Memorandum by John Cutler Esq (WTC 81)
WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES
1. I am a local campaigner on walking and
cycling issues in Northamptonshire and especially in the town
of Northampton. For ten years or so I have followed local transport
and development plans on behalf of a cycling organisation. More
recently I have included walking issues as they are often related
and as they have come to the fore in policy discussion.
2. This memorandum refers to my view of
whether, in the Northampton area, local authorities are taking
appropriate measures, whether the Local Transport Plan system
looks likely to be effective in promoting walking as suggested
in the Government Paper "Encouraging Walking"
and what the obstacles are to increasing the number of journeys
made on foot.
3. Northamptonshire has been successful
in its local transport bid, receiving £6½ million for
integrated transport measures. This is, very unlike previous years,
more than requested. Resources appear to be available to encourage
walking through minor capital schemes. However, the increased
funding is to be spent on larger schemes such as transport interchanges
and rail initiatives rather than smaller scale "sustainable
measures". But there is a clear policy to encourage walking
in the LTP and a strategy explains the type of measures planned.
A (rather modest) local target has been adopted to increase the
percentage of children walking to school from 50 per cent to 54
4. The Government paper Encouraging Walking
was published late in the process of developing the plan. Dated
March, it may have been too late to fully influence the details
in the LTP, which has to be completed, approved by council committee
and sent off to the regional government office by the end of July.
No doubt our local walking strategy could be improved with further
thought, but it is a good start and has been met with approval
by the Government Office in their assessment of the LTP. I agree
with those who are disappointed that there was not a National
Walking Strategy after the long deliberations of the national
steering group. That would have given a much stronger and more
convincing lead to local policy formation.
5. The problem with walking (as with cycling)
is not in the good intentions expressed in the well-written plans
and policy documents. It is in what actually happens. In the past
there was often a real problem of lack of resources to carry out
schemes. But the TPP process was notorious as a bidding game rather
than a plan of actions that the local authority really expected
to carry through. Studies done of TPPs used to show the large
amounts of money claimed as intended to be spent on walking and
cycling, but there were no studies that I am aware of which showed
the very different outcome.
6. It seemed to me that there was a failure
over a number of years by the regional Government Office to monitor
the actual policies and progress in the Northampton package area
when allocating further resources. It should have been apparent
from the documents that real progress on the ground was not being
made to increase walking and cycling.
7. The new LTP system seeks to improve on
this situation by having a logical link between objectives, strategies,
targets and monitoring. It remains to be seen if and when this
will work through into tangible results. The assessment of our
LTP in the settlement letter from GOEM does not give much confidence
that their resistance to bamboozle has been stiffened.
8. The worrying problem emerging ever more
clearly is that front line decision makers have not taken the
strategies to heart and that there is an increasing divergence
of declared policies with what is actually happening. This arises
partly as a result of the structure of local government in Northampton.
The County Council prepares the declared strategies and these
have to comply with national policy to win funding. But the Borough
Council is left free to pursue its own line, which is based mainly
on what is perceived as pleasing resident voters. The way town
policy decisions are arrived at is opaque and secretive, taking
place in forums such as private meetings with the police or liaison
groups of councillors and officers. The public meetings at which
such decisions are endorsed are almost never the occasion for
real discussion. Appendix A gives a brief explanation of how the
decision making seems to be taking place.
9. There is evidence that a de facto
anti-walking and cycling policy is being pursued in the town.
Very far from the network being enhanced to encourage these modes
it is being severely damaged by the Borough Council. Barriers
erected in the hope that they will combat motorcycle nuisance
are an obstacle to prams, cyclists and the disabled. Recently
there have been area wide closures of paths on estates where crime
has been a problem. Now paths are being closed by traffic regulation
orders where residents have given up hope of the police tackling
vandalism and crime.
10. There is substantial resistance to closure
by a minority of people, especially those without access to cars.
The council has ignored or disparaged the objections calling paths
"rat runs". Appendix B
is a photocopy of the objections by residents recorded in the
local paper to the fencing of an estate to make it impermeable
to pedestrians and a photocopy of some objections to the traffic
regulation order which closed an important path. After considering
these objections the committee decided to close two more in addition.
11. The unwillingness of the police to tackle
minor crime related to routes away from the carriageway causes
political pressure to build up to close paths. Through their partnership
arrangements with the Borough Council they influence decisions
which have not been subject to the sort of consultation that is
required for LTP policies. If the local police have a transport
policy it is to prevent walking and cycling which they have deduced
leads to criminal damage and burglary and an increased workload
12. There seems to be a failure to integrate
transport policies as actually carried out with crime and disorder,
regeneration and development policies. There are also many signs
that the relationship between Borough Council and County Council
is often antagonistic or non-cooperative.
13. "Encouraging Walking"
and many other documents refer to the security issue from the
point of view of pedestrians being fearful of attack. The other
side of the coin is that residents alongside paths are fearful
that people walking past will break in to steal something. In
local politics that view carries more weight because residents
are identifiable voters in a councillor's ward, whereas the users
of a path are a dispersed and usually unorganised group.
14. There is no realistic plan of the present
or future network of walking routes in Northampton let alone an
assessment of their quality. There does not seem to be any data
about which routes are being used for travel to work or school
and these have often been closed by new development rather than
formalised. Important routes from one area to another are often
the ones most likely to be used illegally by motorcycles and there
are two recent examples of very important routes being closed.
Only in response to objections to a traffic regulation order did
the Borough Council acting as the highway authority in one case
even bother to count the number of people using an important path.
15. The largest budget allocation claimed
to encourage cycling and walking is now for the Safer Routes to
Schools schemes. It is very unclear how these schemes are decided
and prioritised, and who decides what goes into them. In practice
they normally consist of traffic calming humps and pelican crossings.
No doubt this does make the walking environment safer and more
pleasant, but it is unclear whether it results in increased walking
16. Figures on actual accidents in the proximity
to schools or casualties to children on their school journeys
are not easily obtainable by the public so the value for money
as accident reduction is not apparent. The suspicion is that the
budget is being used to provide speed reduction to please residents
in key constituencies. Presumably in time the monitoring under
new LTP arrangements will show if there has been any modal shift
in schools journeys.
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