Clean Air Day Protest: Open Letter

Make Space for Cycling protest outside minster to make

This article was updated on the 2nd August 2021 to include a response recieved from the council. Jump to the response.

The following letter is being sent to York City Council:

We are writing to ask you why there has been so little progress on the Emergency Active Travel Fund Schemes in York? It is now nearly a year since the council was awarded over £850,000 of Government funding for active travel schemes in York and yet very few of the proposed schemes are in place. In particular we are greatly concerned by your failure to install safe segregated cycle infrastructure along Shipton Road and Bootham. We understand that detailed designs have been drawn up and that the main hurdle preventing the segregated cycle lanes from being installed is the reluctance of council transport engineers to sign off the design.

We have been informed that the reasons given for not signing off the design are minor and appear to be based on poorly researched and biased media reports. In addition officers appear to believe that the wands used for segregating the cycle path require additional road space (a misinterpretation of the Government guidance which the cycle campaign have shown to be false). 

Segregated cycle infrastructure along Bootham and Shipton Road would be transformational for the people of York, giving them real choice in how they travel, whilst significantly helping to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution. Last summer over 3900 people signed York Cycle Campaign’s petition, asking the council to ‘make room for walking and cycling’. People in York want to cycle but for many this isn’t an option because it doesn’t feel safe. It is simply not acceptable that schemes such as this are prevented because of the prejudiced and car-centric opinions held by some members of the council’s transport team.

As you will be well aware there is a risk that the active travel funding will have to be returned to the Government if the council fails to install schemes that comply with Government guidance, and within the required timeframe (by March 2022). It would be unforgivable to let this funding go to waste, and to deny the people of York the many benefits that the active travel schemes will bring. 

Today, on the eve of Clean Air Day, we ask that the highways and transport team in York are given additional training from an independent source, to help them get up to speed on the new active travel guidance to ensure that the remaining active travel schemes can be implemented without delay. Transport officers from Bristol Council recently received active travel training from Brian Deegan from Urban Movement, helping them to implement higher quality active travel schemes. In addition we ask that a fresh pair of eyes is assigned to the Bootham and Shipton Road project, ensuring that it is implemented swiftly and safely. Creating a safe connected cycle network for York will reduce car-dependency and is accompanied by many co-benefits, including reduced traffic congestion, improved health, enhanced air quality and an attractive and thriving city.

We look forward to your response, and as always remain willing to work constructively with the council to improve York’s active travel offer. 

Kind Regards

York Cycle Campaign committee 


Response

The following response to our letter was recieved from Neil Ferris, the Corporate of Director of Place at the council.

Dear York Cycle Campaign,

Many thanks for your e-mail expressing concern at the length of time it is taking to deliver the Active Travel Fund (ATF) schemes in York.  I appreciate the concern you have and your desire to see things introduced as soon as possible – and also your frustration at the rate of progress thus far.

First of all, however, there are a couple of things in your e-mail which I would like to correct.  I am sure you include them in good faith, but they are misapprehensions which are critical to the discussion of timescales.  These are:

–       The guidance issued by the DfT said they would like local authorities to deliver schemes by 31st March 2022 “if at all possible” but that later delivery is acceptable to DfT without loss of funds if this is flagged up in the quarterly returns authorities have to make to DfT about ATF – as such, we do not share your view that funding will have to be returned to the DfT if schemes are not delivered by 31/03/2022, provided this is flagged with DfT and there is clear evidence of progress in the shape of designs and consultations.  This information can be seen in Annex E2 of the grant award letter (attached);

–       Local authorities were notified of their funding allocations on 20th November – less than 7 months before your e-mail, not the “nearly a year” you suggest, and CYC’s own match funding contributions to schemes, which allowed detailed planning/staff recruitment to start, were confirmed at budget Council on 25th February 2021, which is only 16 weeks before your letter date.  As such, it is simply not the case that we have had the funds for nearly a year.

Notwithstanding the process for approving budgets we have looked to move forward with the schemes since November, although the progress has been checked by a newly recruited staff member giving back word in April.  However, from mid-June having worked notice with their previous employers we have had two dedicated project managers to take ATF projects forward.  We have been pleased to be able to attract them to York and appoint them at a time when staff with their skills are in particularly high demand and short supply because of the increase DfT funding across the country. Their appointment demonstrates our commitment to deliver the schemes and, more generally, invest long term in developing active mode design skills in York.  You will also be aware that we appointed a new Active Mode Planner in May who will be responsible for smaller schemes and maintenance schemes on the walk/ cycle network.

There has also been significant design progress with the schemes, which has been led by our framework consultants who have capacity to develop multiple schemes in tandem, with the intention that we move to consulting on several of the schemes after the school summer holidays, with the Bootham scheme being part of this.  You also asked specifically about cycle design training.  This is something we do routinely – with our new Active Mode Planner receiving the PTRC training in cycle facility design in May.  We have also taken advantage of the DfT’s offer for cycle design training and will be sending 12 members of staff on their course in September.

Many thanks for your offer to work constructively with CYC on developing schemes as the Council and DfT are clear we need to engage with the whole community on these schemes.  We have, of course, been advised recently of the bidding guidance for the second round of ATF and will be engaging with yourselves and other key stakeholders around our bid before it is submitted in August.

Yours sincerely,

Neil

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