Update: 05 July 2020
Since publishing this article yesterday, it has now been all but confirmed in a tweet by Cllr Damon Brown (Exhall, Conservative, NBBC) that temporary measures were scuppered by Cllr Jeff Clarke, Warwickshire Council Portfolio Holder for Transport and Planning and Conservative councillor for Nuneaton East.
Talking about an as-yet undetailed change to a rural bridge on the edge of Bedworth that forms a link to the National Cycle Network, Cllr Brown tweeted:
This is a permanent improvement rather than unnecessary temporary cycle lane proposed by Officers from elsewhere in the County and rightly challenged by Cllr Clarke. It’s no use spending money if it’s not on the right things.— Damon Power Brown (@DamonPBrown) July 5, 2020
This means that local Conservative politicians including both Cllr Clarke and Cllr Brown are working against an objective set by their own party in central government. Additionally, it raises questions about why Nuneaton and Bedworth has had no temporary schemes implemented compared to elsewhere in the county when the portfolio holder for transport lives in and represents part of the borough.
It’s important to note that while Cllr Brown has objected to spending money on the wrong things, any temporary schemes under the Emergency Active Travel Fund would be funded by money allocated from central government specifically for the purpose and not available to councils for anything else – a point that is extremely clear given Warwickshire’s failure to secure its full allocation.
Warwickshire County Council has missed out on the chance to receive more than a quarter-of-a-million pounds under Tranche 1 of the government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund, instead receiving just half of the allocated amount.
As well as losing out on nearly £130k, the local authority has wasted the equivalent of a further near-28% (£36k) of its allocation by removing a temporary one-way scheme in Rugby just six days after installing it due to a backlash from local people, businesses, and councillors. With no consideration given to a proper evaluation of the impact of the scheme over a reasonable period of time which would allow the new layout to bed in and for people and businesses to adjust, Warwickshire County Council instead caved to knee-jerk pressure, reverting the road to its previous layout.
The Council has a further opportunity under Tranche 2 of the scheme to receive roughly £1m – money which has to be spent on better enabling walking and cycling across Warwickshire through the reallocation of road space – but unless there is a greater commitment with bolder plans drawn up, it stands to lose out again. Given the current reluctance to challenge the car-dominated status quo, whether Warwickshire County Council will show the necessary ambition and boldness in the face of predictable opposition has to be in question.
The Government has been clear that it now expects local authorities to start reallocating road space away from motor traffic to better enable people to make local journeys by foot or cycle at a time where the availability of public transport is reduced due to distancing measures required because of the pandemic. This is essential to prevent roads becoming jammed with excessive motor vehicle use – a problem pre-pandemic but exacerbated by reduced bus and train capacity.
Whilst there have been a number of temporary schemes instigated in the south of the county, including Rugby as mentioned, towns north of Coventry have seen no measures from the local authority.
In Nuneaton, plans were proposed to close one lane in each direction on the Leicester Road bridge crossing the railway – one of only a few crossing points and currently the only suitable bridge for travel between Weddington and the town centre. This would have provided space for cycles in the former general traffic lane, keeping pavements free for pedestrians. A similar scheme was proposed for the A444 Coton Road which would have provided better access from the town centre to the George Eliot Hospital. Neither scheme was deemed appropriate and due to a lack of other options being presented, the town was left with nothing.
Other options would have been available had the Council had the foresight to propose them – cycle infrastructure on Eastboro Way to provide easier access around the south-east of the town and to the industrial areas on that road; closing one lane passing the railway station to provide a lightly segregated cycleway to the station and the Leicester Road bridge; adding light segregation to the paint-only cycleway on Weddington Road; providing ‘School Streets’ schemes; narrowing excessive junctions on B4112 Ansley Road to slow turning traffic and make crossings easier for pedestrians – just a few quick ideas.
In the neighbouring West Midlands Combined Authority (including Coventry, which Warwickshire wraps around), the award under Tranche 1 exceeded the initial allocation. Birmingham already has two high quality cycleways in the form of its ‘Blue Routes’; Coventry is consulting on a new permanent cycleway in the north-west of the city and has plans for a couple of temporary schemes including on the busy Stoney Stanton Road – over the whole region, more than 45 schemes are planned!
Leicestershire too, which neighbours Warwickshire to the north, also received more than its initial allocation, as did Gloucestershire, bordering to the south west. That results in a large surrounding area which shows more dedication and ambition than Warwickshire.
Given there seems to be political will in the West Midlands, Leicestershire, and Gloucestershire to at least reduce the dominance of the car, the money that these authorities are receiving in this initial round, along with what is earmarked in Tranche 2, Warwickshire County Council is in danger of becoming very visibly out-of-touch and out-of-date when compared with its neighbours.
The Council appears to not want to welcome people who wish to get about by foot, cycle – or perhaps e-scooter. It is a Council that seems to be failing to grasp the clear advantages that re-balancing the road network can bring in normal times – be they personal, economic, or environmental – but especially now while the pandemic continues to disrupt daily life and looks likely to continue to do so for some time.
Warwickshire is failing its population by sending the message that continued car domination is fine, the pollution we all breathe is fine, the wider environmental damage is fine, that the numbers killed and seriously injured on the roads is fine, and that high levels of inactivity are fine…
None of this is fine!