Just over a month ago, towards the end of November 2017, there was great disappointment to learn that Sutton Council had not submitted a bid to Transport for London that could have resulted in the borough being awarded a grant of between £1 and £10 million in 2018-2019. This all-new funding stream, for the Liveable Neighbourhoods programme, has the the aim of delivering exemplar, community-supported, projects that put the Healthy Streets Approach at the heart of planning. Boroughs are now able to submit bids at anytime (once in any given financial year). But by missing the October 2017 deadline for the first offer, Sutton has lost the opportunity to be in there from the outset.
We presented some thoughts as to why Sutton did not put in a bid for the funding in our post No bid from Sutton for 2018 Liveable Neighbourhood funding. However, due to the diligence of Cllr. Neil Garratt (Conservative, Beddington South and Deputy Leader of the Opposition), we now have a formal response from Cllr. Jill Whitehead (Liberal Democrat, Carshalton Central, and Chair of the Environment and Neighbourhood Committee), as to why Sutton did not submit a bid on this occasion.
In a moment we will review Cllr. Whitehead’s response. But first, here is the question asked and the response given (also available as a pdf here):
Question asked by Councillor Neil Garratt to Councillor Jill Whitehead, Chair of the Environment and Neighbourhood Committee [December 2017]
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has just announced the first round of Liveable Neighbourhood funding with seven London Boroughs each receiving £1.25 million. This is for long term transport projects aimed at increasing walking, cycling and public transport, reducing local car trips, and improving air quality and public health. This is all firmly in line with One Planet Sutton’s aims.
I was disappointed to learn that Sutton is not among the 7 winners, and astonished to discover that Sutton was not even among the 28 bids submitted. The majority of London boroughs submitted a Liveable Neighbourhood bid, so why didn’t Sutton? Does Sutton have so much money that we don’t need an additional £1.25 million? Has the One Planet Sutton agenda been abandoned?
Reply by Councillor Jill Whitehead [January 2018]
The borough has identified a potential scheme for submission as part of the Liveable Neighbourhoods bid process which will be focussed on improvements to and around the Sutton Town Centre (STC) gyratory. It is considered essential for the borough to change the nature of the gyratory to improve pedestrian and cycle flows. Otherwise this will restrict our ability to fulfil our regeneration potential and could limit the delivery of homes and jobs outlined in the Sutton Town Centre Masterplan.
The scope of the bid area covers the pedestrian and cycle links across the gyratory, providing improved accessibility and permeability for STC. This project also includes an assessment of the positioning and access arrangements to the numerous bus stops around the gyratory. The borough has recently been working very closely with TfL to review and identify the traffic and highway pressures and issues facing us, in terms of accommodating the significant growth agenda planned for STC. Through these meetings, a transport analysis has identified a number of key issues, including that significant investigations are required across all modes of travel, including trams, buses, cycling and walking as well as vehicular traffic, to determine a baseline from which to consider the growth implications.
During this review, it became clear that significant additional investigations and data gathering would be required to allow the borough to submit an appropriate bid that would meet the various criteria set by TfL and be likely to succeed. There was insufficient time for this to be completed in advance of the last submission date for that round of bids.
The joint analysis with TfL is ongoing and it was considered that the close working relationship Sutton has with TfL will allow the borough to develop a suitably detailed submission for consideration as part of the Liveable Neighbourhoods bid process in 2018, which will have a better possibility of securing funding.
TfL have agreed to fund the Beddington Major Scheme, which is a significant local contribution to the Liveable neighbourhoods agenda and other key strategies, with works to progress in the coming months.
It should be mentioned, however, that TfL have very recently informed boroughs of major reductions in funding, both for existing and future schemes, so it is currently unclear exactly what funding may become available for both routine works and other projects. It is not thought that these reductions will affect the Beddington scheme.
What to make of this reply from Cllr. Whitehead?
It is good to know that Sutton town centre has been identified as an area for the Liveable Neighbourhoods bid process. Sutton town centre, the gyratory, and how improvements are needed here for cycling, walking and the use of public transport, featured in our Space for Cycling ‘ward ask’ for Sutton Central in 2014 (and there is more on this in a moment).
The point made by Cllr. Whitehead regarding there being insufficient time to prepare a robust, high-quality, bid by the October 2017 deadline could, on first consideration, have some merit. However, when you consider that the gyratory was identified over three years ago as a scheme for improvements, with an EU bid prepared a year later (see Notes from our November 2014 meeting), it all starts to become a bit questionable.
It was also encouraging to learn that the Council had approached TfL and requested funding to facilitate some form of cycling infrastructure on the Sutton town centre gyratory system. Although TfL was not able to provide funding, they had recommended the Council to make an application for European funding. (Get Sutton Cycling, November 2014)
An outline European bid for an experimental scheme on the gyratory has been, or is in the process of being, submitted. Details of the scheme are not known. There is competition with others for the funding. An announcement as to whether the bid has been successful or not is expected early in 2015. (Get Sutton Cycling, November 2014)
But there is more….
