Full Council February 2018: facilitating environmentally friendly transport?

20180613_WardPhotos_v43_02_IMG_1813_Stonecot_StonecotHill_Standard_v1A cycling-related question for Cllr. Jill Whitehead, Chair of the Environment & Neighbourhood Committee, presented at the Council meeting held on 28 February 2018, has caught my eye. “What further plans does the council have to facilitate environmentally friendly transport, such as safe cycling and electric cars?” appears in the Appendices to Minutes (or ‘Appendix A’) at the ‘Council Minutes: Council Questions 26 February 2018‘. The response given to this question is published in full below.

3. Question asked by Christopher Woolmer to Councillor Jill Whitehead, Chair of the Environment & Neighbourhood Committee

What further plans does the council have to facilitate environmentally friendly transport, such as safe cycling and electric cars?

Reply by Councillor Jill Whitehead

Thank you for your question. The Council already has a sustainable transport strategy, a cycling strategy and an ultra low emissions vehicle strategy. These are all dependent on obtaining funds from Transport for London (TfL) as nearly all our funding comes from that one source.

You may have read in the Evening Standard on Wednesday that TfL has had seven hundred million pounds taken away by central government from its budget. That’s austerity yet again. The outcome of this is that there will be no new local Local Implementation Plan (LIP) major project funding for any council in London over two years from 2019-2021.

The 2018-19 LIP funding is already allocated and agreed by TfL and will not be affected. From 2019, TfL will only fund £100,000 per borough for minor road schemes. This is split between the six local committees in Sutton. Each local committee has been installing cycling improvements in their areas in recent years, and in the coming year we’ve been given nearly £100,000 for cycling training and promotion.

However, some of our TfL schemes have remained intact. Our three year long, £3.56 million TfL Beddington North major scheme has just started to be implemented and includes a new cycling lane along Beddington Lane as well as a 20mph speed limit for Beddington Village and safety improvements to junctions, crossings, signage, and pedestrian links to Beddington Park.

Our two TfL quietways cycling schemes are in the planning stage, a north to south route which is the more advanced and a north west to east route across the borough. These are routes that avoid the main roads but link up with major cycle routes in Merton and Croydon.

We will also be putting in a bid in the next few months to the Mayor of London’s Healthy Streets fund for the Sutton High Street area. This fund incorporates an integrated approach covering walking, cycling and public transport, and of course there is the tram, a commitment to which is included in the London Mayor’s transport strategy due to be published in early March and which is a joint project with the London Borough of Merton. We are working with TfL on the development of the tram which is receiving funding from the Mayor’s growth fund.

Additionally we won money this year through London Councils from the government in a joint neighbourhoods of the future project with Croydon for an electric freight consolidation centre in Beddington, where freight will be taken from larger vehicles and distributed via smaller electric vans. In terms of electric charging points, there are 38 publically accessible charging points in 15 locations. 15 with slow and 37 with fast charging capability. Of these, 30 are allocated in council off street car parks. TfL is also putting in planning permission to add a further four points.

Following a meeting with the TfL commissioner on Thursday, all London councils are asking TfL to provide funding for electric infrastructure. We are also impressing on him the need for clean TfL buses in outer London which may include hydrogen as well as electric powered buses.

Supplementary question asked by Christopher Woolmer

Thank you very much Councillor Whitehead. Why is the council not including electric car charging points in its lamp post replacement scheme? And secondly, why doesn’t the council use the available government funding from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles OLEV, which has set aside £4.5 million to support and cover 75% of the cost of installing normal charging points in streets, a fact that has been reported by the BBC, including the point that only five authorities have taken up this offer?

Reply by Councillor Jill Whitehead

In terms of electric points on our lamp posts, the scheme was organised some time ago, and that’s in the process of being developed. And the scheme you mentioned from the Office of Low Emission Transport, that does not include London, TfL is not included in that scheme.

