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"Not a good use of public money": minister says council who ripped up pop-up cycle lane can't bid for more active travel funding

The cycling minister tells West Sussex County Council it can't bid more for funds this year after ripping out a popular pop-up lane last year...

The government has told a Conservative council that prematurely removed a popular pop-up cycle lane last year it will not be able to apply for cycling and walking funding in the current financial year because its handling of the trial was 'not a good use of public money'.

> Monday moaning: Why don't cyclists use cycle lanes?

West Sussex County Council (WSCC) removed the Upper Shoreham Road cycle lane, in Shoreham-by-Sea, before construction was complete, and before a full impact assessment was possible. What data was gathered showed the route to be popular without obvious disbenefits to motor traffic and air pollution, leaving many baffled and sparking a judicial review application by charity Cycling UK.

The letter from the cycling minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, dated 14 June, is considered by some a significant “blue-on-blue” sanction of a Conservative council by the Conservative government. Local campaigners consider the decision ‘frustrating’, ‘harsh’ and  a major blow to safe cycling hopes in the area though, with future cycle lane plans reliant on government funding.

The letter, dated 14 June, said one of the conditions of emergency funding for “active travel measures” during the early stages of the pandemic was a “long-term commitment to testing the benefits of schemes which have received public money prior to making any change”… “a condition that would help target future funding at those authorities that have a proven track record of delivery”. This was to safeguard taxpayers’ money, the letter said.

Chris Heaton Harris letter to W Sussex

In the letter Heaton-Harris wrote: “In the case of WSCC the schemes delivered under tranche 1 of the Emergency Active Travel Fund were not allowed to be fully tested and/or optimised before the schemes were removed. This was not a good use of public money and means that your authority will not be invited to bid for any new capital funding this year.”

Heaton-Harris’ letter notes WSCC has “since been engaging on future schemes with some encouraging results”, and that delivery of those schemes would put the council in a stronger position to bid for money in future years.  

Construction of the cycle lane, which was funded by the government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund, began last September, and it featured in a government video promoting the positive impacts of the fund. Cycling levels tripled, with families, children and hospital workers among those using it. However, it was removed in November after West Sussex County Council’s cabinet member for highways, Roger Elkins, decided to remove the lanes, before construction had even finished, despite the council’s scrutiny committee voting 6:2 for him to reconsider.

Local cycle campaign, Shoreham-by-cycle, calls the decision a “significant setback”, but are urging people to write to their county councillor, and Shoreham’s MP, to reverse their decision. In a blog, campaigners say: “We are writing to the Department for Transport [DfT], explaining the impact of this decision, and asking that WSCC is at least allowed to submit its Tranche 3 bid for consideration.

“We have spoken to our MP, Tim Loughton, who shares our disappointment, and who is also writing to DfT ministers.

“And we continue to speak to WSCC councillors and officers – all of whom seem determined to apply thorough consultation and high-quality decision-making to really move Shoreham (and the whole county) in the right direction.”

Shoreham-by-cycle say a lot has changed since November, with a recognition by the council that cycling interventions are popular, and they believe Cllr Elkins’ successor, Cllr Joy Dennis, is more positive on cycling and walking. The blog notes: “ultimately, the decision to deprive West Sussex of much-needed funding has been taken in Westminster – not in Chichester.” 

The Department for Transport refused to confirm whether or not the letter was sent to other councils but an answer to a Parliamentary Question is expected in the coming days.

Cycling UK is currently appealing against the refusal of a High Court judge to allow a judicial review of the decision to remove the cycle lane.

A West Sussex County Council spokesperson said: ”The Department for Transport's (DfT’s) letter was a surprise for us, given we had followed its requirements for the Emergency Active Travel Fund. 

"We have written to the DfT to try to understand the reason for its decision and to urge its reconsideration, but our support for an Active Travel scheme for Shoreham is undiminished.

“We are currently consulting with the public on proposals for Shoreham: www.westsussex.gov.uk/Shoreham .”

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22 comments

Avatar
Jetmans Dad | 2 years ago
2 likes

The ideal punishment would have been forcing them to reinstate the cycle lane at the Council's expense, but I am guessing that they don't have the power to do that ... otherwise governments could pressure local councils to spend the money they way they wanted them to rather than the way the council chooses to. 

On the other hand they could make all future central government transport funding dependent on hitting a target for installing active travel infrastructure, and not tearing it out on the whim of one councillor when a few people complain. 

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qwerty360 | 2 years ago
8 likes

While I can accept the argument that the government HAS to sanction councils for abuse of funds, and it has relatively limited sanctions available (basically the only one it can actually do is refuse future funds...) I do think there is an issue that this effectively punishes those trying to use active travel.

