The stated aim of the Department for Transport (DfT) in its Emergency Active Travel Fund, amounting nationally to £250m, is “to enable more people to walk and to cycle”. The share of this sum allocated to East Sussex County Council (ESCC) in May this year was £2,395,000, divided into two tranches – 25% (£479,000) for ‘Phase 1’, the installation of temporary projects responding to the Covid-19 pandemic; the rest (£1,916,00) for ‘Phase 2’, the creation of longer-term projects.

Phase 1 was supposed to include consideration of road closures, widened footways, pop-up cycle lanes, temporary cycle parking and social distancing signage. As we reported in HIP 155 on 3rd July under the heading Are Councils Failing Cyclists?, this amounted in Hastings and Rother to a spread of signage in town centres, along seafronts, and at bus stops, plus some footway widening schemes in Hastings, Bexhill and Rye, with nothing of significance offered for cyclists.

However, even for pedestrians, ESCC’s proposals have been substantially watered down, with many of the pavement schemes abandoned after receiving vocal feedback from local traders objecting to threatened loss of on-street parking.

Bexhill Chamber of Commerce & Tourism concluded, after consulting (they said) with over 150 businesses, that the proposals to widen footways at Devonshire Road and Western Road would not help recovery. Parking was already in short supply. The existing footways were already wide enough to accommodate over one-metre pedestrian distancing, and the measures would not make the streets more attractive places to shop. They suggested that the money could be used instead to repair both pavement and road surfaces, and for street cleaning. 

PICTURE: Dave Young

One business owner was quoted as calling the proposals a “waste of time and money”; another called them “insane” – what was needed instead was more customer parking and enforcement of the existing and planned parking restrictions to increase turnover of shoppers.

In Rye, where it was proposed that the High Street be closed between 10am and 4pm, concerns were raised about the impact on bus services. And while the Town Council and Rye Conservation Society were broadly in favour of widening pavements, the local Chamber of Commerce objected to the loss of parking and queried the need.

The widening of the footway between the Stade and Pelham Place on Hastings seafront is going ahead. However, another small section programmed for widening between Warrior Square and London Road, St Leonards, has been shelved after feedback that there was little footfall there and it would interfere with trade deliveries and pick-ups. The ESCC officer’s report noted: “The traders’ comments are key to the acceptability of any scheme.”

Meanwhile, ESCC also released last week a copy of their submission to the DfT for the second tranche funds. They describe their proposals for Phase 2 as: “creating an environment that is safer for both walking and cycling to replace journeys made by car and public transport”. However, the actual programmes amount very largely to “walking enhancement” schemes while, again, nothing is offered for cyclists.

A ‘Schools Streets’ initiative “will involve working with schools to help them support their pupils and their families with the journey to school”, both under Covid-19 conditions and for the longer term. But the range of this looks pretty modest, involving up to eight primary schools across the county including just two in Hastings and Rother: All Saints C of E Junior Academy in Hastings Old Town and Little Common Primary. Up to £30,000 will be allocated per school “to implement initiatives to encourage walking and cycling to school and safe social distancing” by delivering temporary road closures and cycle/scooter parking. There is, separately, a project to work with secondary schools “to identify initiatives and solutions… to reduce the demand on the use of school buses and other public transport”.

More substantial funding will be directed at enhancing pedestrian footways in Hastings and Bexhill generally, with a programme for widening and resurfacing, repair of trip hazards and extensive kerb-dropping. But no evidence is put forward that a substantial proportion of townspeople are deterred from walking into town by poor footway conditions nor that they will be attracted to do so by the programme of improvements.

If ever there was a chance for ambitious, active travel infrastructure and policy, it’s now

On the other hand, ESCC explains that, “due to Covid-19 related delays,” segregated cycle routes in various parts of the county “are still subject to public consultation and detailed design. As a consequence, none of these can be accelerated to take advantage of the Tranche 2 funding and for construction to start by March 2021.” Hastings has several such routes mapped out in principle. But clearly none of the available money is going to be spent on making them a reality, even though that’s what local cycling groups have been pressing for over many years.

They have reacted with more sorrow than surprise. 

“It’s dispiriting, the lack of ambition from ESCC is terrible”, says Tim Godwin of Bike Lab, Hastings. “Even though they emphasise walking over cycling, with no cycling infrastructure proposed at all in Hastings, the walking infrastructure interventions are archaic and give the impression of a local authority stuck in the 1980s. I assume all their officers drive to work. They have certainly always driven to the cycling infrastructure meetings I’ve attended.

“If ever there was a chance for ambitious, active travel infrastructure and policy, it’s now, with Covid-19 providing the immediate impetus, and inactive lifestyles, air pollution and climate change hard behind, like the four horsemen of the apocalypse – but they have forsaken the saddles and are now sat in a diesel SUV.

“Other local authorities around the UK are doing much more, much faster, to provide safe infrastructure for active travel. The reasons for not doing so here in East Sussex are invisible to me.”

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