In my last post on 24 July, I spoke about the obstructions present along NCN52, specifically in the form of K-Frame barriers on a section known locally as Weddington Walk. Having not received a satisfactory response from my general enquiry to Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council, I sent a message with a list of questions asked under the Freedom of Information Act. They responded yesterday, as follows:
- Please provide details of the nature and number of complaints that have been raised from any source in respect of motorcycle use of this path, broken down by year, since its inception to the present day. Please provide the same for Sandon Park as a whole covering the same time period.
“Unfortunately, we have no historical records of complaints of motorbike use, however since the K-barriers have been in place, we have received no complaints.”
- Please provide a copy of any Council cycle strategy or policy regarding encouraging active travel.
“The Council has no strategy for cycling or active travel, this is a County Council function.”
- Please detail what design standards guidance were referred to when evaluating measures to restrict access to Weddington Walk and elsewhere, for example (but not limited to) the Sustrans guidance “Traffic Free Routes: Conceptual Design”, Sustrans guidance “Access Control Guide”.
“We were aware of and had read and considered the Sustrans guidance when deciding on our approach to the use of motorcycle inhibitors but we also bring our own experience of managing public open spaces to bear in making decisions in relation to access controls . Sustrans are obviously free to do as they see fit on cyclepaths they own and manage”
- Please explain how the use of the barriers in place on Weddington Walk complies with any consulted design guidance.
“As response above to 3.”
- What other measures were considered before K-frames were decided upon? Were other methods (e.g., CCTV; intelligence-led operations in conjunction with the police) considered, tested and evaluated? If so, why were these methods ultimately discounted? If this was not done, why not?
“Other methods were discounted both in part due to excessive resource requirements and due to resource requirements that cannot be met when demands on resources such as police time are appropriately prioritised alongside other uses of those resources. Introduction of access controls is a time and financially cost effective measure and we are always perfectly willing to review such arrangements where legitimate requests from those with disabilities being impacted by any access controls are received.”
- Do council officers routinely consult with Sustrans (who manage the National Cycle Network) or any disability advocacy groups (such as Wheels for Wellbeing) regarding the installation of access controls? Did they do so in the specific case of Weddington Walk and the K-frame barriers?
“No we do not routinely consult with them regarding the installation of access controls. We are aware of Sustrans policy position and they are aware of our view of these matters. We do liaise regularly in general terms with the local Sustrans representative at the Nuneaton and Bedworth Cycle Forum and on cycle network development plans and funding bids.
In terms of management of the National Cycle Network whilst Sustrans act as a national advocate for and promoter of the national Cycle Network, NBBC in fact manage this physical section of the national cycle network and Sustrans, County Council Highway departments and other landowners manage other sections respectively where they are the landowners.”
- Please provide details of any assessments conducted by council officers in regard to the Council’s obligations under The Equality Act 2010 with respect to disabled people and the installation of access control and ultimately the K-frame barriers. Please also detail the assessments conducted around the needs of users operating non-standard cycles, cycles carrying/towing loads (e.g., child seats, heavily loaded on-cycle bags, cargo bikes, trailers etc.), tricycles and other heavy cycles that may be difficult to lift or manoeuvre.
“When we are made aware of an issue with a K-frame barrier, we consult on the matter with the relevant Officers internally, the Police and meet with the public to try and resolve the issue so that accessibility can be achieved. For example, a K-frame barrier was widened at Middlemarch Road, Nuneaton in 2013 due to a member of the public being unable to go through the barrier in their mobility scooter before the barrier was widened. We have not made assessments conducted around the needs of other non-disabled users listed.
- You have stated that if the route remained completely open following complaints of motorcycle activity, you would be liable for inaction for not trying to address it. Please provide a source for this liability (e.g., legislation, previous legal action). Please explain why ‘trying to address a known and significant hazard’ means the installation of barriers, rather than any other options.
