more than any other G20 country – but there is more to do and embracing this kind of change is surely part of that.

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