Sutton 2031 – is cycling part of the picture?
In Sutton 2031 – planning for our future we presented our response to the consultation on the borough’s next Local Plan (2016 to 2031) along with its associated elements, the Draft Sutton Town Centre Masterplan and Draft London Cancer Hub Masterplan. In reference to the illustrations that accompanied the Sutton Town Centre Masterplan, we commented that, although they looked exciting and sparked the imagination, they were devoid of any cycling infrastructure.
So, in this follow-up post, we take a closer look at some of the illustrations provided in three of the documents  that accompanied the Sutton 2031 consultation:
- the introductory brochure Sutton 2031: planning our future – have your say;
- the Draft Sutton Town Centre Masterplan;
- and the Draft London Cancer Hub Masterplan.
We consider whether the futuristic impressions provided in these documents, showing how Sutton could look in fifteen years time, suggest that everyday cycling will be fairly commonplace and “normal” by 2031. Or whether they, perhaps, just reflect current thinking, where cycling is seen as “niche, marginal, or an after-though”?
We recognise that this selection of images  is just that, a selection. You will need to read through all key documents to get the bigger picture . Nevertheless, we hope our comments in the captions that follow provide food for thought.
Sutton 2031: planning for our future – have your say
Figure 1: The cover to Sutton 2031: planning for our future – have your say (LBS, February 2016). The illustration gives an indication of how part of the proposed London Cancer Hub in Belmont could look. A terminus for the tram, and, yes, someone on a bicycle is just visible. That’s good, because in theory the London Cancer Hub will be less than a ten-minute gentle bicycle ride from Sutton town centre. A gentle (slightly up-hill) bicycle ride that is, if Brighton Road is transformed for cycling. (It should be noted that a fuller view of this scene, showing more people riding bicycles, is provided on page 76 of the London Cancer Hub, Development Framework: Concept Design Consultation Draft document (see Figure 16))!
Figure 2: Sutton 2031: Planning for our future – have your say (LBS, February 2016). Pages 8 and 9 present an overview of the Local Plan. The Local Plan is a significant document that designates the location and size of areas for regeneration, housing developments, and new office, retail and industrial development, and provides a consistent basis for deciding planning applications. But does the illustration “A vision of Sutton Town Centre”, top right, give the impression that the vision includes a town centre that is any more cycle-friendly in 2031 than it is in 2016? St Nicholas Way has a nice wide crossing for those on foot, the tram features, and there is a much enhanced sense of place supported by new development in the foreground and on the left. Unfortunately though, there is no safe space for cycling here.
Figure 3: Sutton 2031: planning for our future – have your say (LBS, February 2016). An overview of the Town Centre Masterplan is presented on pages 10 and 11. A key focus of Sutton 2031 is the development of Sutton Town Centre, our main commercial district and the fourth largest centre in south London. Sutton Town Centre’s future success is critical to the borough. Could not agree more. But the borough also has a Sustainable Transport Strategy (June 2015) that sets out the council’s policies and proposals to improve Sutton’s transport and environment over the next decade (to 2025, let alone 2031). One aim of this strategy is to make Sutton one of London’s most sustainable suburbs, and another is to achieve 4% of journeys by bicycle by 2025. But did anyone tell the high calibre team of master planners who created this vision of Grove Road about either the Sustainable Transport Strategy or indeed the Cycling Strategy (November 2015)? The illustration here would suggest possibly not. The street certainly looks more like a place where people want to be, and slightly less like a traffic funnelling gyratory that it currently is, but where is the safe space for cycling here?
Figure 4: Sutton 2031: planning for our future – have your say (LBS, February 2016). An overview of the London Cancer Hub is presented on pages 12 and 13. The creation of a world leading hub for cancer research, education and enterprise, is the third main element to Sutton 2031. The local benefits include 13,000 jobs, millions for the UK economy, and an increasing global reputation for world class treatment and the development of cancer drugs. The illustration to this vision includes some sort of basic cycle track within the London Cancer Hub campus. The question is, will the vision deliver high-quality cycling infrastructure outside of the campus that will be good enough to make people really want to cycle to the hub in the first place?
The Sutton Town Centre Masterplan (draft)
Figure 5: The cover to the Sutton Town Centre Draft Masterplan Consultation Document (LBS, February 2016). The illustration featured is the same as previously seen in Figure 2, and will be seen again in Figure 6.