“We could be held accountable under the occupiers liability act and face insurance claims for partial responsibility for injury or loss incurred by other members of the public if affected by a motorbike present on the cyclepath involved in some form of accident. In terms of “addressing a known hazard” the choice of k-barriers has been made for the reasons outlined in the responses to questions 3,4 and 5. It is not that other approaches have not been considered but they are either not considered physically effective and/or are not time and financially cost effective.
- You state that larger mobility scooters are not covered by legislation. Please explain, in light of the Equality Act 2010, how large mobility scooters (and presumably by extension larger wheelchairs, electric wheelchairs and modified cycles including tricycles and handcycles) are excluded from your obligations.
“The Council are trying to pursue a legitimate aim in keeping out nuisance vehicles from parks etc. Achieving a balance is difficult and while we strive for a balance in accessibility so that as many people as possible using various forms of transport can access parks & paths, some larger mobility scooters & other larger methods of transport will unfortunately not be able to fit through our barriers.
While we note your guidance, we would welcome specific guidance on the matter from Central Government as to specific specifications for accessibility and a definitive size of transport that organisations can adhere to when designing barriers. As with the answer to Q7, when an issue arises we deal with issues on a case by case basis, taking into consideration our obligations under the Equality Act 2010 while at the same time considering maintaining preventative measures to ASB. The Police are also a key partner in advising the Council on preventative measures for ASB and we work in close partnership and seek their input when making decision. On that occasion we were able to make the adjustment which accommodated the mobility scooter user. Going forward, we would like to work with any user who is having difficulty with a barrier which is preventing them from accessing a park or pathway.”
To my mind, this is an unacceptable response. To summarise my understanding, Nuneaton and Bedworth Council do not appear to have received any complaints about motorcycle use on the shared-use path but have decided to implement K-frame barriers essentially as protection against potential liability in the rare event of a collision by a motorcycle user and a valid user. This is despite the fact that the path is accessible from at least one other location, and that other off-road routes are also accessible by motorcycles. They have chosen this method on the grounds of cost, seemingly without conducting any assessment of the impact upon valid users of the route, preferring to wait until a specific issue is raised with them before undertaking adjustments. The Council does not appear to believe it should take a more proactive approach to removing existing barriers to ensure valid users are not adversely impacted in the first place.
I acknowledge there is a possibility that the request for access restrictions has come from the police and perhaps that is not counted as ‘a complaint’ as far as my original FoI request goes. At this stage, however, this is speculation. The Council have not explicitly stated that they have received a request from the police for access restrictions at this location, just that the police is ‘a key partner in advising the Council on preventative measures for [anti-social behaviour].’
More generally, the Council has no policy or strategy to direct their decisions surrounding cycling where matters are within their remit. It would appear that Council officers are relying on their own experience (fine in principle) re infrastructure design decisions but are not taking the advice found in guidance published by Sustrans, the Department for Transport or Highways England – despite the Council stating they would welcome guidance from Central Government.
To determine whether I am correct in my understanding, there are now a number of further questions and areas that need clarification, explanation and justification following the Council’s response. Some of the answers to my original questions are also unsatisfactory, as will become evident in the new questions which are detailed below.
- In your response, you have stated that you have no historical records of complaints of motorcycle use on Weddington Walk or in Sandon Park. I am inferring from this then, that these barriers have been installed despite the fact that no problem existed before their implementation. Is that correct? If not, please explain how the problem was identified and detail the extent to which it existed.
- You have said you have no policy or strategy with regard to cycling. Whilst the County Council’s role is clear with regard to highways, Nuneaton and Bedworth Council has off-road shared-use paths, including Weddington Walk and the Wembrook Trail. You have also said that you liaise in general terms with Sustrans (the walking and cycling charity) and that you attend the Nuneaton and Bedworth Cycle Forum. With the Council being involved in such a manner:
- Why does the Council not have its own strategy or policy to direct its decisions with regard to cycling aspects within its remit?
- Does the Council not agree that it has a duty (along with the County Council and central government) to encourage its residents and visitors to adopt active travel (walking and cycling) choices to reduce traffic burden on local roads and to improve the health and wellbeing of the Borough?
