Let Havering Cycle
I spent this morning outside Havering Town Hall, to observe and listen to the Let Havering Cycle protest. Arranged by Havering Extinction Rebellion (XR) and Havering Cyclist, around 30 riders crossed the Borough to demand 3 things;
- Safer accessible cycle routes
- Active travel plans to tackle air pollution
- A cycling network to schools, shops and healthcare centres.
To their credit, Havering’s coalition administration sent along two representatives. Deputy leader Gillian Ford (HRA) and cabinet member for climate change Keith Darvill (Lab). Both of whom joined in on the ride.
Romford is the only town I’ve lived in where I haven’t cycled. This is partly due to a reluctance to replace my bike after a theft, but also because it’s just not that cycle friendly. So, I was pleased to see a group who are putting cycling on the agenda. I’m also pleased that the coalition administration are lending an ear.
A few responses to questions stood out to me and, as an opposition member, it’s my job to be a friendly critic.
When asked about the plans the coalition have, the responses mostly focused around a lack of money. Whilst phrased in multiple different ways, Cllr Gillian Ford summed it up by saying “the coffers are empty”.
Cllr Keith Darvill phrased things a little more subtlety, explaining that many of their plans rely on TFL cash. He then proceeded to mention that TFL are still waiting for their latest settlement from the government, so he wasn’t sure when Havering would see any money. He also explained that the Government prevent councils from increasing council tax beyond 5%, limiting the amount of money that can be raised in that manner.
Both coalition representatives referenced the Community Infrastructure Levy (a charge placed on developers to help develop infrastructure) as a possible source of funding. Smartly replied to by an XR organiser who asked if that means we have to wait for yet more developments before we get cash for cycling.
I am not sure that the coalition’s response is quite good enough and it concerned me. Whilst there is the reality of a economic struggle in Havering, I was in essence watching two politicians giving politician’s answers. There didn’t seem to be any urgency. I hope I’m wrong.
Funding is there
XR organisers asked the coalition representatives if they were “aware of any funding opportunities coming up”. Unfortunately, politics seemed to get in the way and they both failed to mention huge sums of government cash ready and waiting. I believe funding is there and that the coalition is simply failing to get it.
The Government recently launched the Levelling Up fund. This is £1.7bn for projects such as infrastructure upgrades. Havering Council can bid for up to £50m. There is also the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, with the government setting aside £2bn for investment.
Preston recently secured £5m of funding for infrastructure upgrades, Carmathenshire got £15m for cycle paths, Gloucester secured over £12.8M. These are mega sums of cash and a lot more than the few bob Havering Council gets from developers.
But the coalition didn’t put in a bid for any of the Levelling-up fund.
I wrote to them in July and asked if they’d submit a bit and was told “they’re looking at opportunities”. When I chased in August, after the bid closed, they told me that they didn’t submit a bid because “in [earlier rounds] they were advised they were not a priority”. They have, however, told me that they’d look at the possibility of putting in a bid for a later round.
All over the country, councils are winning big sums of cash to improve their cycling and walking infrastructure. They are getting cash to improve road junctions, to put in cycle paths, and to hand out cycle vouchers.
Acting with urgency
If Havering’s coalition is going to admit that we have a climate emergency, if they are going to take cycling seriously, then they need to act with urgency. They can’t simply wait for more developments, or for TFL to maybe chuck them a few spare quid.
This administration is doing something, they are showing a willingness to listen. But we also now need action.
Havering Council must start submitting bids for the much needed cash! There's only so long one can point at the government and say "they've stripped back our funding" whilst also failing to ask for any of the cash they are handing out.
Whilst I don’t much like the way XR do things nationally, I hope that they and Havering Cyclists can keep up the pressure and secure massive improvements over the next 4 years. I will be looking to attend the local green-forums, to remain plugged in and listening, to ensure I am in touch with all sides of the debate.