Ill-informed cycling comments from councillors

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Towards the end of a Borough Plan Committee session held at Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council this week, particularly ill-informed comments were made with regard to cycling and the objective to achieve modal shift – enabling people to switch some journeys from the car to other, more sustainable modes of transport including walking, cycling, and public transport.

Comments from Conservative members derided the notion that there could be any significant modal shift by focusing entirely on the concept of commuting to Coventry – a roughly ten mile journey, depending on the exact route and start/end points – and that cycle lanes in the nearby city are supposedly not working. The tired old trope of “Holland is flat” came up, despite that being entirely irrelevant, especially given the rising popularity of e-bikes – Rotterdam is certainly not entirely flat, and Dutch headwinds can make up for the lack of major hills.

One comment made by the councillor for St Nicolas Park, Rob Tromans, even suggested that cycle lanes across Europe were being “ripped up” and “converted back to roads”. Yet no evidence was provided to substantiate this claim. In contrast, Paris has seen a rapid roll-out of a comprehensive cycle network in the last few years with a plan to become a 100% cyclable city, and the Dutch network that has developed over the past fifty years is extremely successful with Amsterdam having very recently installed a major under-canal cycle parking facility. More locally, London’s cycle routes are seeing growth in usage as their network expands and improves, and some places in the UK already achieve a good cycling rate for commuting to work – Cambridge achieves nearly 17%, compared to Nuneaton’s 1.7%. Even Leicester’s 3.5% is double what we achieve.

On the subject of personal choice, the councillor for Attleborough, Richard Baxter-Payne, suggested that “we all drive the car” and that if people don’t want to cycle or take public transport, then that is their choice. Yet, we don’t all drive – plenty of people cannot drive due to age or health reasons, or maybe even that key aspect, personal choice. Yet, the choice to cycle to various destinations is effectively removed from personal transport decisions by the absence of a comprehensive cycle network.

Councillor Baxter-Payne also suggested that Coventry has cycle lanes “all through the city”, yet this is not true. Coventry currently has just two good quality cycle routes – Coundon and Binley, the latter of which is still under construction – and while there are also older, shared use pavements in places, this doesn’t provide a comprehensive, direct, and uninterrupted network. I have cycled into Coventry many times using different routes and (excepting the canal towpath which is very problematic) the majority of my journey is on roads with no cycle infrastructure, or infrastructure that is so poor it is better to avoid it.

Coventry's Coundon Cycleway, a bidirectional route. This image also includes a pedestrian footpath and zebra crossing, a bus stop, and a general traffic road. It therefore illustrates multi-modal transport.
Coventry’s Coundon Cycleway, a bidirectional route. This image also includes a pedestrian footpath and zebra crossing, a bus stop, and a general traffic road. It therefore illustrates multi-modal transport.

Coventry’s new schemes are excellent, and they are being used, but where people’s journeys do not start and end within the limits of those routes, people will still need to ride mixing with traffic. Until Coventry expands its network, take-up will remain limited.

Cycling in the context of local transport and modal shift is about more than commuting to Coventry, and I would suggest that few are wanting to encourage people to cycle that roughly ten mile journey twice a day. This must not be the focus. Instead, the focus should be firmly placed on switching the journeys that are under five miles, and especially those of under three miles which can be done by cycle in around twenty minutes. And it’s about more than just commuting to work. These local journeys include children going to school, people accessing local services such as GP surgeries, travelling to nearby retail and leisure, or visiting friends and family.

There are long-awaited plans for a cycle route between Nuneaton and Coventry and I wonder if talking about this route in the context of its end points is contributing to the misconception that we are wanting people to cycle that full journey. While it is true that a good quality, uninterrupted route on this corridor would enable more people to cycle that distance if they chose to do so, it also provides shorter connections (Nuneaton-Bedworth; Bedworth-Exhall; Exhall-Coventry) and serves as a backbone route for other schemes to connect to.

Wednesday’s Council session highlights another example of the difficulties we have in Nuneaton and Bedworth, with viewpoints of some Conservative councillors seeming to be actively hostile to improving infrastructure for cycling in the Borough. This comes after anti-cycling comments were made by two other borough councillors, Cllr Kris Wilson and Cllr Brian Hammersley, in a Council session back in December 2021.

You can view an edited video of the Council session here, and read the transcript below. If you want to see the full, unedited session, you can find it on Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council’s YouTube channel.

NBBC Borough Plan Committee (Edit)



Thank you. Any member? Councillor Kondakor.

Cllr Kondakor (Green, Weddington)

It is clear from this new delay that the Conservative administration aren’t going to actually probably get a Borough Plan adopted in their three years of control. So, I do think we need to look at where the dates will lie in 2024 as we get to a new administration, so we don’t land at election time and expect to have various things going on at the same time as a full council election.

And obviously, I would like the plan to be a lot greener than I expect it will be delivered. So, I don’t want this Council to develop a plan and then for us to have to fight it, and then we change control and it’s all a mess. So, I think we need to be mindful of that and actually make sure we try to do as green a plan as possible, and look at how much it is slipping.

And I’m really alarmed by the comments about the Transport Assessment because it’s all talking about traffic. The old plan had a fifteen percent modal shift built in, which means that when we build houses, we assume that fifteen percent more will change over to using public transport, cycling, and walking, than do at the moment. And that clearly hasn’t happened for any of the new developments in Weddington and St Nicolas. They’re entirely car-dependent. Some haven’t even got bus stops.

