Bristol City Council has been accused by people opposed to plans for a cycle route through the city’s Victoria Park of attempting to rig the process, by helping to distribute leaflets supporting the scheme – even though it will be its own planning committee deciding whether the scheme goes ahead.
The route, for which planning permission is being sought by the council's transport department, forms part of the Filwood Quietway running from Filwood to the city centre, and follows Bristol's successful bid for second-wave Cycle City Ambition funding for the period 2015-18.
But some people living around the park and who are opposing the plans through the Victoria Park Action Group (VPAG) claim that the council is seeking to distort the results of a consultation in favour of those who support it, reports the Bristol Post.
They maintain that leaflets outlining the benefits of the plans to people on bikes have been distributed not just locally but in other parts of the city, such as at Bristol Temple Meads station – although that wouldn’t seem particularly unusual for a route aimed at commuters.
The 5,000 leaflets were distributed in the days before the consultation closed by cycling campaign groups and, it is claimed, by a council officer who handed them only to people riding bikes.
VPAG says that shows the council is biased in favour of the scheme and will not listen to concerns from residents who are worried about issues including the width of paths and cyclists riding too fast through the park, which is also used by parents taken their children to and from a local primary school.
The group’s spokesman Andrew Campbell told the Bristol Post that he believes the council mounted a last-minute effort to gain support due to the success of VPAG’s own campaign against the plans.
"We know that council officers have been working together with Bristol Cycling Campaign to promote the scheme to cyclists across the city in an attempt to boost support,” he said.
"Since thousands of these leaflets have been distributed around the city - some in the local area, some at Temple Meads where they were stuck on bikes or handed to cyclists with encouragement to support the plans - it has resulted in a spike of support on the planning website from all over the city.”
The group has also publicised a map created by independent data analyst Chris Wallace which aims to show the locations of people in favour or opposed to the scheme, presumably based on postcode of residence appearing on the planning application.
Those backing the infrastructure tend to be further away from the park – hardly surprising, one might think, for a scheme aimed at commuting cyclists – while those opposed are largely clustered around it.
Bristol City Council said that the leaflets were produced by its transport department and were handed out by “people both inside and outside cycling groups, including a local councillor."
A council spokesman denied there was a conflict of interest and stressed that in cases where its planning committee was evaluating an application made by another part of the local authority, it was important to ensure there was full transparency.
He said: "Applicants do not need to seek permission to produce or distribute leaflets regarding their proposed development and it is appropriate for applicants to promote their scheme to give the community an opportunity to comment.
"However, extra consideration needs to be taken in cases like this where we have a dual role in applying and deciding on an application, in order to provide absolute clarity on the process.
"That is why the decision on this application will be taken by one of the council's Development Control Committees,” the spokesman added.
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.