On 8 March 2017, Neil Garratt, Conservative Councillor for Beddington South and Deputy Leader of the Opposition, submitted three questions to Sutton Council under what is known as Standing Order 8.13 . The questions related to Sutton Council’s Cycling Strategy, Hackbridge Sustainable Suburb, and our Space for Cycling ‘ward asks’ from 2014.
The responses to Neil’s questions were published by the council in late March or early April 2017, hidden away on the agenda and minutes page of the 30th January 2017 Council meeting. Neil’s questions, and the replies he received from Jill Whitehead, Liberal Democrat Councillor for Carshalton Central and Chair of the Environment and Neighbourhood Committee, deserve wider publicity. Given the cycling theme, it is highly appropriate to reproduce all three of the questions here, along with Jill’s replies. The opportunity is also taken to comment on those replies.
We would like to extend our thanks to Neil for, once again, challenging the current administration’s record on cycling. (To balance things out a bit, we will be asking Neil, in the coming months, about the priorities that a Conservative run council would give to cycling in Sutton, should the Conservatives secure a majority at the council elections scheduled for May 2018. It would be good to think that cross-party consensus will prevail, as was the case in run-up to the mayoral election in 2016 when candidates from all main parties recognised that “roads that are better for bikes, are better for people”).
(1) Question asked by Councillor Neil Garratt to Councillor Jill Whitehead, Chair of the Environment and Neighbourhood Committee [March 2017]
Reply by Councillor Jill Whitehead [March 2017]
The Council’s Cycling Strategy complements the Sustainable Transport Strategy and sets out a vision to increase the number of cycle trips in and through the borough. To try and achieve this, the Strategy looks at initiatives which are grouped under a series of objectives. These are focussed around improving the cycle network, creating safer residential environments for everyone (e.g. 20 mph zones); making cycle provision in new developments, including cycle parking; improving cycle training and cycle awareness courses; as well as promoting cycling as a means of transport and a healthy activity.
In terms of the current position, a number of sections of cycleway were completed in 2016/17 in Worcester Park, at Oaks Park and Overton Park, and a shared use footway/cycleway between Middleton Circle and Wrythe Green. Progress was also made with Quietway route 29 (Sutton to Morden) as part of a three-year programme. In addition, contraflow cycle schemes were delivered in 2016/17 at the one-way sections of Manor Lane, Sutton and Longfield Avenue, Hackbridge, and a shared cycle crossing in Ruskin Road, Carshalton.
In 2017/18 further work will be undertaken on the above route between Middleton Circle and Bishopsford Road and it is hoped to work with TfL on the Quietway between Worcester Park and Croydon (route 75) and other possible routes although there is no clear funding as yet. Some ‘ward asks’ have also been included in the 2017/18 programme (see response to Q4). Six complementary 20mph schemes are proposed in 2017/18 along with a contraflow lane in Camden Road, Carshalton. Other initiatives include enhanced cycle parking standards being proposed for new developments in the emerging new Local Plan and improving three safer route school schemes as part of the 2017/18 Local Implementation Programme.
What to make of this reply from Cllr. Whitehead?
The question that Cllr. Garratt asked was “what has been achieved so far as a result of the new strategy?” The reply from Cllr. Whitehead, although quite comprehensive, does not address the key “as a result of the new strategy” element of the question at all. Let’s look at the reply in more detail to understand why this conclusion is drawn….
Setting the vision
The first part of the response simply summaries some of the stated objectives within the cycling strategy. In fact, the objectives are rather down-played here, all rather luck-lustre, possibly indicating a recognition that things have not gone so well.
Improving the cycle network
There is the vague, catch-all, but almost meaningless, phrase “improving the cycle network”. Can the three incomplete, substandard, London Cycling Network routes in the borough really be described as a “network”? A true network would bring safe and inviting, cycle-friendly streets, much closer to home.
“In a properly joined-up cycle network, cyclists should not have to travel more than 400 metres to get to a parallel route of similar quality”. London Cycling Design Standards, December 2014
Even if the LCN, as currently exists, taken along with other so-called signed cycle routes in the borough, were collectively to be described as a network, the improvements required are significant. At the very basic level, signage (where it exists) is often poor, and rarely maintained. If you can’t get that right, what hope is there?
Talking of maintenance, the lack of maintenance on cycle paths along the A217 (a TfL road, but under the control of the borough when it comes to the footways and cycle tracks adjacent to the carriageway) is often cited on social media for not being swept (regularly or otherwise) – most recently here.