Figure 6: Sutton Town Centre Draft Masterplan Consultation Document (LBS, February 2016). Page 3 gives an overview of what the Sutton Town Centre Masterplan is all about. The text also feature on page 30 of the document as the Vision Statement. Sutton is to be known for its human scale, with independent retailers and a vibrant and bustling range of cultural activity and entertainment for all generations. A strong economy, and new residential neighbourhoods. The gyratory is to be transformed into an urban boulevard with Tramlink and high-quality east west pedestrian links to ensure that the High Street is connected to it’s local community. That’s all good. But what is missing? You guessed it, any mention of cycling! Meanwhile, the featured illustration (also seen in Figure 2 and Figure 5, but now moving closer in) only seems to magnify the presence of traffic (two-way for motor vehicles, one-way for trams) with bustling shoppers on footways that appear too narrow.
Figure 7: Sutton Town Centre Draft Masterplan Consultation Document (LBS, February 2016). Page 11 provides an artist’s impression, showing a view east along the A232 (southern section of the existing gyratory) looking towards the redevelopment of the B&Q site in the distance. The roadway is shared by two-way traffic and a tram route. No dedicated space for cycling here, consequently we will be struggling to get 5% of all trips by bicycle if this scenario plays out. It may look futuristic to some, but from a cycling perspective this view already looks out-dated.
Figure 8: Sutton Town Centre Draft Masterplan Consultation Document (LBS, February 2016). Cycle Movement Plan (page 43). This plan features in Section 5 of the document, The Master Framework. Preceding it, on page 42 (part of 5.1 Movement and public realm framework), there is the statement: “Balancing the needs of vehicular traffic movements, public town centre car parking spaces and other priorities for the centre are important considerations for the masterplan. The town’s principal car parks are located and accessed via the Throwley Way / St Nicholas Way loop which currently operates as a one-way gyratory around the town. Unpicking the gyratory road system and introducing measures throughout the town centre road network which give greater priority to pedestrian movements is critical if the town is to reach its potential. In tandem with major investments in the public transport network and with improved vehicular access to other major car parks, the Throwley Way multi-storey car park is identified as a major redevelopment opportunity.”
Cycling? Well, yes, reading on, page 44 has a paragraph on Cycle Movement that accompanies the plan shown here. “The adjacent plan also illustrates the movement network for cycles. The overall strategy is to enhance existing routes that generally use quieter streets from the east and west. The High Street itself will become a safe north/south route for cyclists. New and improved crossing points highlighted on the plan, will need to incorporate facilities for both cyclists and pedestrians.“
Not a lot here to get excited about. New and improved crossings are required, but the key to the plan suggests these crossings will be “shared” pedestrian and cycle crossings. Such facilities have been considered not fit for purpose for a number of years already, let alone looking fifteen years into the future! This is especially so, if there is an expectation to deliver high levels of cycling, to deliver infrastructure that will actually make people want to cycle. Figures 9 and 10 continue this theme.
Figure 9: The plan, as shown in figure 8, and from page 43 of Sutton Town Centre Draft Masterplan Consultation Document (LBS, February 2016), this time annotated by the author to additionally show the alignments of the existing, signed (in places), cycle routes. From this, it would appear that there is not a great deal of new stuff going on to grow the cycle network. Clearly, the options for remodelling the gyratory will have an impact. If two-way working for general traffic were to be introduced throughout the length of the existing gyratory, along with a tram track in places, the ability to provided dedicated cycle tracks here would be compromised. The High Street would require a dedicated cycle track along its entire length, to link seamlessly with cycle tracks (or quiet streets) on the surrounding road network. This High Street facility would be required in addition to parallel north-south, high-quality, routes on adjacent residential streets. These residential streets would need to be filtered to remove through-traffic, in order to provide a suitably calm and inviting environment for walking and cycling. If one-way working on the gyratory is maintained (throughout, or in places), the opportunity to convert one of the remaining lanes to a two-way cycle track needs to be taken. One-way working for general traffic, while providing access for cycling in both directions, is an option than can make cycling a more attractive proposition.
Figure 10: The plan on page 43 of Sutton Town Centre Draft Masterplan Consultation Document (LBS, February 2016), as shown in Figure 8, again annotated by the author. This time the emphasis is on the intersections, crossing and junctions that would require major cycling infrastructure to facilitate safe and inviting cycling to and through Sutton Town Centre. Simply providing improved shared pedestrian and cycle crossings is not good enough. Attention to the existing east-west routes at intersections with the gyratory (for example, Manor Lane to Lodge Place at Throwley Way, and Greenford Road on St Nicholas Way) is required within the next two or three years five, let alone fifteen! North-south routes, joined-up, and fit-for-purpose, to provide a coherent cycling network, are also required. All of this goes much further than the Masterplan’s low aspirations for cycling.
The London Cancer Hub Masterplan (consultation draft)
Figure 11: London Cancer Hub, Development Framework: Concept Design Consultation Draft (Haptic, Nordic, JLL, WSP, February 2016). Page 2: Illustrating how part of the new development could look. The Partnership, the Supporters and the Masterplanning Team.
