An Open Letter to Jesmond Councillors

Dear Councillor,

SPACE for Jesmond is an informal group of Jesmond residents trying to make our home a better, safer place for those who want a liveable neighbourhood and wish to travel sustainably on foot or by bicycle. Many of us have been part of the local reference group for “Streets for People” which is part of the UK Government’s “Cycle City Ambition” programme of funding. This reference group has been active for three years, and we have given many hours of our time to help shape the £1 million investment being made in Jesmond to enable walking and cycling.

The rationale behind this programme of investment is quite clear; as a society we must change the way we travel in order to reduce congestion, reduce inactivity, improve air quality and tackle climate change. Action must be taken at a local authority and ward level to effect this change – because local changes lead to national and global ones.

In November 2018, the reference group met in Northumbria University to view detailed plans from council engineers. We were rewarded with ambitious but achievable plans costed at a little over £1 million. SPACE for Jesmond agreed that the proposals would make a real difference to cycling and walking in Jesmond. On 10th November 2018, we wrote to the Community Engagement Officer at Newcastle City Council and said:

The officers have been ambitious and provided a cohesive set of schemes for the area, and we can see how these can be linked and expanded in the future. We feel they are a real step in the right direction for Jesmond, and strongly support the direction taken in the council’s plans. It is now up to the council to have the political will to see these designs, or designs which are similarly oriented, through to completion.”

The engagement officer emailed us on the 17th January 2019 with an update regarding Streets for People. In it, the shortlisted scheme list has been changed with several impactful designs completely removed and other schemes – previously ruled out by officers – replacing them on the list.

Objections:

We object to the current situation on the following grounds:

A) This decision to re-prioritise schemes has been made behind closed doors and has not involved the reference group, which it was supposed to.

The Streets for People briefing note, dated 07/01/2016, states:

“The Reference Group, with the advice and support of Technical Officers from the council, will work through the neighbourhood map and prioritise the findings”

We find this change to decision making – and lack of transparency – extremely concerning and not in keeping with the process specified by council officers, who assured us on numerous occasions that this would not happen and that this was going to be an exemplary bottom-up participatory exercise.

B) The schemes that would contribute most to cycling and walking have been removed.

A decision has been made to drop the proposed extension of Strategic Route 4 on Eslington Terrace onto Osborne road (via a modal filter on Haldane bridge). This was identified as being a key East-West route for cycling in the city during the process of developing the plans, enabling journeys into town and to Heaton and High Heaton. A decision also appears to have been made to drop improvements to Tankerville Terrace which would increase safety outside the schools and improve the streets cyclability. This is the second time that plans have been drawn up and community engagement conducted in relation to Tankerville Terrace and this is the second time that plans have been dropped without explanation.

These 2 schemes in particular are aligned with the “three stage journey” set out in the council’s “Newcastle, fit for cycling” funding bid:

  1. “Embedding cycling as a choice that people feel safe and able to make within their local areas”
  2. “Incorporating the route to work by improving the quality of strategic routes to Newcastle City Centre”

The bid also states:

“Jesmond…have been designated as potential community cycling areas. These are residential areas with established 20mph zones where rat-running, uncontrolled parking and lack of pedestrian and cycle priority for crossing make the streets feel unfriendly”

And in the initial funding application (2013) Cllr Joyce McCarty writes:

“We are ambitious. Our vision is to achieve a 12% cycle mode share for trip under 5 miles”

The de-prioritisation of these schemes is therefore not in line with the proposals submitted to the Department for Transport. They suggest that the council are anything but ambitious and do not intend to honour their original commitment to improving cycling provision in Jesmond.

C) This change does not appear to make full use of the £1 million assigned to Jesmond.

A promise was made to all three Streets for People areas that they would receive roughly (as close as possible) similar funding. The schemes proposed in November 2018 included cycle lanes on Osborne Road and Tankerville Terrace and were costed at a little over £1 million. These have not been replaced with schemes of equivalent value. We have been informed that the proposed schemes will only cost just over £500,000. Where is the rest of the funding?

Our Requests:

We request that the minutes of the meeting where this shortlist was changed are made public.

We would like to know:

  • Who has decided to cancel schemes which would support cycling?
  • On what basis did they cancel those schemes?
  • How can these changes be justified in light of the council’s own targets as set out in the funding application for Cycle City Ambition?

We believe that it is not in the public interest to withhold schemes on which a great deal of time and money has been spent. It is difficult to understand why councillors were happy for these schemes to be progressed to this point if they do not intend to follow through with them. Local councillors may feel that they have the best interests of residents at heart, however they are denying residents the opportunity to judge the plans for themselves.

We do not believe that the council’s of aim of 12% cycling mode share for journeys under 5 miles can possibly be met when the council itself is sabotaging that goal. It is time that the council stood by its commitments and delivered the changes needed to make Newcastle fit for cycling.

Yours Faithfully,

Ed Smith

On behalf of SPACE for Jesmond

Air Quality around West Jesmond Primary School – Autumn 2018

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