Glancing back to 2012, looking forward to 2018

Five years on from ‘Cycling towards 2014’ provides an opportunity for reflection

In April 2012, I wrote to all fifty-four elected councillors in Sutton. The open letter, ‘Cycling towards 2014’, was published on the Sutton Living Streets website and is reproduced below. Cycling was rising up the political agenda, so the time was right to give this momentum a local perspective. After all, for Sutton to ever become a cycle-friendly London borough, input from ward councillors was (and, of course, remains) essential.

The fifth anniversary of that letter provides an opportunity for reflection. What has changed since? Is Sutton now on course to become a cycling borough of distinction?


Cycling towards 2014 (22 April 2012)

To: Cllr. Pathumal Ali, Cllr. Eric Allen, Cllr. Sheila Andrews, Cllr. Sean Brennan, Cllr. Malcolm Brown, Cllr. Mary Burstow, Cllr. Moira Butt, Cllr. Anisha Callaghan, Cllr. Dave Callaghan, Cllr. Richard Clifton, Cllr. Monica Coleman, Cllr. Colin Hall, Cllr. Margaret Court, Cllr. Tim Crowley, Cllr. Adrian Davey, Cllr. Ruth Dombey, Cllr. John Drage, Cllr. Stephen Fenwick, Cllr. Peter Fosdike, Cllr. Peter Geiringer, Cllr. Bruce Glithero, Cllr. Sunita Gordon, Cllr. Stuart Gordon- Bullock, Cllr. Marlene Heron, Cllr. David Hicks, Cllr. Lester Holloway, Cllr. Heather Honour, Cllr. Brendan Hudson, Cllr. Miguel Javelot, Cllr. Gerry Jerome, Cllr. Kirsty Jerome, Cllr. Edward Joyce, Cllr. Paddy Kane, Cllr. John Keys, Cllr. John Leach, Cllr. Janet Lowne, Cllr. Wendy Mathys, Cllr. Jayne McCoy, Cllr. Joyce Melican, Cllr. Pamela Picknett, Cllr. Hamish Pollock, Cllr. Jonathan Pritchard, Cllr. Roger Roberts, Cllr. Alan Salter, Cllr. Tony Shields, Cllr. Colin Stears, Cllr. Sue Stears, Cllr. Stanley Theed, Cllr. Roger Thistle, Cllr. Graham Tope, Cllr. Simon Wales, Cllr. Myfanwy Wallace, Cllr. Jill Whitehead, Cllr. Graham Whitham

22 April 2012

Dear Councillor,

Cycling towards 2014

I am writing to you as a Sutton borough co-ordinator for the London Cycling Campaign, and also as a supporter of Sutton Living Streets.

You may be aware that for the last few weeks, as a key campaign in the run-up to the elections for Mayor and Assembly Members, the London Cycling Campaign has been championing the idea of “Love London, Go Dutch”. Currently, over 33,000 people have added their name to a petition asking the mayoral candidates to pledge to make London more liveable for everyone by making our streets as safe and inviting for cycling as they are in The Netherlands.

During three hours last Saturday morning, 142 people signed the petition in Wallington. The enthusiasm and interest shown by people whilst out shopping showed that promoting cycling does not divide opinion in the same way as air travel, motoring, or building high-speed railways can. Everyone seems to want better cycling facilities just as we’d all like more sunny days!

Clearly, here in Sutton, we are keen to take forward the momentum that seems to be pushing cycling higher up the political agenda. The Times’ high-profile ‘Cities fit for cycling’ campaign launched in February, and the three-hour parliamentary debate that followed – attended by a creditable 77 MPs from all parties – was evidence enough that this momentum is gathering pace.

That is why I am writing to you to ask for your help and assistance between now and the local council elections in 2014. In the intervening twenty-four months I would very much like to develop our partnership, and discuss issues relating to walking and cycling in your ward. If, by the time of the elections, your ward could showcase one or more “before and after” improvements that had made a real difference for people wishing to try cycling, and there was evidence to prove it, this would be a very worthwhile achievement. And it would be something that the London Cycling Campaign and Living Streets would be pleased to highlight.

