The Department for Transport awarded money for walking and cycling from its Capability Fund on Friday, after almost two months of delays. In this article, we discuss how Portsmouth City Council has missed out on their share of this funding after failing to follow the DfT’s instructions to deliver meaningful cycle infrastructure in 2021
Highway Authorities around the country were successful with bids to develop, design and engage on new cycling schemes and to run campaigns, training and support people need to help to give cycling a go. Cycle traffic rocketed by 46% last year showing just how much of a difference traffic free routes make for people’s willingness to cycle.
Southampton and Hampshire both got over £320k - a fair amount for early design stage work. But Portsmouth, well Portsmouth is on the naughty step. It seems the DfT’s threat to withdraw funding when authorities weren’t capable of doing things properly was not all smoke, as several authorities have been asked for “further clarification” on their plans. And so, the DfT has written to PCC to tell them they must do better if they’re to get any funding.
West Sussex was barred from applying in this round after it removed its temporary covid cycle lanes within six months. With that in mind, and the mere three week trial of the Elm Grove scheme, it’s not hard to guess why Portsmouth might be in the same position. Of note, it was not just Lib Dem and Labour authorities that lost out. Even the authority where the Prime Minister himself is MP has been told to pull its socks up.
Whilst Portsmouth City Council did install some good schemes over the last year, including several modal filters in Southsea, they u-turned on several other schemes that could have had a much bigger, and longer lasting impact. A protected cycle route on Eastern Road was agreed, and then scrapped, in less time than it took us to write our press statement to celebrate its introduction; the seafront which was blissfully closed to motor traffic for a few months was reopened to cars after local residents complained of offset traffic; and Elm Grove, which was promised to be a six week trial, was delayed, started in lockdown, in November, and was pulled out after only three weeks.
The Capability Fund application was the opportunity to speed up the creation of safe, comfortable, convenient and accessible cycle network. It would provide money to develop ‘shovel ready’ schemes compliant with the 2020 update to design guidance for when the larger capital funding grants became available. PCC has missed out, and this in turn calls into question the ability to deliver on the schemes under its new Local Transport Plan.
Along with the funding (or not) announcement on Friday, the DfT also brought in some new traffic management guidance telling authorities they must trial things for longer, allowing them time to bed in whilst objective evidence, such as traffic counts, and levels of walking and cycling are collected. They have reiterated that authorities must provide protection, and not just paint, to help everyone feel safe and comfortable to cycle. They also said that there should be a “presumption in favour of keeping schemes” unless there is “substantial evidence” to the contrary. We hope this bodes well for the modal filters on Castle Road, Somers Road/Canal Walk, Guildhall Walk and Palmerston Road South, where consultations have just closed.
Perhaps most importantly, the DfT has told authorities that consultation is not a referendum - that all evidence should be objectively balanced against the aims of the scheme, and not ditched because a vocal, but unrepresentative minority, doesn’t like it. They have backed this up by releasing a review of the last yearwhich shows, yet again, that the majority of people want better walking and cycling infrastructure, even when it means taking space from cars.
In the decade to 2020, road traffic in urban areas grew by a quarter, and on side streets by a third. It is forecast to rise even more in the next decade. So even those absolutely essential car journeys (of which there are few) will be completely static as traffic brings the city to a final grinding halt. The status quo is not an option. We need fewer cars.
PCF hopes that PCC does resolve their issues with the DfT, and get money to bring cycle schemes forward, we all want that. But we hope that the leadership has learnt that they have to do it properly, invest in their own capability (perhaps some more staff?), and be a whole lot bolder if they’re going to get any funding.
For three years we have been supportive of the active travel aims of the council. We have made suggestions for possible schemes and given our opinion on those being developed. But the council remains as far from its 2030 net zero and climate emergency targets as it ever was.