Cycle campaigners in Newcastle-upon-Tyne have warned that millions of pounds awarded to the city council by the Department for Transport (DfT) under its Cycle City Ambition scheme risks going unspent. However a spokeman for Newcastle City Council says they remain confident no funding will be lost.
In August last year, the DfT confirmed that Newcastle City Council would receive £5.7 million under the scheme, to be supplemented by local match funding of £6 million. The government funding is valid till next March, the end of the 2014/15 financial year.
The council’s Newcastle Fit For Cycling bid included a network of seven major cycle routes across the city as well as an Active Travel Centre incorporating a bike maintenance workshop and cycle parking, with the aim of 12 per cent of all journeys of under five miles in the city being carried out by bike.
But local cycle campaign group Newcycling, which in 2010 delivered a petition to the council calling for safe cycling routes throughout the city, says that after conducting an assessment of how its plans are progressing, it has discovered that a number of projects are running more than a year late, and some have not been started at all.
Its chair, Katja Leyendecker said: "We want Newcastle's excellent and ambitious policies of a better fairer city to be implemented, better sooner than later.
“So it’s sad to note that four years on from the petition being handed to council in 2010 the sweeping road changes that were promised to improve cycling safety have not been done.
“The money is there. It is our assessment however, that millions of pounds will be left unspent and will be lost, as could be Newcastle’s reputation as a city, because projects are stuck in planning stage or not even started yet.”
Members of the group have attended fortnightly Technical Advisory Group meetings as well as bi-monthly stakeholder meetings, which has enabled Newcycling to summarise the current state of play in this progress assessment.
"We looked at the available figures and plans and found that the City Ambition programme is massively behind its original schedule; some projects are more than a year late,” said Leyendecker.
“I believe the council is kidding itself to think they will deliver this by the deadline next year.
“We ask the programme board – who seem oblivious to all this – to outline just how the programme will be delivered and what projects, and when. We’d welcome to give evidence to the board.”
She urged the council to take action, and also to be more transparent about progress being made, saying: “Hopefully we can avert the biggest heartaches and ridicule. We estimate that £1m is currently put at risk — that's a quarter of the cycleway construction budget — with more to follow quickly, as time marches on.
“City centre cycle plans and Welbeck Road’s cycle lanes have been shelved so it seems, and it's not clear what's replacing them. Engagement is abysmal — information doesn’t flow, even just finding simple numbers is hard.
"One year into the programme, at half-way point, and Newcastle seems lost. We need successes, on the ground, not more feasibility studies and convoluted red-tape processes,” she concluded.
In a statement responding to the criticism from Newcycling a Newcastle City Council spokesman said: “The Cycle City Ambition Fund is a challenging programme but nonetheless is progressing well in Newcastle. The cycling groups are well aware of this through our ongoing and constant engagement with them.
“We have always maintained that we would not be successful working on our own and greatly value the co-operation and expertise of the Newcastle Cycling Campaign.
“We are just at the start of an ambitious cycling strategy spanning 10 years and are confident that this will be delivered in line with other cycling cities and to the standards set by the Department for Transport.”
On Newcycling's specific fears over the potential loss of Government funding for cycling infrastructure projects in the city through planning delays the council spokesman told road.cc that there was no indication that the Department for Transport would claw back any of the money they approved for Newcastle in March 2013. He also expressed confidence that the council was making good progress towards delivery on what he described as some "very complicated and innovative schemes" and would be "there or thereabouts" by March 2015.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.