Thursday, 22 March 2018
In packed community room on a Friday night in Stratford upon Avon, local residents had gathered to discuss ways to re-invigorate cycle campaigning in the local area.
The meeting was convened by local Cycling UK member, Bob Bearman, who invited Cycling UK to come and bring some energy to the event and to begin brainstorming some ideas.
Addressing the audience, Tom Guha, Cycling UK’s Infrastructure Campaigner, raised Cycling UK’s draft motion as something the newly re-energised group could focus on. Listening were two local Councillors, Lib Dem Jenny Fradgley and Green Jonathan Chilvers, whose ears perked up. Within months, a motion was on the agenda at a Warwickshire full council meeting.
As tabled, the motion asked the cabinet to develop a costed three year plan for a network of safe, accessible and direct cycle routes.
Due to the political make-up of the council, getting the motion to pass would be a challenge. Parties tend to vote in blocs as instructed by their group leader and, between them, the Lib Dems and the Greens hold just nine of the fifty seven council seats.
The ruling party, with a comfortable majority of thirty six, is the Conservative Party, without whose support the motion would fall.
To apply some gentle pressure to sceptical Councillors, Cycling UK created a tool that enabled local residents to contact their Councillors and ask them to vote in favour of the motion. As a result, 420 emails were sent to Councillors, giving a clear message that cycling is important to local constituents and voters.
On the day, local residents continued to up the pressure by gathering outside the Shire Hall in a show of local support for cycling.
Behind the scenes, the minority group Councillors were carefully negotiating with their Tory counterparts for their support. Allies were scoped out. Debate about investing in cycling ensued. Questions were raised over the role of cycling in a large and predominantly rural authority.
The result was an amended motion, which asked the cabinet to review an upcoming report on cycling in the county and to consider which recommendations can be implemented within existing resources and which need to be considered as part of a budget refresh.
As passed, the motion could be open to criticism for lacking detail and allocating no funding. The strength of the motion though, is that the detail will be in the upcoming report, which, once finalised, the cabinet will consider how to fund.
Cllr Chilvers expressed delight when the motion passed, commenting, “For years the Council has taken a slapdash seat-of-your-pants approach to cycling infrastructure. Today’s successful motion means building safe off road cycle routes will now be taken seriously”.
There may be some passionate debate once the report is published but the important thing is that the debate happens, which this motion ensures. It has also sparked the conversation and will hopefully encourage continued constructive discussion.
As Cllr Fradgley points out, “What we wanted to do was get the council talking about cycling. In my four years on the council I can’t recall a specific debate about cycling. Today was very positive and I think it will now be very difficult for the council to turn down viable, costed proposals on cycling.”
Beyond the local debate, nationally this motion demonstrates the relevance of cycling to other large and rural councils. As Tom Guha points out, “There is a common misconception that cycling is only a viable transport option in urban areas. Yes, the urban areas in Warwickshire, such as Stratford upon Avon, are the low hanging fruit. But there is massive potential for more cycling in rural settings.
“With a little imagination, cycle routes can be linked up with the public transport system to make rural journeys more feasible. What’s more, children or people who can’t drive in rural areas are often reliant on their parents or a friend with a car to get around. Building safe and accessible cycle infrastructure can address this – and this motion takes Warwickshire one step in that direction.”