Row over cycling 'improvements' in Bedford breaks out at borough council meeting

Green councillors disagreed that improvements had been made - despite 'huge investment'

Thursday, 13th January 2022, 4:20 pm
Updated Thursday, 13th January 2022, 4:22 pm

A heated debate on the cycling infrastructure in Bedford took place at a borough council meeting last night (Wednesday, January 12).

Green councillors hit out after councillor Jake Sampson (LibDems, Newnham Ward) moved to amend a Green party motion based on the Glasgow Climate Pact Glasgow Declarations and UK Net Zero Strategy.

He proposed an amendment to say that recent council projects to tackle climate change include an "improved cycling and walking infrastructure".

A heated debate on the cycling infrastructure in Bedford took place at a borough council meeting

But Green councillors disagreed.

Councillor Lucy Bywater (Green, Castle Ward) said: "It may seem a petty thing for us not to want the word improvement on cycling as acknowledging that has already happened, we do not believe that has happened.

Labour Group leader, councillor Sue Oliver (Kempston North Ward), said: "We failed to agree on improvements on cycling infrastructure, because he [Councillor Ben Foley (Green, Castle Ward - who proposed the motion)] says there haven't been any improvements in cycling infrastructure, despite it being a matter of record that there's been huge investments by this council."

Councillor Bywater agreed that there has been investment: "For example, you have spent nearly £400,000 on the new Goldington Road cycle track, which wasn't particularly needed.

"There are much better places where you could be spending more than £400,000.

"People who've used it said it's so dangerous, please, I beg you, go and have a look, walk down, or, if you're brave enough, cycle and you'll see this drop which could direct you into fast-moving traffic.

Councillor Foley said: "Councillor Vann earlier claimed that he prefers cycling along Bromham Road now, that's very nice for him.

"But the evidence is that it's actually been made less safe by for cyclists by the paint on the road cycle lane than it would have been without that.

"Anybody who cycles along there regularly will know that the experience of going past the Union Street traffic lights is that you then get to the stretch outside the shops where time and again there are cars parked in the cycle lane forcing cyclists right out into the middle of the A-road traffic.

"Councillor Bywater gave numerous other examples of how money spent by the council supposedly to improve cycling actually has failed to do so. We are not doubting the council has spent money trying to improve cycling.

"What we are doubting is whether it succeeded."

Deputy mayor & portfolio holder for environment, highways and transport, councillor Charles Royden, defended the council's record.

"I've listened to some utter rubbish this evening about cycling. Never before has so much money been invested in this borough in cycling," he said.

"Quite frankly, it's disturbing to hear the Greens arguing about cycling, because these are the things that they should be supporting, instead of trying to make cheap party political points.

"By doing so they undermine the principles by which they were elected, which is that they should actually be concerned about the environment, they should be concerned about increasing sustainable travel, as we have been doing.

"It'd be wonderful if I was starting, madam speaker, with a clean slate or I could just put a road where I want it, and design the junction how I wanted it from scratch, but I can't do that.

"As portfolio holder, I have to deal with what I'm given. Where we can make those improvements, we are making them.

"But you as Green councillors should be backing the councillors on this council who are trying to invest in sustainable transport and reducing our carbon commissions, and not just making cheap party political points, which do you a disservice and actually bring you into discredit on this council," he added.

Councillor Foley responded: "I was quite prepared to leave aside issues of cycling.

"It was not me that decided that issues of cycling were so important that no cross-party compromise could be made on this.

"I was quite prepared for us to have this entire debate without a single mention of cycling anywhere.

"Rather it was the LibDem Group that insisted they must claim that there are improvements on cycling.

"Yes, you have spent vast sums of money on unsafe schemes, there's no doubt about that, but do not blame us for criticising them for being unsafe, when they are unsafe," he said.

The amendment was carried.