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Grant Shapps backtracks on cycling and walking pledge

“No one should be in doubt about our support for motorists” says transport secretary

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has backtracked on the pledge he made in May to make roads safer for people on bike and on foot by providing £225 million in emergency active travel funding to councils across England, claiming that “far too many” temporary cycle lanes are being left “unused” causing motor traffic to be “backed up.”

The emergency funding was supposed to encourage people returning to their jobs following lockdown to walk or cycle to their workplaces due to reduced capacity on public transport, while avoiding the traffic congestion that would ensue if those with access to a car switched to driving instead.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that the Conservative minister wrote to council leaders on Friday saying that he was “not prepared to tolerate” poorly designed facilities, and that “No one should be in doubt about our support for motorists.”

Despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson promising the dawn of a “new golden age for cycling” earlier this year, a number of temporary bike lanes in locations including South Gloucestershire and Redhill were removed within days of being installed following complaints from some local residents and businesses.

And as we reported earlier this week, Cyclehoop Car Bike Ports, capable of providing parking for 10 bicycles in the space taken up by one car and ordered by Lincolnshire County Council, have been removed from some towns in Lincolnshire after objections were raised, including by local councils.

At the same time, there has been a concerted campaign against low traffic neighbourhoods aimed at removing rat-running drivers from residential areas, including planters used to block access to roads being moved or even vandalised, with a number of such instances recorded in boroughs across London.

Critics of LTNs have claimed, among other things, that they block residents from accessing their homes – not true, since they are designed to curb through traffic – and that they have led to increased congestion, ignoring the fact that motor traffic levels are higher now than they were before lockdown started.

In his letter, Shapps threatened to give “considerably less” money in the second wave of emergency active travel funding to councils that did not consult properly on their proposed schemes.

He wrote: “I saw or heard from the public and parliamentary colleagues about far too many instances where temporary cycle lanes were unused due to their location and design, while their creation left traffic backed up alongside them; of wide pavements causing unnecessary congestion in town centres; and other issues that many have, rightly, reacted angrily to.”

He continued: “We all want to see the benefits that active travel brings to be realised, but poorly implemented schemes will make no friends for the policy or more broadly for active travel.

“Schemes must balance the needs of cyclists and pedestrians with the needs of other road users, including motorists and local businesses.

“I want to be absolutely clear,” he added. “We are not prepared to tolerate hastily introduced schemes, which will create sweeping changes to communities, without consultation, and ones where the benefits to cycling and walking do not outweigh the dis-benefits for other road users.”

Meanwhile, there is still no word on when further Fix Your Bike vouchers will be available to the public.

In May, Shapps announced that 500,000 vouchers worth £50 each would be made available to people in England to enable them to get neglected bikes – and themselves – back on the road.

There was a lot of interest in the scheme even before the first wave of 50,000 vouchers were released but those are all that have been made available to date.

Many bike shops and retailers participating in the scheme have spoken of significant delays in being reimbursed for the vouchers, if they have been paid at all, and that there regular servicing and repair workload has been delayed while people wait for the next batch of vouchers to be released.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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