Letter from the Leader – Cllr Nick Forbes

On 16 March 2015 we received a reply from Cllr Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, in response to our needs assessment dated 30 November 2014. We say a big Thank-you to Nick, and over the coming weeks we will digest and analyse his reply so we can understand where we are at with cycling in Newcastle, the political determination and policy implementation of building in space for cycling into our city.

Dear Katja, New Cycling,

May I start by saying how much I appreciate your efforts to promote cycling and help make it an easy option for people. The work you put in as volunteers at the heart of a membership organisation that represents over a thousand people is hugely important and I want to acknowledge the impact the campaign has made since your formation in 2010 and to wish you continued success in the coming years – starting with your AGM later this month.

I believe your members want to see changes that we are keen to implement, I also think you understand how hard this can be and your support, and challenge, has been hugely important.

The work we have been doing across the council is about delivering a more equitable life for the people in this great city. This is true in various ways – we have pioneered an approach to implementing a living wage and we are leading the core cities in developing cross cutting approaches to public service reform. A further element of ensuring an equitable city is our transport system and we have started a large programme of work, the approach to which will begin to address the majority of the points you raise in your call to us.

The design of our city’s infrastructure and the subsequent travel choices people make to best use it, has a fundamental impact on the health and wellbeing of the city and its people and is crucial to delivering equality of access to opportunity. It is with this in mind that our transport planning department are forging much improved links with our public health department. Only by working across departments can we achieve a true transformation of the city.

This begins to address two of your points about a dedicated delivery team and leading experts in the field. It is important to note that our existing delivery team is already made up of dedicated, leading experts across public health, transport planning, and delivery of major capital works. To use one example, our transport strategy and scheme development team is currently led by a Member of the Board of the Transport Planning Society who has previously won acclaim for papers on changing travel behaviour using infrastructure design.

The council has also recently agreed to create a Head of Transport post to oversee the major work programme of capital and behaviour change schemes we are committed to delivering. This post, working alongside the Director of Public Health and the Communities Directorate within the council, will ensure we have a senior leadership team that has the necessary authority to deliver a citywide transformation that reflects the ambitions of the city.

Importantly, I believe that you and your members understand the difference between considering transport solely as a means to move people and goods, and its function in defining a place, and how such a place is used. This is something that I believe we need to communicate better, as is the impact of our highways and public spaces on people’s health and wellbeing. This is something the new leadership team will be expected to deliver – as is a more clearly defined transport budget to be made available online.

Fundamentally it is important to reflect on the fact that our city’s infrastructure is ageing and was designed and built at a time when providing extra capacity for people to move was based on more lanes for traffic. This is no longer the case. With improvements to traffic light technology we can ensure better movement for buses, taxis, freight vehicles, and private cars without having the same road designs in place.

It is by investing in such technology that we can reallocate roadspace without significant detriment to other road users, but with huge benefits for cyclists. The current proposed improvements for John Dobson Street – which will act as a focus for a showcase strategic cycle route as part of the Great North Cycle Way if accepted following consultation is a clear example of this approach.

Specifically in relation to cycling, Newcastle City Council has the highest proportion of local councillors signed up to the Space for Cycling campaign and showed cross city and cross party support to adopt the ten year cycling strategy, which places the development and delivery of strategic routes foremost. As you point out, these routes are hugely important in us making cycling an easy option for all.

We are one of the seven Cycle Cities that have secured funding for improvements to cycling infrastructure from the Cycle City Ambition programme to deliver a step change to enable cycling to be an easy choice for all. As you note, the importance of ensuring our routes are useful for many uses – and that they pass various services – inevitably means that they are currently focused on providing routes for motor vehicle traffic (as was the design principles of the day)– and as such, promoting changes stimulates significant interest and debate.

Making changes to places can cause emotions to run high and on occasion such emotion can mean that the purpose of making those changes does not remain in focus. You mention that you believe we require an unambiguous plan that sets out how we intend to implement improvements. You also note that it is vital that the plan and the benefits it brings are clearly communicated to people. You are right, this is very important and we recognised this through the sign off of the Let’s Talk Transport – Re-Newcastle report in late 2014.

This commenced work to progress this in a way that clearly outlines what we can do while also ensuring engagement and consultation is meaningful and acts to improve our processes and the delivery of improvements. Your points about a civic debate and a clear and straightforward decision making process are noted and I am confident that the work being done within the council will very soon, and very clearly, address these points – I will ask the council’s representative at your AGM to answer questions on this if required.

The work currently being done will also develop and make clear the economic and social case for investing in our highways and public spaces network derived from a sound evidence base. These business cases will use existing, and emerging, transport appraisal techniques and will ensure the civic debate and engagement and consultation around our plans are informed.

Finally, the impending adoption of the Local Plan will require a supplementary Local Development Document to be produced. As part of this the Transport Strategy and Scheme Development team are examining the reclassification of our highways network and I will ask them to make contact with you about this workstream and how the principles of Sustainable Safety and neighbourhood zoning could be embedded within it.

I believe there is the possibility of you working with us on what we have termed to be ‘Community Cycling Areas’ in the recent successful funding bid for Cycle City extension funding – this could potentially deliver ‘neighbourhood zoning’ as you describe it and would be a useful start in us working together more closely to deliver our shared ambitions, while recognising that on some occasions, we may disagree about the ways to get there.

If there is anything you think I have missed or require clarification on, please do not hesitate to get on contact and I will make sure the council’s representative at the AGM is able to answer your queries. With my best regards and wishes for the future,

Nick

Cllr Nick Forbes

Labour Councillor for Westgate Ward and
Leader of Newcastle City Council
Newcastle City Council
Leader’s Office, Civic Centre
Newcastle NE1 8QH

Office: 0191 211 5151
Web: www.nickforbes.org.uk

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