Portsmouth City Council could see funding scrapped for 'prematurely' axing ‘disastrous’ Southsea cycle lane

SCRAPPING a controversial bike lane ‘prematurely’ may see Portsmouth City Council have its government funding cut.

By Kimberley Barber
Sunday, 1st August 2021, 12:37 pm
The temporary cycle lane on Elm Grove, Southsea

Picture: Sarah Standing (051120-7893)
The temporary cycle lane on Elm Grove, Southsea Picture: Sarah Standing (051120-7893)

The Department for Transport announced yesterday (Friday) that local authorities in Portsmouth, Brighton, Leicestershire and Liverpool are among those whose active travel funding has been halted.

Seven London boroughs are also affected, such as the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Wandsworth, Ealing and Sutton.

Pop-up cycle lanes and low traffic neighbourhoods – often involving closing roads to motor vehicles – were installed across England following the coronavirus outbreak last year.

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But a number of councils reversed the schemes following vocal opposition by motorists.

In a letter to local authority leaders, transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris wrote: ‘For all the controversy these schemes can sometimes cause, there is strong and growing evidence that they command public support.

‘I do know that a few councils have removed, or are proposing to remove, cycle schemes installed under the fund, or to water them down.

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‘Of course I understand not every scheme is perfect and a minority will not stand the test of time, but if these schemes are not given that time to make a difference, then taxpayers’ monies have been wasted.’

Mr Heaton-Harris stated that schemes need to be ‘allowed to bed in’, and kept in place long enough ‘to be properly evaluated’.

He went on: ‘We have no interest in requiring councils to keep schemes which are proven not to work, but that proof must be presented.

‘Schemes must not be removed prematurely, or without proper evidence and too soon to collect proper evidence about their effects.’

Almost 400 residents called for the removal of a temporary cycle lane in Elm Grove and Kings Road, Southsea.

The segregated lane, the first of its kind in Portsmouth, was put in as part of a three-week trial that could have been extended up to 18 months if successful.

Several businesses along the roads also had concerns about the loss of parking, however The Portsmouth Cycle Forum and Cycling UK had voiced their support for the lane.

Plans for a £100,000 cycle lane along the Eastern Road were also dropped by the council last June.

The council's transport boss, Councillor Lynne Stagg, said: ‘We put in the cycle lane as we were directed to do so by government. It was a good idea but not well-thought through. The money was used for what it was meant to be used for, some areas were successful like the the closure of Castle Road, however this particular scheme was a disaster.

‘It was hugely unpopular and it was sabotaged by the public. It didn’t work.

‘I feel quite cross that we get the blame for doing what government told us to do.’

Ian Saunders, from Portsmouth Cycle Forum, called on the council to do better.

He said: ‘The text of the government’s recent letter is clear. They want to see a commitment to active travel from local authorities. Simply, PCC must do better.

‘The rejection of this funding application highlights the Department for Transport’s concern about Portsmouth City Council’s capability to design infrastructure to the standard required.’

He said that meant more than ‘just paint on the roads’.

He added: ‘It means proper designs and installing trial schemes for a suitable time frame to bed in and for people to get used to how they work. Small interventions dotted around the city in a piecemeal fashion will never create the safe, continuous, direct network that enables people wishing to cycle around the city to do so with confidence.’

Cllr Stagg said they would be providing evidence to the government in the hope that it does not take back the money.

She also said they were continuing to work on improving cyclists’ safety in the city.

She added: ‘We think we can improve cycling and we are engaging with residents and businesses along there to find a way that we can achieve this.

‘The problem is the roads are narrow and to have two-way traffic in both directions and parking too is pretty much impossible.’

According to figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) the city has the 16th highest number of reported incidents involving cyclists being injured - with 74 per 100,000 people in 2019.

Overall there were 160 cyclist casualties last year, with 47 of those seriously injured placing it as one of the most dangerous areas out of 339 places in England and Wales. The youngest casualty in the city was four years old.