Even if London doesn’t quite Go Dutch between now and 2014, it would be great if our outer London borough could add further to the commitments it had already made in regard to sustainability and lead the way towards creating truly cycle-friendly neighbourhoods.

Yours sincerely,

Charles Martin

Who replied to the letter? See footnote [1]


Citywide leadership provides the opportunities

At a London-wide level a lot has happened for cycling in the last five years. Here are some of the highlights…

  • Boris Johnson (Conservative), London Mayor 2008-2016, hired Andrew Gilligan as Cycling Commissioner in January 2013, then went on to publish his Vision for Cycling in March 2013 with a commitment to spend £913m on cycling over ten years (2013-2022) equating to around £18 per head of population per year in London (compared to around typically £1.50 in the recent past).
  • Shortly after the publication of ‘Vision for Cycling’, all twenty outer London boroughs were invited to bid for (relatively) substantial funding as part of the ‘mini-Holland’ programme. Sutton’s mini-Holland bid: expression of interest and outline of proposal (LB Sutton, July 2013) can be downloaded from the Publications page (July 2013).
  • In July 2014, it was announced that three boroughs, Waltham Forest, Enfield and Kingston, had been successful in their mini-Holland bid. Despite some subsequent ‘bike-lash’ due to the challenging issues around certain aspects of the implementation of the projects, these strong boroughs are now beginning to reap the benefits of the addition investment and vision.
  • Meanwhile, dedicated, fit-for-purpose, cycling infrastructure has been constructed on parts of the Cycling Superhighways in central London (officially opened by Boris just before he left office in May 2016). This has resulted in a substantial increase in the number of people commuting by bike in zone 1 (over 50% increase in the number of people cycling on Victoria Embankment, Blackfriars Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge), and in doing so has taken the pressure of the increasingly stressed transport network. A success story, despite opposition from some quarters.
  • Mayor Sadiq Khan (Labour) took office in May 2016, having set one of his ten priorities for London to “make cycling and walking safer, with more segregated cycle routes, action on dangerous junctions, and safer lorries”.
  • In December 2016 Sadiq announced a doubling of the cycling budget (to £770m over five years to 2022) and the appointment of Will Norman as London’s first full-time Walking and Cycling commissioner.
  • A few weeks ago, in February 2017, Healthy Streets for London was published. This is all  about ensuring that London, across all thirty-two boroughs, is a sustainable city, a safe city, a connected city and a successful city. The new mayor’s Transport Strategy is expected to be published for consultation in the weeks following the 8 June general election.

So, yes, a lot has been happening for cycling at the London governmental level. It appears that the letter to councillors in April 2012 managed to quite accurately reflect the mood. Cycling was being pushed higher up the political agenda, has continued to be pushed up the political agenda, and this momentum is set to continue. All of which provides opportunities for those boroughs with the clout to make the case and rise to the challenges.

Sutton councillors offer ‘positive indifference’?

So what has been happening at borough-level, at the outer edges of this great city? What has happened in Sutton since 2012 (under Liberal Democrat administration)?

Outwardly, not a lot. Despite the April 2012 letter, and subsequent follow-up open letters including ‘Get Sutton Cycling’ (April 2013) and ‘Cycling towards 2018’ (May 2016) giving the heads-up, things are not looking quite so good. Here is an overview…

