As we feared, Hampshire County Council has chosen to remove existing, tranche 1, active travel schemes, and cancel the bulk of planned tranche 2 schemes. Cycle Winchester is asking HCC why. The evidence base for this decision seems flawed.
To summarise the key points of the decision:
- Hyde Street is reopened to through motor traffic and the lane closure in North Walls is removed.
- The closure of Great Minster Street is retained, to promote economic activity in this important hospitality area.
- The planned scheme to provide a two-way cycle lane on North Walls has been cancelled.
- The planned scheme to provide a segregated cycleway on Upper High Street has been cancelled.
- A short stretch of segregated cycleway on High Street will go ahead, but now detached from the Upper High Street we feel it will be much less useful.
- Cycling contraflow on Parchment Street and St Peter Street will go ahead.
- There is a vague promise of a ‘longer-term package of improvements’.
John Arthur, chair of Cycle Winchester, made a deputation at the decision meeting. John said:
The overriding feeling is one of huge disappointment at a package of decisions that:
i) run counter to recent Government directives;
ii) ignore HCC’s and WCC’s own targets and priorities related to active travel;
iii) ignore the findings of the consultation process;
iv) reflect a timid approach at a time of challenge and change when there needs to be courage and leadership;
v) miss a unique opportunity to boost Winchester’s efforts in becoming a safer, cleaner, bike-friendly city.
As if we needed more emphasis from central government of the priority they place on active travel, Chris Heaton-Harris, Minister of State at the Department of Transport, wrote to council leaders the very next morning, telling them: “We have no interest in requiring councils to keep schemes which are proven not to work, but that proof must be presented. Schemes must not be removed prematurely, or without proper evidence and too soon to collect proper evidence about their effects.“
Even Boris Johnson has weighed in. In a review of the Gear Change programme, Johnson says: “Traffic is not a force of nature. It is a product of people’s choices. If you make it easier and safer to walk and cycle, more people choose to walk and cycle instead of driving, and the traffic falls overall. I support councils, of all parties, which are trying to promote cycling and bus use. And if you are going to oppose these schemes, you must tell us what your alternative is, because trying to squeeze more cars and delivery vans on the same roads and hoping for the best is not going to work.“
The evidence base for Hampshire’s decision seems extremely weak. They seem intent on finding reasons not to do schemes or disturb the status quo. They have disregarded a strong, positive response to formal consultation. They claim that the existing schemes will cause congestion, but offer no evidence to support that claim. They have chosen to remove active travel schemes at the very moment that Covid restrictions are relaxed, as if Covid was the only reason for those schemes; it’s clear the Government has a very different view, that Covid created the conditions where such schemes are possible, but that the opportunity to transform travel habits must not be squandered. To reiterate the Prime Minister’s words: “You must tell us what your alternative is.“
Local authorities across the country are experiencing the consequences of hasty withdrawal of active travel schemes. West Sussex has been told it will be excluded from future funding rounds. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is the subject of a judicial review to examine their decision to halt active travel schemes.
Cycle Winchester intends to press Hampshire’s transport leaders to explain the evidence that led to their decision. We want our local roads authority to be a pioneer of active travel, not a laggard, which is denied funding for shunning government guidance.