During the spring of 2016 Sutton consulted on the Local Plan in Sutton 2031: planning for our future. The Sutton Town Centre Masterplan documentation declared that “Sutton had appointed a high calibre team of masterplanners to create the vision with you through the Sutton 2031 consultation”. This would suggest that someone knew what they were doing in Sutton Town Centre, and had carried out an element of research. At the time, we did question whether cycling was part of the picture and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t. Had it been, Sutton would all most certainly have been in a much better position now to make that Liveable Neighbourhoods bid for the town centre.
Back in 2013, as part of ‘Sutton’s Mini-Holland bid: expression of interest and outline of proposal’ (LBS, July 2013), available from our Publications page, improving cycle access to Sutton Town Centre was one of the main elements of the bid. The severance caused by the gyratory would be addressed “by providing new routes and crossings where possible“. “Infrastructure improvements will follow best practice and where possible be not only practical but visually appealing, helping to raise the profile of cycling locally”. Could the presence of the recurring “where possible” caveat, the get-out clause, the “it’s all too difficult and we are not really interested” cautionary text, explain why the bid failed to impress the funders? Possibly, but there again it has subsequently become evident, from the proceedings surrounding progress by the successful Mini-Holland boroughs Waltham Forest and Enfield, that the key to success is political leadership. In that regard, it is hard to see how Sutton’s councillors would have done anything other than wilt under the pressure (it really is, up to now, words not action), and fortunately for us this is something that TfL evidently recognised at the time.
The success of these [Mini-Holland] programmes underlines the paramount importance of committed political leadership (written evidence by Andrew Gilligan to the London Assembly in December 2017 (pdf)), referenced from this tweet (4 January 2018).
And then back in the days of the ‘Biking Boroughs’ programme (so 2011), when just £4 million (equivalent to about 60p per capita) had to be shared by 13 boroughs (Sutton not one of them – lost out again, declaring that the reason for this was due to the £5 million that the borough had received for Smarter Travel Sutton in 2007-2009), the Sutton Cycle Forum told us that that major improvements were in the pipeline to make crossing the gyratory by bicycle so much better. Over six years later, has it happened? No. (And, by the way, if you are wondering whatever happened to the Biking Borough money, David Arditti revealed all in 2014).
As for what happened to Smarter Travel Sutton. Well, six years after the project ended (a project that was either declared a roaring success by some or a total failure by others) the latest Sustainable Transport Strategy (LBS, June 2015) was published to build on the work of the project to raise awareness and promote greater use of sustainable transport. So it took the borough’s Liberal Democrat administration six years to follow-up on the work of Smarter Travel Sutton. Are you taking note TfL?
So, all in all, there has been a lot of talk about Sutton town centre, about the gyratory, over recent years. This does not really help Cllr. Whitehead’s argument in terms of there not being sufficient time to submit a bid due to “the requirement for significant additional investigations and data gathering”. It should also be noted that there were ten months between the initial announcement of the Liveable Neighbourhoods programme in December 2016 and the deadline for bids in October 2017. Ten months, plus all the years of talk before that, and still not enough time?
Plus, twenty-one (out thirty-two) boroughs did find the time to prepare and submit a bid.
Incidentally, at the Sutton Cycle Forum meeting in January 2017 it was proposed that at the following Cycle Forum meeting (April 2017) there would be a discussion on the Sutton Town Centre Masterplan. This discussion never materialised either.
The concern now is that with Opportunity Sutton “pumping” (or having pumped) £400 million into Sutton Town Centre (BID Matters Newsletter 2, Successful Sutton, June 2015) and with much construction already completed, or nearing completion, the opportunity has not been taken to provide any space for cycling on the gyratory, or on Sutton High Street (north of Crown Road), or on Brighton Road (south of Cedar Road) when the opportunity was there to do so.
Subsea 7 (Brighton Road) has been built right up to the existing kerb-line, as has Sutton Point (Sutton Court Road). The Sainsbury’s development along, with new apartments, on Crown Road and Sutton High Street has failed to incorporate any facilities for cycling (beyond cycle parking stands). Clearly no thought has been given to the provision of suitable infrastructure that will enable Sutton Town Centre residents to cycle for some of their local journeys. So, given this background, does Sutton deserve a share of the new Liveable Neighbourhoods funding for Sutton Town Centre? If so, will it be too little, too late, anyway?
