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Letter: Postponement of the Burpham Active Travel Scheme Means Common Sense, Not Cancellation

Published on: 16 Dec, 2022
Updated on: 16 Dec, 2022

From: George Potter

Lib Dem county cllr for Guildford East

In response to: How Does Cllr Potter Suggest We Reduce Congestion and Improve Air Quality?

I’m writing chiefly in response to the attack on me by Mr Howard Smith (vice-chair of the Guildford Labour party), but also in response to the concern, expressed by a number of Dragon NEWS readers, that postponement of the London Road Active Travel Scheme means that it will be cancelled.

Let me address that concern first of all: postponement of the scheme might be a victory for
common sense, but it does not mean cancellation of the scheme.

I’d like to take the time to explain why that’s the case. Back in 2020, when the government announced new funding for active travel in order to support, and build upon, the increase in walking and cycling during the pandemic, I suggested to Surrey County Council (SCC) that they should bid for government funding for improving cycle lanes on the A3100 London Road, given that this was a critical route recently identified in the Guildford Cycle Routes Assessment report as being sub-standard.

SCC went on to successfully bid for government funding for an active travel scheme on London
Road, partly on the basis of that report. SCC received £5.9 million from the Department for
Transport (DfT) to support eight active travel schemes, of which about £1 million ended up being available for London Road.

Because it has received government funding for the scheme, SCC either has to implement an active travel scheme on London Road or, effectively, be placed on a DfT naughty list and risk not being given funding in future.

This is a genuine concern at SCC given that Brighton council used DfT funding for an active travel scheme only to later remove it. As a result, DfT has effectively said that Brighton will no longer be able to bid for new active travel funding.

So SCC is highly unlikely to pull the plug on the London Road Active Travel Scheme, as it hopes to be able to bid for more DfT funding in future.

Obviously being put on the naughty list is not the only concern for SCC here. Construction costs have drastically risen in the past year so they are having to dip into their own pockets to pay for the scheme, and indefinite delay might result in them deciding to cut their losses and pull the plug on the scheme, but right now the point of the postponement is simply to enable SCC to properly engage with the community (as they should have done at the beginning) to find a way forward that won’t cause so much opposition.

Therefore I hope those who, like me, recognise the need for safer cycling and walking routes to
give people a practical alternative to travelling by car will feel reassured that the postponement
does not mean cancellation. It is simply a common sense exercise in asking people how SCC
should proceed so that the benefits of the active travel scheme do not mean five months of
continuous disruption to local residents and shops due to the only route through Burpham being
one way, with lengthy diversions through Merrow or Jacobs Well.

This brings me back to Howard Smith, and his suggestion that I have somehow been
“leading the outrage” which means that the scheme “simply won’t happen now”.

To that, all I have to say is that Mr Smith clearly knows nothing about Burpham, nothing about the residents I represent, and absolutely nothing about the scheme, the proposed roadworks, or what it would mean.

Burpham is sandwiched between the river to the west and the railway line to the east. Almost all
traffic has to use the London Road which runs through the middle of our community and provides access between the A3 and the town centre.

Most neighbourhoods of Burpham can only access each other by going via London Road.

There are only two alternative routes to get from the AA roundabout (where the northbound closure would have begun) to Burpham.

One is to go down past the Spectrum, to go up Woking Road and then detour through Jacobs Well to emerge onto Clay Lane and then head into Burpham, but a weight limit on this route rules it out for heavy goods vehicles.

The other is to go along Boxgrove Road, up Epsom Road through Merrow, along Park Lane, under a low railway bridge, and then head into Burpham along New Inn Lane. During rush hour both routes add, at least, 20 minutes to journey time, and up to an hour if traffic is bad.

We also have, accessed by London Road, one secondary school, two supermarkets, all of our
local shops, a garage, a pub, a petrol station, and the A3 northbound.

It does not take much knowledge of the area to appreciate just how much chaos a one-way closure of the London Road would cause. All you need, in fact, is a brain and a look at the map.

So it’s a shame Mr Smith seems to have chosen to voice his opinion from a place of complete and utter ignorance.

The key point here is how the scheme was being done. It was being done without consultation and without any attempt to explore ways of carrying out the construction without causing maximum disruption. And that is why so many people were angry and upset.

This was something SCC was very much doing to them, rather than for them.

Local people will have a variety of views on the merits of the scheme. Some enthusiastically
support it, some support it in principle, some loathe it on principle, some are indifferent, and some have raised practical concerns about the safety of floating bus stops for disabled people or about whether narrowing road lanes to just three metres in width will work on a road which carries a huge volume of through-traffic to and from the A3.

What matters now is that the entire community must be consulted on how the scheme should
progress. Hopefully, the practical concerns can be properly addressed, SCC can come up with a
less disruptive way to do the construction, and residents will be given a say on what kind of
disruption is acceptable (overnight working perhaps, or traffic-light controlled closures of one
section at a time over a longer period) in exchange for the benefits of safer walking and cycling

Both myself and Cllr Fiona Davidson (R4GV), as the county councillors for the affected area, will
be doing all we can to make sure that that is what happens next.

But to suggest, as Mr Smith has done, that all the concern from residents came from enraged motorists who are opposed to cycling and walking, simply demonstrates both an ignorance of the facts and a disregard for local people; both of which are things we, sadly, so often see from Guildford Labour in general and Mr Smith in particular.

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Responses to Letter: Postponement of the Burpham Active Travel Scheme Means Common Sense, Not Cancellation

  1. Howard Smith Reply

    December 17, 2022 at 11:51 am

    I thank Cllr Potter for his reply on the proposed dedicated cycle paths between Burpham and the town centre, though the manner of his reply is revealing.

    But the positive to take from what he says is that it appears he actually proposed the idea of the route along London Road at SCC in the first place and that he believes it will go ahead. You would expect no less of course as he is now the lead councillor at GBC on climate action.

    I look forward to hearing his unwavering support for the scheme as it develops and hope as I imagine he does, that it won’t be delayed by very much longer.

  2. Roger Carnegie Reply

    December 18, 2022 at 2:17 pm

    I expect a much better tone and less juvenile language from a Surrey County Councillor.

    • Jeremy Holi Reply

      December 19, 2022 at 4:52 am

      I on the other hand found the letter informative and interesting. It highlights that compromises need to be made by local and national politicians and that they cannot live in a blinkered, unrealistic, posturing black and white world.

      The “juvenile language” to which Mr Carnegie objects accurately reflects the juvenile actions of the county council and national government.

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