London Borough of Sutton’s consultation on it’s draft Sustainable Transport Strategy closed on 4 January 2015. The draft Sustainable Transport Strategy, published at the beginning of November 2014, sets out the council’s policies and proposals to improve Sutton’s transport and environment over the next decade, and how these will contribute towards the delivery of the Mayor of London’s Transport Strategy. The council’s draft strategy document, and the response submitted by Get Sutton Cycling, can be downloaded from the links below.
Draft Sustainable Transport Strategy 1.7 MB (PDF document)
Online Questionnaire 0.8 MB (PDF document) [Added here 7 January]
Our response to the draft Sustainable Transport Strategy 0.4 MB (PDF document)
Our overall impression is that although the strategy’s six objectives are clear and encouraging, the specific actions detailed to support them are too weak to give any credibility to the overall vision. Many of the thirty-eight specific actions detailed for delivery in the next five years are vague and lack robustness. The document does not provide sufficient evidence to suggest the objectives will be met.
If Sutton is to become London’s most sustainable suburb, which is the very welcome aspiration declared in the foreword to the document, then it will be important for the final version of the strategy to be fully promoted. Every resident, everyone who works or goes to the school in the borough, and every visitor to council’s website will need to fully aware that this is the admirable aim.
Cycling has to be a key component of any sustainable transport strategy. If Sutton is to be crowned London’s most sustainable suburb, cycling levels will need to be up there with the best. For that to happen, our streets will need to feel much more comfortable for cycling. And exactly how comfortable the streets will feel for cycling in ten years time, will depend on the commitment given by the elected councillors in Sutton today. And that is where Space for Cycling, and the Space for Cycling petition come in.
One thing that we did not mention in our response to the consultation, but we really should have done, is the reference given to Smarter Travel Sutton in the Foreword to the consultation document. Here is the section that contains the reference:
It was only to be expected that STS would get a mention in a document such as this. But if the council had really wanted to maintain the momentum generated by the STS project (and remember, ever since 2009 we have been told repeatedly that cycling levels increased by 75% as a direct result of the initiative (although, it has to be said, rarely, if ever, with the proviso that this increase was from a very small base)), you would have thought they would not wait five years to update the Sustainable Transport Strategy.
Then there is the question as to whether that momentum has actually been maintained anyway. Figures released by the Department for Transport, which show the proportion of residents in each London borough who cycle (for any length or purpose) at a given frequency (and based on a sample size of about 500), suggest probably not. It would appear that the proportion of Sutton’s residents who cycled three times a week in 2012/13 was around 2%, compared to 4% in 2011/12 and 6% in 2010/11. For London as a whole, the corresponding figure has been maintained at 5% over the three years.
It recognized that this is using statistics rather selectively (even though the proportion cycling once a month, once a week, and five times a week has also decreased in Sutton with time), and there are, of course, always caveats to data such as this. Nevertheless, somehow the figures do not really instill any great confidence to suggest that Sutton is well on the way to become a cycling borough of distinction. What we can confidently say is, that if we are serious about sustainable transport we are going to have to change the way it is enabled.
One essential ingredient that could ultimately make cycling the number one choice for everyday, local journeys and generate immense quality of life, environmental, health and economic benefits, is a clear, strong ongoing commitment to Space for Cycling. We, as advocates, can campaign for it, and will we continue to. But it won’t happen without political recognition. The case has to be made for the tough, at times challenging, and initially unpopular decisions and choices that will inevitably be required. A strategy document alone is not enough. That is why we recommend that the council ensures that every resident knows about it, everyone who drives through Hackbridge, cycles the Wandle Trail, scoots to school, takes the bus, or walks to our local centres knows about it.
Get Sutton Cycling looks forward to working with Sutton Council to help implement the strategy, because we don’t want Sutton to get left behind.
Update (13 October 2015):
The Council’s Sustainable Transport Strategy was approved in March 2015 and, unlike the draft document, included a commitment to deliver a Cycling Delivery Strategy. The Sustainable Transport Strategy (June 2015) has proved difficult to track down on the Council’s website, but it can be found on our Publications page.