Posted by: swinemoor | September 13, 2014

Cycle Lane Saga – The Truth

On July 30th there was article in the Beverley Advertiser titled ‘Controversial bike path plans blocked by families’.

Firstly we at NSH would like to say that it is NOT the bike path that is controversial, it is the plans.

Secondly, reading the comments in the article by Abigail Smeaton you would think there was no cycle path: there is!

So what is all the fuss about?

Well the fuss is not about the upgrading of the cycle path (it should in all honesty have been done years ago) it is the way that ERYC have gone about this, their intransigence in this whole affair and the amount of money all this is costing us local Council Tax payers. Wheeling (no pun intended) a few people out to support ERYC’s plans does nothing to enlighten anyone as to the small print nor does it help the debate. It merely serves ERYC in their aim to create a precedent to allow them to destroy our beloved Westwood, using local people and cyclists as an excuse.

Bev Adv 20140730

Beverley Advertiser 30th July 2014

Why do we say this? Sadly, as with everything involving the ERYC, things are never simple and this saga is no exception and to understand the existing situation, you need to go back to 2011. Three years ago the ERYC made a request of the Planning Inspectorate to widen the cycle lane adjacent to the B1230 and gave a number of reasons why, including safety. The Planning Inspector agreed to this request but he did say that, in terms of road safety, the ERYC had not demonstrated a need. He also said that the widened cycle path would remain part of the common (where cycling is prohibited), therefore, if they did construct it, it would be illegal to cycle on it. Following on from this ERYC did nothing for two years.

In January this year, notices began to appear on parts of the common saying that land was to be swapped in Molescroft parish so that land could be taken from Westwood to widen the cycle path. However, the notices were placed in only a few select locations (not where they legally should have been), details of the application were not made available to the public and Molescroft Parish Council were not consulted on these plans.  Once this was discovered, concerns were raised about why ERYC were acting in this secretive manner and the whole process began again, this time with ERYC consulting Molescroft Parish Council. ERYC’s plan was to swap a small area of playing field land at Longcroft School for the land lost to the widened cycle lane.

Distrust

ERYC’s secrecy up to this point created an atmosphere of distrust. This was compounded when ERYC went back on their word to keep the trees and ancient boundary bank dividing the ‘swap land’ from Hurn and this culminated in the Planning Inspector, who would need to agree the land swap, decided that a public enquiry was required. At this point ERYC began contacting objectors to their plans by phone and email in an attempt to get them to withdraw their objections to the plans. Many of these objections had nothing to do with any cycle lane, they involved the removal of an ancient boundary hedge and setting a precedent for development on the common by permitting land being swapped in another parish for land being lost in St Mary’s parish. ERYC had succeeded in conflating the issue of the cycle path widening and land swapping. Was this their aim?

There is no doubt that the widening of a cycle lane will be popular, however, it was the linking of this to the more technical aspects of land swapping and the secretive behaviour of ERYC that has led to the polarised situation that we are in now with one set of residents in Walkington pitted against another set of residents in Beverley. This polarisation is benefiting nobody but ERYC who have succeeded in dividing two groups of people who are both unhappy about the actions of ERYC: one because they want an improved cycle lane and  the other because ERYC are acting secretly and underhandedly in trying to damage the integrity of Westwood common. If ERYC were really serious about improving the existing cycle lane provision across Westwood, it would have been much better if they had gotten everyone together right from the get go so a compromise could have been reached that would have been inclusive, avoided land swaps, and ensured that best possible cycle lane was constructed in good time, with the minimum of cost and delay. This is best practice (see purple box in Figure 1) yet ERYC chose not to follow this route. Why and how much is this all costing?

Whys and Wherefores?

Scheme Development Process

Figure 1: Typical Scheme Development Process (Department for Transport (2012) Local Transport Note 1/12 Shared Use Routes for Pedestrians and Cyclists. p 8.)

For anyone who has visited the route of the B1230 across Westwood, it is quite obvious that there already is a signed cycle path along the road, i.e. ERYC are NOT putting in a NEW cycle path. Before anything was done, there was some discussion about upgrading the existing cycle path to Sustrans standards, i.e. 2m wide as it is dual use with pedestrians, and whether this could be done without anyone noticing. It is currently 1.5m wide. If this work had just been done, as was agreed by the Planning Inspector in 2012, would it have been noticed? Probably not. However, the legality of using the additional 50cm would be questionable, however, again would anyone notice and who would prosecute them? These are questions that need to be answered, however, it is ERYC’s contention that, as a result of this, they had to regularise the legal situation by swapping land in Molescroft parish. However, this does not explain why they tried to do this under the radar nor why the new, improved cycle path will still include two road crossings, necessitating cyclists getting off their bikes and crossing the B1230. It also does not explain why the ERYC are making such a song and dance about complying with Sustrans guidelines on this relatively quiet path when they have sub-standard paths everywhere else and no path at all to Bishop Burton and the college there.

