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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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