So one thing is certain, maintenance of cycle signs and paths has not changed as a result of the new strategy (even though the strategy commits to maintenance, albeit as a ‘longer-term opportunity’). This all begs the question, is there even a budget for maintaining the existing ‘cycle network’?
Then there is talk of making cycle provision in new developments, and you only have to look at the recent plans for the former Felnex site redevelopment in Hackbridge to see where this is leading (or not leading, as the case may be). If the council was confident about either its sustainable or cycling strategies, any redevelopment at Hackbridge would go far beyond what is proposed here. (There is more on this in Question 2 below).
It is not just Hackbridge of course, but in Sutton town centre. Develop Sutton produced ‘Open for Business’ publicity in early 2015, with some exciting news: “With almost £400million investment being pumped into Sutton town centre, Sutton is staking its claim as a place to do business”. Unfortunately, as can been seen with the new developments currently coming on stream in 2017 in Sutton town centre, no one seems to have told Develop Sutton that cycling is good for business, or that London businesses support cycling for very good reasons.
Promoting cycling as a means of transport
Quite where, and when, cycling has been promoted as a means of transport and healthy activity by the Council is a mystery. It is true that an extensive number of Dr Bike sessions were held during 2016, and are again featuring in 2017. These events all help, but are hardly a major intervention when it comes to promotion. After all, bike maintenance and bike marking sessions probably tend to be of most use to people who cycle already.
So where is the aspiration for promotion? To be honest, it is difficult to see. Following the cycling strategy’s approval in November 2015, it took three months for Sutton Council to publish the document on its website. (In contrast, at around the same time, Tower Hamlets Council managed to publish its cycling strategy in just three days). Meanwhile, true opportunities to promote the cycling strategy to the wider community continue to be lost.
The current position
The interventions that are then detailed in the second paragraph of the reply (and the third paragraph, come to that) have absolutely nothing to do with the cycling strategy. These interventions would have happened (or would be in the pipeline) regardless of whether a cycling strategy had been published or not.
The upgraded path near Worcester Park, the new shared path in (gated) Overton Park, and the conversion of a footway to shared use between Middleton Circle and Wrythe Green have all been discussed in this blog (the latter, which is an embarrassment, extensively). These were all schemes dreamed up through the LIP funding process over several years (without any clear, long-term, focus), and they all illustrate that, when it comes to cycling, the council has historically only done what is easy, what is devoid of any controversy, and what, therefore, is guaranteed to make very little difference to cycling take-up. Derisory levels of funding for cycling is not an adequate excuse.
It is not clear what progress has been made on the Quietway (Sutton to Morden), with delivery not now expected until 2019. Potentially, the Quietway could bring about better streets for everyone in the immediate area, quite apart from being the largest win for cycling the borough has seen to date. Hopefully, behind the scenes, full engagement with residents is planned, or is taking place. Inevitably, many residents will have doubts, at least initially, about any proposals that require a certain change to the look and feel of their street. Hopefully, there is sufficient political will so within the council to ensure that plans will not falter at the first sign of concern. Unfortunately, this is not implicitly stated in the reply.
**Update June 2017: The first stage of the engagement process for the Quietway (Sutton to St Helier (and on to Morden/Colliers Wood)) was announced on 16 June 2017. Residents of Grennell Road, Elgin Road and Benhill Wood Road and surrounding areas received a letter about TfL Healthy Streets funding and the opportunities this presented on 16 June, plus details of public drop-in sessions being held the following week or so. Also on 16 June, a Quietways online survey was launched. Great news!
A useful, and long overdue, contraflow for cycling was delivered on the one-way section of Manor Lane, Sutton early in 2016, (although, only through the use of signs and paint and not, as we would have liked, through relocation of parking spaces). However, over in Hackbridge, completion of a contraflow in Longfield Avenue is still awaited even though contraflow cycling was introduced in the adjacent Elm Road two or three years ago. So, contrary to Jill’s reply, the Longfield Road contraflow was not delivered in 2016/17.
The new crossing in Ruskin Road, Carshalton, is not a shared crossing, but a much better, parallel, separate crossing. It’s just a pity it doesn’t lead anywhere, only linking a gated park on one side with heavily trafficked residential streets on the other via a pubic footway. Talbot Road, Seymour Road, The Square are residential streets that carry a disproportionate amount of traffic in relation to the number of people who live there. When Cllr. Whitehead mentions delivery of the ‘ward asks’ (see the next section), it is worth remembering that the ‘ward ask’ for her ward (Carshalton Central) was about removing through motor traffic from the Carshalton Village conservation area. There is no sign of this idea being considered (even in light of the cycling strategy), an idea which would cost relatively little to implement and be far more effective at increasing the number of cycle trips than a crossing to nowhere.
