It’s taken Devon County Council so long to put together a draft Exeter Local Cycling & Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) that the government active travel investment strategy that requires it is already in the second year of its second four year phase
Last month county officers presented an Exeter LCWIP update to the Exeter Highways and Traffic Orders Committee (HaTOC) which monitors such matters at County Hall.
Not only was this no more than a preamble to a consultation on the draft version of the plan, which the county council said would be held “over the summer and early autumn”, there is still no date set for the public consultation to take place.
The county council’s soft-pedalling follows an Exeter LCWIP scoping report it produced in May 2021, four years after the government tasked the county council with producing the plan, which set a plan production timetable which is now twelve months behind schedule.
It also produced a follow-up background report two months later, in response to which Exeter Cycling Campaign published a comprehensive analysis which identified a range of ways in which the county council’s efforts could be improved.
However last month’s update confirms that striking deficiencies remain in the county council’s approach which include omitting several Exeter residential areas and failing to include routes which reach all of the city’s schools.
You wouldn’t know it from the HaTOC meeting minutes, but Green Party councillor Amy Sparling raised these issues and more, including the plan’s insufficiency to support 50% of Exeter trips being made on foot or by bike, a target set by the county council’s own Exeter Transport Strategy.
And the Exeter LCWIP still has to travel through several more stages before finally being signed off by the county council, which has not set a date for this either. It says it will then be embedded in key strategic documents including the new Exeter Local Plan, in line with Department for Transport guidance.
However when Mike Walton of Exeter Cycling Campaign asked Exeter City Council to confirm that it would incorporate the Exeter LCWIP in the new Exeter Local Plan at its July meeting, Labour councillor Emma Morse said it would not, on the basis that the procedures for producing the two policies were inconsistent.
Apart from implying that the Department for Transport should change its national guidance to conform with Exeter City Council’s considered view of the matter, the council also sought to hide behind changes to the national planning policy framework which are being introduced by the government’s Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill.
The bill only reached committee stage at the end of June, with amendments yet to be confirmed, and will not pass this stage until after the city council has signed off on its draft local plan for consultation.
For a second-tier council that is not a local transport authority to overrule Department for Transport guidance on the grounds that it knows what a government bill will or will not contain by the time it becomes law in 2023 is putting the cart before the horse.
Either way, however much it drags its heels it doesn’t look like the county council can keep delivering cycling infrastructure that doesn’t meet the standards outlined in the government’s Gear Change strategy, as it intends to do at Magdalen Road, for much longer.
Active Travel England will formally become a government executive agency later this year, when it will become responsible for assessing all applications from local transport authorities, including Devon County Council, for active travel funding.
It will only fund schemes which meet LTN 1/20 cycle infrastructure design standards and will also inspect schemes that have already been funded to ensure they meet these standards.
Exeter can expect to be passed over for future active travel funding without an LCWIP which meets these standards.