  • In September 2013, Sutton, along with seventeen other outer-London boroughs, bid for substantial ‘mini-Holland‘ funding. The borough was not shortlisted to the final eight.
  • In the spring of the following year, when Get Sutton Cycling engaged with candidates standing to be elected in the run up to the 2014 council elections, only a handful of the subsequently elected councillors went on to give their support for the London Cycling Campaign’s Space for Cycling initiative. They were so few in number, at just eleven out of fifty-four, that only two other boroughs in London (out of a total of thirty-two) had shown less interest than Sutton.
  • The borough’s Sustainable Transport Strategy (LB of Sutton) was approved in March 2015, but despite the declared aspiration for Sutton to become London’s most sustainable suburb, and the welcome reference to the Road User Hierarchy (now featuring in Healthy Streets), the strategy set a target for cycling of just 4% of all journeys by 2025 (from around 1% at the time). Whether this was a reflection of the enormity of delivery, or simply a lack of aspiration, is not known. The foreword to the strategy includes the statement: “The Council has decided that in order to maintain the momentum of the Smarter Travel Sutton project, it needs to update its Sustainable Transport Strategy and ensure that these policies are applied across all its activities”. The Smarter Travel Sutton project had run between 2007 and 2009, so six years seems rather a long gap for maintaining any momentum. Momentum that, indeed, has not been maintained.
  • In May 2015, Opportunity Sutton, the council’s investment arm, announced that £328million of of private and public funding had been secured in the past two years to pave the way towards Sutton’s regeneration. Sutton town centre is now seeing the results of investments in new developments. One of these, a £50million scheme featuring a new Sainsbury’s supermarket with 364 parking spaces together with 186 apartments from LXB Properties [2], situated on the site of the old gas holders site at the north end of the High Street by Crown Road, was completed at the end of 2016. This development includes nothing for cycling on the highway (nothing for cycling at all, in fact, apart from some rather cheap and tatty looking cycle parking stands). This despite the fact that the London Borough of Sutton Local Development Framework Supplementary Planning Document, North Sutton Sites draft Planning Brief (LB of Sutton, May 2012), noted: “Crown Road/High Street are part of a network of borough cycle routes and are seen as an important link to the town centre and any proposals to alter the highway must improve, where possible, cycle connectivity and integrate with existing cycle facilities [sic]”. Clearly, for Sutton councillors (the class of 2014 to 2018) and Sutton council officers, providing space for cycling here was considered to be not possible.

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  • The political will is there, now we need action“, declared Council Leader, Ruth Dombey (Liberal Democrat) in July 2015. Interesting, because a subsequent request, in March 2016, to have a meeting with Cllr Jill Whitehead (Liberal Democrat, Chair of the Environment and Neighbourhood Committee) to discuss the way forward with the Cycling Strategy has effectively been ignored.
  • Cllr. Manuel Abellan (Liberal Democrat) was appointed as the borough’s Cycling Champion in the summer of 2015, and a series of cycling tours with Manuel followed later in 2015 and into 2016 (with more anticipated in 2017). We are still awaiting a response to the 2015/2016 rides.
  • In September 2015, Get Sutton Cycling responded to the consultation on the borough’s latest draft Cycling Strategy with ‘Time to make the case and rise to the challenges’. The final cycling strategy was approved in November 2015, although publication was delayed until February 2016. There has been little promotion since. The strategy included a commitment to produce an annual report on progress. Eighteen months later, and the first annual progress report on the Cycling Strategy is still awaited (now expected to be presented at the Environment and Neighbourhood Committee in June 2017).
  • In October 2015 members of the St Helier, The Wrythe and Wandle Valley Local Committee laughed at the very idea of a potential major upgrade to Rosehill roundabout, funded by Transport for London, that could transform St Helier for cycling and so much more.
  • Sutton Council consulted on the borough’s new Local Plan early in 2016. This was all about looking up to twenty-fibe years ahead. Sutton 2031, encompassed the Sutton Town Centre Masterplan and the London Cancer Hub Development Framework. The supporting documentation, however, made little reference to either the borough’s Sustainable Transport Strategy (June 2015) or the Cycling Strategy (November 2015). Although our response to the Sutton 2031 consultation highlighted the fact that the illustrations within Sutton Town Centre Masterplan were devoid of any cycling infrastructure, the revised Sutton Town Centre Masterplan document, published around May 2016, contained no changes that specifically related to cycling. Fortunately, possibly as a result of further questions from Cllr. Neil Garratt around this time, the final version of the Sutton Town Centre Masterplan (dated June 2016) did include several more references to cycling (notably in the Vision Statement). However, a plan entitled “a framework diagram illustrating the movement strategy for the town centre”) details fewer cycle routes (and hence fewer crossings) than the equivalent plan in the draft document. Crossings, where they exist, are labelled as being “shared pedestrian and cycle”. This is not just embarrassing, it is also outdated and reflects a total lack of understanding (let alone aspiration).