So, I do hope that if this Transport Assessment is going to take a long time, it’s actually a transport assessment rather than a highways assessment, and we actually look at the modal shift properly – what we’re going to achieve – we have a rail assessment, a bus assessment, and a cycling assessment as part of that process, so that we actually make a proper plan. Because we failed in the third-rate Borough Plan to actually have any infrastructure, and just doing the same again isn’t actually going to get us a better plan. So, I hope when you do write to people at the County, we actually ask not just for the highways modelling to do, but actually we have the modelling of the new railway entrances, hopefully a new Stockingford station.

And really key to the Borough in the modelling is if we get the bay platform at Coventry and get the two or three trains an hour coming up the line, because we will have no economic growth if we’re strangled by not having all of the transport options. So, we really need to look at the full range of transport.

Thank you, Chair.


Councillor Tromans.

Cllr Tromans (Conservative, St Nicolas)

Thank you Chair.

I think on the modal shift point, this has been talked about a number of times in a number of different meetings at this Council. The whole “if you build it they will come” has turned out to be complete rubbish. You can build all the cycle lanes you like, but all over Europe they’re digging them up and converting them back to roads because people just don’t make that modal shift. They might walk, but we are not going to become a nation of people cycling to commute to Coventry. It just ain’t gonna happen.

In terms of having to write and change the Borough Plan now on the basis of a change of control and it needing to be a much more green focused Borough Plan, wow. I would never disrespect democracy and take the voters of the Borough for granted like that and assume that the Green Party will be in control, cos it ain’t gonna happen ever. We should proceed on the basis of democracy. The people of the Borough spoke last time, they gave a majority to a particular group who is bringing forward this review as quickly as possible, and I think we should only proceed on that basis.

Thank you Chair.


Councillor Kondakor.

Cllr Kondakor (Green, Weddington)

I must come back on the comments about cycle lanes being ripped up all over Europe. That’s simply not happening. You even now look in London at the great success of cycle routes being put in there. As long as you build a whole route, not just a couple of hundred yards like we tend to do in Nuneaton and Bedworth, cycling is taking off.

But also, it needs to be linked in with the rail services because the model in Holland, France, and everywhere else is, you cycle to Nuneaton Station or Bermuda Park, and then you get the train into Coventry. The vast majority of the longer journeys are done by train. And one train per hour just doesn’t work. So, having a half-hourly or every twenty minutes train service – as Lubs said, we need the County Council to pull their fingers out and get those longer distance journeys done by train. But for the short one, two miles to the station, cycling is really, really popular.

And it will be maybe only twenty percent, ten percent of the population. But that’s ten or twenty percent of the traffic off the roads.

Thank you.


You want to come back on that, do you? Yes. I’ll take you first.

Cllr Tromans (Conservative, St Nicolas)

Thank you Chair.

Twenty percent of the population are not going to be cycling. And I know Holland is flat – I’m sure you know all about Flat Earth – but twenty percent of the population is not going to be commuting by bicycle. So, it’s as simple as that and we can’t plan on that basis.

Yes, absolutely, we need the trains to be running a bit more frequently on the NUCKLE Line. That is a major limiter. A lot of people would like to commute to Coventry that way and it needs to be restored. Although we seem to be having all sorts of people throwing industrial action spanners in the works on that one. So, that’s a bit beyond our control, and the County’s I’m afraid.


Councillor Baxter-Payne.

Cllr Baxter-Payne (Conservative, Attleborough)

I need to make a come back on this point on modal shift.

Modal shift sounds a wonderful concept. It sounds like a great idea. But it comes down to personal choice. We can put cycle lanes anywhere we want, but if the person doesn’t want to get on his pushbike and use it, they won’t use it. If a person wants to get on a train, they will use a train. It’s personal choice.

And there is a prime example just down the road in Coventry. I spend a lot of time driving around Coventry where they’ve put cycle lanes all through the city. And if you drive through Coventry at any point, you are very lucky to see a pushbike on the cycle lane.

So, it’s a great idea and it’s something that we should all encourage, but we have to educate people. Because we can put cycle lanes everywhere, but if I don’t want to get on my bike and use a bike, I’m not going to get on my bike and use a bike. If I don’t want to go by bus, I’m not going to go by bus. And I think that we’ve got to be really careful here about trying to do things that we’ve got to educate people to do. Because it is a personal choice to use every single different form of transport.

But we all get in the car and we all drive the car.

And going back on the point on the extra evidence on the railway, I’d be very concerned if that evidence actually pushed us back even further than the ten weeks that it’s saying now. So, I think that we need to be very careful about what we’re asking for because it could actually delay the process even further.


Just one more time, Councillor Kondakor. We could debate cycling all night and go round in circles, but I’ll let you come back in.

Cllr Kondakor (Green, Weddington)

The point on personal choice is – we’ve got the Census report; about one-point-seven percent of people travelling by bicycle. People are choosing not to cycle down Eastboro Way or whatever because there is nowhere for them to cycle.

We might get ten percent cycling and that would be people’s personal choice. At the moment, people don’t have the personal choice and that ten percent isn’t happening because we just simply do not have a route that people feel safe.

Even in Holland, seventy percent of people don’t cycle to work. I get that. But people cannot cycle to work at the moment, or cycle to school, because they’re expected to cycle on the Eastboro Way or they’re expected to cycle on the Coventry Road in Coventry, Bulkington – we do need the provisions that those who want to can use greener modes of transport.


Okay, thank you.

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