Figure 12: London Cancer Hub, Development Framework: Concept Design Consultation Draft (Haptic, Nordic, JLL, WSP, February 2016). Page 8: The Vision. To create the world’s leading life science district specialising in cancer research and treatment. The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden will build state-of-the-art facilities that will enhance their global reputation for excellence, and will be joined by a multitude of high-tech enterprises in a network of 10,000 researchers, clinical staff and support staff operating from one site.
Figure 13: London Cancer Hub, Development Framework: Concept Design Consultation Draft (Haptic, Nordic, JLL, WSP, February 2016). Page 55: Creating sustainable travel behaviours. Having established that 10,000 people could be working at the London Cancer Hub, it is good to see this sub-section 2C, creating sustainable travel behaviours, within the Development Framework Principles. This section introduces seven pages dedicated to transport demand (Figure 14) to include public transport, car parking, car movement, pedestrians and cycle movement, street widths.
Figure 14: London Cancer Hub, Development Framework: Concept Design Consultation Draft (Haptic, Nordic, JLL, WSP, February 2016). Page 56 (annotated by author): Transport demand. This is where it all gets quite interesting. Currently, around 14% of employees (about 400 of the total 3,000) either walk or cycle to the Royal Marsden and Institute of Cancer Research. That’s quite impressive (at least, the proportion by bicycle of 7% is). But, of course we don’t know the sort of distances people are travelling to get to work. Whether the aim to increase walking/cycling, from 14% to 20% for future travel to work, is quite as impressive is debatable. At the moment there are a total of around 3,000 travel to work journeys, and this is expected to rise to about 11,000. So that’s approaching a four-fold increase in all journeys. There is also the aim to achieve nearly a six-fold increase in the number of journeys by bicycle (from 200 to 1,138). At first, the aim to achieve a six-fold increase in absolute number of trips by bicycle sounds good. But how good is it, given the predicted four-fold increase in total number of journeys being made? Currently, 6.8% of journeys (200 out of 3,000) are by bike. The proposals for the London Cancer Hub aim to see 10% of journeys (1,138 out of 11,380) by bike. 6.8% to 10% represents a 47% increase in modal share for cycling within fifteen years (2015-2031). The borough’s Sustainable Transport Strategy (June 2015) sets a four-fold increase (300%) in cycling across the borough (from 1% of all journeys to 4%) over fifteen years (2010-2025). So by 2025, if such an increase were to be reflected in journeys to work at RMH/ICR, around 800 journeys by bike would be expected (even if the total number of journeys remained at 3,000). Therefore, to aim for a total of 1,140 journeys by bike, or just over 300 more than could already be expected, when the number of people commuting is expected to rise by 8,000, is perhaps not so ambitious after all. Discuss…
Figure 15: London Cancer Hub, Development Framework: Concept Design Consultation Draft (Haptic, Nordic, JLL, WSP, February 2016). Page 61: Pedestrian and cycle movement. It is good to see cycle tracks clearly delineated, and for these to be separated from routes for people on foot. Dedicated cycle storage, as depicted in the image, is great to see too!
Figure 16: London Cancer Hub, Development Framework: Concept Design Consultation Draft (Haptic, Nordic, JLL, WSP, February 2016). Page 73: Community Plaza. This is a fuller view of the scene shown on the cover to Sutton 2031: planning for our future – have your say (LBS, February 2016) in Figure 1. Several people are cycling here now, hopefully, in their own dedicated space. Dedicated space that will join seamlessly with a cycle network beyond the hub!
Figure 17: London Cancer Hub, Development Framework: Concept Design Consultation Draft (Haptic, Nordic, JLL, WSP, February 2016). Page 77: The Knowledge Centre. This the scene shown on pages 12 and 13 of Sutton 2031: planning for our future – have your say (LBS, February 2016) in Figure 4. The new front door to the ICR buildings. A space designed to work throughout all seasons. The heart of the site, where staff and visitors can meet and relax or have fun. Looks pretty good! Will be even better if, by 2031, more than 10% of the staff and visitors typically cycle to the hub. Let’s imagine that those who do cycle will be wearing ordinary clothes and a smile, rather than wearing lycra and a grimace. Let’s remember that people will only want to cycle, if cycling is facilitated. Let’s ensure that cycling is firmly in the picture in 2031!
 The fourth key document, Local Plan Issues and Preferred Options, is excluded from this exercise mainly because it does not include all that many illustrations (although there are plenty of interesting maps and policy statements)!
 All images shown in this feature, with the exception of the header, are taken from the documentation supplied by the London Borough of Sutton as part of the consultation. It should also be noted that all the emphasis on the text that appears in the captions that follow (use of italics, bold font, underlining) has been added by the author of this article.
 All of the documents that accompanied the consultation are available from the London Borough of Sutton’s Planning Policy portal at Sutton 2031.