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  • In June 2016 and October 2016, members of the Beddington and Wallington Local Committee missed opportunities to put cycling on the agenda.
  • And in 2017? Well, right here, right now, sections of pavement on Green Wrythe Lane are still being converted to shared-use, five years after the first section of footway elsewhere o Green Wrythe Lane was being converted. How is that for progress? Who benefits from the saga of Green Wrythe Lane? In a word, hopeless.

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So, unfortunately, very little appears to have actually changed on the ground in Sutton in the last five years. The comments made by Chris Boardman, in a speech to councillors in March 2014, come to mind: “I don’t know the specific challenges that your boroughs face. But I know that, in my area, I came up against a lot of what I term ‘positive indifference’. We have some fantastic noises, and some really positive speeches, backed up with minimal resource and energy. Energy that is mostly directed at finding a very good rational of why we can’t change”

There has been some good news. In opposition, Cllr Neil Garratt (Conservative, Beddington South) has been asking some timely questions of the Council. Most recently at the January 2017 Council meeting (post to follow), but also in January 2015, as reported here, and indeed on numerous other occasions.

The bottom line

The bottom line is that we are so far from where we would like to be with cycling, so far from where we would like to be with ‘healthy streets’, that it hurts. Essentially, we are still in the foothills of provision. Despite the promise of more funding through the healthy streets approach and the ideas around Liveable Neighbourhoods, despite all the evidence about the impacts that  councillors need to consider what this is all about, they need to engage, and endeavour to make the case, rise to the challenges, and to provide leadership. Otherwise, nothing is likely to change any time soon.

We now look towards the May 2018 local elections, and hope that a new, or refreshed, administration will have what it takes to reimagine our streets. We don’t want Sutton to get left behind. Future generations may well not thank us for it. It is going to take a while, but evidence is needed in the short term to show that things are moving in the right direction. As discussed, that does not appear to be the case.

Of course, although the focus here is on Sutton, the same criticisms are almost certainly true of the majority of London’s thirty-two boroughs. Unfortunately, as we glance back to 2012 and consider the last five years, it is very difficult to see how London will be a byword for cycling by the time Mayor Sadiq Khan (and Walking and Cycling Commissioner Will Norman) leave office (whether that’s in 2019, 2023 or any other year). Unless, of course, things start to change very soon. And Sutton, our pioneering borough for sustainability, has to play its part.


[1] Thirteen councillors replied to the ‘Cycling towards 2014’ letter:

Cllr. Mary Burstow (Liberal Democrat, Cheam); Cllr. Richard Clifton (Liberal Democrat, Sutton South); Cllr. Ruth Dombey (Liberal Democrat, Sutton North); Cllr. Peter Fosdike (Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Clockhouse); Cllr. Sunita Gordon (Liberal Democrat, Wallington North); Cllr. Heather Honor (Liberal Democrat, Sutton South); Cllr. Edward Joyce (Liberal Democrat, Beddington South); Cllr. Joyce Melican (Liberal Democrat, Beddington South); Cllr. Tony Shields (Conservative, Sutton South); Cllr. Roger Thistle (Liberal Democrat, The Wrythe); Cllr. Simon Wales (Liberal Democrat, Sutton West); Cllr Myfanwy Wallace (Liberal Democrat, Sutton West); Cllr. Jill Whitehead (Liberal Democrat, Carshalton Central).

Is it too unkind to say, in retrospect, that their interest was positive indifference? Their interest certainly does not appear to have made much of a difference on the ground. 

[2] Open for Business, Develop Sutton and Opportunity Sutton, supplement with Sutton Guardian, May 2015

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