- I requested that you detail the design standards referenced with regard to access restrictions such as those at Weddington Walk, to which you stated that you have considered the Sustrans guidance that I gave as examples. However, you did not expand on any other guidance or standards other than officers’ own experience. Therefore, please detail (i.e., list) the documented design standards that you are using with regard to shared path provision and access restrictions.
- Whilst I appreciate Sustrans does not own or operate the land in question, Weddington Walk is a space that has been designated as part of the National Cycle Network. Please detail what agreements for standards had to be in place between you, Sustrans and any other relevant party for Weddington Walk to be accepted, and continue to be accepted, as part of Route 52.
- In my original request, I asked what other methods were considered before K-frames were settled upon. Your response did not provide a comprehensive list. Please detail all methods considered, how they were evaluated and tested, along with individual reasons for being discounted, including costings against each method.
- I asked for assessments conducted in respect of disabled and non-disabled users surrounding the installation of access controls (i.e., prior to their provision) at Weddington Walk, but your response spoke about retrospective evaluations and did not detail those assessments. Again, please provide any equality impact assessments, safety assessments or similar conducted for this location prior to the provision of access restrictions.
- You note that you could be held accountable under the Occupiers’ Liability Act (OLA) should a member of public be injured or suffer loss due to a motorbike being present on the shared-use path, with resulting insurance claims.
- Please cite examples of similar cases brought against Nuneaton and Bedworth Council where the Authority has been held accountable under this legislation due to a motorcycle (or other motorised vehicle) illegally accessing a route prohibited to motor vehicles, particularly where the absence of access restrictions (i.e., those beyond a simple bollard) has been cited as a failure of the Council to an extent enough to warrant a successful insurance claim.
- Please explain how your claim of accountability under the OLA squares with the disparity of access controls at other locations in Nuneaton where motorcycle access to paths is comparatively easy. Indeed, other parts of the Weddington Walk route remaining accessible to motorcycles, as previously noted.
- Please explain how standard prohibition notices (e.g., the common ‘no motor vehicles’ highways sign) and a single bollard with a 1.5m clearance on either side would not be enough here to absolve the Council from liability in the event of a collision involving a vehicle that had no legal right to be there (i.e., by making it clear that motorcyclists are not to use the route).
- Please show any risk assessments for individual injury and Council liability at the Weddington Walk location prior to the provision of access control by K-frames.
- Your response continues to state that you retroactively consider access issues e.g., from disabled users, only when such an issue is raised. This therefore means that the Council is requiring an individual to be disadvantaged through hindered travel and for that person to then decide to make a complaint, following through a process to ensure the access issue is resolved – a process that will take time, effort and ongoing disadvantage until its resolution.
- How does this policy fit with the requirements of the Equality Act 2010, to avoid disadvantage caused by a provision, criteria or practice or a physical feature that puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared to a non-disabled person?
- Does the Council see it as right that such evident obstructions should continue to exist, where it is aware of them, knowing that they can cause hindrance, despite there being no specific complaint raised?
- Does the Council not agree that there is a duty to keep routes open for all users on a proactive basis to ensure that hindrance does not happen at all?
- You have said you would welcome improved guidance from Central Government:
- Is the Council liaising with the Member of Parliament or government departments directly in order to push for better and clearer design standards, either as a single authority or in conjunction with other authorities (e.g., neighbouring boroughs/districts, the County Council)?
- Are the appropriate Council officers aware of the DfT Local Transport Note LTN 1/12 Shared Use Routes for Pedestrians and Cyclists or Highways England Interim Advice Note 195/16 Cycle Traffic and the Strategic Road Network? LTN 1/12 specifically makes reference to access controls (section 8.14) and how they should only be installed ‘after a definite need has been established.’ The Interim Advice Note specifically states A- and K-frame barriers should not be used (2.3.8).
- If the appropriate Council officers are aware of the above guidance from Central Government, are they referenced when considering the impact of changes to shared-use routes?
Again, these questions have been submitted as a new FoI request and once a response has been received, a new update will be published here.