Yesterday, I receive my long-awaited reply to last month’s follow up request for information relating to the use of K-frame barriers, specifically on Weddington Walk. The full allowance of twenty working days was used to provide me with the responses of either ‘we do not hold that information’ or ‘this is not a request for information.’
I knew that roughly half my questions wouldn’t fall under the scope of the Freedom of Information Act, but did expect that the Council would provide a comment. I’m sure it would have been foreseeable that I would ask those questions again and indeed I have done so today, making it clear that this time, those questions are asked in a general manner (i.e., outside of the scope of the Act). As a side note, surely it would have been more time-efficient for the Council to just respond to those questions when I originally asked them, rather than to now have to process the same questions a second time?
With the response to the questions that did fall under the Act (i.e., ‘we do not hold that information’,) I have noticed a couple of areas of disparity of lack of clarity, and in today’s email, I have also asked for clarification around these points:
- When I originally asked what other measures were considered before K-frames were decided upon, you stated that other methods were discounted due to resource requirements. I then asked for a comprehensive list detailing all measures that were considered including how they were evaluated and tested and reasons (including costs) for them being discounted. To this you responded that you do not hold the information. If you do not hold the information requested, how were you able to state that other methods were discounted due to resource requirements?
- I originally asked what design standards guidance you refer to when evaluating restriction methods, and gave a couple of examples of Sustrans guidance. You responded that you were aware of the Sustrans guidance but did not expand further on how you use it. I then asked you to provide a list of documented standards that you follow, to which you said you do not hold the information. I can interpret this in two ways – either it is a disparity with your original response whereby if you are following and consulting the Sustrans guidance then your second response should have listed it, even if you follow nothing else; or that while you are aware of Sustrans guidance, you do not follow it. Please could you clarify this point?
At this stage, I am going to wait to see if the Council are forthcoming with a proper response to those questions that fell outside the scope of the Act, and for clarification with the above two points. Once that comes through, I’ll follow-up again.
The full list of questions I asked last time can be seen in my last blog entry on this subject. In summary though, the Council responded with ‘we do not hold that information’ to the following (original question number given in brackets):
- I have inferred that barriers have been installed despite no problems have being reported in the area. Is this correct? If not, how has the problem been identified (1)?
- Please provide a list of documented design standards that you are using in regard to shared path provision and access restrictions (3).
- What agreements had to be in place for the route to be accepted as part of the National Cycle Network (4)?
- Please provide a list of what other methods of access restrictions were considered before K-frames were chosen, how they were evaluated and tested, along with reasons for discounting them including costings (5).
- Please provide equality impact assessments, safety assessments or similar for this location in respect to both disabled and non-disabled persons (6).
- Please provide examples of when NBBC has been found liable under the Occupiers’ Liability Act following an incident involving a motorised vehicle illegally using the route (7a).
- Please provide risk assessments for individual injury and Council liability at this location prior to the provision of K-frame barriers (7d).
- Is the Council liaising with the Member of Parliament or government departments directly to push for better and clearer design standards (9a)?
The questions that fell outside of the scope of the Act, and that I’ve asked again today are as follows:
- 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?
- 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 explain how your claim of accountability under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 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).
- 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:
- 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?