More on Space for Cycling
In 2014, as part of the London Cycling Campaign’s Space for Cycling initiative, people told us that the gyratory around Sutton town centre acted as a barrier in terms of accessing the retail and residential core on foot, on bicycle and public transport (see Sutton Central ‘ward ask’ (May 2014) and Space for Cycling: action points for Sutton (June 2014). The three candidates who went on to be elected for the Sutton Central ward in May 2014, Cllr. David Bartolucci (Liberal Democrat), Cllr. Vincent Galligan (Liberal Democrat) and Cllr. Ali Mirhasham (Liberal Democrat) did not, however, show their support for this idea at the time. It is quite interesting, therefore, that the area of Sutton that has now been identified by the council for this new funding stream is on their patch. It would be fascinating to know whether the councillors think differently now. Given that a crucial factor in the Liveable Neighbourhoods programme “will be the development of proposals through early and ongoing engagement” (Liveable Neighbourhoods Guidance, TfL, July 2017), TfL may be particularly interested to learn of this should the bid eventually be submitted. (Mind you, only 11 of the 54 elected councillors in Sutton (class of 2014) supported Space for Cycling, so perhaps it is a bit unfair to single the Sutton Central councillors out).
From a Space for Cycling perspective, perhaps Beddington South would be the area most deserving of Liveable Neighbourhoods funding. This is the only ward in the borough (of 18 wards) to have received support for Space for Cycling from all three councillors Cllr. Manuel Abellan (Liberal Democrat), Cllr, Neil Garratt (Conservative), Cllr. Ed Joyce (Liberal Democrat) (see Beddington South ‘ward ask’). However, there has been no significant progress to report on the ‘ask’ here either, and Cllr Garratt has told us that very few (if any) people in the ward talk to him about cycling. (No surprise really, given that only 2% of trips made by Sutton residents are by bicycle, the same percentage as twenty years ago).
Of course, when there is talk of parking or the difficulty of the school run (the immediate issues that are on peoples minds), then that is precisely the time to pitch in with future-proofing and the Liveable Neighbourhoods. Let’s hope the Sutton class of 2018-2022 recognises this. After all, many of the decisions that councillors make today will have an impact not just on us, in the next few weeks, the next few months or years, but also on future generations.
It will be interesting to see what Sutton Council has in mind for the planned bid for Sutton Town Centre ahead of the October 2018 deadline. Whatever it is, there is no doubt that to make cycling a real option for most people a radical change in our neighbourhoods is required. The creation of low-traffic neighbourhoods, where through traffic is removed from residential areas that go far beyond the core metropolitan centre, along with protected space on main roads (not shared space, or shared footways), is the way forward. (Precisely inline, in fact, with the “preferred measures to encourage cycling” detailed in the Smarter Travel Sutton Legacy document from 2009 (Smarter Travel Sutton Legacy, [Table 2 – Cycling related responses], LBS, July 2009).
Making this happen is not going to be easy, and it will require political leadership and political will as well as the funding. But again referring back to Andrew Gilligan, and the evidence he gave on cycling infrastructure in London at a meeting of the GLA Transport Committee on 6 December 2017 (transcript, courtesy of Palmers Green Community, here): “The lesson for me, from the Mini-Holland experience in Enfield and our experience in central and inner London, is that you should not be afraid. These things are popular and you should do them“. It happened years ago in the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland and Germany, and it is beginning to happen now in the UK, notably in the north London boroughs of Waltham Forest and Enfield. Only two days ago (5 January 2018) Hackney Council (one of the boroughs that has been awarded Liveable Neighbourhoods funding) launched a consultation on a proposal to remove parking spaces on one side of a street (West Bank) in order to create a protected cycle track in the same space. The aim is to deliver a quieter road for residents and pedestrians, contributing to the objective of a ‘liveable neighbourhood’. (The consultation notes that “Analysis of parking stress surveys indicates that vehicles will be able to use other unrestricted parking spaces in the close vicinity of West Bank”). So ideas and initiatives that will improve neighbourhoods are happening elsewhere. The question is, when will they really get underway in Sutton? How long are we going to have to wait to see these sort of changes in our borough? Meanwhile, news on Sutton’s first Quietway is still awaited. Perhaps the project should be scrapped (because unless traffic levels are considerably reduced the proposed route will be anything but quiet), and renewed energy put into Liveable Neighbourhoods?
We look forward to the development of Sutton’s first Liveable Neighbourhoods bid during 2018, and (provided it is robust and of high-quality) wish the bid every success in be taking forward by whoever has control of Sutton Council after the forthcoming Council elections in May 2018.
Our thanks again to Cllr. Garratt for taking the time to ask the question that really needed to be asked. By the way, if anyone is wondering whatever happened to One Planet Sutton (as referred to by Cllr. Garratt in his question), Sutton Newsroom recently reported that the latest progress report (for 2016-2017) is now available. The Sustainable Transport page from the report is reproduced below.
Timely questions to the Council in March 2017 (Get Sutton Cycling, March 2017)
Glancing back to 2012, looking forward to 2018 (Get Sutton Cycling, May 2017)
What steps has Sutton taken in the last four years to make cycling in Sutton easier? (Get Sutton Cycling, December 2017)