22 Oct 2015

Better facilities for Cyclists

I recently brought a motion before Wirral Council to secure support for proper facilities for cycle storage at new-build blocks of flats and commercial premises. This reflects years of frustration on the part of the Wirral Cycling Campaign who have been campaigning on this issue.

This was referred to the planning committee. I'm glad to say the committee unanimously supported the motion which reads as follows:

Proposed by Councillor Pat Cleary Seconded by Councillor Phil Gilchrist

This Council supports the development of facilities for cycling in the interests of improved health, reduced air pollution, less congestion, and more economical travel. In particular, Council recognises that secure cycle parking/storage facilities are fundamental in facilitating the bicycle as a practical mode of transport for Wirral residents.

Council recognises that efforts to update Wirral's cycle parking standards have been ongoing for some time and looks forward to their implementation.

In the meantime, Council requests that officers reporting to the Head of Regeneration and Planning and the Strategic Director of Regeneration and Environment adopt a robust approach in requiring all relevant planning applications to identify, on submitted plans, the provision of cycle-parking facilities at homes and destinations which comply with the approved Council Cycle-Parking standards contained in Supplementary Planning Guidance 42 (Cycle Parking), and supplementary Planning Guidance Document 2 (Designing for Self-contained Flat Development and Conversions).

Below you can read my comments to the committee about this motion:

This motion is based on a very simple principal: If people cannot keep their cycles securely at home and at their destinations, they will not own a bicycle, and therefore cannot benefit from the cycle facilities which the Government and the Council are currently funding and seeking to provide in the future. 

To facilitate this we need clear standards that are properly enforced so that submitted plans routinely include adequate provision for cycle storage.

I doubt that apartment blocks in my ward are very different from anywhere else in Wirral but when I visit them I frequently encounter bicycles left on landings, balconies or chained to staircases. Or, even worse, a lonely bicycle lock still clinging to the railings following the theft of its parent. Of course, we have no idea how many people never acquired a bicycle in the first place because they had nowhere safe to keep it. What we do know is that, gradually, more people are cycling. Bicycle sales nationally in 2014 were 3.6 million compared with 2.4 million cars.

We also know that housing costs and welfare changes including the bedroom tax are forcing more people to downsize. The new lower benefit cap from April is likely to accelerate this shift to smaller accommodation. For those affected, a bicycle is often the most economical and perhaps the only form of affordable transport. It can greatly expand access to local services, training and employment.

Moreover, we are fortunate on Wirral that we have in Merseyrail a transport operator that takes bicycles seriously and has invested smartly in providing cycle storage facilities on its trains and at its stations. For many people, myself included, a combination of bicycle and train offers a real alternative to car ownership.

The background to all of this is a long standing campaign by the Wirral Cycling Campaign to secure better cycle storage in blocks of flats and places of employment. I have a brief quote from a letter sent to David Ball in August this year which reads as follows:

"For the past 15 years we have routinely and constructively objected to planning applications that fail to meet Wirral's guidelines in relation to cycle parking. All this in the hope that developers, pressed by the Planning Authority, would submit their applications at the outset with the appropriate facilities shown on the plans.  With very limited exceptions, this has not happened.  Worse still, the planning process has rarely dealt with the issue, except that on most occasions (but not all), case officers now simply add a cycle-parking condition to the planning permission.  This is not satisfactory, as staffing arrangements do not allow for non-compliance to be monitored, and enforcement action to be taken.  The time has surely come for more robust action from the Planning Authority to implement the Council's policy on cycle-parking.  WE ASK THAT PLANNING APPLICATIONS SHOULD NOT BE REGISTERED UNTIL THE REQUIRED FACILITIES FOR CYCLE-PARKING ARE SHOWN ON THE SUBMITTED PLANS.   This happens in other situations when inadequate planning applications are submitted, and such action will concentrate the minds of applicants."

If we look at items 4 and 10 on tonight's agenda we see two experienced applicants who have failed to include proper cycle storage in their plans thereby resulting in conditions being applied. Given budget cutbacks, it is hardly realistic to expect officers to enforce these conditions. The obvious solution is to ensure that submitted plans include adequate provision and that, over time, developers see this as something this is routinely included.

That's what this motion seeks to achieve. We are simply asking officers to implement council policy and play their part in increasing the number of journeys by bicycle and the many benefits that derive from that.

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