Agenda item

Valley Floor to Claverton Down Cycle Route

At a previous meeting the Cabinet agreed to commission a citizens’ jury or other suitable process of public engagement to determine the most appropriate safe, strategic cycle route to improve travel between the city centre, the University of Bath and the large employment and education sites in the Claverton Down area.  Britain Thinks was commissioned to undertake the citizens’ panel.


Lucy Bush, Research Director, from Britain Thinks will attend the Cabinet meeting to present the key findings.


Lucy Bush, Research Director from Britain Thinks presented the key findings of the citizens’ panel and responded to questions from the Cabinet.  (A copy of the presentation slides is attached as Appendix 9 to these minutes).


Cllr Sarah Warren introduced the report and made the following statement:


“Cabinet, transport currently accounts for around 29% of carbon emissions in Bath and North East Somerset.  Ensuring the transport network can enable residents to move to more sustainable modes of travel is an essential part of our Journey to Net Zero strategy.A move to more active modes of travel will reduce congestion and pollution in our district, as well as improving public health through increasing physical activity, as we build it into our daily routines.


As our first venture into deliberative democracy in Bath & North East Somerset, this ground-breaking piece of work provides the most detailed assessment yet of the considered views on active travel, and active travel infrastructure, of a representative group of our residents. It gives us an understanding of what our communities think right now about how best to balance the interests of different users of our roads. And it gives us important information about where we need to focus our communication and public engagement efforts to best support the changes in travel culture that we aim to facilitate.


I think the findings can give us a lot of confidence as a Cabinet that, when we ask ordinary people, they agree that we should improve cycle and walking infrastructure, both for environmental, but more importantly for health reasons. But also, that we need to do more to engage them in the fact that active travel is part of the solution to congestion, as well as to introduce more of them to the transformative nature of e-bikes and e-scooters in tackling our hills.


The report is well worth a read in full, as it provides valuable, detailed insights into the aspirations and concerns about travel of residents from all walks of life and delivers in a new way on another of our administration’s priorities around giving our communities a bigger say. The use of this technique, in addition to the other consultation methods that we often use, has meant that we have heard in depth from people who aren’t transport campaigners, and who don’t have the strong views about travel that we often hear expressed, here at the council.


The panel has given us principles for decision-making when it comes to fitting active travel infrastructure onto our narrow roads. I want to thank them for that advice, which we will explicitly incorporate into our decision-making frameworks in future. It will assist us in designing infrastructure that provides practical and attractive alternatives to the car for more people, more of the time.


Cabinet, you will remember that this particular piece of work came about as a result of controversy around a proposal we considered in 2021 to install a bus gate on North Road. We decided at that time that, rather than go straight ahead with a controversial road closure, we would ask residents for their views in the form of the citizens’ panel. Whilst supportive of the need for infrastructure up the hill, the panel have suggested that in the first instance, the locations that may deliver the greatest increase in uptake of active travel may be along flatter routes, and this seems to me to be reasonable advice.


We are currently constructing safe, segregated cycle lanes on Beckford Road and Upper Bristol Road, but there is a need for safe cycling on all of our roads, so there is huge opportunity around the district still to extend provision for walking and cycling in a joined-up way, without bringing forward these particular routes at this time. We are very ambitious in this area and determined to bring forward more schemes of this sort.


At the council, we are constantly working on initiatives aimed at providing practical alternatives to the car, including up our steep hills. For instance, since the citizens’ panel met in spring, our e-scooter trial has been extended to include access to Bath University via Widcombe Hill, and it has also been announced that the scope of the e-scooter trial will soon be extended to include e-bike hire as well. Both of these exciting developments have the effect of making these hill-flattening technologies available to residents who might not otherwise seek them out or be able to afford them.


We have just announced the introduction of 20mph speed limits on these hills, and we have other plans in the pipeline aimed at promoting the use of alternatives to the car when accessing Claverton Down.


North Road, Bathwick and Widcombe Hills remain key strategic elements of an integrated and connected Bath cycle network, even if we are not taking the decision to bring them forward for fully segregated cycle infrastructure today. We will however now accelerate our previously consulted plans for safety measures to support safer walking and cycling on Widcombe Hill and around the plateau at Claverton Down. And we will consider a future piece of work with residents to consider how best to support alternatives to car use in the area, in the round.


