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Councillor fears cycling lobby interference in vote to make shopping street more cycle friendly

Many votes in Newcastle City Council ballot multiples or from outside area... but no indication how they swung ballot

Residents and businesspeople in Newcastle upon Tyne have raised queries about the behaviour of cycling lobbyists after allegations that votes were rigged in a consultation about the future of a busy road.

According to Claire Hawthorn of Jesmond Local, an interim report by Newcastle City Council on the future of Acorn Road showed that more people favoured a radically pedestrianised, cycle-friendly area than the alternatives of a slightly improved shopping street or changing nothing at all.

But North Jesmond ward councillor Gerry Keating and others have expressed concern that many of the votes counted were either from outside Jesmond or duplicate votes, leading to rumours that that the extra-district votes could have come from friends of cycling lobbyists who supported Option A.

Cllr Keating conducted a series of Freedom of Information requests to find out where the votes came from, and saw that some were from as far afield as Whitley Bay.

He told Jesmond Local: “In theory, anyone on the planet could have voted.”

Cllr Keating said that 58 of the 424 votes, more than one in every eight cast, were extra-district votes.  35 of the responses were multiple votes within one dwelling.

“When I was standing for election I said wouldn’t take a view and would accept the outcome unless there were any procedural irregularities and I’m sticking to that,” said Keating.

He said that the changes now likely to go through as a result of the vote could cause traders to move away or not set up shop in the newly pedestrianised area - fearing that trade would fall with fewer cars allowed into the street,

He added: “I think the cycling aspect is a complete red herring – any change will be neutral with regards to cyclists as they will have to navigate Osborne Road or St. George’s Terrace just to get there.”

The scheme, due to come in in January 2015, had been welcomed by Katja Leyendecker and Sally Watson of the Newcastle Cycling Campaign.

Katja Leyendecker had described Option 1 as a “step in the right direction,” but noted that in future, Newcastle Cycling Campaign “would like to see Acorn Road fully pedestrianised along its entire length from Osborne Road to St George’s Terrace”.

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