Planning for Cycling

In order to delivery high quality cycling infrastructure for new development, it is important that we engage with West Berkshire Council through their planning process. This post looks at some of the ways that we do this and describes some of the improvements that we are aiming to achieve or that have already been secured as a result of this process.

The Local Plan is a key document that sets out the Council’s plans for how the area should be developed. It is currently being reviewed and once adopted, it will set out the Council’s policies for the period to 2036. We responded to the recent consultation on the Local Plan Sustainability Appraisal Scoping Report to highlight the need for investment in cycling infrastructure to help mitigate the transport effects of new development. In particular, we identified the need to create new cycle links to greenfield sites such as Sandleford and North Newbury, as well as improving the existing network, including of the Kennet & Avon Canal towpath.

We also pressed for the Local Plan to safeguard the route of the former Newbury to Didcot Railway Line as a traffic-free cycling and walking route. This would provide opportunities for active travel to help make outlying villages such as Long Lane, Curridge, Hermitage, Hampstead Norreys and Compton, more sustainable locations for development. The first phase of making the dismantled railway track accessible to the public between Hermitage and Hampstead Norreys has begun this year and is expected to be complete by 2019. More investment and commitment to a vision to open the entire route would provide a community asset for West Berkshire residents that would become a tourist attraction in its own right.

One of the biggest developments in the area is at Newbury Racecourse and as part of the planning consent, the developer is required to contribute £300,000 towards upgrading the Kennet and Avon Canal towpath.  We have been working with the Council to advise on where the money should be spent and what specification should be adopted. We have asked for the money to go to the most heavily trafficked section between the football club and the back of Tesco on London Road. We have also requested that they use a bound surface. Although more expensive than the current, unbound surface, it will last much longer and will prove more cost effective in the long-term.

In addition, our eagle-eyed Highways Officer is always on the lookout for major planning applications where there are opportunities to improve provision for cyclists. For example, he recently commented on an application at Newbury Business Park, seeking improved cycle access to the north to improve access to Trinity School and Vodafone, as well as improvements to on-site cycle parking.  Elsewhere, we have identified an opportunity to link proposed developments off New Road and Pyle Hill in Greenham. These may seem like small things, but they all add up and help to ensure that new development is cycle friendly.

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Social Bike Rides for 2018

With the weather just starting to brighten a little, we thought it was time to start thinking about our social rides programme for the coming year. We have put together a programme of twice monthly rides between March and October, which take place on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

Run by trained ride leaders, our rides are aimed at the cyclist who wants more than a family ride, but who doesn’t want to go as fast as a ‘club run’. We go at a relaxed pace (about 10-12 mph) and the regular rides are generally somewhere between 20 and 30 miles, with a longer ‘Big Wheel’ event in the summer. Each ride passes a café, which gives us the option for a pit stop depending on how the group feels.

We limit rides to 10 people plus ride leaders, which we feel is a manageable size. All rides are published on LetsRide, which is a free to use website run by British Cycling and we encourage everyone to book a place on each ride they want to attend.

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Spokes Member Survey Results 2017

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Last year, we contacted all of our members firstly to ask if you still wanted to remain as members, but also to ask for your feedback on what we do and your thoughts on what our priorities should be going forward. We are delighted to say that the vast majority of you decided to stick with us! So we would like to say thank you – your support means a lot to us!

We asked what you think we should be concentrating our time on. There was a good spread of responses, but your top choices were: lobbying the council for improved cycle facilities (19%); social bike rides (14%); opening up the Newbury to Didcot railway line (8%); and providing Bikeability training for kids. Some of you also suggested some other activities that weren’t on the original list, such as linking up with Dutch cycling groups to learn about best practice in the Netherlands.

We then asked how we should spend our / your money. Our main source of funding is the cycle counts that we undertake three times a year for West Berkshire Council, but we also get occasional donations. The most popular responses were: opening up the Newbury to Didcot railway line (24%); improvements to the Kennet & Avon towpath (18%); the A4 cycle route (13%); and cycle maintenance training (10%). Again, some people put forward some ideas for additional activities, including: a Spokes trip to the Netherlands; links to Harwell / Milton Park; and a cycle link across Greenham Common.

Finally, we asked what you could do to help.  Spokes is a voluntary group and we rely on people being willing to give up their time to help us with our activities. The majority of people who responded to this question (38%) said that they would be willing to help with the cycle count. The next most popular responses was helping with cycle audits (13%). The rest of the responses were fairly evenly split across the other options.

We were really pleased with the responses – many people included messaged of thanks and general support, saying that while they didn’t have the time to help, they appreciated what we were doing, which is nice. The good thing is that many of our existing projects emerged as your top priorities. For example, we are in the process of putting the finishing touches to tour programme of social bike rides for 2018. Also, there has been good progress in reopening the section of the disused railway line between Hermitage and Hampstead Norreys, with land secured and route clearance work completed. Caroline has been overwhelmed with requests from local parents to teach their kid how to ride. We have been met with the Canal and River Trust to highlight the problems on the canal and are putting forward sites where urgent repairs are required, as well as highlighting priorities for future upgrades. Consultation has been undertaken on the first section of the A4 cycle route and contractors are now on site.

