County Council ‘won’t spend a single penny’ on Uttlesford infrastructure

R4U Councillor Deryk Eke

R4U Councillor Deryk Eke - Credit: R4U

A district councillor and two town councillors have hit back at Essex County Council’s announcement that it will be changing the county’s infrastructure to promote walking and cycling across cities and towns.

Conservative Councillor John Moran

Conservative Councillor John Moran - Credit: Archive photo

The measures, which would allow people to travel in a more environmentally friendly way, as well as maintain social distancing and keep healthy, will see narrow pavements and cycleways expanded across Essex.

But R4U Saffron Walden Town Councillors Paul Gadd and Richard Porch, who is also the new deputy mayor, said that ECC is not planning to spend any money on improving cycling and walking paths in Saffron Walden – and R4U Uttlesford District Councillor Deryk Eke says this is a problem that affects Dunmow and Uttlesford villages too.

In a meeting last week, Councillor Gadd said “nothing is done and there is a lot of cycling and walking in Saffron Walden at the moment”, while Cllr Porch said Essex County Councillor John Moran confirmed ECC “is not planning to spend a single penny on cycling improvement in Uttlesford”.

A letter from Cllr Eke, who holds the district council’s portfolio for infrastructure and transport and can thus lobby the county council to allocate money for these issues where needed in Uttlesford, highlighted an increase in cycling and walking since lockdown began - but added that as people start going back to work, the trend should continue.

The measures are deemed necessary for “exercise”, “safe and socially-distanced travel” and “cleaner air and quieter streets”.

The letter was sent last week to Conservative Cllr Kevin Bentley, cabinet member for highways, and Conservative Cllr John Moran, county councillor for Saffron Walden - and a lack of response prompted Cllr Eke to think no improvement will be made on cycling and walking in Uttlesford.

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The letter read: “In the new world, pedestrians will need more space. Indications are that there is a significant link between COVID-19 recovery and fitness. Active travel can help us become more resilient.”

It comes after earlier this month the transport secretary Grant Shapps announced more cycle lanes, wider pavements and electric vehicle charging points as part of a £2bn national government package dedicated to helping people travel in towns and cities without the need for public transport.

But Cllr Eke says these plans do not include Uttlesford’s rural villages, which affects residents who already have been experiencing ‘increasing public transport cuts over the past ten years’.

He says three cycling strategies were produced by ECC since 1999, but there has been “little or no implementation”.

Two of them, the Dunmow Flitch Way and Saffron Walden to Cambridge Science Park via Great Chesterford, “could be completed with government funding and willingness from ECC” according to Cllr Eke - who said no positive outcome has been in sight during previous discussions, despite both plans having been around for several years.

He added recent discussions with ECC and Essex Highways included reduced speed limits in key areas and pedestrian and cycle zones which can enable active travel and social distancing – but that some of these were rejected on the grounds of traffic studies required, for which “there is no budget at present”.

A Local Highways Panel from Essex Highways dating back to January this year shows no money was allocated for cycling, safer roads and congestion schemes - but Cllr Moran says he has asked for the Saffron Walden cycling strategy to be rediscussed:

“That is going to cost over £1m, but I think it’s good value for money.

“We could build loads of cycle paths but will people use them, will they get out of their cars, will parents allow their children to cycle?

“The Government’s intention, which is fully supported by ECC and myself, is to enable behavioural change where individuals walk and cycle more often, rather than using cars, the health and environmental gains could be significant.”

An Essex Highways spokesperson said: “Essex Highways is committed to doing as much as possible to fulfil the County Council’s cycling strategy, with more and improved cycling facilities as budgets, safety and practicality allow.

“Every proposal that is put to any Local Highways Panel is carefully considered and assessed against council policies to ensure they are practical and safe.

“Uttlesford Local Highway Panel have received no proposals recently that would be viable from an engineering and safety perspective, which of course is crucial when considering such applications.

“The panel will continue to review bids and will of course consider funding feasible proposals.”