BIKE campaigners have lashed out at ‘anti-cycling’ councillors in Newcastle’s East End.
They say the wards have let down the city’s cycling community by failing to support safer cycling schemes.
But councillors hit back,saying they were not elected to support the sometimes ‘ludicrous’ schemes of ‘special interest groups’.
For almost a year, the city’s Newcycling group has lobbied all Newcastle City Council members to support the nationwide Space for Cycling safer riding campaign, calling for cycle-friendly transport planning and design across all authorities. At least one councillor in 23 of Newcastle’s 26 wards have backed the initiative – which supports measures including lower speed limits, banning through traffic in residential areas and safer routes to school – but there was no response from Parklands, Walker and Walkergate.
The two East End wards have drawn the most fire from Newcycling, who were frustrated in 2013 by their opposition to a new cycle route.
Newcycling chairman Katja Leyendecker said Walker and Walkergate councillors were “leaving a gaping hole in the otherwise overwhelming support for Space for Cycling”.
She added: “So far, 47 out of Newcastle’s 78 councillors have said yes to Space for Cycling, putting Newcastle in the lead countrywide.
“However, it is interesting to note that support radiates out from the central core with Westgate (city centre), Ouseburn and the Jesmonds fully supportive. The East End, on the other hand, remains barren of enthusiasm to provide for cycling.
The failed Welbeck Road scheme, which would have linked Walker with Byker, Manors and the city centre, had been promised PS175,000 of funding by transport charity Sustrans if it had gone ahead. But councillors joined 200 residents in signing a petition against the plan, arguing they were not consulted properly.
Katja said: “After the shelved Welbeck Road project – which also meant losing nearly PS200,000 of funding – councillors in Walker and Walkergate were quick to reassure us they weren’t anti-cycling but rather only against that choice of route.
“Yet discussions about an alternative route have ground to a halt. So what is going on in the East End?” Coun David Denholm, who represents Walkergate ward, said: “I have not received a single resident request that I sign up to the Space for Cycling campaign.
“If I do, I will examine the request on its merits as with all these online campaigns. I am elected to represent my constituents not special interest groups.
“It is true that the councillors in Byker, Walker and Walkergate wards were unanimously opposed to the Welbeck Road scheme as proposed over 12 months ago. The scheme as proposed then was ludicrously unsafe.
“We proposed collectively Walker Road as a safer and better alternative. The roadway is wider and that would be safer for those who choose to cycle. Following that process it was my understanding that officers were tasked together with the Newcastle Cycle Forum to bring forward new proposals.” Walker’s Coun David Wood, who was chairman of the Tyne and Wear integrated transport authority for more than 10 years, said: “I, along with my colleagues, objected to the original proposal on Welbeck Road because of safety issues/ “It was mentioned that there was a loss of income to the local authority but what was not mentioned was the fact that finance would have had to be found from within existing resources – at a time of ever increasing pressures upon local authorities’ funding.”