News  ⁄  Transport & mobility

Devon County Council fails to deliver promised COVID-19 cycling and walking infrastructure

Deadline for action on social distancing for safe travel set by county cabinet member passes despite Devon receiving £1.7 million share of government emergency fund.

Devon county council   Coronavirus   Cycling & walking  

Devon County Council has delivered none of the pop-up infrastructure it proposed to enable safe cycling and walking in Exeter during the coronavirus pandemic.

Andrew Leadbetter, county councillor for Wearside & Topsham and Exeter’s only county cabinet member, confirmed that proposals outlined by the county nearly three weeks ago would be delivered by today.

However no changes have been made to the road layout on Fore Street, South Street, North Street, Cowick Street or Magdalen Road.

Andrew Leadbetter also said proposals to accelerate the delivery of planned changes on Union Road, as part of the E4 cycle route linking Exeter Science Park with the university, would be considered. But no action has so far been taken.

He said: “This work does cost money and is partly reliant on us getting the money from government. But we want to do this and we are going with temporary traffic orders so we can put these things in.”

Cyclists, pedestrians and cars compete for space on Union Road, Exeter, 1 June 2020 Cyclists, pedestrians and cars compete for space on Union Road today

The government announced a £250 million emergency active travel fund on 9 May directing local highways authorities to reallocate road space to walking and cycling to relieve pressure on public transport as lockdown eases.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “The government expects local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians”.

The accompanying guidance said “whole route” approaches should be taken to “create corridors for buses, cycles and access only on key routes into town and city centres”.

The government directed Devon County Council to implement such measures “as swiftly as possible, and in any event within weeks, given the urgent need to change travel habits before the restart takes full effect”.

According to legal advice received by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Cycling and Walking, councils are compelled to make the changes and central government could step in to take powers away from councils to ensure interventions are made.

But despite receiving a share of the fund worth nearly £1.7 million last week Devon County Council has yet to implement the government’s wishes.

Vehicles on Cowick Street, Exeter on 1 June 2020 Vehicles on Cowick Street today

The Department for Transport wrote to Devon County Council on 27 May to confirm that the money would be made available “so that work can begin at pace on closing roads to through traffic, installing segregated cycle lanes and widening pavements”.

Rupert Furness, deputy director for active and accessible travel, said: “The main purpose of the initial funding is to promote cycling as a replacement for journeys previously made by public transport”.

He added: “The amounts are only indicative. To receive any money under this or future tranches, you will need to show us that you have swift and meaningful plans to reallocate road space to cyclists and pedestrians, including on strategic corridors.

“Anything that does not meaningfully alter the status quo on the road will not be funded.”

However while a statement from the county council the following day acknowledged that traffic on Devon’s roads had increased by 50% from lockdown levels and that average speeds had also risen, it simply encouraged road users to be more considerate of each other.

And in a recent road space reallocation guidance document the county said that the strategic route changes directed by the transport secretary are “unlikely to be delivered as part of this initiative”.

Ludwell Lane with Devon County Council traffic regulation order notice marked in red Ludwell Lane (Devon County Council traffic regulation order notice marked in red)

Meanwhile, notices have appeared on Ludwell Lane which say that a fifteen metre section has been closed to through traffic from today to enable COVID-19 transport response works.

Local residents out walking their dogs said they had not been contacted about the road closure despite living immediately beside it.

At the same time a series of vehicles drove along the closed section in both directions, prompting them to question how the highways authority planned to enforce the change.

On hearing of the Department of Transport funding, they joked that Devon County Council must be trying to pass Ludwell Lane off as a strategic corridor while leaving Alphington Road, Topsham Road and Heavitree Road untouched.


Update 3 June 2020

Following publication of this story, Devon County Council issued a news release outlining its plans in more detail and added additional information to its website.

It also responded to questions about the delay with a statement. A spokesperson said: “We had hoped work could start on 1 June, but contractor availability has unfortunately not made that possible.

“We expect to receive the initial payment of £338,000, specifically for initial temporary walking and cycling improvements, once the Department for Transport has reviewed our plans which need to be submitted this Friday 5 June.

“Traffic order notices are already going up in areas where measures will be introduced over the coming weeks, as soon as contractors are available. These measures have to be introduced within eight weeks of receiving the funding.”

Traffic regulation order notices for the planned changes are not yet available on the county’s website, but may be found in affected streets.