They should be applying sanctions to ALL transport related fund requests. Want funds for road repairs or a new bypass etc, it should be under significant extra scrutiny (if even available) AND be likely to have a chunk deducted (even if approved) to cover the active travel infra they ripped out to waste central funds.

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bobbypuk replied to qwerty360 | 2 years ago
7 likes

That was my immediate thought. Those people who campaigned against cycle provisions have effectively won - cycle lanes removed and no money for more. Sounds like a perfect result for anybody who doesn't like cyclists.
 

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Jenova20 | 2 years ago
2 likes

"ultimately, the decision to deprive West Sussex of much-needed funding has been taken in Westminster – not in Chichester.”"

Well, Chichester council apparently can't be trusted to use taxpayer funding in the sparing manner it should be. It's not an endless slush fund to waste on vanity projects, and the terms are clear: Make good use of the money to encourage cycling, and listen to feedback. Don't just rip out projects on a whim, and expect funding for more.

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Captain Badger replied to Jenova20 | 2 years ago
2 likes
Jenova20 wrote:

"ultimately, the decision to deprive West Sussex of much-needed funding has been taken in Westminster – not in Chichester.”"

Well, Chichester council apparently can't be trusted to use taxpayer funding in the sparing manner it should be. It's not an endless slush fund to waste on vanity projects, and the terms are clear: Make good use of the money to encourage cycling, and listen to feedback. Don't just rip out projects on a whim, and expect funding for more.

However it is West Sussex folk who want to cycle that are actually being punished

PS wasn't the decision to rip up the lane in question taken by an individual who overruled the democratic process (a council scrutiny committee voted heavily in favour of its retention).

Not sure if Mr Elkins is even still in his post

Sounds like this decision has been made out of spite...

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Jenova20 replied to Captain Badger | 2 years ago
2 likes
Captain Badger wrote:
Jenova20 wrote:

"ultimately, the decision to deprive West Sussex of much-needed funding has been taken in Westminster – not in Chichester.”"

Well, Chichester council apparently can't be trusted to use taxpayer funding in the sparing manner it should be. It's not an endless slush fund to waste on vanity projects, and the terms are clear: Make good use of the money to encourage cycling, and listen to feedback. Don't just rip out projects on a whim, and expect funding for more.

However it is West Sussex folk who want to cycle that are actually being punished

PS wasn't the decision to rip up the lane in question taken by an individual who overruled the democratic process (a council scrutiny committee voted heavily in favour of its retention).

Not sure if Mr Elkins is even still in his post

Sounds like this decision has been made out of spite...

One person may have made the decision, but the council as a whole is being frozen out for a decision made at the council level.

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Captain Badger replied to Jenova20 | 2 years ago
1 like
Jenova20 wrote:

......

One person may have made the decision, but the council as a whole is being frozen out for a decision made at the council level.

Yes. I wonder whether the council had the power to overrule Elkins diktat - the scrutiny committee voted against it, but it apparently didn't have the teeth to prevent it. 

Of course it is still the electorate that get the bloody nose.

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hawkinspeter replied to Captain Badger | 2 years ago
2 likes
Captain Badger wrote:
Jenova20 wrote:

......

One person may have made the decision, but the council as a whole is being frozen out for a decision made at the council level.

Yes. I wonder whether the council had the power to overrule Elkins diktat - the scrutiny committee voted against it, but it apparently didn't have the teeth to prevent it. 

Of course it is still the electorate that get the bloody nose.

That's always the problem with sanctions, but is there any decent alternative?

They could try moving money away from road building into active travel schemes, but again it's still affecting the local voters and not the idiot that wastes their money.

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Captain Badger replied to hawkinspeter | 2 years ago
1 like
hawkinspeter wrote:

....

That's always the problem with sanctions, but is there any decent alternative?

They could try moving money away from road building into active travel schemes, but again it's still affecting the local voters and not the idiot that wastes their money.

Yes, you're both absolutely right, it's the tax payer that always foots teh bill

It just seems to me that removal of opportunity of any funding won't actually hit the council - it'll just mean that the ratepayers will be directly adversely affected by having no infrastructure. That would be a perverse outcome to what the govt is (apparently) trying to achieve. Conditional funding however will throw the ball into the council's court, in that they have to put things right, with the ratepayer not directly feeling the impact.

Avatar
Jenova20 replied to Captain Badger | 2 years ago
0 likes
Captain Badger wrote:
hawkinspeter wrote:

....

That's always the problem with sanctions, but is there any decent alternative?

