“The political will is there and we have a thick skin,” says Leader of the Council.September 12, 2021 1 COMMENT
Our 2021 AGM was the opportunity to ask Cllrs Tatler and Cllr Butt some questions over the various measures currently implemented across Brent, including Brent Healthy Neighbourhoods (BHN), School Streets and pop-up cycle lane.
If you couldn’t attend here’s the Coordinator’s annual report below and an account of what was discussed, further down.FINAL-Brent-Cycling-Campaign-AGM-2021-Slides
Cllr Tatler started by explaining where we were at the present moment: “The Healthy Neighbourhood programme has been a hard learning curve. We don’t have the same level of expertise or resources as perhaps other boroughs that are much more advanced than we are. The ambition is clearly there to address transport shift, in terms of public health, childhood obesity. We have a huge number of people who have no physical activity during the week.”
What the Council is trying to achieve with the Healthy Neighbourhoods programme is to really tackle the issues of congestion, road danger and through traffic, Cllr Tatler added, as well as recognising that Brent needs to get better at the engagement process. “We are pursuing Healthy Neighbourhoods, it’s been a difficult journey, not just here but across the city. We need to be better at the engagement process. We need to make sure that we are very clear in our comms to take people along with us. I think we are turning the corner, with Living Streets reporting to officers that more and more people are coming out to say they can see the benefits.“
Both councillors highlighted the significant challenges before them. Cllr Tatler repeated the council’s commitment to the programme but reminded everyone that for instance, “we went from 4000 to 2000 borough officers” which presents some serious limitations in their capacity to do things: “The plan is to focus our resources on making a success of what we have now and then expand. We, the officers can’t stretch further or magically make things happen“.
Cost of maintaining and repairing roads
Cllr Butt added: “Just patching up our roads and pavements, I will need £100 million. In 2010-11, we had around £12.5/13 million allocated against this expenditure, we now have £3.5 million today. It is really really difficult.” Adding: “Commitment from us is there, to make sure cycling and walking are encouraged in the borough. The conversation around LTN and school streets are right on the agenda. Engagement is part of the process and we need the robustness behind, to make sure we do not fall foul of processes. We are not shying away we are just making sure we are absolutely right. Very challenging meetings even among our own councillors.“
It was pointed out that perhaps preventive measures such as enabling safer active travel routes could help with preventing potholes from appearing in the first place given potholes are caused by motor vehicles rather than people walking or cycling. Just like broken pavements or damaged street furniture.
Dr Davis, Chair of Road Danger Forum said: “So much evidence and data coming out of existing schemes across London and the world. Hold your nerves, please and point to the evidence showing effectiveness when challenged. The money is there, but only if you deliver good schemes”. Good as in compliant with the latest guidance and to the level of expectation in central government and TfL. To which Cllr Tatler replied: “I have been in regen [Regeneration] for far longer than transport and if I didn’t have a thick skin I wouldn’t have been in it for so long. Don’t worry about holding our nerves, we will keep doing what we think is important, what is right for our communities and this is one area where we are willing to really push and going for it. Rest assured that we will be holding our nerves.“
Moving on to School Streets, Cllr Tatler said: “School Streets have been overwhelmingly positive. More and more schools are coming to us asking to be part of this programme.” We pointed out that one key difference with Healthy Neighbourhoods is that people were asked to comment on something they could see and experience. We did not have that for the BHN. This is a crucial part of these experimental measures and is badly missing. “Working on a borough-wide policy to have ANPR cameras in all our school streets. From the engagement, signage around the Healthy Neighbourhoods and School Streets is not adequate and leads to confusion. We are taking on board as this seems to be a common theme across all locations where engagement has taken place.” It would help if when a scheme is up and running, signs are displayed and checked if they haven’t been vandalised and when a scheme is not running, signs are not displayed. This is the confusion we have been made aware of from talking to residents.
Moving on with a plea from Cllr Tatler to support the council with car-free developments. It was pointed out that this was just one side of the process and that in order for these to be viable, there must also be wider thinking at what measures are needed to support those residents. What’s also needed is a bit more than just cycle parking. We need inclusive, suitable, convenient and safe routes in and out of each new development, we need routes connected to other routes, we need to factor in all types of cycle users from children to older people. The A5 is a good example of the lack of lateral thinking with a correlation between new car-free developments and an increase in cars parked in nearby streets. If you ask people not to own cars, there must be alternatives in place when they move in.
Other topics discussed included the disappearance of the wands on the pop-up cycle lane on Harrow Road before the end of the consultation. Cllr Tatler said they had been removed for cleaning purposes and added: “There were issues with access during the Euros” saying “700 parking tickets during one Wembley event” which was far more than anticipated. It is unclear what this has to do with the cycle lane. The Council has been “working with TfL, to improve issues around the design in relation to refuse collection.” Also, there’s been some “aggressive reactions from residents in the area“. The Council is currently seeking commitment from TfL for a better design, a proper segregated cycle lane. Worth remembering that this is a 4 lane-wide road, crying out for space to be reallocated for other than car use.
The Northwick Park roundabout was described as “horrendous” by Cllr Tatler who added: “We are looking at strategic funding to make it better.”
On Willesden to Wembley Healthy Streets corridor: “not sure what’s happening, capacity as a council is getting harder and harder. 60% of the money goes to social care“. To which someone pointed out there’s again plenty of evidence that preventive measures supporting people’s choice for a healthier lifestyle, throughout life, would remove the need for a local authority to spend a vast amount of money dealing with preventable illnesses and their implications on health.
On North End Road, Cllr Butt said this was after residents asked him. Which residents? Driving residents? What about walking, cycling, busing and tubing ones? What did they say? Do we know? How long before those same residents call on the Council to address this new rat run? Widening or opening roads to traffic induces traffic, something that is known since the 60s.
We were thankful both Cabinet members took the time to answer questions and we wish we had these frank discussions more often. We sincerely hope to continue this conversation and ensure Brent installs well designed and evidence-led schemes, otherwise, they may lose funding like neighbouring Ealing and Harrow.
Please, consider the Participatory Budgeting process and check out the Council’s new consultation platform, in particular, the current Making It Easier to Travel in Brent. Also, please reply to the online questionnaire about your experience of the streets in Brent.
Finally, do join Brent Cycling Campaign, to support the cycling voice in Brent.