Update 8 June 2020

We asked further questions about the timing of the planned changes but have not so far received a reply.

We asked whether the procurement of contractors to deliver the proposed changes was contingent on Department for Transport approval of submitted plans, and so cannot take place until approval is confirmed.

We asked, if so, how works could have commenced (or been completed, as stated by Andrew Leadbetter) on 1 June when the deadline for submission of plans was 5 June and, if not, when the county first became aware that no contractor was available to commence (or complete) the works by that date, and for what reason was no other contractor was procured to complete the works.

We also asked, given that the Department for Transport fund must be spent within eight weeks of approval of submitted plans, as per government guidance, whether delivery would be contingent on the availability of contractors such that, should contractors not be available, as has apparently already caused delay, delivery would not take place.


 is managing editor of Exeter Observer and a director of its publisher Greater Exeter CIC.

 

 

 


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Front elevations of proposed development at Mount Radford Lawn

Analysis  ⁄  Planning & place

Mount Radford Lawn development proposals conflict with St Leonards community vision

Exeter Deaf Academy hopes to sell a school playing field to developers who plan to build luxury homes. Local residents have other ideas about how best to use the land. A dispute is looming over an historic green space driven by prospective profit from planning gain.

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Rainbow Trail LGBTQIA+ exhibition queers RAMM for Exeter Pride 2019

Preview  ⁄  Arts & culture

Rainbow Trail LGBTQIA+ exhibition queers RAMM for Exeter Pride 2019

A new collaboration between X-Plore Youth Devon, Exeter College LGBTQ+ society, Natalie McGrath of Dreadnought SW and Dr Jana Funke of the University of Exeter explores gender and sexual diversity across time, place and culture by reimagining objects from the RAMM collections.

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Exeter City Council city centre wards map

News  ⁄  Democracy & governance

Exeter Labour loses local elections in all three city centre wards

Voters in Exeter yesterday elected three new councillors to represent them in the key wards that cover the city centre, with all the city's ruling Exeter Labour group candidates missing out despite the party's confident campaign.

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Exeter Clifton Hill sports centre

Analysis  ⁄  Planning & place

Clifton Hill sports centre – the background

Storm Emma met the Beast from the East and dumped a huge amount of snow on the roof of Exeter's Clifton Hill sports centre, setting off a chain reaction which has ignited two campaigns and put Exeter City Council's approaches to competence and openness into sharp focus.

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Jemima Moore campaigning in Exeter local elections

Profile  ⁄  Democracy & governance

Local resident stands as independent candidate in Exeter elections

Jemima Moore is a 36 year-old part-time primary school teacher and mother of two young children with little political experience. So why has she decided to stand for election to Exeter City Council on 2 May?

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Exeter City Council press and public exclusion notice

Analysis  ⁄  Democracy & governance

What does your council know that you don't know you don't know?

Extracting information from councils is hard work but increasingly necessary for local democracy.

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Greater Exeter Strategic Plan banner

Analysis  ⁄  Planning & place

Is the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan GESPing for air?

The Greater Exeter Strategic Plan has been a long time in gestation. When it finally arrives, will it deliver?

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Extinction Rebellion climate emergency protesters in Exeter Guildhall shopping centre

News  ⁄  Climate & environment

Exeter Extinction Rebellion stages climate emergency protest

Today around 70 people joined the Exeter branch of Extinction Rebellion on the city's streets to demand urgent action to minimise the risk of catastrophic impacts from climate change.

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Kaleider Mikrofest Our Dancing Shadows in Exeter Princesshay

Review  ⁄  Arts & culture

Out of sight, out of mind

A performance of From The Light of The Fire, Our Dancing Shadows in Exeter for Kaleider Mikrofest appears to favour illusion over truth in a confused rendering of Plato's cave allegory that leaves both performers and audience in the dark.

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Exeter St James period housing stock

Comment  ⁄  Planning & place

Exeter St James regeneration

How can the supply of low-cost, incrementally investable city centre accommodation be stimulated to attract and retain creative, technically-skilled young entrepreneurial talent?

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Historic Exe Bridge traffic

Comment  ⁄  Transport & mobility

Streets are for people, not cars

Cars adversely affect economic output, air quality and wellbeing, take up valuable space when parked and discourage people from walking and cycling when driven. Reducing their use would enhance Exeter's retail and leisure offer, improve public health and attract needed workers to the city.

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