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Cyclists accuse council of missing “golden opportunity to encourage people out of their cars” during Tyne Bridge repairs

An FOI revealed that the council instead of using £125,000 out of the current funding to put in place any physical improvements right now, it chose to spend that on developing plans for future funding bids

Cyclists and councillors have criticised the Newcastle City Council for not using the Tyne Bridge closure as a chance to push people to cycle more through the bridge, calling it a “golden opportunity” after a freedom of information (FOI) request revealed that the local authority chose to not put in any new measures ahead of the engineering project.

The restoration of the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle started earlier this month, and could last for up to four years, scheduling its reopening on the iconic bridge’s centenary in 2028. However as of now, two of the bridge’s four lanes are confirmed to remain shut for the next two years, with motorists being urged to walk, cycle, or use public transport instead of their car.

Now, Tyneside transport chiefs have been criticised for not putting more new measures in place ahead of the vast engineering project’s start in order to encourage more people to change their journeys.

An FOI request from the Liberal Democrats confirmed that the £125,000 awarded to Newcastle and Gateshead by Active Travel England in March 2023 has been spent solely on developing plans to mitigate the impact of the bridge project that could be put forward in future funding bids, instead of using that money to install any physical improvements now.

Newcastle Cycling Campaign told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that other works also causing disruption on other key routes, making it difficult for people trying to use their bikes to get into the city centre.

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A spokesperson for the group said: “Works on the Tyne Bridge have signs asking cyclists to dismount, Pilgrim Street is still unfinished, Grey Street is unfinished with currently no cycle provision, the High Level Bridge is also being refurbished with restricted space for those walking and cycling.

“Information online merely directs people to Google Maps. Those who were already cycling this journey are finding it difficult. It's hard to imagine how it could be worse.”

A regional transport plan published last year listed ambitions for the creation of bike parking “hubs” at park and ride locations, new cycle and e-bike hire, improved signage, and pavement upgrades to be delivered “at pace”.

However, Lib Dem Cllr Thom Campion claimed local authority chiefs risked missing a “golden opportunity to encourage people out of their cars and on to renewable forms of transport or on to active forms of travel”.

He said: “Questions need to be asked why money has been spent coming up with plans, rather than actually getting on and delivering them. If we wanted to get people thinking about alternatives to the Tyne Bridge then these options should have been put in place before the closures, not part way through.”

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Newcastle City Council, however, defended its record, saying that a “pinch point” for pedestrians and cyclists at the south end of the bridge had been widened and that the restoration work had to begin “at the earliest opportunity” once funding from the Government had been secured.

They added: “We’ve also ensured that one footpath is available for walking and cycling at all times throughout the construction period, as well as looking at how we can improve signage to link up with other walking and cycling routes in the city and introduced secure cycle storage in the city centre.

“Initially a sign had been placed at the Tyne Bridge to encourage cyclists to dismount as they entered the works, but that signage has been removed and replaced with signs encouraging cyclists to give way to pedestrians if the footpath is busy.

“In addition to improvements that have already been made, we are also developing new proposals, which are ongoing and reliant on funding opportunities being available. We were awarded £125,000 by Active Travel England to develop plans for cycling infrastructure improvements in both Gateshead and Newcastle, this work is considerably underway.

“This will enable us to unlock funding in the near future to implement these additional improvements. We are committed to promoting active travel across the city and will continue to listen to our residents to understand how we can create a safer, cleaner and greener Newcastle.”

Just this year, the Hammersmith and Fulham council decided to reopen the Hammersmith Bridge to cyclists following damage caused to the structure, already undergoing repair works since 2019, after a boat full of West Ham fans became wedged underneath it.

The decision was lauded by a multitude of cyclists, who celebrated the reopening and the number of cyclists using the bridge shot up dramatically. It almost became a tourist spot of sorts, with many cyclists from the area going to the bridge as a tongue-in-cheek pilgrimage, including even BBC and Channel 5 presenter Jeremy Vine (on his penny farthing, of course).

Adwitiya joined in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.

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spen | 1 month ago

I often wonder if these councillors and campaigners realise how little "infrastructure" could be provided for the money available.  In civil engineering terms £125K would provide very little

don simon fbpe | 1 month ago

What's wrong with dropping down on to the Millenium Bridge, or the swing bridge, then the brief, but satisfying climb back up the hill? #training. Still going to be quicker than rush hour traffic.

eburtthebike | 1 month ago

Of course you don't actually want to spend money intended for infrastructure on infrastructure, you want to spend it on plans for infrastructure, because those can be quietly dropped.  How can the council take this money, and how will they show that it has been spent on planning for Active Travel?

Really disappointed that a labour council is seemingly running scared of the tory's "party of the driver" nonsense.

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