Saturday, 27 September 2014

The great cycling debate rumbles on... But why can't we all work together for the decent majority?

Every day as I return home from work or often later in the evening after returning from the Town Hall after representing my fellow constituents at a variety of civic engagements, I remain thankful that I live in Sovereign Harbour with its fresh sea air, close proximity to our wonderful seafront and coastline, stunning marina views, bustling waterfront life and miles and miles of wide pathways that we can walk around with our faithful hound, allow the children the freedom to scooter or rover boot or cycle around as a family - great for our health and never ending opportunities to get out and enjoy our wonderful surroundings!

Like many of my constituents, I get out and enjoy our Harbour and Seafront on a daily basis on foot and on cycle and for the record, you can cycle on the inner Harbour walkways, the promenade from the lock gates to the Martello Tower and for part of the North Harbour promenade in addition to the designated cycle paths along Harbour Quay, Pacific Drive and Atlantic Drive - you must not however cycle over locks and bridges or in front of the busy waterfront restaurants. When I walk I look out for others and often exchange a polite greeting and I apply the same courtesy and care when I cycle without any incident around the Harbour throughout over ten years of living here. Cycling on the designated seafront cycle lane between the Water Treatment Works and Fishermans Green is a somewhat different experience where both walkers and cyclists tend to become very territorial, some cyclists often firing along at higher speeds and pedestrians of all ages often wandering around seemingly oblivious to the fact that they have strayed into the cycle lane, in fact it's not uncommon to find people throwing balls for their dogs right across the path of an oncoming cyclist - why does something intended to provide safe distinction for both user groups so often lead to defensive behaviour and a lack of courtesy and awareness that exists on the shared areas around the Harbour?

I have talked to residents as I have survey canvassed during the last year throughout Sovereign Ward and I have listened to Council officials, members of our local Police force and Neighbourhood Panels, I have read letters from those concerned and those in favour but I am proud to have been one of the Councillors who voted for the relaxation of the bye law which currently prevents cyclists from using much of the seafront promenade because I believe in our town being accessible for the enjoyment of all residents of all ages at all times and I know that the vast majority of people who do actually use the promenade on a regular basis are decent people who are quite capable of respecting others and getting along without incident. 

That said, I do believe that whilst the matter is being considered by the Secretary of State there is more we can be doing as a council to address some valid concerns about seafront cycling. The previous Conservative administration planned to widen the promenade at its most narrow section between Splash Point and the Pier by installing a board walk and I believe that these plans or something similar should be revived and I also believe that the CCTV that made it possible to identify those who knocked the little four year old girl down near the Pier a few months ago should be expanded to help provide evidence if a minority do choose to disrespect the majority of law abiding citizens. Furthermore recently revised powers to tackle anti-social behaviour introduced by the Government should make it possible for the council to send a strong message that mis-use of our local environment will not be tolerated and that action can be triggered by both the council and the police to deal with offenders. Personally I would like to see a policy of a hefty fine and confiscation of the culprits cycle publicised as a deterrent and the Council's Neighbourhood First team used more widely and equipped with body mounted cameras to help monitor the promenade for the benefit of all, perhaps supported by community cycling speed enforcement in a similar way that has been successfully trialled in some rural villages with speed cameras enabling Police resources to be used in a more targeted way on the rare occasion that there is an incident.

However in recent days two petitions have been started and circulated by the Sovereign Harbour Residents Association and circulated amongst Neighbourhood Panel committees, inviting people to vote against cycling on the both the seafront and around Sovereign Harbour. I share disappointment being expressed by some residents who don't feel that the SHRA have a mandate as an association to do this without consulting all residents more widely, indeed cycling has not been raised as a concern at either the last SHRA annual meeting in May this year or any I can remember before that. Indeed looking at the twitter feeds of those behind these petitions, it appears that this is more the personal view of a small number of people and I think it would have been more appropriate that if they felt so strongly about the subject, they launched the petitions as individuals rather than under the guises of the SHRA and through the Neighbourhood Panel.

As a Sovereign Ward Councillor I have worked very closely with the SHRA committee on a vast number of issues and I think that together we have achieved a great deal which has helped make Sovereign Harbour the wonderful place it is today with such a largely bright future. On this matter though I think it could have been handled better and I would urge them to reconsider withdrawing using their SHRA and Neighbourhood Panel positions to promote it until residents views can be more widely understood. I would far rather work with them to see that the decent majority of residents are not prevented from enjoying our beautiful surroundings and that a tiny mindless minority who may seek to spoil life for all are sent a strong message and dealt with firmly.

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