Ultimately, you want to have regular, open dialogue and avoid being ostracised.
First determine where councillors stand on cycling. Party-political allegiance and personal sympathy will probably influence this. The sympathies of councillors can be gauged from their public pronouncements, by writing to them or attending public meetings or their ‘surgeries’.
Sympathetic councillors: if cultivated, can be very useful in a number of ways, including:
- Inside information
- Representing your case to the council and in committee
- Local party influence
- Influence over officers
Neutral responses: your task is to persuade councillors who have hardly ever given cycling a thought to take it seriously. Some ways of doing this are:
- Personal approach: talk to them - as one campaigner put it: “The secret is getting their ‘ear’, then pouring friendly, constructive ideas into it.” (!)
- Informing them: make sure they subscribe to Cycling UK's monthly online campaigning newsletter, Cycle Campaign News; ask Cycling UK National Office for guidance to pass on to them, when needed
- Referring to the councillor’s party manifesto: your councillor should fulfil promises made by his/her party’s manifesto. An important tactic therefore is to get pro-cycling statements into the local manifesto of all parties in the first place – lobbying for a good few months before a council election is highly recommended (information on election timings should be available from the council’s website – or give them a call).
- Councillors are very busy, so give them clear, concise information – avoid swamping them with pages and pages.
- Establish yourself as a reliable source of information
- If proposing a meeting, set an agenda and take notes (or minutes, if more formal)
- Be aware of a councillor’s reputation before allying yourself too closely with them
- Speak their language, making the case for cycling in terms they understand (economy, best value, air quality)
The make-up of councils varies considerably as does the names and remit of departments that might have an impact on cycling. As a general guide, the officers with whom you are most likely to benefit from contact are those responsible at some level for: transport; highways; cycling; planning; rights of way; road safety; environment etc.
Becoming familiar with the council is the only way of identifying your ‘best bets’. Your council may have an officer dedicated to cycling, or you may discover that the person responsible for cycling has other duties as well. Unlike councillors, the same officer may be in post for years.
- Officers are often snowed under with work, so a good tactic is to offer to do their jobs for them (or at least assist them rigorously) – e.g. put together detailed and sensible proposals that they can implement with little further work necessary.
- Be alert to the possibility that some officers want a quiet life and might be tempted to cite dubious technical or policy objections
- Lack of cycling budget is a frequent problem – so bear this in mind
- Officers sometimes feel caught in the front line between councillors and the public.
- Be aware that councillors go directly to council departments with their demands and don’t undermine or overuse an officer’s authority.
- Again, speak their language (see above)
- Don’t keep kicking a closed door – you will merely damage your relationship with officers. Once you’ve made your point, don’t repeat it ad nauseam
- If dialogue breaks down, analyse why things are not working currently and consider another line of approach.
- Remember that cycling is not just about engineering schemes.
- Policy commitment: work to ensure that your council develops a commitment to ‘think bike’ in transport planning and management - this can help improve conditions at no extra cost
- Consultation: make sure your council consults you regularly whenever something that affects cycling is on the agenda.
- Planning: work to ensure that cycling is explicitly supported and provided for in all local plans, transport and beyond.
- Cycle Forum: try to attend your local Cycle Forum to enable officers and councillors (and sometimes the police or other interested parties) to come together regularly to discuss cycling issues)
- Budget: try to encourage your council to commit money to cycling (not just to engineering schemes, but to ‘smarter choice' measures too – e.g. education, training, maps etc)
- Cycling Strategy: keep tabs on your council’s Cycling Strategy and the targets within in. Help revise and monitor it as necessary.
- Cycle Audit and Review: promote the use of cycle audits on new schemes and cycle reviews on those already in existence.
- Cycle Counts – suggest and assist with proper surveys establishing the true levels of cycling use and, crucially, of demand in the area.
For lobbying both officers and councillors:
- Avoid hostile confrontation at all costs; remember that officers and even councillors can and do make complaints about Cycling UK local campaigners whom they believe to have behaved in a vexatious or unprofessional manner, Cycling UK views and handles complaints against its accredited representatives very seriously indeed.
- Be persistent, well briefed, positive and professional.