Brighton & Hove Council has paused active travel improvements along the seafront, arguing that amendments are needed to avoid causing congestion.
But the council’s new Labour administration plans for a two-way cycle lane along Brighton seafront are merely a “cover up” to scrap an already designed and funded scheme, claim campaign group Transport Action Network (TAN).
The scheme was fully funded by a grant from Active Travel England (ATE) and from the council’s Local Transport Plan’s capital allocation.
Trevor Muten, chair of the council’s Transport and Sustainability Committee, said: “In response to statements, particularly from Transport Action Network: We reiterate that we are NOT scrapping anything. We are taking the original design and changing a few parts of it to make it safer.”
The original plan would have involved wider pavements, more pedestrian crossings, and a direct westbound cycle route. It would have cut the number of traffic lanes from four to three on a stretch of the A259 along the seafront, with one lane being given over to cycling.
But the council now plans to maintain two lanes of traffic in each direction along the A259. “Two lanes for vehicles in both directions on the A259 means good access for buses and car-users including our disabled residents, the elderly and those with mobility issues,” said Muten.
“We have learned from everyone using the first phase of the Seafront scheme, from West Street to Fourth Avenue, what does not work for cyclists, pedestrians or motorists – what creates traffic congestion and pollution. We must get the next phase, from Fourth Avenue to Wharf Road, right the first time.”
The seafront is an arterial road across the city for motorists, including those visiting the hospital, with other city centre routes kept clear of all traffic except taxis and buses , Muten pointed out.
“We have to cater for everybody however they choose to travel,” he said. “We believe that a carrot works better than a stick. Providing safe cycle routes encourages more people to cycle. Good traffic flow along main roads avoids cars on smaller roads and avoids congestion. Accessible pavements, distinct from cycle routes, make walking safer.”
The council was concerned by some aspects of the original plan, said Muten, citing the creation of two separate cycle lanes – one going west, one east – with a pedestrian pathway in between them. “People who walk that route often have dogs and/or children with them. So, we are creating one two-way cycle lane separate from the footpath,” he said.
“We are also making the cycle lane simpler by ironing out a loop in the King Alfred area. And with clever use of the space, we are able to maintain two-way traffic on what is an important route into the city.”
Muten insists that this is an amendment to the original design rather than a completely new plan. “Had this been a usual situation officers would have, of course, been asked to present a fully-funded plan with sources of funding clearly identified,” he said.
“On this occasion, as work was due to start on the design that we felt needed changing, we all had to act very fast in order not to incur further costs to the council. It would be financially irresponsible to continue with the existing scheme and at the same time plan to change it.
TAN’s Chris Todd said: “The council’s ambition would be admirable if its real intent on scrapping pedestrian and cycle improvements wasn’t so blatant. If its concern was genuine it would proceed with the existing scheme while in parallel drawing up plans for a higher quality proposal for the future. Yet this is not an option being presented to councillors. The two schemes are perfectly compatible and proceeding in tandem presents the least risk financially and the best deal for local taxpayers.”
The cost of a major scheme that the councils is now discussing is likely to be tens of millions of pounds, Todd believes. “It is extremely unlikely that this could be found.”
Leader of the council Bella Sankey said: “Our decision has the potential to be a win-win-win for pedestrians, cyclists and road users. We passionately believe in promoting walking and cycling in Brighton and Hove and delivering the highest quality, permanent, active travel infrastructure.
“TAN’s accusations that we are trying to scrap the scheme are untrue. To suggest the changes will cost tens of millions of pounds is scaremongering.
“Time scales will be announced as soon as we know them, but officers have advised it will take six months for changes to be made to the design because we intend to retain a lot of the original scheme, for example the pedestrian crossings, extended pavements and pocket parks. We will only need to consult on the changes.”
TAN’s Chris Todd told LTT: "While we very much welcome a commitment not to scrap the scheme, it was clear at the committee meeting [on 21 June] this was not a few minor tweaks to address safety concerns, but a complete redesign. As officers stated at the meeting the current proposals had passed safety audits. However, any delays are concerning.”
He noted that the Valley Gardens Phase 3 scheme, which would involve reworking of the roads from the Pavilion to the Palace Pier, has also been paused by Brighton & Hove council.
“This is a critical scheme, designed to a high standard, to connect the city centre to the seafront,” said Todd. “This has left many people concerned that the rationale behind pausing schemes is not to seek better designs. As the Climate Change Committee said as it outlined the worrying slow implementation of net-zero policies: pace should be prioritised over perfection.
"If this slowing down or scrapping of schemes continues, it will place millions of pounds of existing and future funding at risk. It will also be a signal that the administration is not serious about tackling the climate crisis."
Labour won overall control of Brighton & Hove Council in May’s local elections. This included the arrival of several new Labour councillors, with Bella Sankey, who became the new leader in May, elected as a councillor in a by-election last December.
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