Why is building cycle paths so hard? Why does it take so long? Is it the councils? Money? Lack of will? Too much regulation?
After 9 years of Cycle Hayling, we’re finally building our own cycle path at Denhill Close (with council money), and we’re finding out the problems for ourselves.
So who is responsible for building cycle paths? Everyone, and no-one. And that’s the problem.
Havant Brough Council (HBC)
is the local lead player, because it has the local knowledge, the contacts, and the expertise, and has been delegated the task by Hampshire County Council (HCC).
Hampshire County Council (HCC)
retains project and financial control. Every project has to work through the HCC gateway process, which is incredibly time-consuming and expensive. Because that’s designed for big projects, HCC insists on batching smaller projects to get economies of scale, but that makes each project bigger and more cumbersome, so the inevitable delay to one project delays them all. So weeks become months, and months become years. HBC is as frustrated with this micromanagement as we are.
need to approve anything near their roads. Highways England manage the trunk network, including the A27 and the Havant roundabout, and they want bikes as far away from their roads as possible.
Hampshire Highways manage the smaller roads, including Hayling’s A3023, and again, they’re flat out trying to keep traffic flowing, so bikes are low priority, and even lower in the queue for money.
Public Rights of Way
are where most of Hayling’s potential cycleways run, including our planned Denhill Close cycle path. Rights of Way are managed by HCC Countryside Services (HCS). The clue’s in the name, they promote ‘countryside’, so they insist on ‘natural’ (i.e. rough) surfaces, even when the landowner doesn’t. HCS policy is that any ‘sealed’ surfaces must be handed over to Hampshire Highways (HH), but HH is refusing to accept any new ones, on budget grounds.
At Denhill, we’ve finally convinced HCS to accept that rough surfaces don’t work for cyclists, or pushchairs, or for the disabled, and to allow tar and chip, like the Langstone Billy Trail, but it’s taken a year. That will set our standard for all new cycle paths,
is playing an ever bigger role (rightly so, with climate change, etc). That’s why the Hayling Park cycle path widening was delayed for two years, because the council tree officers wouldn’t permit hard surfaces over tree roots, and HCC don’t allow flexible surfaces. It’s finally scheduled for 2020.
And why the Northney road shore path is on permanent hold, putting people at serious risk walking on a dangerous road at night with no street lights. And even if Natural England do eventually permit it, it will only be wide enough for a footpath not a cycleway, and not high enough to stop the regular road flooding that will only increase with climate change and sea level rise. Considering the widespread environmental abuse elsewhere, it’s difficult to see that we’ve got the right balance yet.
is needed for any new cycle path, of course, which is a big ask, with land so scarce and so valuable. Cycle Hayling has found some Hayling landowners to be brilliant, some less so.
It’s worse if the land has prospects for future development, as cycle paths might reduce the number of houses that could be built, and therefore the value. Planning permission gives councils some leverage to push for cycle paths, but it’s limited. If no other solution can be found, councils do have powers of compulsory purchase, but they’re almost never used.
is needed to create a cycle path, unless you can persuade the council that it falls under their very limited ‘permitted development’ powers. That’s what we’ve managed to do at Denhill Close.
need to be signed for landowner permission, new rights of way, and for contractors to be allowed to work, which all take time and money.
Regulations around cycle paths
are set by the Department of Transport (DfT), but they were already out of date 20 years ago. Big cities like London and Manchester have rejected them, and developed their own, based on world class experience from Holland and Germany, but Havant are still obliged to follow them. For example, they force cyclists to stop at every minor entrance, instead of having the same priority as the road they’re next to.
And finally, it all comes down to money!
Cycle infrastructure is incredibly cheap beside every other form of transport, and provides a massive return on investment. But there is no transport budget to pay for it.
Just about the only funding available locally is CIL, or Community Infrastructure Levy, which is a levy on all new developments over about 10 houses. However, most of the nearly £half million from the Bellway ‘Halyards’ development will be consumed by two minor road improvements, with minimal benefit to cars or pedestrians, and none to cycling. That half million could have paid for Haylink, our proposed traffic-free cycle path from the Lidl roundabout to the bridge
This sounds like a ‘council of despair’
I find all this incredibly frustrating, as I’m sure you must do. But we can fix it.
- Backup their Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy with a mandatory percentage of the transport budget, and clear national and local responsibilities for delivering it.
- Update and simplify the Highway Code, road traffic laws and cycle infrastructure regulations to promote cycling and make cyclists feel safer.
- In most of Europe, cyclists have to be given minimum passing distances by law, vehicles in cycle accidents are assumed to be at fault unless they can show otherwise, and cycle paths get the same priority as cars at junctions and roundabouts.
- We need an ambitious plan for cycling across the whole region, and with Havant’s proposed LCWIP (Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan).
- Hampshire needs to coordinate, not micro-manage, and let Havant get on with the job.
- Havant must determine the cycle paths we need, and then use all its powers to build them. As a bare minimum, we need Haylink, a direct, traffic-free, all-weather route to the bridge.
- Until the DfT updates it’s obsolete infrastructure guidance, Havant must demand to be allowed to follow the modern cycling design standards used in London and the big cities.
So I hope you can see that we’re not dealing with a single entity, “The Council”, that just blocks everything, but a complex set of fiefdoms and constraints, in permanent conflict with each other. Often, it’s a lot easier for any of them to say “No” than to get all parties to say “Yes”.
BUT! There is huge goodwill amongst councillors and council officers, in Havant and Hampshire. We need to keep lobbying them to ‘do the right thing’, and build Hayling a cycle infrastructure for the future, for active travel and for a greener planet.