Over this last year, there is much to be positive about. We are optimistic that the effect of several high-level changes will have a positive “ripple effect”. These step changes are happening both at central government level (with the impact of Gear Change since 2020), with the recent establishment of Active Travel England and at a local level, with the commitment in West Yorkshire to reach Net Zero by 2038 signed up to by all the region’s council leaders and led by Mayor Tracey Brabin.
This latest commitment will require massive changes in the next 15 years, especially if we are to achieve the 2175% increase in journeys by bicycle required to achieve a desired reduction in climate emissions from transport. So far, this has not led to the sort of changes we would expect in Kirklees Council if these targets were reflected in their approach to priorities on modal shift, nor on tackling air quality.
Cycling, walking and wider use of public transport are the only realistic way we will reduce emissions in transport to ensure the required 27% reduction in car use is to be achieved in West Yorkshire. Assuming e-scooters are legalised, we will have an even more compelling reason for dedicated cycle paths – to keep e-scooters off the roads and off the pavements/footways. Instead, we are seeing a number of large housing developments planned that will contribute to traffic congestion, with limited vision of how cycling needs to be integrated into road infrastructure at the outset, or how increases in resulting traffic will affect the adjacent neighbourhoods.
In 2021/22 the Kirklees Cycling Campaign has built on the foundations laid by my predecessor, John Lewis, founder of KCC. Our small committee (which John left in early summer) has been busy promoting everyday cycling and helping to raise the profile of Cycle Kirklees. We are acutely aware there is a lot to do before cycling in all its forms is part of the mainstream of everyday life, but we think that if all the pro-cycling and active travel voices in Kirklees were better informed and engaged we would be more supported in our bid to secure improvements in planning decisions, highways and transport strategy.
In recent years we have been clear we want to improved accessibility for cyclists and pedestrians to our major towns centres. Although this focus was initially on securing improved crossings of the ring roads at Huddersfield and Dewsbury, we also need routes across both town centres as well as a network of secure parking locations. We have also been engaged in plans and activities to improve facilities for cycling in the central areas of Holmfirth and Batley.
We have also responded to a significant number of proposed improvements in the roads infrastructure (see Newsletters 50 – 54) and we are impressed by the commitment of council officers on trying to get new schemes right, even in the face of some inertia and campaigning. We have used our expertise and the experience of everyday users of major routes within the membership of Cycle Kirklees to contribute constructively to design challenges. During the year, we have contributed our ideas to about a dozen schemes in detailed, written submissions and in meetings with officers.
Our biggest worry has been the lack of engagement with some communities, which we believe needs to occur at an early stage. Consulting communities about plans for the A629 Halifax Road (Phase 5), which started in 2018, appears to have missed a lot of potential support for transforming neighbourhoods into places where cycling and walking could be safer and enjoyable. We think a lot of people in Marsh, Lindley, Birkby and Gledholt areas are in practice averse to more traffic being diverted through residential areas. In many areas people are already concerned about speeding traffic, parking on footways and road safety hazards for children travelling to and from school. But the schemes put forward have failed to capitalise and cater to these concerns, and the desire to create more liveable neighbourhoods has been frustrated by a top down consultation. As a result, the impetus now appears to be with those who are campaigning for “business as usual” and oppose change.
We have also been concerned at the lack of a strategic plan for cycling route development. The absence of this became clear when developers of planned housing alongside the long-awaited Fenay Greenway, which was partly to be built on a former railway track, were not asked to contribute to a Section 106 as part of the planning process. Technically the greenway route was not part of Kirklees Council’s planned projects, despite being cited in the current Local Plan. This omission looks even more critical now that there are about 650 more new houses included in a planning proposal along the former railway from Fenay Bridge towards Kirkburton.
Other Greenway extensions have proceeded with our support, including the Colne Valley Greenway, long championed by ex-Councillor Rob Walker. Progress is encouraging on the Meltham Greenway too – largely as a result of over 10 years commitment from ex-Councillor Terry Lyons. We salute both for their persistent efforts.
We have also appeared in autumn 2021 at a formal Public Enquiry as objectors to the lack of cycling and pedestrian access in the proposed upgrade of Huddersfield station. We were able to cross examine Network Rail on the absence of plans to establish pedestrian and cyclist access on the warehouse side of the station.
We have taken up a number of design issues that relate to accessible cycle routes including the need better access facilities that allow non-standard bikes to use most routes. On shared space we have started to develop common cause with walkers, pedestrians and people with disabilities. We believe that in some locations shared space will provide the safest and most cost-effective routes, but they will need to be designed to take an increase in capacity as cycling and walking become a more mainstream form of local transport.
We are supporting the expansion of e-cargo bikes as a replacement for small vans and as a better way in some areas of transporting children to school. We look forward to wholehearted promotion of this development by City Connect. In 2022/23 we look forward to a stronger practical commitment from employers in Kirklees to supporting the cycling agenda.
Whilst we welcome the establishment of the Kirklees Active Travel Partnership we do not think it is particularly effective and is not so far able to persuade us that Kirklees Council gives this issue the priority we and many people in the community think it should be given.
Finally, this year we have concentrated on improving our communications and now have a website (cyclekirklees.org.uk) that regularly keeps pace with news of everyday cycling and highlights news and opinion in our almost monthly newsletter. We have plans to expand our publicity activities and hope that it leads to many more people joining, contributing ideas and learning how they can help make cycling a mainstream activity here. Currently, we are also supporting EPIKs in attempting to establish an online forum or hub about all matters cycling in Kirklees, which we badly need.