The introduction of a seafront cycle route along part of Eastbourne’s promenade has moved another step closer.
On Wednesday 18th November 2015, Cllr Ray Blakebrough (Sovereign Ward) proposed the following motion to Eastbourne Borough Council that would have stalled development of the route.
Eastbourne Borough Council requests that East Sussex County Council (ESCC) delays any decision to proceed with the implementation of a shared walking and cycling scheme on Eastbourne promenade until an integrated walking and cycling strategy is in place.
The motion was debated for about half an hour, and eventually defeated by 17 votes to 9.
The following were notes were taken by a Bespoke member during the debate.
Three members of the public addressed the council; Scarlett McNally, Howard Simpson and Paul Humphreys.
Scarlett McNally, former chair of Bespoke, took the opportunity to speak first. Mrs. McNally asked how much more time was needed? The initial plans for a seafront cycle route were submitted in 1994. Since then there have been consultations and a 3000-signature petition in favour of the developing a seafront cycle route. The last consultation in 2014, showed that 73% of respondents were in favour of the seafront route. Sustrans have developed a code of conduct for places where cyclists and pedestrians mix that may be useful for Eastbourne to adopt. It was pointed out that in recent years towns like Llandudno, Bexhill, Worthing, Morecambe, Great Yarmouth and Herne Bay have all relaxed their bans on promenade cycling. Why is Eastbourne different? There is no intention to open the entire promenade, just enough for a continuous route. There is concern where it is narrow between The Pier and Redoubt, but it’s not always busy. The winter months and evenings for example are quiet and where it should be possible to share without conflict. Between the census years of 2001 and 2011, an extra 5000 cars were registered in Eastbourne, and congestion on the road is getting worse. Finally, Mrs. McNally pointed to a report of national importance she authored on the effects of exercise. Exercise is a miracle cure and the one thing we can easily do to improve the population’s health. A seafront cycle route would encourage more people to cycle and get that vital exercise.
Howard Simpson spoke next. Mr. Simpson said he believed there were no strategies for either cycling or walking in Eastbourne. This is incorrect as there is already a cycling strategy for Eastbourne. A walking strategy is currently being developed. Mr. Simpson said he owned a bike but doesn’t ride it anymore. He was concerned about the route between the Redoubt and Wish Tower as it is busy during the summer. People like to walk 5 or 6 abreast and divert across to the beach at random. He was concerned that people can’t hear bikes approaching and felt that there has almost been an accident because of this. He would like to see segregation, not shared use. Summing up, Mr. Simpson hoped he wouldn’t have to say “I told you so”, if a serious accident took place.
Paul Humphreys spoke last. Mr. Humphreys pointed out that ESCC believe by 2027 journeys in Eastbourne by car will take 67% longer than they currently do. This is even before the new 10,000 homes in south Wealden were announced. We need more bus users, cyclist and pedestrians. Pedestrians are 60 times more likely to have an incident with a motor vehicle than a bike. A third of those accidents are not even on the road. Cyclists are 15 times more likely to have an accident than those in cars. Cyclists have three stark choices. Speed Up, Man Up, or Give up. The Department of Transport says that without safe routes, children and the elderly are discouraged from cycling. The East Sussex county transport plan includes the prom as part of a route from Langney Point to the town centre. Addressing concern that the plans under discussion for the prom do not meet Government guidelines, Mr. Humphreys pointed out that the consultants Amey conducted a safety audit on the route that passed. Widening of the promenade will also take place near the Queens Hotel. Similar concerns to those being heard in Eastbourne were raised in Bexhill, Hastings and Seaford, but once their proms were opened up to cycling, people found they had over reacted. There will still be a pedestrian only stretch from the Pier to the Holywell.
The Mayor then moved the debate over to the elected members of council.
