Bath & NE Somerset (B&NES) Council has failed to receive funding for a million pound bid submitted to Active Travel England. The Council applied to the government for an active travel scheme to resurface the existing cycle and pedestrian route through Rainbow Woods at the top of Claverton Down in Bath, but this bid has been rejected by Active Travel England. The failure of this bid is a disaster for the residents of B&NES and represents a wasted opportunity.
Active Travel England, under the leadership of Chris Boardman, have made it very clear in the last year that any local authority submitting bids for funding needs to show ambitious cycle schemes that would really transform people’s lives. The bid that was put forward by B&NES was led by Cllr Kevin Guy, the leader of Council, his deputy Cllr Sarah Warren, and cabinet member for transport Cllr Manda Rigby. It appears that this bid was not ambitious enough.
We have learned today that the Metro Mayor for the West of England, Dan Norris, has secured £5.8 million from central government to boost cycling and walking in the region for other more ambitious schemes. For example, Bristol and South Gloucester have received funding under this award which will deliver cycle infrastructure in Cotham Hill, Old Market Gap and Kingswood Town Centre (https://www.westofengland-ca.gov.uk/ news/metro-mayor-secures-extra-5-8m-to-boost-cycling-and-walking/) The West of England Combined Authority press release shares the positive news for sustainable transport in the region “It’s vital that we invest in active travel projects to deliver our ambition to be net zero by 2030”.
Those involved with overseeing the B&NES bid were warned repeatedly through emails and statements from Cllr Joanna Wright, WalkRideBath (a local advocacy group in favour of active travel) and by numerous members of the public that Active Travel England expected local councils to deliver ambitious active travel infrastructure, and that failure to deliver on clear government guidance on the requirements for cycle infrastructure would invalidate their bid. The financial cost to B&NES Council is huge, but the loss to local residents is longer term and affects the health and well being of us all.
It is clear that Active Travel England was prepared to fund cycle infrastructure on the public highway where cyclists interacted with motor vehicles. The choice by B&NES Council to select a path through a wood was seen as unambitious and failed the test of transforming cycling not only for today’s cyclists but for the generations to come.
An earlier more ambitious scheme to deliver active travel infrastructure appears to have been blocked by the current Liberal Democrat administration because it might upset a small but vocal minority of voters, and would prevent some Liberal Democrats from being voted in again at the next local council elections in 2023. The lack of ambitious vision in the failed bid seems to be the result of similar concerns for re-election.
Over a year ago Cllr Joanna Wright was Joint Cabinet Member for Transport at B&NES and put in place a policy framework for Liveable Neighbourhoods, which was considered a major transport achievement and was the envy of many local authorities. The Leader of Council, Cllr Kevin Guy, told her to “dump the Active Travel schemes” in an email in April 2021. She defected from the Lib Dems to the Greens as she was concerned about political decisions being made by the administration that would compromise not only cycle infrastructure but the very basis of one of the council’s key corporate commitments – delivering net zero by 2030.
In a statement to full Council in May 2021 Cllr Wright said “The Active Travel Schemes are a clear case in point, these simple yet transformative schemes enable safe travel routes for many, significantly reducing carbon emissions and tackling car dependency, yet I have been told recently that despite massive public support I ‘need to dump the current plans’”.
What we have is rhetoric versus action. Window dressing versus real change.
Political power is about doing things, not just for the present, or to be re-elected, but more importantly for those in the future who will benefit from the really tough decisions that are made on their behalf today.”
This Liberal Democrat B&NES administration had a real opportunity to put in place life changing, healthy, beneficial infrastructure that would have enabled a significant shift from the private car to cycling in our city. Over 40% of journeys in Bath are shorter than 3km, yet the leadership at B&NES made a politically calculated decision to stop the earlier Active Travel Scheme for North Road, stop the officers at B&NES from delivering key cycle routes that would have been paid for by Active Travel England, and put in a very unambitious active travel scheme bid that was turned down by the Government, exactly as was warned. The Council have no one to blame but themselves for this appalling failure to win available funding, and the resultant reputational damage.
Active Travel England are asking local authorities to put in further applications for funding by August 2022. Will this next opportunity for vital money and vital, life-saving infrastructure be wasted yet again by this poorly led authority?
(1) Chris Boardman on Twitter: “🎉 @activetraveleng is in business! 200m to enable over 16 million new cycling, walking and wheeling trips every year. Cheap, clean, sustainable….and enjoyable journeys. I think it’s going to catch on! 👇” / Twitter