Strategy published, promotion awaited

The London Borough of Sutton Cycling Strategy (PDF document | 1.1 MB).


Quietly, and without fanfare, the borough’s new Cycling Strategy has been published. The final version of the strategy appeared on the Sustainable Transport Policy page of the council’s website towards the end of February 2016, three months after its approval at the Environment and Neighbourhood Committee’s meeting in November. (There is more on the Environment and Neighbourhood Committee’s presentation and discussion about the Cycling Strategy in Notes from our January 2016 meeting).

The citation, accompanying the documentation, reads:

The council is pleased to launch this Cycling Strategy for Sutton, which complements our new Sustainable Transport Strategy and sets out our approach to encouraging and facilitating more people cycling in the borough over the next few years.

The Cycling Strategy sets out how the council is responding to the renewed focus on cycling in London being promoted by the Mayor in his Vision for Cycling, and to the environmental imperatives of climate change and air pollution, as well as the need to address health and traffic congestion concerns.

The Strategy includes an Action Plan setting out a series of actions aimed at meeting the objectives and targets. We aim to report annually on the progress of this action plan“.

We are delighted that a cycling strategy is now in place. This is a direct result of our meeting with the council on 29 September 2014, a key outcome of which was agreement that the Environment and Neighbourhood Committee would produce a report outlining the Council’s strategic position on cycling in the borough.

Taken alongside our Sustainable Transport Strategy, it (the Cycling Strategy) should not be left on a shelf to get dusty, but should be a live document that guides current and future decision making and adapts as circumstances change to encourage sustainable transport in our borough.

Councillor Ruth Dombey, Leader of the Council (Extract from London Borough of Sutton Cycling Strategy (November 2015)

A Cycling Strategy that is to be fully promoted both within and outside the Council….?

It is also good to know that the Council take pleasure in launching the Cycling Strategy. It is just a pity though that, at the moment at least, it looks as if that pleasure does not extend far enough for the council to make a public declaration about it. Nothing, for instance, yet (28 February) from the council’s press office.

In our response to the consultation on the draft strategy in September 2015, Time to make the case and rise to the challenges, we made the recommendation that the final strategy needed to be fully promoted. We suggested that promotion was an absolutely fundamental requirement. Consequently, when the strategy received approval in November, we were pleased to see a council officer note in the Schedule of comments received in response to the draft cycling strategy consultation (Report on Cycling Strategy: Appendix D – Cycling Strategy Consultation Comments (page 11) available here): “Once it has been approved the final Strategy will be fully promoted both within and outside the Council“.

….or a Cycling Strategy that is just a figment of the imagination?

But has the cycling strategy had any promotion, either within or outside the Council, since it was approved three months ago? Is it set to guide current and future decision making?

All the indicators so far are not that promising. In fact, not only does it appear that the strategy has not been promoted, the launch earlier this week of the council’s Sutton 2031 consultation (to shape the key planning policies for a growing borough over the next fifteen years) could suggest that the cycling strategy is just a figment of the imagination. The extensive documentation that accompanies the Local Plan consultation, for which transport is a major component, hardly mentions cycling at all. The Sutton Town Centre draft masterplan consultation document is full of compelling images, but these depict a future where cycling appears to be no more a part of everyday transport than it is today. You may be travelling by tram in Sutton in 2031 it seems, but you won’t be riding a bike.

Hardly a ringing endorsement of a commitment now to deliver a step-change in cycling provision, or for making Sutton one of the most attractive places in London to cycle. Hardly an indication that the Council is serious about putting increasing emphasis on a road user hierarchy where pedestrians and cyclists are considered first, followed by public transport and then motor traffic. All rather disheartening really. We can, and must, do better.

In our subsequent response to the Sutton 2031 consultation in April 2016, Sutton 2031 – planning for our future, we say exactly that, and there is more on what needs to be done in Sutton 2031 – is cycling part of the picture? 

A cycling strategy with a future, if Sutton’s future is to include cycling

It’s essential that this cycling strategy, and the context behind it, is at the forefront of any discussions on planning decisions. It’s essential that the Council fully promote the strategy, as if the Council mean it, and wish for it, to achieve. After all, the cycling strategy is a strategic document by definition, and therefore needs to be part of the Council’s DNA. If its production is just a box-ticking exercise, the residents of Sutton 2031 will have the the councillors of 2014 to blame when they ask in fifteen years time “why can’t we feel safe cycling in our community?”.

The Cycling Strategic is a strategic document by definition, and therefore needs to be part of the Council’s DNA

StrategyPublishedPromotionAwaited_P1140693

We are all intent on getting somewhere, somehow! A typical street scene in Groningen, Netherlands. The question is, how likely are we to ever see such a scene as this in Sutton? In Sutton 2031 perhaps?
Groningen, May 2012

To receive tangible evidence that this strategy is a meaningful document, and a statement of intent, was one of the reasons that we asked the Council to commit to the release of quarterly updates on progress rather than one annual report. After all, a year is rather a long time to wait to hear whether targets have not been met, actions fulfilled, and maintenance regimes delivered. Apparently, “it is considered that quarterly updates would be too onerous on scarce staff resources”. Of course, we produce quarterly updates and we don’t have any staff. What does that tell you about the Council’s priorities and commitment to deliver on cycling?

It matters a lot now, because it will matter even more in the future

To make cycling a serious, but joyful, option for many more people for some of their journeys, leadership is required now from Sutton Council. Tricky issues will need to be resolved locally (issues that include parking), and this strategic document has to be promoted to help lay the foundations and make the case.

But vision and political resolve is also required in the future from whoever is elected as the next Mayor of London on 5 May 2016. So, whilst we wait for Sutton’s Cycling Strategy to be fully promoted and acted upon (remember “the political will is there, now we need action“?), we can read the strategy and then we can Sign for CyclingBecause this strategy is going to need all the help it can get.

The London Borough of Sutton Cycling Strategy (PDF document | 1.1 MB).

The document is also available to download from the Sutton Council’s Sustainable Transport Policy page, and from our Publications page.

v2: 04.03.2016

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