Cllr Blakebrough addressed the council to propose the motion. He believed there is enough money available for a better scheme, and that Eastbourne should be a showcase town. It should be a gateway to the South Downs with a path from Sovereign Harbour, and cycle storage areas should be provided. In 2012 the Government mentioned that cycling and walking are often mentioned in the same breath, but they are different. Lord Holmes report showing 30% of pedestrians stop using shared space was mentioned. (Note: this report is on shared space, where pedestrians share the road space with cyclists, cars, buses and lorries.) He believes that shared use will reduce cycling and walking. At a pinch point on the seafront, the width available was 2.5 metres. He was concerned this was too narrow, and the minimum width should be at least 3 metres. Finally, the meeting with ESCC to develop the walking strategy in January 2016 was mentioned.
Cllr Smethers spoke next to second the motion and is in favour of safe walking and cycling. She wanted to make sure pedestrians were thought about when the walking strategy is developed in January.
Other councillors then spoke both for and against.
Cllr Tutt pointed out that the route is the responsibility of ESCC and they have addressed safety concerns. The Scrutiny Committee is meeting with ESCC in January. The proposed cycle route will not be developed before then, so there should be no need to try to stall it further. He is concerned that there is a lot of misinformation about the proposed route. He has had many letters from people concerned about a cycle route between The Wish Tower and Holywell, even though that is NOT part of the scheme. There are inconsiderate pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, but most are sensible and safe.
Cllr Dow was concerned about the scaremongering taking place around the danger to pedestrians from cyclists. He pointed out that he regularly cycles along the shared use Cuckoo Trail and that pedestrians and cyclists happily share and exchange greetings as they pass each other. He was disappointed that scare tactics being used in the arguments against sharing. Most people are very considerate to their fellow human beings.
Cllr Taylor reminded everyone that someone riding a bicycle illegally on the prom last year hit a little girl. He was concerned that it would happen again. He requested that the 2014 public consultation on the route by the Wish Tower was for Meads residents only, but ESCC refused. In the summer he collected 800 signatures, mainly from visitors to Eastbourne, who felt it would be detrimental to the town to have cycling on part of the promenade. One signatory had a friend who was from Bexhill who refuses to use their promenade now cycling is allowed there, and Cllr Taylor was concerned that this may be the case in Eastbourne. He recently stopped a cyclist on a pavement in Meads, and was told that the cyclist believed the byelaw had been lifted and anyone could now cycle on the pavement. An anecdote about seeing a cyclist travelling at what seemed like 20mph on a cycle path was recounted, and the council was reminded that the world speed record for cycling was 83mph.
Cllr Freebody asked that a walking strategy be created first. As a MAMIL, he rides bikes on the road at speeds of 30mph, and wouldn’t want to see people doing this on the promenade.
Cllr Wallis reminded the council that there has been a consultation on cycling, the public were in favour, and that it has been approved at both cabinet and full council. He believes there shouldn’t be a further delay and things need to move forward. This has been planned for years and isn’t something that is being rushed through. Congestion on Eastbourne’s roads is increasing and the town needs to address this by providing alternatives. The biggest risk to Eastbourne’s pedestrians are cars not cyclists. It was acknowledged that the prom is busy at times, but also that it is empty at other times. When jogging, Cllr Wallis says he is sometimes the only person using the promenade.
The Mayor asked if anyone else wanted to speak. Mr. Simpson aked to respond to the comments made, but the Mayor pointed out that the debate was now for elected members only.
Finally, Cllr Blakebrough closed the debate. He was concerned that cycling rates of 2% in Eastbourne were below average. Cllr Blakebrough has spent a lot of his time working with consultant surgeons on evidence-based practice. He feels evidence shows shared space doesn’t grow cycling or walking, and increases the instance of diabetes. Cycling will only grow exponentially if there is dedicated space. He thanked Bespoke for inviting him to ride the Horsey cycleway to see a shared path in action, but didn’t feel confident in doing. Eastbourne is above average for instances of diabetes and it needs addressing. Cllr Blakebrough claimed older people fear danger when walking, and 30% of people will stop walking when they are afraid. They will sit at home and suffer, while younger fitter people use the vacated space to ride bicycles. These people would become a burden to the NHS. If cycling is permitted on part of the promenade, he felt there will be no safe dedicated waking space left in Eastbourne.
The motion was then voted upon, and it was defeated by 17 votes to 9.