Further work 2017/18
On the subject of an excessive amount of traffic on residential streets, the idea that a Quietway can be delivered between Worcester Park and Croydon any time soon, as suggested in the third paragraph of the reply, is (unfortunately) ludicrous. An east-west Quietway across the borough is simply not achievable given the current road conditions.
Recent traffic counts on Westmead Road, Sutton, part of the existing LCN route 75 and earmarked as the alignment of the Quietway, suggest that up to 1,000 vehicles an hour use this road during peak periods. This is despite the fact that the parallel A232 Carshalton Road, the main road, the road where traffic is expected, is situated only 400 metres to the south.
People are clearly using ‘quieter streets’ as cut-throughs. So unless some major interventions are incorporated along the way, Sutton’s proposed second Quietway will never see the light of day.
**Update June 2017: receive news that TfL have agreed to fund the borough’s second Quietway between Waddon in the east and Worcester Park in the west. Presumably the release of the funding for this project will be subject to certain criteria being met, as outlined in the Healthy Streets approach.
The high levels of traffic on Westmead Road, Lower Road, Benhill Road and St Barnabas may be as a result of people wishing to avoid central Sutton and the one-way gyratory. The recently published Sutton Town Centre Masterplan, the draft of which was devoid of any meaningful recognition of cycling having an increasing role to play as a form of grown-up transport (again, a point picked-up by Neil), failed to recognise that streets outside the immediate vicinity of the town centre are already at saturation point (and therefore very uninviting for cycling). If the borough’s sustainable transport strategy was worth the paper it was written on, this would have been picked up. The genie out of the bottle?
Cllr. Whitehead is quite right in saying that some ‘ward asks‘ (or, more correctly perhaps, some aspects of the ‘ward asks’) have been included in the 2017/18 programme (noting that the reference to Q4, should read Q3). Already touched upon above, there is more on the ‘ward asks’ in the comments to question 3 below.
Summing up on the first question…
In a nutshell, although clearly some cycling schemes have progressed since the cycling strategy was approved in November 2015, very little, if anything, appears to have outwardly changed as a result of the new strategy. Fundamentally, it appears to be business as usual.
It is perhaps also worth noting at this point that the publications of both the sustainable and cycling strategies in 2015 did not herald the first time that the council has made commitments to cycling. The Cycling Action Plan (LB of Sutton, June 2007) noted that the “London Borough of Sutton’s vision is …. to make the Borough a place “where people of all ages, abilities and cultures have the incentive, confidence and facilities to cycle whenever it suits them.”” Nine years prior to that, the borough’s Sustainable Transport Strategy, published in 1998, stated that “Wherever possible, cycle routes segregated from motorised traffic are sought”. The strategy also noted that “only about 2.5% of journeys are made by bicycle”. Nearly twenty years later and, as will be seen later this month in an update on the 2015 Sustainable Transport Strategy to be presented at the 22 June 2017 Environment and Neighbourhood Committee, the ‘modal share’ for cycling is now around 2%. (Our own traffic counts would tend to suggest it is likely to be lower than this).
We would be very happy for Cllr. Whitehead (or Cycling Champion Cllr. Manuel Abellan) to respond further to this. Of course, all readers of this blog are invited to do so too. It is hoped that there will be more robust evidence that the cycling strategy is beginning to have an impact in the coming months (and possibly, with the updates referred to in the text above, that is something that is starting to happen).
(2) Question asked by Councillor Neil Garratt to Councillor Jill Whitehead, Chair of the Environment and Neighbourhood Committee [March 2017]
Reply by Councillor Jill Whitehead
Hackbridge is identified in the previous Core Planning Strategy as a proposed district centre and a sustainable neighbourhood. Since that time the Council has carried the replacement of the London Road bridge over the railway incorporating new on-road cycle lanes, wider footways and improved access to Hackbridge Station. In addition, works have been carried out in the vicinity of the junction of Hackbridge Road and London Road to improve the public realm and the pedestrian environment.
The Sustainable Transport Strategy sets out the Council’s vision for transport and how that can be delivered through various measures and actions implemented by the borough and its partners. It provides the context and justification for both developing council policies and proposals, and influencing future developments such as Felnex along with its daughter Cycling Strategy document.
As part of the development of the former Felnex site, the following sustainable transport improvements are proposed:
(i) the development has been designed to allow the 151 and 127 bus services to be diverted through the heart of the development, to share common bus stops and have an improved interchange with Hackbridge Station
(ii) the layout also provides for a new shared pedestrian footway/cycleway connecting Hackbridge and London Road as well as a new pedestrian/cycle path under London Road connecting the development directly to Hackbridge Station. These measures are intended to be implemented once the development is completed.