Cycle maintenance training is clearly something that we need to give more thought to. As a first step, we are sending some more people on Cytech courses so they can run Dr Bike events.  We did a Dr Bike session last year in the market place, but not many people came along, so perhaps we need a different format and new ways of promoting the event. Unfortunately, our insurance currently limits us to making adjustments rather than carrying out repairs. We will give this some thought, but if anyone has any suggestions, then please do get in touch.

Once again, thank you for responding and for your continuing support – we couldn’t do this without you!

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West Berkshire Cycle Forum (January 2018)

West Berkshire Council arranged a special meeting of the Cycle Forum to discuss the situation with the Kennet and Avon towpath.  We were delighted to be joined by Mark Evans from the Canal and River Trust and Peter Challis of Sustrans. We highlighted what a valued resource the towpath is and how well-used it is by cyclists, not just for leisure trips, but also to get to places, particularly within Newbury. However, the current condition of the towpath has deteriorated to such an extent in places that it is now hazardous for cyclists.

Mark Evans acknowledged the problems and admitted that the focus until now had largely been on maintaining the canal for boaters. He also recognised that wash from passing boats was causing erosion and that mooring pegs could cause splits in the bank, leading to localised issues. All parties recognised the scale of the problems facing the towpath, which are further complicated by environmental constraints, including the desire to maintain the historic feel of the canal and protect endangered wildlife that lives in the canal banks, such as water voles.

The good news is that the Trust is in the process of restructuring and will be placing a much greater emphasis on promotion of health and well-being in future. As a consequence, there will be a much greater focus on the towpath and its users.

There was some discussion about what standard we would like to achieve for the towpath, including widths and surfacing materials.  The original Sustrans construction was a crushed limestone surface, but it was recognised that this does not hold up well and needs regular maintenance. Alternatives are available, such as resin-bound surfacing, which can last up to 25 years, but this is much more expensive. What quickly became clear is that it will cost millions of pounds to achieve the ideal facility and that some degree of prioritisation will be required.

Key actions from the meeting were:

  • To complete the work on the local audit including the eastern section from Woolhampton to Calcot
  • Identify safety-critical points where there is a particular risk due to holes/bank erosion
  • Identify the top three priority sections where the path surface should be upgraded

Another meeting has been arranged for 20 February in order to maintain momentum.

The minutes for the January meeting of the Cycle Forum (and minutes of previous meetings) can be found on the About Us section of the Spokes website.

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Make Your New Year’s Resolution Count

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If, like the rest of us, you have put on a few pounds over the festive season, then you may be tempted to make a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight or get fit. Well, we’ve got a better idea: why not do both and give something back to the community by getting on your bike and helping us to get more people to do the same.

Spokes relies on people like you to help with our activities, give us support and provide feedback. Here are 5 ways you can get involved in 2018:

  1. Become a member of Spokes – If you haven’t already done so, then please do sign up.  It costs nothing, we won’t bombard you with emails, you will get great benefits, including discounts at local bike shops, and you’ll get to be part of something amazing! The more supporters we have, the bigger our voice and the more effective we are at lobbying for improvements to local cycling infrastructure. Fill out our on-line membership application form and we will pop your membership card in the post in a few days – it’s as simple as that!
  2. Give us your views – We can only tackle the cycling issues that we are aware of, so if there is something that you feel we should know about, or if you think we could be doing things better then please contact us – we would love to hear from you!
  3. Come to a meeting – We meet on the first Wednesday of the month for a drink and a chat about all matters cycling. Check out our calendar for details of the time and venue. These meetings are informal affairs and all newcomers are most welcome. You can find out more about what we do and what we are working on. Check out the notes from recent meetings to get a flavour of the current hot topics.
  4. Volunteer – We are always on the lookout for people to help us with our activities. For example, we carry out counts of cyclists at various points around West Berkshire three times a year. The information is used by West Berkshire Council to gauge the effectiveness of their cycling policies and investment and the counts are our main source of income. We also have vacancies for social ride leaders, cycle count coordinators and people to help with our projects and events. You don’t need any experience and we can provide training where necessary.
  5. Join the Spokes committee – We know that this sounds like a big, scary commitment, but really it’s not. You don’t need any experience and it won’t take up all your spare time – we promise! Even a couple of hours a month is enough to make a significant contribution. Our committee is elected at our AGM in June each year, but you don’t have to wait until then to express an interest, since we can co-opt new committee members at any time. So if you would like to get involved, then please get in touch. We urgently need to find someone to take over as Secretary as Graham Hunt has recently stood down after 15 years sterling service.
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