Cycling activists in Norwich have hit out at a recent council decision to hold discussions about road and transport schemes behind closed doors, claiming that the perceived lack of transparency will “erode public trust”, less than a month after three cyclists died in the space of a week on Norfolk roads.
Earlier this week, Norfolk County Council decided to disband a committee of councillors which met publicly to discuss highways projects, replacing it instead with a steering group that will hold meetings in private, the Eastern Daily Press reports.
The contentious decision, made by Graham Plant, the Conservative-run council’s cabinet member for highways, infrastructure, and transport, has been defended by members of the local authority, who claim that meetings of the Transport for Norwich joint committee were all too often mired in controversy. One meeting in May was abandoned after Labour city councillor Ian Stutely walked out, along with the rest of his party, in protest at how the advisory committee was being run.
That particular ill-fated meeting was itself the result of blunders on the part of the joint committee concerning protocol, after it emerged last year that councillors gave the go-ahead to a range of roads projects, despite not technically having the power to do so.
The new steering group, which replaces the joint committee, will be made up of members drawn from the county council, city council, and two district councils. While it will not meet in public, the council says Mr Plant’s decisions – the result of the committee’s recommendations – will be published.
However, that concession has not proved enough for the Norwich Cycling Campaign, which criticised the new arrangements and argued that “transparency” in how roads schemes are concocted is necessary for vulnerable road users to have “faith” in policy makers.
“It is crucial that councillors have the opportunity to suggest amendments to proposed schemes and for the public to see that a proper discussion is taking place in the open for all to see,” the campaign’s chair, Peter Silburn, told the Eastern Daily Press.
“As a campaign group, we rely on transparency to have faith in the process.”
Silburn’s criticism has also been echoed by a number of opposition councillors.
“It is outrageous and it is taking accountability even further away from the local people affected,” Emma Corlett, deputy leader of the county council Labour group, said.
“These road and transport schemes should be open to more public scrutiny, not less. Doing things in secret only undermines public confidence in local government.”
Ben Price, the leader of the Greens in the county council, added: “Following a series of poorly-designed traffic schemes, the need for transparent decision-making with local involvement is very clear.
“It is very disappointing that instead of allowing local people to have a meaningful say on what they need for local transport and the road changes that affect them, the Conservatives are taking decisions behind closed doors.”
The criticism of the council’s decision to hold important roads meetings away from the public gaze comes less than a month after councillors and campaigners united in calling for better protective measures for cyclists in the county, such as segregated bike lanes and 20mph speed limits, after three cyclists died in the space of a week on Norfolk roads. Three other people were also killed riding their bikes in the county earlier this year.
Responding to the most recent wave of tragic deaths on Norfolk’s roads, Liam Calvert, Green councillor for Wensum ward, said: “Another death on our streets is a tragedy that will ripple across communities for years to come. So we are calling for three major areas of change.
“Firstly, we need high-quality routes physically separating those on bikes from the dangers posed by vehicles. Secondly, we want to see urban street limits of 20mph, especially where full segregation has not yet been achieved, with a significantly increased enforcement of these limits. Finally, a reduction in traffic on smaller residential streets where people live, so that they can leave their homes without the safety concerns that high traffic volumes create.
“People shouldn’t have to fear for the safety of loved ones as they make everyday trips across the city.”
However, the county council’s highways chief Plant defended the local authority’s record for providing safe infrastructure for cyclists and vulnerable road users, arguing that the council is “constantly working to improve highway safety”.
Plant also said that the council was in the final stages of implementing a £66m Transforming Cities project and was recently awarded £3m in active travel funding from the government, though Green councillor Calvert claimed that the local authority still wasn’t taking the issue “seriously enough”.
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.