In comment to the reply to this question, perhaps a couple of images will say more than words alone.
(3) Question asked by Councillor Neil Garratt to Councillor Jill Whitehead, Chair of the Environment and Neighbourhood Committee [March 2017]
Reply by Councillor Jill Whitehead
The Council considered carefully and evaluated the long list of ward asks put forward by the London Cycling Campaign. As these included schemes that were on TfL roads, TfL was consulted but confirmed there was not funding available to implement measures on these highways. In terms of those schemes on council-managed highways, a number of these asks have either been incorporated into a proposed major highway scheme, such as Beddington Lane, or are planned to be introduced as part of the Quietways programme. Others are proposed to be funded through the 2017/18 Local Implementation Programme (LIP). Other schemes may be included in the 2018/19 LIP programme subject to resources and funding.
We are clearly grateful that the Council has carefully evaluated the long list of Space for Cycling ‘ward asks‘ (June 2014), despite the lack of support for the proposals ahead of the 2014 Council elections. The evaluation process took quite a while though. In November 2014, we were told that we could expect a review of the ‘ward asks’ “within a month”. However, it transpired that we had to wait just over a year for this review (which we have been asked not to share publicly). (For more on this see Notes from our January 2016 meeting).
Schemes on TfL roads
Even though the rationale of the Space for Cycling campaign was focused on improvements to roads that were in the control of the local councils (about 95% of roads), ideas for schemes on TfL roads in Sutton did feature in our ‘ward asks’. Most noticeably in relation to the A217 Sutton by-pass. This road traverses six wards, and for much of its length contains the remnants and sections of cycle tracks as part of the original construction of the road in the 1930s. People had told us that significant improvements here would be very welcome, in particular at the intersections along the route. Although the carriageway is outside the jurisdiction of the borough council, the footway and cycle paths are not. Clearly the costs associated with an upgrade to Dutch standards here would be significant, and substantial additional TfL funding would be required for the word to be carried out. Nevertheless, it was felt that the major opportunities here matched our high aspirations. Furthermore, in the case of the A217, we were not generally talking about contested space, because the space for cycling was generally already in place. Therefore, to include TfL roads within the ‘ward asks’ remit seemed to make sense. It would broaden the scope, and take forward the discussion.
It appears that the Council though this too, because the ‘ward asks’ that officers initially selected for progressing were not those associated with the borough controlled roads but rather the TfL roads. It may be cynical to say it, but the reason for this could have been to deflect any immediate responsibility away from ward councillors and to put the ball firmly in TfL’s court. If you don’t like what is being proposed, don’t blame us, blame them (TfL). Nevertheless, officers made recommendations to councillors that ideas for improvements to the A24, A217 and A232 be sent to TfL for consideration, and councillors agreed to all of the recommendations (very good news), with the one exception. Rosehill Roundabout. Members of the St Helier, The Wrythe and Wandle Valley Local Committee, chaired by Cllr. Jean Crossby, shrieked with laughter and jeered “no, no!” when former Head of Highways and Transport Services, Gary Smith, presented the report to them as the October 2015 committee meeting. In one moment, St Helier effectively said no to cycling. It is not know whether the report that the council subsequently sent to TfL mentioned the fact that Rosehill was to be excluded from any plans that they may progress to make cycling a safe and inviting option for everyone or not. What had been made known, and as Cllr Whitehead mentions here, TfL responded by saying that there was no funding available. In someways, it is a little disingenuous of the councillor to miss out the crucial point about Rosehill Roundabout. The saga becomes even more intriguing when the fact that the provision of new and improved cycling routes at Rosehill was cited as one of the main elements in ‘Sutton’s Mini-Holland Bid: expression of interest and outline bid proposal’ (July 2013). Furthermore, Sutton’s Transport Plan (July 2011) includes a cycling scheme at the A217 Rosehill Roundabout as part of the TRLN (Transport for London Road Network) 2011/12 investment programme. So our ‘ward asks’ for TfL were, in some ways, reflecting what had gone before. Meanwhile, all that can really be concluded about the St Helier, The Wrythe and Wandle Valley Local Committee at the time is that they were either out of touch, or they simply could not care less about cycling. As has been said before, the danger with this attitude is that as and when funds do become available, Sutton will get left behind.
And a reminder that the difference between what we have, and what we could have, is like chalk and cheese….
