Open letter to Cllr Arlene Ainsley, cabinet member for Transport and Air Quality

Newcastle’s new cabinet member for Transport and Air Quality, Cllr Arlene Ainsley, has now been in post for over a year. On 7th November 2018 she delivered a report on transport and air quality to the council. We have a number of questions to raise with the council in relation to this report and have written to Cllr Ainsley:

Dear Cllr Ainsley

We read with great interest your report on transport and air quality, which you delivered to full council on 7th November 2018. It is fantastic to see you acknowledging the important part cycling infrastructure can play in improving air quality. We are keen to find out how the council will make this happen in practice. Currently, we are very worried that there are signs that the council is not following its own policies on cycling and seek reassurance on a number of points:

It is very worrying to see that the council appears to have revised its policy in relation to cycling in the city centre: ‘In the city centre, we continue to strive for the delivery of a pedestrian-friendly shopping and leisure environment, which is safe and pleasant for visitors, residents and people that work here. Our network needs to provide access to services by car, bus, bike or taxis, but ensure that priority is given to those on foot and that private vehicles drive to the centre, rather than through it.’ (see page 175 onwards). This statement doesn’t seem to align with the local plan, the council’s statutory planning policy document, which states “14.53 Over 1700 people cycle into the Urban Core each day and this Plan seeks to increase the number of trips by creating a network of cycling routes across the Urban Core”.

  • Please could you confirm how you plan to increase cycling in the city centre and where the new network of routes will be?

The trial closure of Blackett Street during the summer is reported as having been a success and we congratulate the council for its innovative approach. Unfortunately, there is no mention of cycling in relation to this scheme in your report.

  • Please can you confirm your plans for cycling on this route?

Your report also describes how a successful trial on Percy Street, where crossings have been improved and road space has been reallocated to pedestrians, will now be made permanent. There is no mention of cycling here at all, despite the initial consultation which proposed putting new separated space for cycling on this street. The feedback about this consultation was positive but council sources tell us that cycling has now been dropped from the plans. We’d be grateful if you could clarify this point for us because it still appears on your website and we don’t believe that the public have been adequately informed about this or included in the discussion.

Again, the local plan also mentions Percy Street, stating: “16.34… improving crossings and reducing road widths on Percy Street will aid pedestrian and cycle movement”. It is unclear how cycling will be supported if there is no space for cycling here. Percy Street and Barras Bridge are also mentioned in round two of the funding bid for the Cycle City Ambition Fund which states that “improvements will expand the amount of space dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists while providing legible more direct routes and enhancing public realm in this area”. I am sure that you are aware that Newcastle was one of only two cities not awarded any money in round three of this government funding. This is not money we can afford to miss out on, but if the council has a low success implementation success rate it is unlikely that it will be awarded more money in the future.

  • Please can you confirm whether the plans for Percy Street and Barras Bridge include protected cycle lanes?

Finally, your report describes the need to find a critical balance between an accessible transport network and a cleaner, pleasant environment with a vibrant economy. We believe that this doesn’t have to be a balancing act. A clean and accessible transport system, one which isn’t focussed on moving people around in cars, will make a city vibrant and successful and a healthy pleasant place to live. But we need clear plans with goals if this is going to happen. And this means making plans for cycling in the city centre and routes connecting this to areas where people live.

We would very much like to support you in your aims to reduce air pollution in the city and believe that it is possible to achieve these through planning an equitable transport system which includes cycling. With this in mind, we look forward to receiving your response to our questions.

Best wishes

Sally Watson

Chair, Newcastle Cycling Campaign