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“Childish antics” – Tory county council leader’s view of calls for safe cycling and walking space during pandemic

Geoff Driver, who heads Lancashire County County Council, also sent blank replies to emails sent to him by public under Cycling UK's call for action...

As Prime Minister Boris Johnson heralds "a new Golden Age for cycling," road.cc has learnt that the Tory leader of Lancashire County Council has described emails sent to him calling for safe cycling and walking space during the COVID-19 pandemic as “childish antics” – and replied to each himself with a blank email of his own.

> Prime Minister heralds “new Golden Age for cycling” – starting as soon as Sunday?

The emails had originally been sent to Green Party Councillor Gina Dowding by some of her constituents in the Central Lancaster ward.

The senders of the emails used the standard letter Cycling UK has drawn up and shared on its website to send to local councillors calling for road space to be reallocated to people on foot and on bike to aid with social distancing and provide protection.

Councillor Dowding, a former MEP for North West England, collated the responses and sent them to Councillor Geoff Driver, the leader of the Conservative-controlled county council, who also chairs the LEP Transport for Lancashire Committee.

One of the original senders of an email to Councillor Dowding told road.cc that she, and others who had sent similar emails, simply received a blank email from the leader of the council in response.

When Councillor Dowding raised the issue with Councillor Driver, asking him what he meant by the blank replies, she was told, in an email seen by road.cc: “It means I’m far too busy dealing with the effects of COVID-19 to respond to the childish antics of the people who have sent me going on 50 almost identical e-mails on this subject.

“If you know any of them, please pass that message on and tell them that their e-mails, like yours, have been dispatched to the bin.”

Transport secretary Grant Shapps is expected this week to announce funding to local authorities in England to enable them to install pop-up cycle lanes, with the government keen to encourage cycling to work to ease pressure on public transport as lockdown measures start to be loosened.

> Getting people riding to work key part of government's post-lockdown plan, says transport secretary

A number of councils across the country have already started reallocating roadspace away from motor vehicles and towards cyclists and pedestrians, with Leicester for example introducing temporary cycle lanes and a number of London boroughs closing streets to rat-running vehicles.

Some of those initiatives have been implemented after campaigners called for action to be taken, including Cycling UK through its appeal to people to write to their councillors.

> Video: MP calls on cycling minister to implement temporary segregated cycle lanes 

The charity’s head of campaigns, Duncan Dollimore, told road.cc: “Cycling UK wrote to council leaders 10 days ago about the urgent need to create safe space for people to walk and cycle, enabling then to socially distance both now and as restrictions are eased.

“To date, we’ve received no response from Lancashire County Council, whilst elsewhere many local authorities have either started to take action or at least begun a conversation about what they could done and where.

“We were conscious when we launched this campaign that local authorities have much to deal with currently, which is why this campaign is about people, and simple, quick ways to ensure they can move around safely as we return to the new normal post COVID.”

He added: “If this isn’t something of concern to the leader of the council, and he has a better, safer, more cost effective plan to get people moving safely as we come out of this crisis and beyond, we invite him to share it with us and any of the voters who asked a legitimate question and deserved more than a blank piece of paper in response.”  

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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