The requirement to consult
One of the problems that the DfT identified, regarding the Emergency Active Travel Fund measures first announced by Grant Shapps in May of last year, has been a perceived “lack of consultation”, partly as a result of complaints. This has resulted in stringent new consultation requirements that must be met for councils to get funding.
Consultation as a blocking/delaying tactic
Of course, as anyone who is old enough to have watched “Yes Minister” will know, inquiries and consultations are a standard way to block or delay anything that you don’t like, and we have certainly seen some of that across the country.
In Bolton, for example, a trial of cycleways on Chorley New Road has been halted, and a “consultation”, lasting just two weeks, is now underway on a part-finished, severely compromised scheme.
One of the claims, from a member of the Council Executive, no less, has been that there was no consultation, when in fact there was an extensive consultation carried out by the Council between May and July of last year. Indeed, it was that public consultation that led to the Chorley New Road scheme being chosen for the trial in the first place as the results showed that it was by far the most popular route for this treatment.
“Non-active travel” highways projects – no consultation.
In fact, highways projects happen all the time without consultation and nobody complains. Here are some examples from Bolton, though this is certainly not a Bolton-specific issue.
Over the last year, Bolton council has rebuilt two junctions along the ring road (A58), shown below
These rebuilds have provided no facilities whatsoever to enable people to cycle safely. The cynical painting of ASLs provides no protection, will not allay the fears of anyone scared of cycling amongst traffic, and does nothing to enable people to cycle safely. In fact, in the junction rebuild at Tonge Moor Road, a cycle lane (albeit a rather poor quality one) has actually been removed. It is hard to see what has been gained by the enormous expenditure of public funds at these junctions with absolutely no consultation whatsoever.
Another junction on the same stretch of road, between Crompton Way and Thicketford Road, has been modified and resurfaced in the last few months. It was at this junction that a young girl was hit by someone in a car whilst trying to cross the road in February of last year, leading to a petition being raised to have a pedestrian phase/crossing introduced at the junction. Again, there was no consultation on the works and the junction still has no facilities to enable people on foot to cross the road safely.
We are told that another extremely busy and dangerous junction in Astley Bridge, between Blackburn Road, Moss Bank Way, Crompton Way and Belmont Road, is to be modified, including removing part of a car park to enable an extra, short traffic lane to be built.
This junction is dominated by motor vehicles and is extremely hostile for people riding cycles and unpleasant for people on foot, as well as having very poor air quality.
Despite all of this, there has been no consultation on the project whatsoever, and I have even had to put in a freedom of information request just to find out what is actually planned. What I am absolutely certain about, even before the information comes through, is that there will still be no provision for people riding cycles here and it will still be unpleasant for walking. I’m also pretty sure that the change will make little or no difference to motor traffic congestion here.
Motor vehicle projects with active travel elements
Of course, we have had some projects here that we were not consulted on that do involve the creation of cycleways and pedestrian crossings. These include the cycleways currently under construction on Bridgeman Place and over the A666, the famous cyclops junction outside Bolton railway station,
another cyclops junction joining those two together on Manchester Road, and two-way cycle lanes along Newport Street and Trinity Street. So why has it not been felt necessary to hold a public consultation on any of these? Well, it’s notable that, for the most part, they don’t affect the motor traffic capacity; in fact they increase it slightly. This fact is apparent in the degree to which motoring is still prioritised, either in the space allocations or in the time allocations at traffic lights. As it happens, we did get the opportunity to comment on the Newport Street scheme, but only because some aspects of the project required that it go through the planning approval process and we spotted that; there was not actually a public consultation as such.
It has to be said that these projects are quite ambitious in the level of cycling infrastructure they provide, and the facilities for walking are relatively good as well, but there are issues that we would certainly have picked up if we had been able to comment as part of a consultation. Indeed, there is a serious safety concern that we have raised on the Bridgeman Place scheme, though it is too late to change that now.
It can surely be no accident that we are seeing some of the most stringent consultation requirements being put in place for schemes that involve improved provision for walking and particularly for cycling, in a way that seems not to be required for any other highways projects.
All of the evidence I set out above appears to point to two conclusions.
- public consultation is always required on schemes that improve things for walking and cycling unless they also increase the capacity for motor vehicles,
- schemes that increase the capacity for motor vehicles do not require any consultations even if they fail to provide for or are detrimental to walking and/or, most notably, cycling.
This is what I mean by the hyprocrisy of consultation. Its effect, either purposely or accidentally, is to weight the system heavily towards maintaining the status quo of motor vehicle dominance and extreme car dependence, and to block or delay any developments that improve the ability of people to escape that dependence on cars and adopt more healthy travel choices.