Horsham Cycle Debate – full report

A crowd of over 40 members of the public packed into County Hall North to hear candidates in the upcoming county elections discuss how Horsham can achieve a step change in cycling and become a truly cycle-friendly District.

There was cross-party agreement that councillors must put cycle infrastructure higher up the agenda and that the key issue is the lack of political will, rather than a shortage of funding or technical expertise.

The debate was chaired by Rosemary French, Chief Executive of the Gatwick Diamond Initiative, and the panel consisted of:

  • Andrew Baldwin (Con, Horsham East)
  • Frances Haigh (Lib Dem, Horsham East)
  • David Hide (Lab, Horsham Riverside)
  • Peter Shaw (Green, Southwater & Nuthurst)
  • James Smith (Something New, Holbrook)

Other candidates in the audience were Ray Butler (UKIP, St Leonards Forest), Peter Catchpole (Con, Holbrook), Jim Duggan (Peace Party, Horsham Riverside), Carol Hayton (Lab, Horsham Hurst) and Kevin O’Sullivan (Lab, Southwater & Nuthurst).

Horsham Cycle Debate – the panellists

Forum chair Ruth Fletcher gave a brief presentation on the measures to achieve safe Space for Cycling:

  • Plan – Plan a full network of cycle-friendly routes that allow people of all ages and abilities to cycle anywhere for any purpose
  • Invest – Actively seek the funding to implement the network and invest a minimum of 5-10% of the local transport budget in cycling
  • Build – Build the network using the most up-to-date high quality design standards

 

All of the candidates were sent a copy of the Space for Cycling Guide for Decision Makers.

Implementing the Cycling Strategy

Q: If elected, will you ensure that WSCC liaises with Horsham District Council to implement the objectives of the West Sussex Cycling Strategy?

Frances Haigh supported HDC developing a Supplementary Planning Document which incorporates WSCC’s Walking and Cycling Strategy. She said that making it easier to cycle will help people to exercise more and combat our soaring rates of obesity and diabetes.

Andrew Baldwin said that we definitely need to take cycling more seriously and that HDC has to incorporate the WSCC Strategy into its thinking.

James Smith: If we don’t have a Cycling Officer and councillors aren’t cycling themselves, they’re not going to engage. He argued for a “much more integrated transport policy” which includes cycling.

Peter Shaw: We need to be “brave and resolute” in the planning process and push the developers to include cycle infrastructure in new housing schemes.

The effect of new developments

An audience member asked: “If we do nothing to improve conditions for cycling all the new development means we will have a ‘moving ring of steel’ round Horsham. What is your vision of the future if we do nothing [versus providing for cycling]?”

Andrew Baldwin said he wants to see more cycle lanes in Horsham.

James Smith spoke of the need to plan an integrated transport system.

Peter Shaw said we need better planning and better standards: developments need to be considered and sustainable.

Frances Haigh said if we do nothing the ‘ring of steel’ will be polluting, like it is in China: “We should aim for more walking, cycling and public transport.”

David Hide said we should oppose the north of Horsham development on the grounds of lack of infrastructure: “I like the Dutch and Danish models where those without cars can cycle and use public transport.”

Andrew Baldwin also stressed that he will be voting against the north of Horsham development.

Quizzing the election candidates

Local issues such as the Downs Link/strengthening the Strategy

Q: If elected, will you ensure that long-standing issues such as the Missing Link on the A264 crossing, opening up cycle contraflows in Horsham town centre and a proper all-weather surface on the Downs Link are given priority?

Peter Shaw thought the WSCC Strategy needs to be more specific and have “smart” objectives. It should be approached like a business plan. There is expertise outside WSCC, such as from the cycle forums and the South Downs National Park which should be engaged on a formal basis: “We mustn’t view cycling as a cost but as an opportunity.”

James Smith suggested using ‘Living Documents’ tools to bring together ideas: “I don’t think I should do this, you [the public] should [implying that the public knows more and should be heard].”