Finally, I want to take this opportunity to thank first the 27 local people who gave up several hours of their valuable time as panel members, and gave the topic their serious and considered attention; as well as the local people who were kind enough to act as witnesses and pass on detailed evidence of their experience of Claverton Down to the panel; the over 700 residents who responded to the call for evidence; and finally Lucy Bush and her highly qualified team at Britain Thinks for carrying out the work; and council officer Dave Dixon who provided the liaison with Lucy’s team.


I move the recommendations as in the report.”


Cllr Manda Rigby seconded the motion and made the following statement:


“As evidenced by the response given earlier to a Councillor question to Cabinet, opinion was divided down the middle on the original proposals put forward for a scheme on North Road. Those who were passionate about cycling provision being made available immediately on this route were in conflict with those who would be hugely disadvantaged by this proposal. Those who believed that this would be a well-used route if provided were in conflict with those who looked at the current data of bike usage and believed Widcombe Hill would continue to be the hill of choice. Those who felt there would be little traffic displacement onto Cleveland Walk and Bathwick Hill if the North Road proposal went ahead, those who feared that the c4k journeys a day would all go onto Bathwick Hill and be in conflict with the very frequent student buses. 


The word I’ve used most so far is conflict. The second most used word is opinion. And there’s the rub. The opinions we were hearing were that of all those with direct skin in the game, very fixed views leading to head on conflict, but what did the general public, in old parlance, the man on the Clapham omnibus, think of the issue?


As Lib Dems we had said that we were keen to explore different ways of engaging with our community, hearing their opinions, and it was suggested that this might be a good topic for our first Citizens’ Panel. This suggestion was backed by all four of the Widcombe and Lyncombe and Bathwick Councillors, whose wards this most directly affected.


We’ve heard from Britain Thinks how this was done, how a panel was selected, how they were representative of our community. And before us we have the output of their deliberations.


I’ve heard some comments already about how this was a waste of money and told us nothing new. Compared to a full public consultation, this was very good value financially, and in terms of giving a clear steer about how we do schemes like this in the future was invaluable.


So, whilst those very keen and confident cyclists may have thought that those less keen and confident would be ok to start off by using the steep hills, the general opinion expressed by the panel was that starting on the flatter routes is the best way to go.


Those who see no value in active travel and remain thinking that the car is king under all circumstances are having their views challenged, as the majority absolutely want more cycling and walking provision when it comes to allocating out scarce highways resource.


I expect I’ve been more irritating than usual, in that as long as I’ve been on Cabinet, I have been saying that a key limiter of uptake of more cycling will be the lack of provision of secure storage. That’s also what the panel said. People living in flats won’t invest in a bike if they have nowhere to store it at home no matter how many millions we spend on other infrastructure. That is even more the case when it comes to valuable e-bikes. I personally ask weekly for progress on the Sydney Buildings bike storage hangar. I trust I haven’t been too unbearable.


So, I am delighted to second this motion. My personal view is that what was being proposed on North Road was not the right thing to do, was the wrong scheme in the wrong place, and although a lot of misinformation was put out about it into the general public, which caused more confusion, the panel selected by Britain Thinks heard the truth and came up with the right result.”


Cllr Alison Born welcomed the report and noted that it was breaking new ground for the Council in terms of its public engagement.  She stated that the University of Bath is a major generator of transport movements and that longer-term solutions will be required to be designed between the University and the Council.


Cllr Richard Samuel welcomed the methodology and noted that no single solutions are available.  He felt that the cost of the citizens’ panel was modest and would produce better outcomes.


RESOLVED (unanimously):


(1)  To note the highly valuable and informative work undertaken by the Citizens’ Panel, and to thank all participants for their involvement in this pioneering study.


(2)  To adopt the four principles to guide decision making on any new active travel schemes being developed in B&NES.


(3)  To note the views of the Citizens’ Panel in relation to the Claverton Down to Valley Floor Cycle Route.


(4)  To confirm the preferred course of action for this route from the options presented:


·  To note the recent commencement of the e-scooter expansion to include this intervention.


·  To revisit all options for traffic reduction on the route from valley floor to Claverton Down and, using the co-design techniques learned through the Liveable Neighbourhoods work and the principles outlined, work with stakeholders to identify a comprehensive strategy to reduce car use and enable safer active travel options.


·  To recommence the Transport Improvement Programme in the Claverton Down area, previously paused to avoid abortive works.


·  To progress with a programme of investment to improve walking and cycling links, following the approach advocated by the Citizens’ Panel.

Supporting documents: