WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS OPTIMISM
On Wednesday night I attended a very productive Worthing Cycle Forum. It’s wonderful to see such cycling enthusiasm regardless of the loss of daylight hours and weather that has been inclement to say the least. What was also gratifying was the mix of people there; we had representatives from local council, the County Cycling Officer, campaigners, ‘civilian’ cyclists and even representation from Worthing’s Youth Council.
In this post I wish to outline how I went about re-establishing a cycle campaign group in Worthing (population: 100,000) and where we are now. The reason I wish to share this with you is that, with funding and knowhow for cycling (if there was any in the first place in the DfT) being thrown to the regions, it may inspire some Lo Fidelity Readers to try and get the ball rolling in their areas, or breathe new life into what’s already there. The money that’s potentially coming our way obviously doesn’t compare to Philip Hammond’s Big Money For Big Roads For Big Business Strategy That’s Very Big (or BMFBRFBBSTVB if you like) and could be hoovered up by bus companies and other ‘sustainable’ transport interests if we don’t get heard at a local level.
After moving to Worthing in August 2007, I did a bit a bit of research into what local cycle campaign groups were about and found the website of one that hadn’t been updated since about 2001. I decided to establish a group called Worthing Revolutions. It was decided that we add an ‘s’ to make ‘Revolutions’ as ‘Revolution’ would sound a bit too, well, Revolutionary for Worthing. The inaugural meeting was in early 2008.
The person who created the original group turned out to be a very nice chap called Anthony Cartmell. The reason the original campaign group had fallen a bit by the wayside was due to work commitments and he was raising a young family (which ironically is where I’m at now). He is CTC through and through and even created their website. He was welcomed back on board (even doing a sterling job of creating our new website) along with others that were to form a core of regular volunteers. Amongst the volunteers were Sustrans and CTC representatives, but we were also fortunate to get the Borough Council Cycling Champion on board almost from the start (and has barely missed a meeting since).
Worthing Revolutions meets every month in a hotel bar with ample cycle parking outside. We wanted it to be an informal chat about cycling and a review of any cycling stories that had made the local press. That’s where our story could have ended but I didn’t want it to become another campaign group that just met up over a pint without being consulted on anything until it was too late.
We created the Worthing Cycle Forum in 2009 which I chaired. It was our ambition from the start to keep it open to the public. This was because [from experience] I had seen to many Forums disappear behind closed doors where councillors would listen and then ignore everything cyclists said but could now claim that at least they had ‘consulted’ with them. We wanted to keep accountability and transparency. This is where having a councillor on board from the start helped. We were able to not only get a regular booking in the Town Hall, but also awarded a small amount of Council funds to print leaflets and posters to promote the first event. We invited all agencies with an interest in cycling along; Sussex Police, local NHS Trusts, Schools and Town & County Councillors. The NHS couldn’t send anyone because their representative that dealt with such matters was off ‘long term sick’. I’ll let the irony of that sink in.
We now have consistent support from Worthing Borough Council and Simone Makepeace (ex-CTC employee and very knowledgeable West Sussex County Cycling Officer). We have developed a wish list of infrastructure we would like to see in the town and next year we will be holding monthly rides to conduct photo audits of things that work or don’t work (and why). These will end in a pub because I started the group and because I bloody well said so. Worthing Revolutions still meets every month and acts as a steering group for the Forum.
The point of all this is that The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club believes that it is imperative that cyclists of all disciplines and ages engage with all local agencies such as councillors, local NHS Trusts, School and the Police. Not only does it get a dialogue about cycling going, but it should become a two-way street, where cyclists should get consulted about future property and highways developments in their locality. It means cyclists will get a greater say in how Section 106 money is spent. With further spending cuts on the horizon, cyclists are going to have to learn to shout very loud at local level. It must be said that if there isn’t much in the way of local development in your area, there won’t be as much money floating around in the form of Section 106. We’re very lucky in Worthing to have large developments taking place where things like cycle parking and infrastructure are [I believe] part of the planning conditions. Above all, developers want to open a dialogue with our Cycle Forum as its pointless providing what they think are decent facilities that no-one uses.
It would be far more advantageous for a wider range of cycling views to get involved in local matters as opposed to the older gentleman of the vehicular persuasion (that normally turn up at cycle forums and into which age range I am rapidly heading). To be fair, they are dedicated people and their experience is needed. The problem is that through no fault of their own they don’t understand what the novice cyclist really wants and cycling levels won’t just pick up again as though the country has woken up from a long collective bout of amnesia. Above all, we must not be afraid to speak with local politicians and agencies. More often than not, they’re reasonable people and you are after all fighting for the same thing; a better place to live.
Phew! That’s my personal view on a local level. My National Plan will follow shortly…