Auf Wiedersehen Katja, over to you Sally

We are about to embark on a new chapter. Katja Leyendecker, Newcycling’s co-founder and chair since 2010 is moving on, first finishing her PhD and then making her way to Germany where more adventures will, no doubt, follow.  She is leaving us with a well-established and respected campaigning organisation – credit to her determination, passion and strength. Speaking for and writing about everyday cycling, quality urban infrastructure and fairness in transport on radio, TV, social media, at conferences and on other public platforms, holding decision makers, politicians and public authorities in charge of policy and the public purse to account, and at a more personal level, being an amazing friend! Claire Prospert, Co-founder.

Here are a few words and pictures from the woman herself:

The time is right, if it ever can be. After eight years at it’s time to hang up my boots. Come February 2018 I should be in Berlin, my new choice of home. Leaving Newcastle after 22 years (nearly half my life!) will not be easy, but I have to be honest too: on the whole I am deeply disenchanted by the council, its treatment of transport cycling and cycling advocates.

Ward councillors, in particular, are a real problem, bickering and fighting for reasons of party supremacy rather than for good policy, clear governance and public debate. Democratic process is gravely wounded by councillors’ in/actions. My stomping ground of Gosforth suffers terribly from ineffectual Liberal Democrat councillors who could not care less to see transport as anything other than cars or political point-scoring. And then there is the city-level Labour cabinet, this cabal of councillors in charge of transport and everything else. A secretive and inaccessible form of decision making takes place in Newcastle. A black box. Far away from the public. We, the residents, suffer from the lack of policy debate, transparency and accountability in decision making.

When council attention started slipping on cycling and the council’s own calamity on Blue House unfolded, I sought to speak to Cllr Nick Forbes. It was shocking to hear that he rejected the idea of a meeting or telephone call. Through that refusal, I learnt that this administration had become despondent. Labour’s initial enthusiasm of 2011 to do something for transport cycling had been ground down. With the cabinet and ward councillors, our council is sliding downhill and away from providing for sustainable transport, healthy communities of happy citizens. There is a potential resource, the Transport Forum, but councillors are unable to use it for the democratic purpose of public deliberation, debate and honest exchange.

That said, there is groundswell resistance.

I will leave in excellent hands. The committee is marvellously committed to shouting out alternative narratives to the poisonous and destructive motor-only rhetoric of the council. When 42% of Newcastle households have no car, kids are barred from playing in their own streets or cycle to school safely, and residents clamour against council-induced car dependency, together with its sister organisations is at hand to inform and educate Newcastle’s decision makers. I wish everyone good luck and fortune, solidarity and fun, stamina and resilience in campaigning for cycleways and child-friendly streets. Through your dedicated advocacy, may the council see the error of their (motor)ways and reform the functions of transport planning and highway engineering.

Katja Leyendecker

Sally Watson will take over as chair of the campaign from November 2018.