Local campaigning success: new cycle path means safer cycling in Hertfordshire
Why did you choose to focus on this junction?
The A602 was a nasty 60mph single carriageway trunk road from Ware to Stevenage, featuring poor, dated geometry and a narrow carriageway.
Previously you either crossed at the top of a blind summit at Sacombebury Park (linking to an unsurfaced bridleway) or had to cycle for a half mile mixing it with trucks and cars at speed, from one T junction to the next, turning right at a junction with no centre turn pocket. I foolishly did it once on my Brompton and it was terrifying.
The new road, sadly faster as it’s of course designed to ‘smooth the traffic flow’, has a much safer junction and crucially has a bridge over the Dane End Tributary.
How did you get involved?
Sacombe is outside the WelHatCycling area, but I was interested because we knew people in the hamlet and I had direct experience of cycling there with my children and crossing the A602 at grade.
I heard about the campaign issue thanks to Jon Crosby, a member of Cycling UK South Herts. He was fighting to get a safe crossing for cyclists because the Sacombe road junction is a crucial link to quieter country lanes north of Hertford used by many riders heading to Bennington Lordship Gardens and beyond.
Jon had already tried unsuccessfully to get safe cycling provision added to the junction at the original planning enquiry in 2018. He did huge amounts of work showing via Strava data just how key this route is.
Hertfordshire County Council argued that the traffic lanes were wide enough for people on cycle to be passed by vehicles (at 60mph!), so no separate cycle lanes were needed. As a token gesture the council was prepared to fund two right turn pockets for people on cycles to use while waiting to cross on the level, this very busy road, one at each T-junction.
You can imagine a cyclist waiting many minutes in the rush hour for a gap in the traffic, assuming the pockets were not full of debris and unusable.
The county planning committee agreed this was adequate. Jon was understandably furious.
Which process did you use for the next attempt?
In 2019 Jon approached me for help. In October 2019 we tried again by objecting to the Side Roads Order (SRO – see definition) for the project on the grounds that the planned road was unsafe for non-motorised users (NMUs).
Our opening statement in the objection said this: “Government guidance shows clearly that off-carriageway routes for NMUs are appropriate for a road carrying high volumes of traffic at high speeds, but the SRO does not propose this along the critical half mile section of the A602 Ware Road between Stony Hills and Sacombe Pound. No suitable crossing is being provided between Stony Hills and Bridleway 023 in Sacombe Park.”
We pointed out that if a cycle route under the river bridge were to be built, our objection would be withdrawn. We also praised the provision of a cycle path at the Watton-at-Stone roundabout on the same route, demonstrating that this was not simply a NIMBY complaint, but the failure to meet a genuine need.
The result was a 19-page document, mostly written by Jon, forming a forensic examination of how the scheme failed to meet the requirements of the Side Roads Order and detailed examples of how the plans failed to follow national and local policies to encourage active travel, including:
- Government Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy
- Hertfordshire Local Transport Plan
- East Herts District Plan
- Hertfordshire Active Travel Strategy
- Hertfordshire Health and Wellbeing Strategy
How did you back up your arguments?
Jon was able to use national standards to bolster our case. For example, LTN 2/08, the previous version of Cycle Infrastructure Design, stipulates that for a high-speed high-volume road like the A602 a grade separated crossing is required along with segregated cycle paths. The A602 wasn’t designed to Department for Transport standards.
If we were objecting now, a key document would be LTN 1/20 Cycle Infrastructure Design, produced by the UK Government in June 2020 and essential reading for anyone campaigning for accessible cycle routes.
We sought endorsement of our objection from all local cycle groups, for example Stevenage CTC and the Forty Plus group. The objection came from Cycle Herts, the federal group for the county, not us as individuals, which enabled us to state we were representing 1,000 local people who cycle.
A real experience can cut through to planners and make them reconsider their choices
Adam Edwards, WelHatCycling
The final section of our objection contained personal statements from members of the supporting groups about the impact the existing road and new road would have on them. This is well worth including in any objection, as we often hear how a real experience can cut through to planners and make them reconsider their choices.
What happened next?
We sent our objection in to the Department for Transport and they agreed we had a case for Hertfordshire County Council to answer. Suddenly Jon and I were very popular people to be invited to County Hall for meetings with very important people!
The problem for the county was the money for the road had to spent within a certain time period. The SRO, now they knew our objection had been accepted, would add delay and therefore cost. So our previously unaffordable request for a cycle path under the road using the river bridge was back on.
We were very lucky that at the same time as we objected to the SRO, the county had to go back to the local landowner and ask for a bit more land for the project.
The landowner deal was that they would allow extra land take if the cycle path could be occasionally used to move their quad bikes from one side of the road to the other, as without this they faced the expense of licences for the quadbikes for the public highway. So the cycle path is nice and wide and well surfaced to accommodate this need in addition to people on cycles and horses.
On the basis that there was a commitment to this new path, our SRO objection to the DfT was rescinded. The County Planning Committee approved the cycle path in early 2020 and the deal was done.
How did you both feel when it was approved?
That approval mattered a great deal to Jon. The reason he approached me to help with the project and ultimately to take it over was his discovery that he had terminal cancer. Jon died shortly after the cycle path was approved, so he knew he’d succeeded, even though he sadly never lived to see it open and in use.
Construction of the new road was completed in May 2023 and the underbridge cycle path completed in August 2023. We have a half mile of new tarmac-surfaced cycle path passing under the new road alignment.
There is also a new short section of shared-use pavement at the Watton roundabout so people on cycles can avoid riding around the trunk road roundabout. At the summit of the hill there is a speed-restricted crossing for people on cycles and horses entering Sacombebury Park.
What advice would you give to anyone objecting to a project like this?
Do your homework. Jon was an expert at this. Read the government and local policies and find the inconsistencies with the proposed plan. Since we fought this battle, LTN 1/20 has come out. Where plans are lacking you will usually find that there is a section of LTN 1/20 which will evidence the need for change.
Stick to the policy inconsistencies and state what you would like to see instead, making it clear that the objection will be rescinded if the alternative is agreed to. This gives planners and politicians a way out.
Get endorsements from local cycling groups and quote the membership numbers. Our campaign was not two cyclists, it was a campaign on behalf of 1,000 people on cycles. At its crudest, that’s a lot of votes in local elections and could easily cost councillors their seats.
For all of us, this new cycle path will be Jon Crosby Way
Adam Edwards, WelHatCycling
If anyone is interested in cycle campaigning in Hertfordshire, then there are active local groups in Watford (Spokes), St Albans (STACC), Stevenage (Cycling UK) and Welwyn Hatfield (WelHatCycling). If you’d like to see Jon’s SRO letter, then I’m happy to email it to you. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
None of this would have happened without the bravery and determination of Jon Crosby to fight for all of us. His cycle path will be a fitting tribute to his memory. For all of us, this new cycle path will be Jon Crosby Way.