After 18 long months of consultation and controversy, work on the Cycle Enfield scheme can finally begin!
The final hurdle for the A105 (Green Lanes) route was cleared at an Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting at the Civic Centre on Thursday. Cllr Neville had ‘called in’ the A105 scheme for a second time, despite it being voted through by cabinet members months ago, and despite the failure of a judicial review just weeks earlier. This was clearly seen as a last-ditch chance by Cycle Enfield’s opponents to halt the work and call a public enquiry, delaying it still further.
Seven of us were at the Civic Centre that evening in support of the scheme, but we were outnumbered by those against it by about ten to one. Since Cycle Enfield’s winning Mini Holland bid was announced, there has been huge local opposition to them. The same arguments have been circulating from that moment: that taking carriageway space from cars and giving it to bike lanes and pedestrians will cause congestion, pollution, accidents and be a disaster for the local economy. All of the abundant evidence in favour of giving space and priority to walking and cycling, for health, the economy, air quality, and the most efficient use of road space seems to have fallen on deaf ears. And attacking the consultation process has been opponents’ favoured method for trying to undermine the scheme time and time again.
Cllr Neville gave his reasons for the ‘call in’; they were to do with Cllr Anderson not giving enough time to consider all 1,600 objections from the statutory consultation before signing off the scheme; issues to do with loading bays; the ambulance service; and the fact that Arriva buses had made an objection, although this had later been withdrawn. He suggested there had been ‘chicanery’ with Arriva to get them to withdraw their objection.
Cllr Anderson responded with an explanation of how he and officers had considered all the objections so quickly (basically by working all hours, and because so many of the responses were identical). The loading restrictions come under experimental traffic orders, which can be adapted as needed. For the ambulances, their concerns about carriageway width were put into perspective by the fact that the fire service have had no such concerns, despite using much larger vehicles. The police are firmly in favour and look forward to fewer casualties among cyclists. As for Arriva buses, he said they would have to be approached to find out the reason for their decision. He and the officers were clear that there were no legal grounds for a public enquiry. When the vote went to the 5 councillors on the committee, the call-in was dismissed by 3 votes to 2 (voting along party lines, with the Conservative minority being against).
What a relief, and what great news for Enfield. I came away from that meeting feeling more impressed by our political leaders than I’d expected. The meeting was chaired expertly by Cllr Levy, who politely but firmly kept everyone in order. And Daniel Anderson and his officers have demonstrated real professionalism and commitment to this whole process throughout. They quite literally have worked night and day to make it happen, while facing a barrage of baseless criticism, some of it downright nasty and personal. I hope they realise just how significant their work is, and will be, for the future of people-friendly streets in Enfield.
The interesting thing is, it seems that the turnout at that meeting – and I think even the consultation results we’ve seen – aren’t representative of most people in Enfield. As Cllr Anderson left the council chamber, I was able to pass on to him a stack of 114 postcards filled in by members of the public on the Sunday before at Palmers Green Festival. Better Streets for Enfield and Enfield Cycling Campaign had run a stall where people could fill in a postcard of support for what Cycle Enfield are doing, and the positive response was overwhelming.
It seems that the demographic of people who engage with the council and attend public meetings – mainly older, often retired, and usually conservative with a big and a small ‘c’ – tend to be the same demographic who oppose any threat to the status quo. Unfortunately this same demographic also seems to have the time, and often the resources, to make their views heard. On the other hand the younger, busier families, who hate seeing their streets dominated by speeding, polluting, congesting traffic, and worry about the air their children breathe, have too many other demands on their time to make much noise about it.
That’s a gross generalisation, of course. I’m told that a woman in her sixties approached our stall, and when she looked at our posters and muttered, ‘Controversial!’ everyone assumed she was against it. But she shook her head and went on to say, ‘But it has to happen. There are just too many cars everywhere.’
At the same festival, we were running a family try-a-bike area, where parents and kids could try out various forms of cycles Some of these they’d never seen before, never mind tried. We had a three-wheel cargo bike, my Helios Duo tandem (takes up to three people), an Onderwater tandem (takes up to four), a tag-along, a folding bike and two different electric bikes. It was an incredibly satisfying experience watching people discover how easy and practical it can be to cycle with your children on the same bike – and never mind practical, just how darn fun it is. There were a lot of smiles. For those families and many like them, the cycle lanes can’t come soon enough.