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image credit: Bespoke Eastbourne

Nearly six hundred people have signed an on-line petition organised by local cycle groups to demand the reinstatement of £5 million in funding which was taken from the 2018/2019 Walking and Cycling (SE Local Enterprise Partnership) capital funding to cover an overspend on road building in the county

The petition with 581 signatures was presented to David Elkin, Chair of ESCC, at County Hall in Lewes on Tuesday 11th February.

“There’s a climate emergency,” said Paul Humphreys of Bespoke, the Eastbourne cycle group. “We need major investments in our cycling and walking networks to help reduce CO2 and local pollution, and make our towns and villages healthier places to live. Taking money from cycling and giving it to road-building is heading in the wrong direction.”

ESCC re-allocated £2m (out of £9m) from Eastbourne & South Wealden and £3m (out of £6m) from Hastings & Bexhill to help fund highways schemes. The petition was organised by Cycle East Sussex, a coalition of local groups.

“Much of our local cycling infrastructure is poor and relies on painted intermittent lines that are only ‘advisory’, and vehicles often park and drive in these spaces,” said Mr Humphreys. “So we need real investment and a reallocation of the space available. ‘Business as usual’ is no longer an option. There needs to be a real commitment to re-balance traffic and road space in favour of active travel. We need to deliver a better deal for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.”

Current government spending on active travel is reducing, rather than increasing. Funding went down from £2.16 per person in 2016/2017 to just 37p per person in 2020/2021.

“We need a big rethink on how we make journeys, particularly short ones,” said Sue Burton of 1066 Cycle Club, based in Battle. “Our cycling and walking infrastructure needs investment for people to make these changes. Cycling and walking infrastructure is badly underfunded. This is yet another example of cycling being deprived of the resources needed.”

Britain’s spending of 37p per head on cycle infrastructure compares to £35 per person spent on cycling in Copenhagen, where the Danish government has been investing in a network of segregated cycle routes since 2004. As a result 62% of all citizens commute to work, school or university by bicycle.

“If a fair share of the original funding had been allocated for walking and cycling schemes in Hastings it would have enabled almost all of the Hastings Greenway and the cycling and walking routes approved by ESCC and Hastings Borough Council to have been constructed by 2021,” said Ian Sier of Hastings Urban Bikes.

A massive investment in Britain’s cycling and walking infrastructure would reduce global CO2 and local pollution; make our urban and rural spaces greener and more liveable; help people get fitter (reducing NHS costs); and strengthen local communities, shopping and businesses. The National Infrastructure Commission recommends that we should spend at least £43 billion in urban areas alone on public transport, walking and cycling.

“ESCC is making progress with developing a Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan and claim to have delivered a ‘significant number’ of improvements to the cycle network in the last five years,” said Nick Hanna on behalf of the Rother Environment Group. “However, this progress can seem non-existent to those of us on the ground trying to safely navigate our traffic-choked streets and dangerous rural roads. They need to up their game if we’re to have any chance of meeting our zero-carbon targets.”

“Whilst there appears to be a willingness to get cycling moving, delivered routes are minimal,” agreed Ian Hollidge of Bexhill Wheelers. “The Bexhill Cycle Network was our vision which we put forward with fully-planned routes but as yet very little has gone out for public consultation. The climate change emergency has focussed minds on how walking and cycling can play a big part in clean, sustainable growth. We need to see action now.”

The government has announced (11th Feb) further investment to create 250 miles of segregated cycle routes nationally. This is a wholly inadequate response to the issue, says Cycle East Sussex. The need for safer cycle routes for all has been highlighted by the recent tragic death of Nathan Hill on 30th January as he rode his bicycle through Hailsham. The 51-year-old died after being struck by a car and then knocked into the path of an oncoming bus in London Road.