I have focused all my attention on the cycling cock-up on Gosforth High Street and the Folly that is John Dobson Street in Newcastle; but the real problem with cycle lanes is not in Newcastle.
THE PROBLEM IS IN LONDON.
Newcastle simply did what they were paid to do; but they did it with relish and abandonment. Hence my criticism of their maladministration that the Local Government Ombudsman said did not exist, and Bindmans LLP thought that my 100+ page dossier detailing it was of no arguable substance for judicial review and “bound to fail.”
The problem is that UK Governments have no reverse gear when all the evidence suggests that new urban cycle lanes on narrow, already congested highly polluted roads is madness; the entire focus should now be planning the arrival of the new generation of autonomous electric vehicles with charging points and parking places freeing town and city centres from pollution in just three or four years time.
Why must the dead hand of the past control the present and the future?
There is a convention that once a Minister makes a policy statement it must happen. A Manifesto pledge is given and, if from the Government, it too must happen. An Act of Parliament is a direction to the Executive to deliver it. A new sacrosanct Human Right is created, and it must be respected even if other rights conflict with it.
But what if it is ill prepared – very ill advised – extremely naïve – or just plain stupid? What if it has been hijacked by handful of political zealots or a lobby?
No criticism is allowed. It is too late. No damage limitation. It is an admission of weakness and official fallibility. Checks and balances are permanently out of order. They are a nuisance. No post mortems. Protect backs, and save faces – hundreds of them. Media focuses on Rip Off Britain in Private Sector never in the Public sector. Public Sector is good – Private Sector and its profit motive bad, but the Left’s ideological denial of the State’s gross abuse of power far, far greater than any abuse by private enterprise, is mind-blowing in its sublime ineptitude.
So, protect the reputation of British Civil Service as the best in the world – it may or may not be – but meanwhile, we must all suffer the consequences for ever from its uncorrected cock-ups, and throw away taxpayers money as though it grew on rhododendron trees.
THIS PROBLEM URGENTLY NEEDS A SOLUTION
In my retirement I see this with 360-degree vision. I quote T S Eliot in Four Quartets, Little Gidding 1942 that I preface the Prologue to my book Death of a Nightingale
“We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.”
This is me.
I have witnessed two acts of political lunacy at very close quarters, not just one – one the act of the Newcastle City Council, the other the act of the Sunderland City Authority; but both enthusiastically pursuing policies driven from London. They made me think as never before.
It has gives me some satisfaction to have helped local residents and traders in Gosforth Newcastle persuade the City Council drop their plan to put cycle lanes and red lines on Gosforth High Street for non-existent cyclists, narrowing and further congesting a main arterial road and putting at health & safety risk any cyclists who would have used the cycle lane and inhaled toxic diesel fumes from ever slower moving traffic. They would seem to have done so.
It has given me even more satisfaction to have helped in Sunderland the parents of Barbara Priestman School for physically disabled children in their successful campaign to keep their school open when nationally the policy was to close it,
I did not need to do any of this. I shall explain at the end the gruesome reason why I did so and why I write what follows. I flag up a chronic malaise where a relatively small number of people cock things up permanently for the rest of us.
With cycling, it is a Chicken and Egg situation. Nick Clegg, then LibDems Deputy Prime Minister in the Coalition Government, is the Chicken, and Sustrans, the National Cycling Charity and Cycling Lobby, the Egg. It doesn’t matter which came first.
Nick Clegg as Deputy PM, publicly announced Government policy to double the number of cyclists on UK’s roads by 2020. Maybe he wanted to reconnect LibDems with the student vote he had lost with his broken pledge on student loans. Meanwhile Sustrans had as its vision that one driver in five would give up his or her car for a cycle for all short journeys if there were cycle lanes to cycle on. A toxic mix if ever there was one. Sustrans, with its Vision Zero, totally ignores the increase in accidents to cyclists of over 60% in recent years in Bristol, Britain’s First Cycling City and their own home base. Egocentrity OTT.
In the Prologue to Death of a Nightingale, having spent three years working professionally for the Liberal Party in Victoria Street in London, I wrote: “I shared with him my view as to the Achilles Heel of the Liberal – naïveté.” Here was another prime example. No health & safety examination. No joined up thinking with urban pollution and the VW scandal. No market research or test marketing so far as I can see. Just a simple assumption that what works in Copenhagen and Amsterdam would work in UK’s narrow winding urban and rural roads. Save the planet. Combat obesity. Just the simplistic Liberal DIY quick-fix approach to complex problems.
