Cllr Bell’s reply – what does it mean for a Cycle City?

Potrait7I am hopeful in noting that Cllr Ged Bell, Cabinet member of Newcastle council, kindly started his reply by thanking Sally for the sentiment and professionalism of her address to Full Council. By extension Cllr Bell thanks the newcycling Committee and our membership for the positive and constructive engagement our campaign group engages in. He then continues to congratulate us for staying on our stalwart course, pushing cycling up the agenda in Newcastle, and bringing rationale to the transport debate in our city.

You can watch Cllr Ged Bell’s reply here (external link, youtube)

26400770936_46147d6eb7_oWe, together with our patron Christian Wolmar, agree with Cllr Bell that a vision for Newcastle is not just about cycling. Naturally it’s about a better city for all ensuring a good quality of life for everyone, a decent balance for health, environment as well as economic and social outcomes. This necessitates – even depends on – a much more integrated, suitable and effective transport system for all its users and city customers. A social equalizer for societal fairness will be the construction of protected cycleways on main roads; and this is why we asked for a network to be mapped and design standards to be adopted. Cllr Bell agreed to these points and we do look forward to be working positively with council officers and politicians on the realisation and implementation of these agenda points.

But we made a fourth request.

And hence remain to ask: where is the money? 

We made council aware that Newcastle needs a dedicated annual budget of £6 million which must be reserved for bringing our city up to date on cycling infrastructure. The amount makes sense. It is based on Dutch expenditure for cycleway construction. On that major subject, however, Cllr Bell’s reply was scant. He simply re-announced the highways report council already publish on an annual basis. This is insufficient. A summary report is not much use; it is too late.

Newcastle needs an upfront budget.

As this does not demonstrate agreeable action on this point, it may be important to note for Newcastle council, that without that budget Newcastle is stuck. We will only keep hearing warm words, and we will grossly fail again on the implementation side of things. The real commitment only comes with the money. I wish it was not so, but these are the economic realities we operate within. It is only the cold hard cash that can realise the diversification in Newcastle’s transport system.

The city must put the money where her mouth is.

Council must confidently allocate for a cycle-city construction. It seems that ultimately there are still barriers to realising that cycling infrastructure offers a most exceptional deal. Cycling infrastructure is cheap, cycling has huge benefits, its cost-effectiveness cannot be met by traditional transport schemes, and there are tremendous savings for the city in providing cycling infrastructure. I won’t mention the massive mode shift potential.

But perhaps Newcastle Cabinet still cannot see beyond traditional processes? Are old practices still haunting council officers’ desks? Are councillors aware of the risks they are taking? The recent plan of the Northern Access Corridor, a motorway running through Blue House and Haddricks Mill, sadly shows very clearly that we are currently running on twin tracks. Council’s transport thinking is still dominated by road-building highway engineering, wrecking communities and citizens health and wellbeing in its wake.

The announcement of the Northern Access Corridor in the Local Plan was highly schizophrenic for a city that wants to clean up its act and become a city for people. We were very skeptical then about the nature of this scheme. A couple of years on, and we can now see its destructive plans unfold in detail.

But council can only choose one way forward from here.

A liveable city exists only when a healthy variety of transport options is put on offer. Cycleways are an intimate key component of a liveable and thriving city. And Newcastle needs a budget to work on its liveability and competitiveness. More roads, always means more cars – and less space for anything else. This is not how to get people to leave their cars at home, clean up the city’s dirty air, reduce noise pollution, community severance or tackle the obesity crisis.

I think there is hope however. Newcastle, right now, is at a cross roads. I trust that the council will do some soul searching for a fairer future direction. When done for the city and its citizens, the long term, our future, council will get its priorities right. Council can get clear vision for the city, and put the right spending plans in place. We are nearly there. I say this knocking on wood.

Newcycling has always offered to be involved, and remains to do so. We have built up a great deal of relevant knowledge and expertise in our campaign that we are happy to share with the decision-makers, and the audience of community and interest groups. We ask council to create these opportunities of engagement and public sharing. Speaking, making representation and talking about a cycling future, is exactly what newcycling is here for. We’d be grateful to be invited to Cabinet and talk about the key-component part that cycling can play in transport and city economics.

Cllr Ged Bell is right, it’s not just about cycling. With that in mind, we hope to soon see the improbable “rhetoric of plenty” (in highway terminology: tackling congestion, smoothing traffic, junction capacity) with its outdated processes of “predict and provide” that is simply inducing demand, give way to the reality of managing precious and invaluable resources:

Newcastle citizens,

young and old,

and our livelihoods, wellbeing and communities.

Good luck to you, Newcastle, our city!

(Katja Leyendecker, Chair)