A plan exists in Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough to create a new cycle and walking link adjacent to the route of a now disused railway line – from ‘The Nook’, a small nature reserve on the western edge of Bedworth, down to the corner of Heath Road and Smorrall Lane.
This scheme is an interesting one because, in my opinion, it shows the problems that can occur when only considering infrastructure as its own little project and not part of a wider network, and perhaps not properly considering cycling as an alternative means of transport to the car.
This scheme requires the use of funds released from developers under planning obligations for nearby housing estates – known as Section 106 (S106) monies (from the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (As Amended)). However, this money cannot be spent on whatever the planning authority wishes (in this case Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council). It is explicitly linked to the obligation set out in the planning agreement that permits the development of a housing estate.
This limitation is unfortunate because, in my opinion, the cycle scheme is flawed. But because of the nature of funding, I am inclined to generally support it with caveats. I say this because I feel that the scheme as it is detailed does not work in the best interest of cycling as a mode of transport, but monies for anything better may not be available where these funds are, and I wouldn’t like to see funds that can be spent on cycle infrastructure squandered.
I submitted a few comments on this scheme when it was out for consultation last year, and having today watched the Planning Applications Committee discuss the matter in their session on 08 January 2019, I can see that one or two of my concerns are also shared by some councillors.
Problems with the scheme
My principle concern with the scheme as a whole is down to its location, ongoing connectivity and likely usage.
The route is only about 800m along its main length and runs between two housing estates, with the potential to pick up traffic from both. However, certainly with regard to the estate on the south side (Bluebell Drive etc), there is already shared use cycle and walking infrastructure alongside the main road. At the widest point, the new planned off-road route is only 140m away from this shared path and therefore seems to be a bit of a duplication of infrastructure – with the exception that a cycle rider would not have to deal with crossing side streets.
Where the route ends, near the junction of Smorrall Lane and Heath Road, cycle riders are provided with extremely little infrastructure – a cut-through for those travelling east into the next estate, but nothing on Heath Road nor Smorrall Lane (bar a short bit of shared-use space). Without proper ongoing connectivity, this new section of route will do little to enable people to take up cycling – why would you? If you’re not happy cycling on the current limited infrastructure, having a new off-road route for a short distance isn’t going to change your mind if you’re thrown into traffic at the end of it.
The application made reference to the route being unlit, whilst also saying it will be for year-round use. I posit that if you want to encourage more people on to cycles, offering them a route that is unlit will not be very attractive during the winter months. New cycle commuters may well be discouraged by the idea of cycling along a short, off-road route in darkness.
Dreaded access restrictions
I also submitted a comment in anticipation of access restrictions being used on the route, and watching the above meeting, I was disappointed to note that Warwickshire Police require them for the prevention of motorcycle access, else they would object. Also, the Council’s Parks department have also further shown their support for barriers by noting that more can be added beyond those planned if they are deemed necessary.
Access restrictions are a bugbear of mine because unless they are minimal (i.e., widely spaced bollards) then they inevitably restrict lawful use of the route, either preventing access or at least making it difficult for certain users. Frankly, if seriously considering encouraging cycling as a mode of transport accessible to all, then access restrictions (beyond those bollards, if really needed) have no place on the route.
A Better Alternative
I’ll start this section with the note that I am aware the Section 106 money for this scheme cannot cover projects elsewhere, nor would it cover something more expansive. That is a problem specific to this case, but one that has come about through a lack of foresight about what cycling could and should look like – failing to look at the bigger picture, as one of the councillors in the Planning Committee noted.
In my opinion, it would have been better to look at the following options for a broader east-west route to better connect west Bedworth to its town centre, such as:
- Junction improvements along Bluebell Drive and Buttercup Way (south of the above proposed route) to bring the current shared cycle and foot path into a continuous uninterrupted route with priority over side roads.
- Either create an on-road segregated cycleway along Heath Road to the town centre – this has the advantage of removing road space and being highly visible to drivers, making the alternative to cars an obvious one – or, create an off-road route following the line of the disused railway to the Miners’ Welfare Park, leisure centre and onwards to the town centre – a more pleasant and direct route but requiring wholly new infrastructure and to the potential detriment of a wildlife area.
- Similarly, create an on-road segregated cycleway along Smorrall Lane to the town boundary, bringing connectivity for additional residential properties to the above route for the park, leisure centre and town centre.
This is evidently a more expensive plan and one that would require cooperation between the Borough Council and County Council to realise, never mind the political will to reduce road space to motor vehicles and the funds to implement it. But this would be a plan that looks at the use of cycles as a means of transport, allowing people to get to where they want to go – be that a trip to town for shopping, visiting the park or leisure centre, or for onward connection be train.
It also wouldn’t be the end game either. There must be a continual, ongoing process of improvements. As time goes on, more cycleways would need to be added with the same criteria of transporting people and reducing car usage, either through new connections to the initial route, or entirely new schemes.
Status of the Bedworth Scheme Now
As it stands today, the decision on whether the new cycle link will go ahead is still pending. Whilst it was due to be decided at the Planning Committee on 8 January, due to a point by County Highways that a road safety audit had not been completed by the developer, the decision has been deferred until 19 February 2019.