Active Travel Letter to Minister for Transport

Although as leaders of the County Council we are committed to investing in cycleways and footpaths there are schemes going through planning being built now where decisions were made a long time ago. Transport decisions about Orchard Park were made 20 years ago and within planning law still stand.

Some of the Waterbeach new town cycleways and footpaths (active travel routes) are being delivered and even though those decisions were made just 5 years ago they seem very old. Planning law means you can’t just change the decisions made earlier, that said in some cases it is the County Council that is blocking the ambition of developers. At this point dear reader I suspect you are scratching your head as I began the article talking about the council’s commitment to active travel.

Although the political will is there previously the Highways sector of the County Council has been solely focussed on cars. This means that a whole load of internal policies, rules and guidance is written with cars in mind, consequently for the Council to begin to show more ambition those internal policies need to be unpicked and re-written. This has become clear to me when I have been working on some of the routes between Waterbeach new town and the city.

The other big issue is the government. The government provide most of the funding for Highways maintenance in the county, they calculate this using a formula for different types of road. Funding for footpaths and cycleways has been ominously missing from this funding and this makes the County Council Highways department extremely nervous. They don’t have enough money for the current Highways network and are extremely nervous about taking on more responsibilities. So whilst the government have set up Active Travel England, an agency tasked with getting good quality cycling and walking schemes built, their failure to commit to fund the maintenance of these schemes is proving a barrier to ambition.

So I wrote a motion and took it to full council in July in order to get support from the politicians to do more. The punchier ‘no junk food advertising on council owned bus stops’ (of which there aren’t many) and running a trial on ‘banning pavement parking in Cambridge’ motions got a lot of press. My somewhat more complex motion did not get a great deal of external attention but the debate on the day was extremely heated with the Conservatives falling over themselves to declare their support for active travel but then demanding the motion be amended in an extremely complicated financial way which in practical terms would have made it even harder to deliver new schemes.

The motion had 4 points;

i) to review the Highways Operational Standards to support the maintenance of active travel infrastructure. This would allow a change in the council’s maintenance approach so that, for example, key cycling routes on public roads would have to meet higher standards for cyclists. The bumpy surface on Station Road, Histon is a case in point. Pot holes are deemed safe on Station Road as they fall within the allowed levels for cars but are treacherous for cyclists. Reviewing the maintenance standards would make it possible to fix smaller pot holes in certain places.

ii) to consider creating a local hierarchy of cycleways and footpaths. For example a certain predicted usage of a cycle scheme might be the trigger to install lighting.

iii) to show more ambition when working with developers. For example if a route described as a cycleway cannot be cycled on for the County Council to make clear they would not class this scheme as a cycleway or to support the installation of solar studs by a third party.

iv) to write to the government to explain how important it is that they commit to funding active travel schemes if they want to see them delivered.

The motion passed although it was the most controversial motion of the day as the Conservatives objected.

Below is the letter that was sent to Grant Shapps, Transport Minister from the Chief Executive of the Council on behalf of the Council this week.

Although my motion wasn’t short and snappy and didn’t make it to the press it was a motion about doing the ground work to create institutional change. To demonstrate to council officers both that they need to go further and that there is support for them to go further and do more.

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