They could try moving money away from road building into active travel schemes, but again it's still affecting the local voters and not the idiot that wastes their money.

Yes, you're both absolutely right, it's the tax payer that always foots teh bill

It just seems to me that removal of opportunity of any funding won't actually hit the council - it'll just mean that the ratepayers will be directly adversely affected by having no infrastructure. That would be a perverse outcome to what the govt is (apparently) trying to achieve. Conditional funding however will throw the ball into the council's court, in that they have to put things right, with the ratepayer not directly feeling the impact.

Damned if they do, damned if they don't. They get attacked if they pour more money into a council with corrupt decision making, but if they don't then the locals might suffer. There is no easy solution to that.

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jmcc500 | 2 years ago
7 likes

Just thought I would read the rationale behind the removal back in November. Lots of details here: https://westsussex.moderngov.co.uk/ieDecisionDetails.aspx?ID=1084 and here: https://westsussex.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s19655/EATF%20cycle%20lanes...

It seems to boil down to arguments about parking (on a street where pretty much every house has off-street parking), a lack of pre-scheme consultation, and some curious logic from the Director of Highways, Transport and Planning:

"Public transport usage is now considered safe and vehicular traffic on the network has returned to pre-pandemic levels. This may indicate a lower level of interest in travellers wishing to move to walking and cycling for their main journeys (work, education, shopping) but it has also altered the overall road usage and experience for walkers and cyclists compared with that in place at the time the proposals were being considered."

So the return to normal traffic levels altered the experience for cyclists and the solution was to make things more dangerous? What the actual...

Avatar
alexb | 2 years ago
4 likes

I'd be happier if the only transport budget funds they could spend was for public transport, walking, cycling and road repairs.

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Jenova20 replied to alexb | 2 years ago
2 likes
alexb wrote:

I'd be happier if the only transport budget funds they could spend was for public transport, walking, cycling and road repairs.

What a world that would be. Maybe a literal war on motorists might make them realise how good they have it.

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eburtthebike | 2 years ago
9 likes

Somewhat surprisingly, if only to myself, I'm agreeing with a government minister, Chris Heaton-Harris.  What is the point of giving tax-payers money for cycle facilities to a council which will rip them out if they are successful?  This may have a negative effect locally, with some useful schemes not being implemented, and that is sad and shouldn't have to happen, but surely this council has to pay some price for it's utterly bizarre, inexplicable, illogical decision. 

Perhaps if they removed their head of transport and put him in charge of waste disposal and drainage, likely to be more suited to his abilities, and appointed someone vaguely competent in his place, the government might reconsider their decision.

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ibikebrighton replied to eburtthebike | 2 years ago
6 likes


eburtthebike wrote:

"Perhaps if they removed their head of transport ...  and appointed someone vaguely competent in his place, the government might reconsider their decision."

That's exactly what West Sussex did, which is why Shoreham-by-Cycle is asking the DfT to think about alternative sanctions!

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Jitensha Oni replied to ibikebrighton | 2 years ago
6 likes

Shoudn’t the council re-instating the scheme off their own bat be the first step to that?

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eburtthebike replied to ibikebrighton | 2 years ago
0 likes
ibikebrighton wrote:


eburtthebike wrote:

"Perhaps if they removed their head of transport ...  and appointed someone vaguely competent in his place, the government might reconsider their decision."

That's exactly what West Sussex did, which is why Shoreham-by-Cycle is asking the DfT to think about alternative sanctions!

Glad to hear it; please disregard my previous post.yes  Actually, not quite; has the new head guaranteed that they won't rip out government funded cycle facilities?  And have they reinstated the cycle lane?

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Secret_squirrel replied to ibikebrighton | 2 years ago
2 likes
ibikebrighton wrote:

That's exactly what West Sussex did, which is why Shoreham-by-Cycle is asking the DfT to think about alternative sanctions!

Anyone local got the goss on what happened to the old idiot in charge? Standard committee rotation or punted off for the sheer embarrassment he's caused?

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TheBillder replied to eburtthebike | 2 years ago
0 likes
eburtthebike wrote:

Perhaps if they removed their head of transport and put him in charge of waste disposal and drainage

No! No bike lanes - bad idea. No sewers - literally shit. Some things are more important.

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Organon | 2 years ago
0 likes

The headline is rather poorly phrased.

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grumpyoldcyclist replied to Organon | 2 years ago
1 like

Why?

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Jenova20 replied to grumpyoldcyclist | 2 years ago
0 likes
grumpyoldcyclist wrote:

Why?

Seems fine to me, and i'm dyslexic.

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