Schemes on council managed highways
Beddington Lane: the ‘ward ask’ for Beddington North includes protected space for cycling on Beddington Lane. In November 2015 there was a cycling tour of Beddington village and the surrounding areas with Cycling Champion Cllr Manuel Abellan to highlight the issues that beset this busy road. A TfL major scheme, Beddington Gateways, as been in the pipeline for quite a while, and could be set to bring improvements here.
**Update June 2017: we learn that the council has won significant funds from Transport for London (TfL) to deliver highways, walking and cycling improvements (to include segregated cycle lanes), as well as significant ‘place-making’ public realm enhancements. Opportunity Sutton > Area regeneration and renewal > Beddington. Promising. We look forward to hearing more.
Quietways: well, Quietways have been covered in the comments to question 1 really (and subsequent update). There is great potential here (and the reported agreement by TfL to fund the second Quietway will be followed with interest). But when it comes to Quietways, just lines and signs will not do, and there are essential prerequisites.
Details of the schemes that are to be funded through the 2017/18 Local Implementation Plan were detailed in the ‘Local Implementation Plan (LIP) for the 2017/18 budget’ report, and associated additional documents, presented at the Environment and Neighbourhood Committee in September 2016. Some aspects of the ‘ward asks’ are included, and this is very welcome, of course. In many ways, though, the interventions selected for the 2017/18 programme are just a small part of the bigger picture.
In the case of the ‘ward ask’ for Wallington South, for example, the high-profile ‘ask’ (to trial some light segregation on Park Lane), has been avoided in favour of the much smaller ticketed aspect (a re-assessment of Ross Parade/Bridge Road/Clarendon Road/Ross Road). To be fair, the former would have required considerably more funding than the £5,000 allocation earmarked for the latter.
Another scheme that has emerged from the ‘ward asks’ (and linked to Clarendon Road and Bridge Road above) is the Wallington North/South cycle route. This route only has a funding allocation of £70,000 though, so how much can be expected from that (given that it takes £50,000 to construct a path 240m long by 2.5m wide in Sutton Common Park (another proposed future scheme, but not one of our recommendations)), remains to be seen. For the moment we will hold judgement on this, as we have been discussing the options here with Cllr. Manuel Abellan (and it is likely that there will be more on this under the Cycle Tour category on this blog in July 2017).
A cycle-contra-flow for Camden Road (Carshalton) is one of ours too (one small aspect of The Wrythe ‘ward ask’). This is a tricky one, because to be successful in any shape or form (and justify the allocated £40,000) it will require parking to be reallocated away from the road – something too difficult for the Manor Lane / The Broadway contraflow in Sutton. There will also be a requirement to introduce some changes to junction with Wet Street. A far better option would be for Camden Road to be closed to through traffic. Tis could be introduced for a much lower cost too of course.
Our proposals for Roundshaw Downs Greenways were also selected for progression, but we have now rethought those, and are looking at the bigger (more challenging) aspects of delivery safe routes to schools throughout the Beddington South ward (as detailed in the Beddington South ‘ward ask’).
It is particularly gratifying to see, under Middleton Road (Carshalton/St Helier), mention of the “further option” for the road to be widened “to provide kerb separated mandatory cycle lanes between Budge Lane and Middleton Circle”. Although not quite the full Wrythe Valley ‘ward ask’, which included the request for consideration of protected space for cycling on Middleton Road and on London Road, it’s a step in the right direction. Time will tell.
So, there you have it. Three good, timely, questions from Cllr. Garratt, and three replies from Cllr. Whitehead. At face value, the replies may seem reasonable, but in reality they really could not go unchallenged. My comments are a little negative, it has to be said. But, hopefully, the reason for this is apparent. Perhaps, with the Healthy Streets approach on the horizon, and potentially new finding mechanisms for LIP funding on the way, a corner is about to be turned. Perhaps things will start to look brighter for cycling in Sutton soon. At the moment though, and despite no end of policies and strategies over two or more decades, when it comes to cycling in Sutton in 2017 we really are still in the foothills of provision.
 What is Standing Order 8.13? Paragraph 8.13, in Section 4 ‘Standing orders, procurement rules, contract standing orders and financial regulations’, of the Constitution of the London Borough of Sutton (April 2017) reads: “During the cycle of meetings, except within twenty-one days of the date of the next Full Council meeting, a Member or a Sutton Resident may ask the Mayor or the Chair of a committee or Lead Councillor any questions and a written reply to such questions shall be given within twenty one days from the date on which the question was received by the Chief Executive. Questions and answers dealt with under this Standing Order shall be circulated with the relevant Council Minute Book.”. So now you know. (You can read more on the Sutton Council website: Standing Orders and Rules).
v1: 19.06.2017; v1.1: 20.06.2017 (removed italics)