The Newcastle Cycling Campaign has conducted a review of city centre documents, and concludes the following.
It has been alluded that Newcastle’s centre is tired and worn-out, failing terribly to attract the right clientele. It is therefore vital that any regeneration scheme breathes fresh air into this lacking space and creates a welcoming atmosphere and place identity.
In fact if the excellent 1PLAN (the overarching strategy for the Newcastle and Gateshead) is to be believed (and why shouldn’t we believe it), the use of cars is to be phased out in the city centre. Cars blight the public space – these connections have been clearly drawn by 1PLAN, thereby outlining a clear vision for Newcastle’s future. We welcome that vision.
That being said, a lot now rests on chunks of the city centre getting the make-over. East Pilgrim Street appears next on the list. Getting the city centre regeneration right will hugely contribute towards a better safer cleaner more people-friendly Newcastle. As for the EPS development, it touches on such a vast area of the urban core; its impact is massive. However it remains unclear what the EPS’ revitalisation offer actually entails. For example:
Cycling is unbelievably under-represented in the EPS planning documentation. This is despite the many known and proven benefits cycling offers, social, environmental, health to name a few. Cycling would contribute greatly to the vibrant modern European inclusive safe city that Newcastle claims it wants to be in the near future.
EPS transport document muses: “It is considered that cycling should come after buses in the hierarchy of modes given the importance of buses in serving the City Centre. However, the creation of enhanced ‘no-car’ provision would benefit cyclists.” This is nonsensical. ‘No-car’ lane sharing is dangerous for cyclists and will not increase cycling numbers. Instead consideration must be given to shared pedestrian-cyclist use by widespread pedestrianisation of the city centre. This would reduce pedestrian densities and allow sharing to take place.
Overall the document is totally insubstantial to the cause of cycling. The cycle route map on page 14 is blank in the city centre. It’s time to do something and act. It has been stated in 1991 that Newcastle City Council are working on identifying a city cycle network. Quick maths. That’s twenty years ago. Where is that network?
Surely car parking will be limited to encourage the use of alternative modes. And drawing from the experience of other towns and cities, this must be coupled with a first class infrastructure for walking and cycling.
But where is the future traffic restriction plan for the city centre as a whole, and EPS in particular? How about disconnecting Pilgrim Street from Swan House roundabout to ‘ordinary vehicle traffic’ as part of the vehicle restriction process. There seems some indication in the city centre’s Area Action Plan, but only very little meat on the bone as yet.
The above combined with further contradictions makes us feel deeply worried for the future of Newcastle.
The very recent New Eldon Square development does not put the spark back into the city; it frankly fails to inspire. It does not deliver on public realm and permeability. It does not even include a cycling infrastructure. If the same low standard (probably eroded post-planning bowing to ‘developer pressure’) is applied elsewhere, it’s not boding well for our city centre. We are worried.
In addition, as part of the Alive after Five initiative it is most peculiar that car parking is given away free after 17:00 in our city car parks like there’s no tomorrow. To make matters even more counter-productive to 1PLAN, free car parking now extends to the council’s own office car park. Hereby drawing more cars into the centre without giving a real alternative, and sending the message that cars in the centre are a welcome addition. If the cars are seen to blight the city centre and are going to be phased out (in line with 1PLAN), Newcastle must start to communicate that vision. Now. Where is the plan outlining this seemingly delicate undertaking?
If we want a cycle-friendly Newcastle retro-fitting is another option as opposed to large-scale planning and re-development. Retro-fitting cycling infrastructure however is notoriously difficult and can only be achieved with real political commitment and sometimes bravery. That essential political buy-in is currently not demonstrated. Who’s stepping up to the plate?
Hand on heart, what are the real obstacles to a car-free centre? From what we see we must conclude that Newcastle City Council are slave to the short-term aim of the retail sector such as 1NE Ltd. This commercial group will lack the vision of the long-term health and well-being our city. Dear council, as the leader of our city, what steps will you take to rethink those ties to give way to inclusive, fair and visionary decision-making?
Maybe it would be worth our council gaining the experience of city cycling and the obstacles put in cyclists way? Under-education of council planners and engineers on cyclist-friendly design is often stated as a general hindrance to cycling improvements.
To us it appears that our council have a vision, but they are too scared to fully believe in it themselves.
Summing it up. Council’s to do list.
– develop your political bravery and will
– clear communication of 1PLAN vision to Newcastle residents
– build an economic case for restricting car use
– education of council staff on cycling matters and 1PLAN vision
– plan the details of phased car restrictions combined with pedestrianisation
As always, the Newcastle Cycling Campaign is here to help.