Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by John Cutler Esq (WTC 81)


  1.  I am a local campaigner on walking and cycling issues in Northamptonshire and especially in the town of Northampton. For ten years or so I have followed local transport and development plans on behalf of a cycling organisation. More recently I have included walking issues as they are often related and as they have come to the fore in policy discussion.

  2.  This memorandum refers to my view of whether, in the Northampton area, local authorities are taking appropriate measures, whether the Local Transport Plan system looks likely to be effective in promoting walking as suggested in the Government Paper "Encouraging Walking" and what the obstacles are to increasing the number of journeys made on foot.

  3.  Northamptonshire has been successful in its local transport bid, receiving £6½ million for integrated transport measures. This is, very unlike previous years, more than requested. Resources appear to be available to encourage walking through minor capital schemes. However, the increased funding is to be spent on larger schemes such as transport interchanges and rail initiatives rather than smaller scale "sustainable measures". But there is a clear policy to encourage walking in the LTP and a strategy explains the type of measures planned. A (rather modest) local target has been adopted to increase the percentage of children walking to school from 50 per cent to 54 per cent.

  4.  The Government paper Encouraging Walking was published late in the process of developing the plan. Dated March, it may have been too late to fully influence the details in the LTP, which has to be completed, approved by council committee and sent off to the regional government office by the end of July. No doubt our local walking strategy could be improved with further thought, but it is a good start and has been met with approval by the Government Office in their assessment of the LTP. I agree with those who are disappointed that there was not a National Walking Strategy after the long deliberations of the national steering group. That would have given a much stronger and more convincing lead to local policy formation.

  5.  The problem with walking (as with cycling) is not in the good intentions expressed in the well-written plans and policy documents. It is in what actually happens. In the past there was often a real problem of lack of resources to carry out schemes. But the TPP process was notorious as a bidding game rather than a plan of actions that the local authority really expected to carry through. Studies done of TPPs used to show the large amounts of money claimed as intended to be spent on walking and cycling, but there were no studies that I am aware of which showed the very different outcome.

  6.  It seemed to me that there was a failure over a number of years by the regional Government Office to monitor the actual policies and progress in the Northampton package area when allocating further resources. It should have been apparent from the documents that real progress on the ground was not being made to increase walking and cycling.

  7.  The new LTP system seeks to improve on this situation by having a logical link between objectives, strategies, targets and monitoring. It remains to be seen if and when this will work through into tangible results. The assessment of our LTP in the settlement letter from GOEM does not give much confidence that their resistance to bamboozle has been stiffened.

  8.  The worrying problem emerging ever more clearly is that front line decision makers have not taken the strategies to heart and that there is an increasing divergence of declared policies with what is actually happening. This arises partly as a result of the structure of local government in Northampton. The County Council prepares the declared strategies and these have to comply with national policy to win funding. But the Borough Council is left free to pursue its own line, which is based mainly on what is perceived as pleasing resident voters. The way town policy decisions are arrived at is opaque and secretive, taking place in forums such as private meetings with the police or liaison groups of councillors and officers. The public meetings at which such decisions are endorsed are almost never the occasion for real discussion. Appendix A gives a brief explanation of how the decision making seems to be taking place.

  9.  There is evidence that a de facto anti-walking and cycling policy is being pursued in the town. Very far from the network being enhanced to encourage these modes it is being severely damaged by the Borough Council. Barriers erected in the hope that they will combat motorcycle nuisance are an obstacle to prams, cyclists and the disabled. Recently there have been area wide closures of paths on estates where crime has been a problem. Now paths are being closed by traffic regulation orders where residents have given up hope of the police tackling vandalism and crime.

  10.  There is substantial resistance to closure by a minority of people, especially those without access to cars. The council has ignored or disparaged the objections calling paths "rat runs". Appendix B[11] is a photocopy of the objections by residents recorded in the local paper to the fencing of an estate to make it impermeable to pedestrians and a photocopy of some objections to the traffic regulation order which closed an important path. After considering these objections the committee decided to close two more in addition.

  11.  The unwillingness of the police to tackle minor crime related to routes away from the carriageway causes political pressure to build up to close paths. Through their partnership arrangements with the Borough Council they influence decisions which have not been subject to the sort of consultation that is required for LTP policies. If the local police have a transport policy it is to prevent walking and cycling which they have deduced leads to criminal damage and burglary and an increased workload for themselves.

  12.  There seems to be a failure to integrate transport policies as actually carried out with crime and disorder, regeneration and development policies. There are also many signs that the relationship between Borough Council and County Council is often antagonistic or non-cooperative.

  13.  "Encouraging Walking" and many other documents refer to the security issue from the point of view of pedestrians being fearful of attack. The other side of the coin is that residents alongside paths are fearful that people walking past will break in to steal something. In local politics that view carries more weight because residents are identifiable voters in a councillor's ward, whereas the users of a path are a dispersed and usually unorganised group.

  14.  There is no realistic plan of the present or future network of walking routes in Northampton let alone an assessment of their quality. There does not seem to be any data about which routes are being used for travel to work or school and these have often been closed by new development rather than formalised. Important routes from one area to another are often the ones most likely to be used illegally by motorcycles and there are two recent examples of very important routes being closed. Only in response to objections to a traffic regulation order did the Borough Council acting as the highway authority in one case even bother to count the number of people using an important path.

  15.  The largest budget allocation claimed to encourage cycling and walking is now for the Safer Routes to Schools schemes. It is very unclear how these schemes are decided and prioritised, and who decides what goes into them. In practice they normally consist of traffic calming humps and pelican crossings. No doubt this does make the walking environment safer and more pleasant, but it is unclear whether it results in increased walking to school.

  16.  Figures on actual accidents in the proximity to schools or casualties to children on their school journeys are not easily obtainable by the public so the value for money as accident reduction is not apparent. The suspicion is that the budget is being used to provide speed reduction to please residents in key constituencies. Presumably in time the monitoring under new LTP arrangements will show if there has been any modal shift in schools journeys.

January 2001

11   Not printed. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 29 June 2001