Five years and counting

chairOur chair writes:

In our normal daily lives, we often forget that power is in the equation. It’s through its absence (rather than its presence) that we feel it the most. We formed the Newcastle Cycling Campaign five years ago to address an imbalance in power, and with that the imbalance in our spatial attribution and acknowledgement of day-to-day cycling in our city. We want to see its ‘needs and musts’ debated. We wish it to flourish and mature. After five years, surely it’s time to ask ourselves: what have we achieved? What did we want to achieve? Have we achieved (some of it)?

Steady and alert advocacy

The answer to that is, that it’s always been a question of scale. We picked up on that early on, right from the start in 2010 in fact. We observed that other cycle campaigns had come and gone. We wanted something sturdy yet stirring, for the long-haul, something that’d be angled at the root problem – the lack of a sensible cycle network and infrastructure for cycling in our city.

As cycling has been forgotten, or has never even existed, on so many levels in our city, it is a multitude of things that we must address and challenge. For us that means keeping a good campaign focus is key. There is the political level of power, and I think we have achieved good progress there. There is the practical level of power, the set practices of engineering and planning at the council.

And we have a long way to go to disentangle these.

Political leadership

Enlisting political help, and policy support, is the vital first ingredient. Whilst Newcastle’s political leadership, the Cabinet, seems convinced that things will have to change and have hence ordered a transport transition for Newcastle, the actual detail of how it’s planned and to be enacted is less clear. We have an abundance of pedal-positive pro-people Newcastle statements about the problem definition and where we want to go, but putting together the how to get there is absent.

We will keep asking for a chart of the transport transition.

Policy actualisation

The lack of steer is not new. Our city transport policies have been good, but they also have tended to be very vague. Newcastle really needs to put the flesh on the policy bone and flesh out the detail. The campaign has worked tirelessly to help out and plug that shortfall. As we had carried out a policy, strategy and budget assessments early on in 2010, we have been council’s memory and quality checker ever since.

In 2010 the council did not like being put under the microscope. The inevitable critique and criticism that we levelled at them created an uncomfortable situation for the council. I think, they hadn’t seen a concerted civic effort like ours for a while. Now, after a few years, they are slowly getting better at working with us. Ultimately over the years, though, it has continued to be a constant and tiring ping-pong between the political and practical levels at the council.

No-one has taken on full responsibility yet.

This is tiring to observe, and an all-round energy-eater too. Yes, we will keep highlighting this gap.

Newcastle, the regional city

We stayed focussed on Newcastle. And I believe we have been proven right in doing so. Although it has meant saying No a lot of times, it keeps us – and our inevitably limited resources – focussed, energised and even-keeled. It gives our campaign clarity, manageability, manoeuvrability and motivation. We think credibility too.

We recently expanded and have created an Infrastructure Team to solely concentrate on assessing local plans and drawings, and provide expert feedback back to the council. We have seen an increase in the number of council plans, not surprising as they have been given £20m by the Department for Transport. But the plans are often lacking, sometimes in a conceptual way and sometimes in their detail (and during their construction too). The team will have its work cut out with the spectre of the Northern Access Corridor looming over Newcastle.

It’s heartbreaking seeing public money and civil servants energy wasted that way.

I believe that Pat Ritchie, Chief Executive of the Newcastle City Council, must apply leadership here, and bridge the divide between well-meaning rhetoric and city policy, and the stark every-day reality and persistence of the status quo in her council’s planning and engineering departments. Creating a Civic Society means letting go of some paternal / patriarchal structures and procedures – we are looking to Pat Ritchie to update these.

There is a huge opportunity for Councillors to step up to the plate too and help Newcastle’s transport system to transform and become more equitable for all. We have maintained an open-door approach for interested Councillors to come to us and learn about ways to do this – but again, the council must do their central bit and initiate and train their Councillors in city policy and council procedures too.

The voice with a distinctive noise

There is no doubt about it. We have put city cycling on the agenda and ensured that it stays there – by providing an alternative to a sticky and stuck status quo on transport matters. We have laid out clear ways of how to approach and transition the transport system. A transition that inevitable must have inclusive cycling at its very heart. We have done small and big stuff to help that along, and will continue to do so.

What you can do

  • If you want to help out at the campaign or help the campaign grow, please get in touch
  • If you feel we are doing the right thing, send us a message of support – it’s always welcome
  • You can also donate to the campaign to cover our (moderate) outgoings
  • Ask a friend to join and receive our regular newsletter

And remember, to be a member all we ask of you is to want a better city, with protected cycleways and more space for cycling so that everyone, of all ages and abilities, feels it’s comfortable to cycle. We are here to challenge the current power balance and seek redress.

It’s all just like Bikeyface explains in her cartoon, which could not have come more timely.

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