Watershed moment as Portsmouth Council back Space for Cycling

On Tuesday 17 October, Portsmouth Council passed a motion to support Space for Cycling
On Tuesday 17 October 2017, Portsmouth Council passed a motion to support the Space for Cycling campaign which commits the council to plan a comprehensive network of high quality cycleways and allocates a minimum of 10% of the local transport budget to ensure cycle routes are built.

The motion, based on a draft Cycling UK motion and taken to the council by the Portsmouth Cycle Forum, was tabled by Liberal Democrat Councillors Hugh Mason and Matthew Winnington. It proposed that the council “Develops a strategy to implement in full Portsmouth Cycle Forum's 'A City to Share'” and that this strategy must “include a costed network of safe, accessible and direct routes that link places and people”.

The motion proposed funding should come from bids to the Department for Transport and other relevant bodies, as well as asking that the cabinet considers allocating at least 5% of all Local Transport Plan funds each year.

The motion comes at a crucial time. In June this year, Tim Atkins tragically died while cycling along a shared use path running along the Eastern Road, a major dual carriageway that skirts the east of the city. He collided with another cyclist using the path and fell into the carriageway where he was struck by a van travelling at the 50 mph speed limit.

The incident has provoked debate around cycle safety in Portsmouth, which consistently ranks as one of the most likely place to be killed or seriously injured while cycling, when measured as number of incidents per 1,000,000 population.

The statistics are skewed to an extent because places where cycle use is high are likely to have more incidents, however Portsmouth scores poorly even when compared to cities with similar or higher rates of cycle use, such as York or Cambridge.

Considering the context, Cycling UK were doubly keen to ensure that the motion passed and – if possible – was strengthened by an amendment. So we created an online tool that over three hundred people in Portsmouth used to contact their councillors, asking that they support the motion and table an amendment.

The amendment we suggested made two recommendations. Firstly, that the motion commits a minimum of 5% Local Transport Plan funding, rather than asks the cabinet to “consider” making such an allocation.

Secondly, we asked that the amount of funding given to cycling rises incrementally each year, as it does in Edinburgh, and that bids are made to central Government to attempt to reach All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG) funding recommendations of £20 per head per year.

Thankfully, our supporters’ campaigning paid off and Cllr Stephen Morgan, better known since June as the Portsmouth South MP and Honorary Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, tabled our amendment.

Unfortunately, the amendment was quickly discounted by most members of the council. The Leader, Cllr Donna Jones, summarised the majority of chamber opinion when she said, “I wish I could support the Labour amendment but I just can’t. We can’t afford it.” She suggested that the proposed spend amounted to 100% of all local transport spending plus an extra £2 million that would have to be made from cuts to local services.

Cllr Winnington described the amendment as attempting to “run before you can walk”. Perhaps predictably, it was overturned.

In one sense it is fantastic that councillors were so supportive of the ambition of the amendment. What is disappointing is that it was so poorly understood. The amendment was very prescriptive in allocating just 5% of the local transport budget. The rest was to come from central Government, as is the case in most places with high cycling spends around the UK.

The good news is that the Conservatives tabled a rival amendment, which proposed 10% of local transport spending, double the amount the Labour amendment suggested. When put to a vote, the Conservative amendment passed unanimously.

Furthermore the Cabinet member for Transport, Cllr Bosher, made it clear that 10% was a “minimum” and that in reality, the council has already been spending far more than that on cycling. While that may be the case, it is fantastic to have assurance that future spending on cycling in Portsmouth will never drop below 10%. We are also confident that Portsmouth council and the local MPs will continue to lobby government for further funds.

The passing of this motion is a watershed moment for cycling in Portsmouth and for the Space for Cycling campaign nationally.

Tom Guha, Cycling UK's Infrastructure Campaigner

Some may criticise the Conservative amendment for suggesting that the council make a plan for cycling with ‘A City to Share’ “at its heart”, rather than to implement the document “in full”, however this may well be a sensible recommendation.

As a number of councillors pointed out in the meeting, Portsmouth City Council has been successful in securing support from the Department for Transport to produce a Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP), a Government initiative to produce high quality local cycling networks.

There are also several schemes currently being looked at which did not exist at the time ‘A City to Share’ was drafted. For example, a new East-West route was alluded to in the meeting and plans to upgrade the Eastern Road corridor have just been consulted on.

Ian Saunders, Chair of the Portsmouth Cycle Forum, said they were “Extremely pleased” that the council is taking steps to support their “Vision of a city fit for the future: a healthy, safe, sustainable, prosperous city that people want to live in, work in and visit”. He went on, “We look forward to continuing our work with the council to help this plan become reality."

The passing of this motion is a watershed moment for cycling in Portsmouth and for the Space for Cycling campaign nationally. Although other local authorities have passed motions to support Space for Cycling in the past, such as Cheshire East earlier this year, this is the strongest motion by a considerable margin. It is also the first motion to pass using Cycling UK’s template.

Now in Portsmouth, we must ensure that the planning process is comprehensive and that once building starts, the correct routes are prioritised and are built to a high standard.

Nationally, this motion resembles a litmus test for local campaign groups and councils. The process by which the motion passed is a perfect example of how Cycling UK resources can be utilised by local groups to engage local residents and councillors and affect profound change in the community.  

If you would like your local authority to follow in Portsmouth’s footsteps, please check out our draft motion and the various resources we have put together to assist you in getting it passed.