Newcastle’s active travel schemes – progress and funding – update September 2022

Last year the government published Gear Change: One Year On, featuring Newcastle’s own Queen Victoria Road. It stated that ‘plans are underway to make the temporary changes permanent, following positive public feedback’. We are still waiting to find out when the work will begin here. Further Active Travel funding was announced this year, which makes Newcastle City Council one of the highest recipients of active travel funding in England (outside London), showing the level of ambition our Councillors have for our city. Active Travel England has now been set up to oversee the delivery of the Active Travel Fund and we thought it was time to review where we are with funding and delivery.

We also have a new Leader of the Council – Cllr Nick Kemp and a new Cabinet Member with responsibiliy for transport, Cllr Jane Byrne , and we have written to them both, and met with Cllr Byrne, to express our support for more and better cycling infrastructure. You can contact them at [email protected] and [email protected] to express your support for our four asks – protected cycle lanes on main roads, safe junctions, low traffic neighbourhoods and school streets – and to let them know where you would like these.

Image from the government publication Gear Change: One Year On, 2021

Investment to date

  • In 2015, the Cycle City Ambition Fund 2 programme was launched. It has been difficult to keep track of progress on this, but a review of schemes indicates that little or no progress has been made on many of them.
  • In 2016 Newcastle City Council confirmed that three areas – Fenham & Arthur’s Hill, Jesmond and Heaton would each receive £1m guaranteed funding as part of a Streets for People project to improve walking and cycling in these neighbourhoods – some of these schemes have been successfully implemented but many have not (see accounts of these schemes and updates on progress here)
  • In 2020, a successful Active Travel Fund (Tranche 1) saw the introducion of protected space for cycling on Grey Street, Queen Victoria Road and Gosforth High Street and modal filters on five bridges in the east of the city (see accounts of these schemes and updates on progress here and our consultation response to Grey Street plans here). We were pleased to hear that the most recent plan for Grey Street includes two-way cycling but there is no update on whether or when this scheme will be implemented. We remain concerned about the future of ATE funded schemes given that the goverment has consistently stated that funding may be withheld for future transport schemes if allocated funding is not spent on delivering successful bids.
  • In December 2020, Newcastle receveid £3.8m in Active Travel Fund (Tranche 2) to make permanent the reallocation of road space on Grey Street and Queen Victoria Road to walking and cycling – there is no progress on this to date
  • In May 2022, the North East received £17.9m from the Active Travel Fund (Tranche 3) – making it the region with the most successful bid. Out of this, Newcastle was awarded £7.7m to fund four schemes – there has been no public announcement of how this funding will be spent
  • In early 2021 Newcastle announced plans for ‘Cleaner, Greener, Safer Neighbourhoods’ which would include low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) and school streets – so far only the Fenham LTN has been implemented and we are awaiting news of plans for Heaton, Arthur’s Hill, Jesmond, Shieldfield, West Fenham, Kenton and Ouseburn Valley; two out of a proposed 11 school streets have been implemented, one at Hotspur Primary and one at Grange First School

Our message to city leaders

We believe that an equitable city is one which provide safe space for cycling, all the more urgent with the cost of living and climate crises, and we are thrilled to see Newcastle punching well above its weight in terms of ambition and funding.

The recent Tyneside Walking and Cycling Index found that “participation [in cycling] is not currently equal. Barriers to cycling can be far more pronounced for some people. Safety, including road safety and personal safety, is the single largest barrier to cycling.” (Sustrans, 2021) It also found that many people would like to cycle but are put off by the lack of safe infrastructure. Funding for cycling infrastructure is therefore vitally important, but so is delivery and we have some concerns about this in Newcastle.

Image from the Tyneside Walking and Cycling Index, Sustrans, 2021

It is exciting to see progress finally being made on the Heaton Road protected cycle lanes, on low traffic neighbourhoods and on school streets. But progress is very slow and we have serious concerns about the Council’s ability to achieve its Net Zero plans or to address social inequity by prioritising inexpensive modes of transport such as walking and cycling. We are concerned that no progress has been made on schemes funded by ATE Tranche 2 or 3 and hope that this funding is not being put at risk through lack of progress on delivery, particularly when there has been such strong public support for schemes like Queen Victoria Road and Grey Street. We are also awaiting an announcement on the future of Gosforth High Street, which will give us a good indication of the Council’s priorities – will this scheme comply with their transport hierarchy – walking and wheeling, then cycling, then public transport, then private motor vehicles? Or will it retain motor dominance with continued through routes for motor traffic at the expense of walking and cycling?

We are also now ten years into the city’s ten year cycle plan, which Cllr Nigel Todd introduced by stating “Delivering Cycling Improvements in Newcastle is not the end of a story but opens a fresh chapter. It will guide us over the next few years in achieving important changes, rebalancing the relationship between road users in favour of modes of transport that diminish carbon emissions”. The aim of the strategy was to “develop a cycling culture where 20% of all trips under five miles are undertaken by cycle by 2021”. While we have made some fantastic progress, many aspects of this strategy have not been heeded and we are some way off meeting the target number of trips by bike. We would like to see a programme for the deliver of these schemes, as we have asked for previously, and we would like to request, as we have done many times previously, that the Council regularly updates the public on progress and works more closely with stakeholder groups such as our campaign and the SPACE groups. Cllr Byrne has made time to meet with us and other stakeholder groups and we are very hopeful that she can make some positive changes. FInally, we would like to reiterate that we are here to help councillors – to act as a sounding board and discuss ideas they may have been presented with by officers. We would, after all, like to see them succeed in making our city a better, healthier and more equitable place to live in.