The council that has banned cyclists from meeting at the Velolife café near Henley-on-Thames has posted to Twitter a copy of a letter attempting to justify its actions, provoking an outpouring of support for the business by users of the social network – including its own leader.
The letter from the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead (RBWM) was signed by the council’s managing director, Duncan Sharkey.
Its intended audience was local cycling clubs, which the council had previously written to on 30 July in a letter that threatened them with legal action if they allowed group rides to start, finish or take a break at the café, which occupies the premises of a former pub in a small hamlet called Warren Row.
As previously reported on road.cc, Velolife has been at the centre of a planning dispute dating back to 2017, the year after Lee Goodwin took over the premises formerly occupied by a struggling pub called The Snooty Fox that had closed 18 months earlier.
In 2017, after a complaint from a nearby resident, Goodwin received an enforcement notice ordering him to cease using the premises as a café, meeting place, cycle repair facility and for retail use.
He appealed, and was permitted to carry on using the location as a café with a bike workshop, but not for retail nor as a “cyclists’ meet.”
Last week, the café received an injunction ordering Goodwin to stop cyclists from meeting at the café. The council also wrote to cycling clubs in the area, and in its latest letter – the one also published on Twitter – it said:
RE: Use of Velolife Café
Further to our letter dated 30 July 2019 we wanted to offer clarity on the use of Velolife Café, Warren Row by cyclists and cycle groups.
Over the last two years a number of complaints have been made to the Royal Borough about large volumes of cyclists arriving at the café which can cause a nuisance to nearby residents.
Following these complaints, we have worked to try and resolve these issues between the café owner, cyclists and cycle clubs and nearby residents to ensure everyone can enjoy their leisure time and this venue.
As part of this process we wrote to you to explain some of the actions we have taken to reduce the impact of these large scale ‘cycle meets’ on the nearby residents. However, it has become apparent that some of the content of that letter was not as clear as it should have been. We hope that this letter outlines how cyclists can use the café while respecting the rights of residents.
Cyclists are welcome to use the facilities at the café but must not arrange organised meets that start, end or stop off at the café. This is to prevent large numbers of cyclists congregating outside the café and causing a nuisance to residents. By stopping organised meets we can ensure that residents are able to enjoy their home peacefully without preventing cyclists in the area from enjoying the facilities the café has to offer.
I would like to apologise for the suggestion we might take enforcement action against your club. I can confirm that that is not our intention. If the situation doesn’t improve, we would have to take action against the operator of the site. That of course could possibly threaten the future of the café, which none of us wish to see. We hope that we can achieve voluntary compliance from the site operator.
Hopefully this helps explain our position and puts into context how we have come to this decision. We hope that with your support and that of the café we can resolve these issues easily and quickly. As a local authority we pride ourselves on supporting independent businesses, as well as creating a cycle-friendly borough. However, this must not come at the expense of other residents and we always seek to strike a balance between the two.
It’s not clear why the council decided to publish the letter on Twitter, but it has received hundreds of replies criticising its actions, including from the broadcaster Jeremy Vine, who wrote, “I'd be shocked if any council has the right to do this,” and the barrister Martin Porter QC.
This is a very silly letter. How are nearby residents impacted by cyclists meeting at a cafe? How noisy are they? https://t.co/Hfiibugfhj
— Martin Porter QC (@MartinPorter6) August 7, 2019
Perhaps the most unlikely reply expressing support from the café came from Simon Dudley – who just happens to be the leader of the Conservative-controlled council.
— Simon Dudley (@MrSimonDudley) August 7, 2019
As far as the complaints about the alleged disturbance caused by cyclists are concerned, it iss believed that they originate from one person who was previously the licensee of The Snooty Fox and who still lives next to the premises.
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.