Frances Haigh said she would not revise the existing strategy as this would kick it into the long grass and delay real action but would instead focus on the projects and delivering them: “My priorities would be the Missing Link [the A264 crossing to the Horsham-Crawley cycle route] and cycle access to Kilnwood Vale.”

Andrew Baldwin thought that WSCC’s Cycling Strategy needs to be revised, routes prioritised and costed and then implemented: “I’d like to come along to the [HDCF] forum meetings.”

Rosemary French, with her experience of getting improvements to the Downs Link in Cranleigh thought that there was a huge difference between West Sussex and Surrey (which wants to be a cycling county).

Taking space away from cars

An audience member asked each of the candidates if they were brave enough to take space away from cars?

David Hide said he was 100% behind a slower speed limit on the A24, referring to a cyclist he saw risking his life simply by riding there: “Elect me and you will have your cycling czar.”

Peter Shaw said the Downs Link needs to be suitable for horses [as well as cyclists].

Frances Haigh picked up on the issue of poor design standards: “New houses don’t have spaces to store bikes. You have to hang them on the wall like a painting.”

Andrew Baldwin said that WSCC “needs a rocket up them” on cycling.

Appointing a county-wide Cycling Commissioner

Q: Do you support appointing a West Sussex equivalent of Andrew Gilligan, the highly successful Cycling Commissioner in London, to drive the changes we need and deliver a network of cycle routes?

All the panellists supported having a strong political figure responsible for delivering a step change in cycling. Andrew Baldwin, Francis Haigh and James Smith said it should be a councillor. David Hide suggested tongue-in-cheek that it should be Jeremy Corbyn [who regularly rides a bike].

There was concern from the audience, as also expressed by Peter Catchpole (Cabinet Member), that WSCC Highways schemes are developed according to technical criteria but there are also political decisions which need to be taken on highways design. There is currently a lack of political direction and the views of local councillors and people are not being heard.

Peter Catchpole said that although not a cyclist himself (he walks for health but his children cycle) he felt WSCC Highways take an overly legal view, but they need to understand cycling themselves: “I think we should look at this from a health and well-being point of view and the payback on investment in cycling.”

Peter Shaw said this is a management issue within WSCC and that councillors need to ensure that officers follow the political direction set by elected councillors.

Wrap up

Rosemary French drew the debate to a close by re-iterating that there is huge suppressed demand for better cycling infrastructure. West Sussex remains far behind the best places in the UK in delivering better infrastructure but funding opportunities do exist [see below].

WSCC can plan for a network of cycle routes, seek the required investment and build a network to the highest standards. But for this to happen it needs the political will of those in power, as we’ve seen in London and elsewhere: “We can do it!”

Sources of funding for cycle infrastructure

Investing in infrastructure is the single most effective way of getting people on bikes. Even in financially straitened times there is funding available.

“The real challenge is to counter the myth that there is no money.” Roger Geffen, Cycling UK

Three sources of funding are:

  • Block grants that councils receive each year from central government, which are intended to include providing for all road users including people cycling.
  • Challenge funding which can involve one-off grants from a number of sources. Much of this money is channelled via the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) such as Coast to Capital, which is the LEP for our area. The Local Growth Fund (LGF) is a major fund and there are specific pots of money for a variety of purposes including tourism and rural development funding. There is also cycle-specific funding such as Cycle City Ambition grants and sustainable transport funding which can be used for both cycling and walking.
  • Developer funding such as from section 106 agreements or Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). This is a significant opportunity in Horsham District because we have high levels of development.

Messages of support

Several candidates who were unable to attend the debate sent messages of support:

Patrick Dearsley (UKIP, Broadbridge) emailed: “Our stance on provisions for cyclists in Horsham is that currently they are indeed pitifully inadequate, with no sign that the council is taking anything like enough account of your needs, particularly given the new housing projects. When you have a blank page it should be a lot easier and cheaper to include more cycling lanes and in particular the most dangerous bits where they intersect with existing roads and lanes. Within the existing constraints of spending, we’ll do what we can to help.”

