What do we know about Newcastle City Council’s #SpaceForDistancing plans?

The Government has now announced the successful funding bids for measures to make walking and cycling safer in response to COVID-19. They state that there is an urgent need to keep people cycling:

The coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has had a terrible impact on the lives and health of many UK citizens, as well as severe economic consequences. But it has also resulted in cleaner air and quieter streets, transforming the environment in many of our towns and cities. And millions of people have discovered, or rediscovered, cycling and walking. In some places, there’s been a 70% rise in the number of people on bikes – for exercise, or for safe, socially distanced travel. When the country gets back to work, we need them to carry on cycling, and to be joined by millions more. With public transport capacity reduced, the roads in our largest cities, in particular, may not be able to cope without it…We recognise this moment for what it is: a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a lasting transformative change in how we make short journeys in our towns and cities. According to the National Travel Survey, in 2017-18 over 40% of urban journeys were under 2 miles – perfectly suited to walking and cycling.

Newcastle City Council have yet to make public how much funding they’ve received or what their bid contains. However, we do know that they received 100% of the provisional allocation (some authorities with ambitious bids were awarded more than this) and will share £2,262,000 with the other authorities in the North East Combined Authority and North of Tyne Combined Authority areas.

There is also new guidance for local authorities to follow when implementing schemes in receipt of this funding. The Government has made it clear that they expect authorities to make meaningful changes to their streets to enable more people to walk and cycle. If authorities fail to implement schemes which make an appreciable difference they may have to pay back the funding and will jeopardize their chance of being awarded funding in the second round. The north east authorities have been allocated an indicative £9,049,000 in this second tranche. The guidance states:

The government therefore expects local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians. Such changes will help embed altered behaviours and demonstrate the positive effects of active travel.

In a statement giving a broad overview of Newcastle Council’s transport response to COVID-19, Cllr Ainsley, cabinet member for transport and air quality at Newcastle Council, says:

It is vital that we don’t revert back to the idea that it is acceptable for the car to be the default option as in the longer term this will have serious implications for our environment and our health.

We look forward to finding out more about the Council’s plans. If public transport capacity is limited, there is an urgent need to enable people to walk and cycle more easily. We know that cycling levels rose during the lockdown when motor traffic levels were very low and we have heard from many people who have recently started cycling. If the council wants people to continue cycling, they need to move fast to implement protected cycleways on main roads and to reduce traffic on residential streets through low traffic neighbourhoods. We are seeing this happen in towns and cities across the country and don’t want Newcastle to be left behind!

Over the next few weeks we will be reviewing Newcastle Council’s proposals as they are announced and letting you know how you can feedback on them. Watch this space…