And with Sustrans no 360 degree vision, more like 10 degree vision – not in their line of sight an aging population, the lifestyles of people very different from their own and the coming of the autonomous electric cars. All of this as far from their little minds as Robinson Crusoe on his desert island was from the real world.
The same is true, I suspect, of the upper echelons of the Civil Service, I guess ex public school, ex Oxbridge, ex real world, relatively young, starry eyed and, in London, probably can be seen riding bicycles to work. Book-wise yes. Street-wise I suspect almost totally lacking.
Thus the Department of Transport endorsed all this and now do their best to implement it with the Treasury opening its coffers. Over a billion pounds made available to Sustrans and others directly and indirectly via local authorities bidding for it.
The following is sheer bureaucratic folly and I quote it in its entirety. Note the carefully detailed costings.
They actually boast a plan for 2040! Five Year Plans were bad enough for those who can remember Stalin’s 5 Year Plans n Russia and George Brown’s here in the UK.
The government has published its £1.2 billion long-term plan to make cycling and walking the natural choice for shorter journeys.
The government wants cycling and walking to become the norm by 2040 and will target funding at innovative ways to encourage people onto a bike or to use their own two feet for shorter journeys.
Plans include specific objectives to double cycling, reduce cycling accidents and increase the proportion of 5 to 10 year-olds walking to school to 55% by 2025.
The £1.2 billion is allocated as follows:
£50 million to provide cycling proficiency training for further 1.3 million children
£101 million to improve cycling infrastructure and expand cycle routes between the city centres, local communities, and key employment and retail sites
£85 million to make improvements to 200 sections of roads for cyclists
£80 million for safety and awareness training for cyclists, extra secure cycle storage, bike repair, maintenance courses and road safety measures
£389.5 million for councils to invest in walking and cycling schemes
£476.4 million from local growth funding to support walking and cycling
In addition, the government is investing an extra:
£5 million on improving cycle facilities at railway stations
£1 million on Living Streets’ outreach programmes to encourage children to walk to school
£1 million on Cycling UK’s ‘Big Bike Revival’ scheme which provides free bike maintenance and cycling classes
And for an illustration of built-in chronic inertia it would be difficult to beat this:
“Under the Infrastructure Act 2015 , the government is required to set a ‘Cycling and walking investment strategy’ for England. This is the first of a series of shorter term, 5 year strategies to support the long-term ambition to make walking and cycling the natural choice for shorter journeys by 2040.”
The insanity is entrenched. It will need another Act of Parliament to undo the damage.
Meanwhile what they should be doing is planning charging points and parking places for electric autonomous cars, pollution free, due to arrive in the 2020’s in ever increasing numbers.
AND NO REVERSE GEAR HERE TOO
With Special Educational Needs, few know that the start was a little amendment put in Labour’s 1976 Education Act in a forty minute debate in the House of Lords. This way a small clique of egocentric zealots determined the line of travel for special educational needs provision in the Warnock Report two years later with its harmful legacy to this day.
One size was to fit all. No account of human fallibility – kids and their teachers. Continuing classroom disorder and likelihood of bullying ignored. The cost of extra help for mainstream – Non Teaching Assistants up from about 50,000 to over 265,000, partly for this, not anticipated. Rights of children with special needs created. Rights of children without special needs ignored.
For my sins I take Times Ed waiting for the light to dawn. It never does.
Equalise, Equalise Equalise – Homogenise. Homogenise. Homogenise.
I have written about this at length.
AND AGAIN NO REVERSE GEAR.
If Britain is to go it alone after Brexit, it needs to be fit to travel. Currently it isn’t.
Helena Kennedy QC is a Human Rights lawyer and Labour Peer. She chaired the Power Inquiry in 2004 to investigate the decline in popular participation and involvement in formal politics, and in its report in 2006 made 30 recommendations.
I don’t know what has happened to them since – I suspect not much – but, as I continue with this post, I am going to make some suggestions to deal with the problem I have outlined, I am going to challenge her to endorse my them. I hope you will help me gain her active support for them in the Lords.