Richard Greenwood (Lib Dem, Billingshurst) emailed: “I hope you have a successful event. As a resident to the west of the A24 where we are seeing more houses being built, I would like to see better connections between the villages (such as Barns Green and Southwater) to Horsham. If we have more people living in the area, and potentially more commuters using Horsham train station as a result, better links for cyclists would help limit congestion.”

Morwen Millson (Lib Dem, Horsham Riverside) emailed: “I have strongly supported cycling and cyclists for many years…If elected, I will continue to back better cycling provision in Horsham and across West Sussex, and very much hope to press the case for better use of limited resources than some sections of the trans Horsham route, including some of the cycle racks, which are still not used to anywhere near capacity.”

Ross Wellby (Lib Dem, Bramber Castle) emailed: “We as a party are fully committed to encouraging more cycling as part of our policy to become carbon net zero and support the Get Britain Cycling report. I cycle a reasonable amount … but when I do venture onto the streets the disjointed nature of the limited cycle networks available is far from ideal.”

Bob Wheatcroft (Lib Dem, Southwater & Nuthurst) emailed: “One of my principal concerns is the poor access for cyclists (& indeed pedestrians) across the A24 towards Horsham. It is a real barrier to anyone not in a car who is disinclined to take their life in their hands. I hope your organisation would support a cycle/foot bridge at Hop Oast and I wish you well in your campaigns for safer cycling.”

 

The debate was widely discussed on Twitter before and after the event.

The debate was also reported in the West Sussex County Times and the District Post.

Picture credits: Mark Treasure

Comments

  1. Ruth Fletcher says:

    I agree that the ‘well defined process’ isn’t working properly! But don’t believe anyone who tells you that it’s a choice between potholes or cycle infrastructure -in reality that tradeoff is not being made at all. Raising the need to cater for cycling through more infrastructure, if anything, may help the call for better road surfaces because it is making WSCC think more about cyclists’ needs in general (we can hope!)
    On a point of detail, WSCC Highways say that their system is set up to respond to defects via LoveWestSussex rather than Fillthathole, so you may get a better response that way. Holes that present a danger to cyclists still get ignored because the intervention criteria are based around car drivers’ needs, but I have anecdotal evidence of defects being repaired when the specific danger to cyclists is mentioned in the report.
    We have raised the issue of the intervention criteria with WSCC and I expect we will do so again, but if you want to add your voice, then you could contact Chris.Stark@westsussex.giv.uk

  2. John Scuillo says:

    The future is coming. Increased use of mobility scooters as we want to get out and about as we age. When stricter driving regulations are introduced, more will revert to other forms of personal transport. Already mums are taking kids on the one cycle as two car families cannot be accommodated in properties with little or no parking spaces. The County has to make provision for alternate slow methods of transportation within towns and villages

  3. Dave Scott says:

    I have seen not a word about potholes in this whole summary. West Sussex’s minor roads are cratered with defects, yet repairing holes is clearly gives a low priority. Potholes can and do seriously injure, or even kill, cyclists, particularly on our country roads where people cycle most. Was the subject even mentioned at the debate?

    • Hi Dave, the focus of the debate was on harnessing the political will to improve cycle infrastructure and get more people on bikes, especially the vast majority of the population who don’t currently cycle because it’s too dangerous. Pot holes are a serious safely issue that affects all road users but are in essence a maintenance issue with a well-defined process for resolving them. If you come across any pot holes please log them using the Love West Sussex website (http://love.westsussex.gov.uk/reports/add). WS Highways will then fix them.

      • Dave Scott says:

        Thanks for your reply, Peter. Unfortunately the ‘well-defined process’ for fixing potholes is not working. It is not sensible or practical for cyclists to stop and log every hole they run through or near. I cycle some 90 miles a week around our country roads, and have now given up reporting holes as problems are so rarely fixed (I used to use fillthathole.org.uk, which I believe works across county boundaries). The ‘self-certify’ procedure used by contractors allows them to get away with shoddy repairs, with no apparent penalty or oversight; and holes can be left for months with white ‘due repair’ rings around them. I also cycle around Horsham almost every day (having given up my car), so investment in new infrastructure is always welcome, but I do not believe this should be at the expense of neglecting existing infrastructure.

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