By Peter Doveston - Northants Streets Campaign
In 2020 the then Northamptonshire County Council received £351,000 from the Department of Transport's Active Travel fund. According to the council's website the purpose of which was to 'encourage walking and cycling'. Sadly, what followed was a litany of half-baked and ill- considered measures, inspired by minimal public consultation and that offered little by way of encouragement. The poorly positioned bicycle racks that littered Northampton and the surrounding areas, as well as the Rushmere Road cycle wand fiasco, stand out as examples.
This funding, however, was only Tranche 1. A second tranche of funding was secured to the tune of £1.332 million specifically for the purposes of upgrading the cycling infrastructure on the Billing Road. The existing cycle lanes, narrow even at peak condition, have now almost ceased to exist and are in need of urgent repair. To this day a spade is yet to touch the earth. What's going on? The original plan was to make the road one way with a 2-way cycle track being created in the space made available. A successful local campaign that garnered over 1000 petition signatures scuppered even a consultation of the plan despite its merits. Whether for or against the original idea, this still leaves £1.332 million of public money hanging in the ether with the prerequisite that it be spent on Active Travel.
The petition has left a bad taste in Councillors mouths. The question was raised at a Place Scrutiny Committee as to why the consultation for the original scheme was ended before completion. The responses ranged from the observation that attention has shifted away from the scheme to the idea that the scheme was off the radar. The important thing to remember here is that if legitimate grievances are raised with regard to schemes, time should still be allowed for equally legitimate counter arguments to be made. Consultations should be completed.
The important thing to remember here is that if legitimate grievances are raised with regard to schemes, time should still be allowed for equally legitimate counter arguments to be made. Consultations should be completed.
It does not bode well for the future. Active Travel England have made it clear that future funding will depend upon the proper consultation of schemes. With Northampton aiming for city status, perhaps Councillors should take a look up the M6 to Coventry and the Binley Cycleway as an example of how to take Active Travel seriously. To emphasise this lack of urgency, a Freedom of Information request submitted by Living Streets Northampton on 5th January 2022 confirmed that there was no scheduled date for a new consultation on the Billing Road corridor. Plans to spend some of Tranche 2 on the Billing and Rushmere Road junction were also up in the air with no confirmation given as to how much of the funding will be spent nor whether the results would adhere to LTN1/20 guidelines on cycling infrastructure. 'We expect the junction improvements to meet these guidelines' is the closest the answers come to commitment.
How can CA-WN readers help? Write to your Councillor, whomever it may be, and ask what the plan is for Active Travel on the Billing Road in Northampton Town. The state of local politics is such that the unspoken will often be swept under the carpet. We need to make sure we pick the rug up and give it a darn good shake every now and again.