Gloucestershire County Council condemned for £435,000 raid on Bishop’s Cleeve cycle route to fund even more road building

On World Car Free Day, we’ve challenged the council about their decision to move £435,000 of developer contributions to a road building project from the Cheltenham/ Bishop’s Cleeve Cycle Route, when only a very small proportion of that project is described as benefitting cycle users. You can read our full press release below. We’re incredibly disappointed to see yet another delay for a much needed, safe connection between the town and village, particularly given the apparent choice offered between the two developer funded schemes and council pledges to create a ‘Greener Gloucestershire’.

If you’d like to take action on this decision, we’d recommend writing to your local county councillor and explaining why this route matters to you, and emailing the lead county councillor for highways to share your disappointment that the council didn’t take the opportunity to get the route built. You can also write to your local MP (Alex Chalk for Cheltenham, and Laurence Robertson for Tewkesbury, including Bishops Cleeve). You could also share this story with your neighbours and friends.

The Cheltenham and Tewskesbury Cycling Campaign is an entirely volunteer-led group, and we’re only able to do this kind of campaigning with your support. Please consider joining for only £5 per year to help support our efforts for a cycle-friendly Gloucestershire.


What have we found?

Hidden in this month’s Gloucestershire council cabinet papers, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury Cycling Campaign have discovered a plan to take £435,000 of housing developer contributions made towards the long-awaited cycle route, and to instead spend them on widening a junction and roundabout.

A statement from the cabinet papers saying that the cabinet supports a transfer from the Cheltenham to Bishop's Cleeve Cycle path
Excerpt from September 2021 Cabinet papers Item 13 (Financial Monitoring Report)

The Bishop’s Cleeve to Cheltenham cycle route is one of the crucial missing links for local residents wanting to cycle more, and would provide a separated alternative to the busy A435 and Southam Lane. It would allow tens of thousands of people to enjoy safe, cheap and sustainable access between the town and village for employment, leisure and retail. Modelling done using the government’s recommended Propensity to Cycle tool shows it to be a high potential corridor. With cycling and E-bikes becoming increasingly popular, many local residents would be able to swap some of their car journeys if they felt they had this safer route available.

A photo of vehicles passing on the A435 near Cheltenham Racecourse. The Cheltenham to Bishop's Cleeve cycle route would provide an alternative to this road.
Current road conditions along the A435 which the Bishop’s Cleeve cycle route would provide an alternative to

The money, collected from developers in recognition of the massive impact of large housing developments north of Cheltenham has previously been earmarked to support construction of the long-promised route.

Tucked away in the finance report to the September meeting of the county’s cabinet is a proposal to instead release this money to the A435 capacity improvements work, a £1.1million scheme to enlarge the Southam Lane/Hyde Road junction, and the racecourse roundabout.

Won’t these junctions still help cycle users?

Early plans seen by the campaign suggest the scant changes for pedestrians and cyclists in these proposals do not appear to conform to modern safety standards and will deter rather than encourage cycling. Promises to future proof for a potential cycle route are likely to be empty as the council instead moves money away from the budget needed to build it, particularly as access to central government money often requires match funding from the local council.

The council description of the schemes is clear; “The A435 Capacity Improvement project is a capacity improvement project…rather than an active travel project.” It also says that it is the separate cycleway project, to which this money was originally promised, that “contains the future significant active travel elements”.

An extract of the Gloucestershire County Council cabinet papers describing the A435 as 'a capacity improvement project...rather than an active travel project'
Extract from Council papers on A435 capacity scheme stating it is ‘a capacity improvement project…rather than an active travel project’ and that the separate A435 cycleway project ‘contains the future significant active travel elements’.

Gloucestershire has previously been criticised by Government for failing to use modern standards in its highways planning, and this money grab from vulnerable road users reveals the slow progress being made by the council against its ‘climate emergency’ declaration.

A recent report by the UK’s independent Climate Change Committee showed that whilst a shift to electric vehicles will help reduce carbon, the UK needs to reduce road miles by up to a third if it is to do its part in preventing catastrophic climate change. At present, road miles driven in Gloucestershire continue to increase by at least 1% every year, and this is forecast to accelerate with cheaper costs linked to electric vehicles. The campaign strongly believes local residents deserve better options for how they travel, and how we make our streets more liveable, particularly given the ideal opportunity presented by this route.

Andre Curtis, chair of Cheltenham and Tewkesbury Cycling Campaign said;

‘This raid takes money away from a long-promised and transformational cycling link to fund yet another sticking plaster on the council’s dated thinking that building even bigger roads will save Gloucestershire from a climate, road safety and congestion emergency.

Developer contributions were offered to the residents of Cheltenham and Tewkesbury to mitigate the impact of massive housebuilding schemes. With time running out on the money, the council had a choice as to which scheme to build first. Yet again, the council has chosen to create space for even more motor traffic, with only token provision and future promises for pedestrians and cycle users’

What are we asking for?

The campaign is calling for Gloucestershire County Council to restate it’s commitment and timescale for building this vital cycle link, and to commit to local residents that this near half million pound sum will continue to be protected for enabling sustainable travel.

[Ends]

Notes to editors

  1. Cabinet board papers are available on the Gloucestershire County Council website. The proposed financial transfer is listed as point 51 in the finance report (item 13). https://glostext.gloucestershire.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=117&MId=10151&Ver=4
  2. The A435 capacity improvement scheme is described in Gloucestershire County Council documents. https://glostext.gloucestershire.gov.uk/documents/s75068/ICM%20Decision%20Report%20A435%20Capacity%20Improvements%20-%20v6%20FINAL.pdf. Whilst some elements of the scheme may allow future provision for the cycle route, and the council has made a decision to transfer historic combined junction and cycle route design costs into the A435 project, these is no evidence these are valued at £435,000 benefit for cycle users, and item 15 of the council’s report clearly states “The A435 Capacity Improvement project is a capacity improvement project supporting developments… rather than an active travel project.”
  3. The Cheltenham & Tewkesbury Cycling Campaign (C&TCC) (https://www.cyclecheltenham.org.uk/wp/) has represented cyclists in Cheltenham and Tewkesbury for more than 40 years and is one of the oldest local cycling campaigns in the UK. Although our key areas of focus are Cheltenham and Tewkesbury, we also have wider interests when it concerns the ability of people to cycle to or from our nominal area. Most of our members are not ‘enthusiast’ or fast cyclists, but people concerned primarily with making everyday journeys by bike as a practical means of transport. Families make up one-third of our membership and many of our other members have children, whom they have successfully taught to cycle. Some of our members are or have been actively involved in cycle training, the use of cycles by less able members of the community and the investigation of crashes involving cyclists. Because of our background knowledge acquired over many years, we have a very good understanding of cycling, the needs of cyclists of different genres, and what are the key priorities to make cycling safe and popular.
  4. A copy of this statement will appear on our website at: https://www.cyclecheltenham.org.uk/wp/GCC-raids-Bishops-Cleeve-Cheltenham-Cycle-Route-Fund
  5. Photo with permissions for use in editorial copy of the current A435 conditions. This section of the A435 is a single carriageway, national speed limit road north of Cheltenham carrying a mix of local and regional traffic, including heavy goods vehicles, as part of the strategic network.
  6. Contact via our website at https://www.cyclecheltenham.org.uk/wp/contact-the-cheltenham-tewkesbury-cycling-campaign/  
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