Warwickshire County Council has stated that it is pausing development of its often-delayed Long Shoot Cycle Scheme and its Hinckley Road scheme in Nuneaton – the first being a 0.9 mile largely separated scheme to run alongside the A47 Long Shoot in area of heavy residential development, the second being an extension of that route towards just outside of the town centre.
The news was given following a request for an update on the status of the project, where it had been hoped that the build would commence early in the new year. The reasoning for this decision has been attributed both to levels of community support and a funding shortfall.
The County Council is pausing work on the development of new cycle routes on the A47 Nuneaton between Etone College and the A5 to consider next steps and funding options.
The pause is due to a combination of factors including concerns over the level of community support for initial proposals, which to unlock funding had been designed to meet Government infrastructure design guidance and therefore provided dedicated facilities for cyclists wherever feasible. This included utilising some of the existing carriageway to create space for the proposed cycling infrastructure. In addition, the Hinckley Road section is yet to secure all funding needed based on initial designs.
To avoid potential abortive work, the Council also wants to clarify how the proposals will link with National Highways’ emerging proposals for the A5 at Dodwells as well as potential additional housing development in the area. The pause provides an opportunity to reflect on work completed to date alongside the opportunities and constraints affecting the scheme, wider transport network and strategic growth requirements with the aim of presenting recommendations to elected members during 2024 for how local needs can best be met.Warwickshire County Council, November 2023
This news comes as a big disappointment, although maybe not a surprise. This scheme originally went out for public consultation back in 2021, and since then suggested timeframes have often been pushed back. In the last update back in September 2023, it did look like the scheme might finally have been moving ahead when the Council said the required notices and legal orders would be published this autumn, and subject to further public feedback, the build could start in 2024. Now, the scheme appears to be in jeapordy.
The question is, why now? What has recently changed that has caused the Council to re-evaluate the schemes? Why is community support called into question now, 2.5 year after the consultation ended? Has it really taken that long to evaluate the responses, or is something else going on?
A pause of this nature suggests three potential ways forward – continue as planned, continue but with substantial changes, or cancel the scheme. At the time of writing, we do not know when Warwickshire can be expected to make that decision, beyond a very vague “2024”. What is clear however, is that we will not get a complete route in the short-term.
There is also a question over the viability of secured funding. The Long Shoot scheme was to be phase one of a broader route that would stretch from the A5 to just outside of the town centre. The second phase, Hinckley Road, was funded with £1.15m from Active Travel England in May 2023 (part of a larger £4.761m award), with the condition that the project build be underway by March 2024. It is not clear whether this deadline can still be met, and if not, what happens to that funding.
National Highways has long spoken about upgrades to the A5 in the area, though these plans have never come to fruition to date. Regardless, the Long Shoot scheme as planned in 2021 terminated into existing shared use space at the A5/A47 Long Shoot junction. It is not clear therefore why potential road changes here would impact the local route.
As part of the scheme, a proposal exists to reduce the driving speed limit on the road from 40mph to 30mph. It is not clear whether this element will still go ahead, and if not, why not. If nothing else, a reduced speed limit will improve the attractiveness and safety of on-road cycling, in addition to reducing air and noise pollution for the surrounding housing which has grown significantly in recent years.
With the Long Shoot scheme being short, and the longer route still only 2.1 miles long, this (hopefully temporary) suspension calls into question Warwickshire County Council’s commitment to active travel. These are not big schemes. Both the County and Borough councils are Conservative-controlled, and this could therefore signal a shift back towards a motor-first approach in response to Rishi Sunak’s recent shunning of active travel measures. This would however run counter to the recently adopted Local Transport Plan (LTP4) and the creation (though still to be published) of a Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP).
What happens next will define Warwickshire County Council as either a forward-looking authority that understands the cross-cutting importance of active travel and the need to provide genuine transport choice, or an authority that is stuck in a twentieth-century mindset, locking in car dependency with all of its associated ills while putting people cycling in the local area (including to a nearby school) at risk.
Now there are new questions to be answered, which have been put to the County Council, including:
- Are any other active travel schemes affected? Nuneaton and Bedworth does have other planned routes in the pipeline, as does the wider county.
- What are the consequences for funding?
- How much money has been spent on the schemes to date?
- Will the speed limit change still go ahead?
- What was the response to the 2021 public consultation?