'They are so far behind it's ridiculous': Council criticised over lack of action on creating safe cycling routes

A council which has unanimously supported the Government’s ambition for the UK to be carbon neutral by 2050 has been criticised over the scope and pace of its ambition towards creating cycling routes.

Opposition members of North Yorkshire County Council said the authority’s decision to focus cycling route creation only in main district centres fell well short of the urgency and action that it needed to take to improve the county’s environmental credentials.

They added while the authority was using hundreds of thousands of pounds of its discretionary spending to back international cycling events, which it said would encourage cycling, it was not using any of its discretionary spending to develop safe routes for cyclists.

The criticism comes ahead of the Tory-run authority’s constituency committee considering its approach to cycle path network provision, which it says is “severely restricted” due to a lack of funding.

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A report to the committee states: “Unfortunately, in the current financial climate, and with competing priorities there is limited budget to deliver cycle routes.

"The county council currently receives £3.023m annual allocation for all transport improvements for the whole county or approximately £5 per head of population. A significant proportion of this funding is dedicated towards providing additional highway maintenance, our top transport priority.”

Despite the funding restrictions, the council said it did actively seek funding from the government for cycling initiatives by submitting ad hoc bids for funding when opportunities arise and this had led to £900,000 being granted for sustainable transport initiatives in Harrogate, Scarborough and Skipton and £3.2m for measures such as a road-side cycle track in the west of Harrogate.

In 2017, the government urged councils to create Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans to make walking and cycling “the natural choices for shorter journeys or as part of a longer journey” and has granted £60,000 to North Yorkshire to develop such plans for Harrogate, Scarborough and Skipton.

The county council is also jointly working with district councils to develop plans for Selby, Sherburn, Tadcaster and Malton and intends to start plans for Northallerton and Catterick Garrison in the near future.

However, Councillor Mike Jordan, of the Yorkshire Party, said while more areas needed to have plans if opportunities to increase environmentally-friendly travel were to be seized, some of the plans that were being developed had been suggested a decade ago. He said the council could find money for cycle-friendly schemes if the political will was there.

Setting out the county’s 2016 to 2045 transport plan, the authority said it would prioritise the maintenance of existing footways, roads, and cycle tracks over the provision of new facilities.

Cllr Jordan said it was apparent developing options for cycling in centres such as Northallerton, which regularly suffers from congestion due to traffic building up at level crossings, was long overdue and would be a cost-effective measure.

He said: “They are so far behind the scale of things it’s ridiculous. It has got budgets. It needs to start thinking differently, more out of the box.”