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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West Berks Cycle Forum (December 2017)

The main topic of discussion was the Kennet & Avon towpath, particularly the sections west of Newbury and east of Colthrop, which Spokes has flagged as being in need of complete reconstruction in order to make them safe for cyclists. Mark Evans had been invited from the Canal and River Trust, but unfortunately he couldn’t make it due to an emergency call-out. However, Cllr Steve Ardagh-Walter managed to set up a separate meeting with him on 9 January. In the meantime, Spokes members will carry out an audit of the canal towpath to document the issues in more detail. We will be looking to get a commitment to add these sections to their maintenance programme as soon as possible and also to change their maintenance inspections to better take account of the needs of cyclists. We realise that funding may be an issue, so we are already looking at different options.

We were delighted to be told that following the recent public consultation, West Berks Councillors has agreed to progress the first section of National Cycle Network Route 422 in Newbury between Faraday Road and the Wyevale roundabout. This will see on and off-road provision for cyclists with new sections of route as well as improvements to existing sections.

Spokes gave a presentation on cycle wayfinding based on the results of an audit of cycle routes between Newbury town centre and the top end of Faraday Road. This had identified numerous issues, including a lack of consistency between on-street signs, on-line cycling journey planners, and the printed version of the Council’s cycle map. We also found that cycling information was completely missing from the finger-posts and monolith maps in the town centre, with several conflicting or missing signs adding to the confusion. Some of the issues have arisen as a result of individual schemes being introduced over a number of years with no holistic review of signage. Fortunately, many of these issues can be picked up as part of the NCN 422 scheme.

The minutes for the December 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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Spokes takes on the Cycle Forum

Council Offices

West Berkshire Council recently announced that they could no longer formally support the Cycle Forum due to a lack of staff resources. However, all parties agreed that the Cycle Forum provided a useful platform for identifying and discussing local cycling issues and for consulting on proposed cycling policies, schemes and initiatives.

It was therefore agreed that the Cycle Forum could continue with Spokes taking responsibility for pulling together the meeting agendas and preparing the minutes. Cllr Adrian Edwards agreed to remain as chair, while the Council would continue to provide some administrative support in terms of sending out agendas and minutes, and booking the meeting rooms.

Spokes is keen to reinvigorate the Cycle Forum and we are currently exploring options for a new website to promote the exchange of information and ideas in the periods between meetings.

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