Annual address – where is the red thread?

Since our beginnings in 2010, newcycling has always taken the long view. Our ambition has often resulted in bafflement and confusion at the council – supposedly because it was predicted that would be short-lived and soon to be subjected.

But we stayed our course over the years, and kept asking “What city? Where is our story?”

We asked for

  • a citywide plan, not just piecemeal transport schemes
  • a structured approach to the planning and building of a cycle network (protected cycleways on main roads!), firm budgets and clear engineering standards
  • a movement plan encompassing public transport, walking and cycling

We think this is vital. It is the starting point. With a strong storyline in place, it then becomes so much easier taking small steps towards the well-defined goal. But alas, the political steer in Newcastle still remains something resembling a car-crash. Apart from the early years when Labour came to power in 2011, no one has really been at the political helm since. No-one is decisively steering towards a Cycle City – and so it is a driverless car crash too. Earlier in 2017, we requested a meeting with Cllr Nick Forbes to follow up after the Blue House bungle, to outline the approach we are taking, and give our input – but that meeting was sadly denied.

Naturally, the red-threaded storyline must be closely linked to the big stuff: putting climate change and the reduction of carbon emission on the council ledger. Yet this is something that the political parties have avoided – even staunchly resisted. Sustainability is not on the council agenda.

This is not for lack of trying and trying again on our part! Sending our feedback, sending warnings, evidence and ideas to our politicians.

Over the years we presented a number of different angles. For example, 2011 / 2013 we tried social justice with Labour – and all there was silence. We tried to educate the Lib Dems that people cycling and walking are in fact reliable and well-spending customers to local shops – silence, even pushback (Jesmond, Gosforth). Then in 2016, Newcastle council decided it wanted to lay a motorway through parts of our city – that’s when I totally lost my confidence in the direction and steer at the council. A car crash waiting to happen – slow motion. Also air quality came about on and off as an angle to take, presenting an urgent motivation for action, and what we hear is deafening silence from both parties as to the solutions. Traffic reduction is the message that is taboo at the council.

In 2017 I was away from Newcastle more than I was in Newcastle – this outsider experience has given me some perspective on our situation. From that distance, I am quite troubled at the political disinterest and detachment I increasingly observe. When Newcastle is in an ever more despairing need of a uniting storyline, no action is not an option.

This is political! Personally I do not care what storyline or what headline our politicians can grab and sustain as their guiding light as long as it does configure our future well and sound, with a sure foot providing a constructive outlook for our transport system, our city and us, the people.

We are here, and we are here to stay. Remaining responsive and fleet of foot – we are now taking the #city4kids focus to our politicians. Giving yet another good and just reason for action. This time we ask:

Who could not get behind a storyline that puts kids, our future, at the very heart?

Katja Leyendecker