Suspicions

It is these questions that have led to the distrust of the council in this whole debacle and this suspicion is raised by the complete lack of comment from our elected representatives on the council, who are clearly leaving the flack to be dealt with by their officers. The latter have also fallen short of expected standards in the way that they have contacted objectors and by making changes to ERYC’s plans, after the deadline for comments on the proposed land swap had closed and the disrespectful way they have referred to objectors in some correspondence. These objectors are the same people who pay their Council Taxes and, therefore, these officers salaries. The council’s secrecy and attitude raised suspicions in the town and this led to the realisation that the swap of land in Molescroft parish for the area of the widened cycle path would set a legal precendent that could allow the swapping of agricultural land in Walkington or Bishop Burton parishes for prime development land on the Beverley side of Westwood. This suspicion was first aroused in the Westwood Hospital temporary road debate and has been reinforced by the determination of ERYC to engineer the current situation rather than seek a compromise. Make no mistake, if ERYC succeed in setting this precedent, land will be taken from the  common on the Beverley side: the York Road salient is vulnerable: land between the York Road and Hurn would also be at risk. This is the prize at stake and big money is involved. We, as residents of the town, need to support the Pasture Masters as Guardians of the Commons and head-off any such threats before it’s too late. We cannot rely on our elected representatives to do this as they have been mute on this issue to date. In spite of claims that they love our commons, their actions clearly demonstrate otherwise.

The Current Situation

The above is a synopsis of where we are now and how we got there. However, this is not the full story. ERYC have now told the Planning Inspector that they have decided to drop their application to swap land at Longcroft School: objectors have been written to by Defra to this effect. However, once again behind closed doors, ERYC have pressurised the Pasture Masters into agreeing to another land swap, this time for the site of Fishwick’s Mill. This is the small area of land behind Minster School, that everyone knows already belongs to Westwood Common [more on this shortly]. This will no doubt set-off another drawn out battle, costing ERYC tens of thousands of pounds. Surely a compromise is in order: is 1.5m wide really too narrow for a cycle lane across Westwood?

The Cost

This is perhaps the most worrying aspect of this whole saga. To date we know that the cost in terms of legal fees is at least £5,700 however, this does not include the following:

  • The staff time involved in printing and posting the notices around Hurn Common, on two occasions;
  • The staff cost in preparing the case and advertising these notices in the local press;
  • The staff cost in answering objectors’ comments and telephoning and writing to them individually;
  • The cost of looking into the legality of removing the hedge and bank at Longcroft School;
  • The cost of arranging the site visit to determine the status of the above hedge;
  • The cost of preparing the legal case for the Planning Inspector;
  • The cost of preparing the legal case to take to Public Enquiry;
  • The staff cost in preparing a new application for the site of Fishwick’s Mill.

A Freedom of Information Request has failed to answer any of the above questions as the ERYC has said it does not account for staff time separately. However, a cursory examination of the above clearly demonstrates that to date ERYC’s legal shenanigans have cost a fortune, certainly in the many thousands of pounds. Is this the correct way for a cash-strapped local authority to behave? Probably not but what we can we do about it? We at NSH believe that it is now time to put an end to this saga and for all sides to sit down around a table and compromise. By doing this we can achieve an upgraded cycle path at least 1.5m wide without setting any dangerous legal precedents. Indeed, if we use the £200k ERYC have set aside for this project, it should not prove impossible (if there is enough goodwill) to have a cycle path without any road crossings: this would be safer than one that is 2m wide with crossings. If you agree with this, please contact your local ERYC ward councillor, pushing for this. Only if we all work together as citizens can we achieve a sensible compromise here: ERYC are clearly not interested: they have their own agenda.


Responses

  1. No, there is no signed cycle path along the B1230 across the Westwood. It’s a footpath with no right of way for cyclists. The only way to cycle legally from the recycling centre near Broadgate to Cartwright Lane is on the road. The path is quite a bit less than 1.5m wide for some of its length.

    • It is clearly signed as a byway. This means it is permissible to cycle along it. Don’t get distracted: the cycle lane is a proxy for the real issue and could be sorted with some compromises and common sense. Read the guidelines on this referred to in the blog post. In terms of stakeholder engagement and consultation they have not been adhered to by ERYC. Why not?

  2. Being signed as a byway does not change the legal status of the footway; it is simply a route marker. The planning Inspector referred to it as a footway. You refer to it throughout as a cycle path which it is not.

    • I will take a picture of the sign. It is unambiguous.

  3. If those in authority fail to adhere and comply with the law and due process then democracy is dead?

    The law locks up the man or woman
    Who steals the goose from off the common
    But leaves the greater villain loose
    Who steals the common from off the goose.

  4. […] reply to a series of comments made by GKT, we at NSH believe that it is important to clear up any ambiguity regarding the legal status of the […]

  5. […] come all the way from…Scarborough for the photo opportunity but does he really now about the back story here? For that matter are Elaine Aird and Graham Stuart aware? Probably not: if they were, they […]


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