SATURDAY, 25 FEBRUARY 2017
It is nearly ten months since Sadiq Khan won the London mayoral election for Labour, defeating the Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith. As readers are likely to know, he promised to meet the demands of the London Cycling Campaign, most importantly including building more cycle Superhighways to triple the provision of segregated space on London’s roads in four years, and extending the mini-Holland programme to every borough. Since then, it’s all been very quiet. There was no immediate replacement for the last Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, and, other than an announcement that the (largely back-steet and non-segregated) extension of Superhighway 6 towards St Pancras planned under Gilligan would go ahead, there have been no announcements of any definite new plans for cycling. A new bridge across the Thames from Wapping to Rotherhithe, promised by Khan during the campaign, has been mentioned by him often (along with pedestrianisation of Oxford Street, the effects of which on cycling cannot yet be predicted), but other than that, cycling affairs seem to have been in deep-freeze. Of the other two Superhighway schemes consulted on just before the election, there have been non-commital statements on CS11 to Swiss Cottage, which received public approval in the consultation and so is a scheme that was ‘ready to go’, while the plans for CS 10, the extension to the East-West Superhighway from Lancaster Gate to West London have vanished without trace, with not even any report on the consultation ever published.
I’ve refrained from commenting on this hiatus, as the new Mayor needed time to get his feet under the desk, select his team and come up with his own strategy after assessing the results of what the last mayor had done. However, it has been deeply frustrating seeing such a successful programme apparently grind to a halt. Even the work that needed to be completed on CS 3, the East-West Superhighway from Parliament Square to Westbourne Grove that was already programmed, seemed to be taking for ever, with nothing new definitely in the pipeline. The Mayor announced a £770m budget for cycling for the next five years, but how could this possibly be spent?
So we had finally a development last week, when the new Walking and Cycling Commissioner, Will Norman, took up his post, having been appointed in November, and started making public pronouncements. When Andrew Gilligan became the first Cycling Commissioner in 2013, his views were already quite well known to cycling campaigners due to his press articles, and he had also met many of us and asked our opinions before taking up the job. Not so with Will Norman, who came on this scene as a totally unknown quantity. No-one I have met had ever heard of him before he was given the job. We were told by the Mayor that:
Will specialises in increasing levels of physical activity and participation in sports around the world, working with a range of international organisations… [including the] UN, European Parliament, G8, World Health Organisation and International Olympic Committee…
Will, who cycles every day in London, has a strong background of working with private and public partnerships, and a wealth of experience in getting people from a wide range of backgrounds active. Before joining Nike in 2013, Will set up a successful social research consultancy and was also Director of Research at The Young Foundation, where he was responsible for delivering multi-million pound European programmes and established a youth leadership organisation…
At Nike, Will has spearheaded a programme to make physical activity a global policy priority… Among his work has been a partnership with UNESCO and the German Development Agency GIZ to successfully reform physical education in South Africa, bringing activity and sports to thousands of primary school children for the first time since the 1990s.
Others who had applied for the job had been leaders in local government, campaigners, journalists, architects, planners and engineers. The choice of Will Norman was a surprising one, given a slight nebulosity of his connection to the subject in hand, that is, as I would characterise it, physically planning better walking and cycling conditions in London, and working politically to put such plans though the labyrinth of relevant controlling bodies. Still, Andrew Gilligan was perhaps no more obviously fitted to the role when he started, and yet he did achieve quite a lot.
So we were all very excited to hear that, soon after being appointed, Will would speak to a meeting at which we could attend and ask questions. Even better, he would do so with Val Shawcross, the Deputy Mayor for Transport. The meeting was part of the Street Talks programme, started by Bruce McVean and colleagues in a Holborn pub, and later taken over by Sustrans London. It took place last Wednesday at Look Mum, No Hands café. It was completely booked out, and I am sure a much larger venue could have been filled, such was the level of interest. Virtually everyone known for their interest in cycling in London was there, including Andrew Gilligan, the last commissioner, and another transport expert who many thought might get the Commissioner job, Christian Wolmar.