Supplementary question asked by Neil Garratt

Thank you Madam Mayor. As usual we hear that the problem is entirely down to the government. I think I’m right in saying that the current administration has been in control for 32 years through about six different prime ministers and in all of that time nothing has been achieved to make Sutton look any different for cycling than any other outer London borough, so wasn’t all this talk just a waste of time, all these strategies that we keep having?

Reply by Councillor Jill Whitehead

Unfortunately the way TfL organises things is through bids and for any cycling activity we need to make bids to TfL. There’s 33 boroughs making bids and with the last administration under Boris only five boroughs could benefit out of 33 and in the current healthy streets procedure, only seven boroughs can benefit out of 33. So the chances of actually winning money is not that great, what we have asked for, and at the last meeting that London Councils had with the Deputy Mayor, we asked that the money from Healthy Streets be redistributed amongst all the boroughs to make it fair but she [Val Shawcross] declined.

What to make of this response?

On a positive note, Cllr. Whitehead’s response confirms that Sutton Council will be submitting a bid in the coming months for Liveable Neighbourhoods funding and that this will relate to the Sutton High Street ‘area’. Of course, all boroughs are invited to submit a bid, as was the case last year in 2017 when Sutton did not take up the offer. In May 2018, there was some good news when Council Leader Ruth Dombey went on to commit to ensuring that any such bid made by Sutton would be of ‘high-quality’ – see My Liveable London. The bid, however, really needs to encompass a much wider area than the immediate Sutton High Street and gyratory to be viable (and to ensure the proposals are not subsequently lost in, or made over by, whatever is in the pipeline for Sutton 2031).

The response from Cllr. Whitehead has also affirmes that two Quietway schemes for the borough are in the ‘planning stage’. Quite what this actually means, though, is unclear. Nothing is know about the proposed east-west route (apart for the fact that the existing London Cycle Network route alignments 75 and 76 carry too much traffic in places and include unsuitable junctions). As far the north-south route is concerned, the outcome of the initial engagement with residents in the area immediately to the north of Sutton town centre in the summer of 2017 was still awaited at the time of the February Council meeting.

But then things turn less positive, with Cllr. Whitehead going on to say that “there will be no new local Local Implementation Plan (LIP) major project funding for any council in London over two years from 2019-2021”. This statement could be considered somewhat disingenuous.  TfL was, at the time, about to publish new LIP guidance for the third LIP, alongside the imminent publication of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy. New LIP guidance that, frankly, is long overdue and which should see the funding of schemes, such as the conversion of footways to shared-use, finally withheld. The fact that the council does not carry out pre and post implementation monitoring – as we keep saying it should – does not help either. The money will be there, but if the council wants its share it better get its act together first.

Cllr. Neil Garratt, in a supplementary question, enquires as to whether all the strategies produced over the last 32 years by Sutton Council (for sustainable transport) have actually made any difference to how the borough looks for cycling.

In her unscripted response to this, Cllr. Whitehead blames the actions of TfL (an authority that has been in existence for a somewhat shorter period of eighteen years) and the funding mechanisms for cycling over the last five years (indirectly referencing mini-Holland and Liveable Neighbourhoods). Failure in delivery is often blamed on lack of funding. Cllr. Whitehead appears not to recognise that the recent levels of funding for cycling (healthy streets and active travel) are unprecedented. The reason ‘healthy streets’ money is not being redistributed evenly between the boroughs is because it is important that the boroughs can demonstrate to TfL that they are capable of spending the funding wisely (in other words, the outcomes will help deliver the objectives of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy that are so badly needed). This is something that, arguably, Sutton Council has yet to prove it is able to do.

So it is action, not words, that are required. Action, including engagement and making the case with residents. And that does not need to be particularly costly to carry out, it just needs determination and leadership.

Out thanks to Christopher Woolmer for asking the question. Christopher stood as a Labour party candidate in the Sutton West ward in May 2018.

v1: 28.06.2018

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