Before the local elections, we asked political parties for statements. We received three statements, and say thank-you to these parties. In order of receipt these can be acessed here:
Green Party (949 words)
Labour Party (425 words)
Liberal Democrat Party (785 words)
Politics and city policies
Being a political campaign engaging with decision-makers, we are keen to understand party positions. We are keen to know the gap we have to bridge between creating a Cycle City and a respective party’s ambition. Of course there are city policies to adhere to, too. And, still, we would like to see much more focus on policies; and policies to be used for citywide debates showcasing the council’s vision.
This would give civic society time and space for interaction and it could open up opportunities for sharing, co-production and partnership working. Growing grassroots is something we believe the Greens and Labour are keen to do. And it’s good to see Labour’s statement touching on this sort of thing; they call it a civic debate. We see ourselves as council’s policy partners and it is good to notice that Labour acknowledge us as such, by calling us their critical friend in the statement. We, too, look forward to working (things out) together.
When the Greens have a wider idea for Newcastle’s future and are not shy of speaking about sustainability, climate change and its growth-related problems and limitation of resources in the longer run, the other two parties, Labour and Liberal Democrats, are somewhat quieter on that wider angle. However, the acknowledgement of the wider challenges is vitally important, we think. The tackling of transport’s problems needs a concerted well-structured long-term effort, clear plans and programmes – good decision-making, and urgent action.
We were impressed by the Greens’ direct tackling of root problems and finding real solutions: motor traffic reduction – again, this is something that the other parties did not mention. This was also clearly articulated in the Green’s mayoral campaign in London when Sian Berry and the other mayoral candidates were quizzed about cycling – read the Guardian article here.
Our many years of campaigning have seen us get very sensitive with language. We have learnt to read policy and political statement with a fine lyrical tooth comb. In that we note that Greens’ and Labour’s statements are relatively free of status-quo jargon. Liberal Democrats’ contribution uses a higher number of pre-transition words, such as “all road users” (translation: car dominance retained) and “where feasible” (ie not where necessary) – letting us believe some more re-orientation would be possible.
Remaining comments and questions for the parties, coming out of their statements:
- We note no Green candidates were elected and we regret to see Newcastle council go on another year without benefitting from their input.
- We are looking forward to seeing the Greens transport statement and hoping this to lay out more details more clearly about the Greens’ approach and their planned actions.
- We generally like the Labour statement; it captures many of our concerns. However there are some remaining questions and some concerns.
- The purpose of the cycle map has been misused again. Its purpose is to provide a map to users for navigation, and not a mapping exercise of barriers, free to be exploited by developers. This is worrying as the map has now been quoted in masterplans as major housing developments are planned to the Northwest of the city. We ask Labour to urgently reconsider the use that they ascribe to the map.
- We are pleased to see that network definition is taking place. Please speak to our Infrastructure Team at the earliest opportunity for local knowledge and technical input. The network attribution task is something the so-called Technical Advisory Group could progress, and something which could then be elevated to the Newcastle Transport Forum (and perhaps the newly formed Active Travel Board too). A programme of works could also be put together in a much more professional manner and could more prominently feature on the groups’ agendas.
- We note with interest the formation of the Active Travel Board, and we would be delighted to make representation on and to that group. For that group to function well, instil trust and have a standing in the policy community it should be run transparently.
- Overall, the most important and urgent step for council should be to ratify the Strategic Cycle Routes network into policy, possibly as Supplementary Planning Policy to the Local Plan (One Core Strategy). This way the council could protect themselves from vagaries the developers will inevitably play and be clearer on monetisation of contributions (S.106 and CIL). We have already seen these opportunities lost and wily developers bypassing action on sustainable travel in the masterplans for Callerton and Kenton Bar with council seemingly idly standing by, powerless or perhaps even approvingly.
- We largely agree with the statement, however also note that there are some inconsistencies in the approach.
- We agree with the concerns that are raised about the delivery of the CCAF programme. As described above also, a much clearer process is needed and perhaps some skill improvement too. We would like to work with the opposition on this subject.
- We would like to advise the Liberal Democrats to temper their enthusiasm about soft measures (training, promotion). Research has shown time and time again that if these are not coupled with improvements to road conditions and designs, money is wasted. Soft measures alone do not beget population-wide change or mass cycling. We are happy to share research if that would be useful.
- Our biggest concern, by far, however is the unclear direction that the party takes. It seems undeclared where to go. Transport transition, more people walking, cycling and using public transport requires counter-balancing something else. That something else is road space for private cars for short journeys. This process and the required leadership however do not seem to have been fully embraced by the party. We therefore ask the Liberal Democrats to spell out more clearly how they will be supporting city transport policies and how they envisage the realisation of the transport transition. It would be good to see a stronger voice for change.
Thanks again for the statements, and by extension for working with us and staying in dialogue.