Mayor Andy Burnham urged to sort ‘off-track’ Bee Network after Boardman departure news
PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE ATTENTION: WRGM REACTION TO ANNOUNCEMENT CHRIS BOARDMAN TO LEAVE POST
- Thanks Boardman for his agenda-setting work
- Highlights delivery of Bee Network is well off track
- Calls for a commitment to replace Boardman as Transport Commissioner and for them to tackle key issues, including increasing focus on pavements & walking
- Calls for review of decision making – eg mayor to become chair of TfGM and appoint his new Transport Commissioner as a chief officer
Walk Ride GM calls on mayor Andy Burnham to step in to save the walking and cycling part of his ‘world leading Bee Network’ following the departure of Transport Commissioner Chris Boardman.
WRGM thanks Boardman for his agenda-setting four-year term as first walking and cycling commissioner, and then taking over the whole transport brief, during which time the ambition and vision in GM has been transformed.
But we now urge Burnham to seize this opportunity to fix the disconnect between the paper strategies and the reality on the ground, where most of GM’s 10 councils seem to be struggling to implement meaningful change.
Burnham needs to make it clear that we cannot build a viable, coherent Bee Network that delivers on leaders’ transport promises on cleaner air and safer streets, without reallocating road space and increasing enforcement – and that means taking space away from vehicles and slowing them down, in order to make safe walking and cycling routes.
In his first term as mayor of London, Sadiq Khan delivered 260km of high-quality, safer cycle routes – including more than five times the protected routes that he inherited. Birmingham city council has recently announced plans to turn the whole city into a series of interconnected active neighbourhoods.
But in Greater Manchester only £70m of the £160m “Mayors Challenge Fund”, set up to build the Bee Network, has been spent so far and signs of any joined-up network are conspicuous in their absence.
The Bee Network was supposed to see 1,800 miles of walking and cycling routes by 2028 – but it’s clear the project is considerably off-track.
In 2021, there has been progress on safer crossings, the launch of a delayed new bike hire scheme, grants for local groups to help safer walking or cycling, and some bits of safer infrastructure including innovative Cyclops junctions and some partial routes, such as a half-finished cycleway in South Manchester.
But in general, despite winning an extra £16m from the Government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund, council leaders seem to not be stepping up to turn their strategic commitments into plans that build the Bee Network, and TfGM also seems unable to make significant change happen.
‘’2021 was meant to be the ‘year of delivery’ – with 100km of Network promised. But instead it’s become the year of delay as schemes have not come through on time or in line with the Bee Network design standards.
While Covid has of course caused issues through shortages of materials and labour and there’s also been a welcome new focus on community engagement which takes time – many schemes are behind or not yet started and millions of £s may yet go unspent.
Even the £1bn recently awarded by the Government to Burnham’s vision of an ‘integrated public transport network with walking and cycling embedded’ depends on the quality of the schemes put forward and record of delivery – which means it’s at risk if we fail to put solutions on the ground.”
Walk Ride GM therefore calls on Burnham to commit to appointing a new Transport Commissioner – one with the seniority, track record, experience and knowledge to now mend this problem – and to reviewing structures to give the role the best chance of success.
WRGM believes the mayor must reform decision-making and funding arrangements on two key levels, to address the overall blockages.
Firstly, unblocking the link between his GM Combined Authority and Transport for Greater Manchester – for instance by making himself chair of the TfGM board and his Transport Commissioner a chief officer.
‘‘In London, the mayor chairs the Transport for London board, and his walking and cycling commissioner is one of the 10 chief officers – in Greater Manchester Andy Burnham seems happy to make promises and sit back at arm’s length, leaving it to sweet talk and chance whether any of it is actually implemented.
‘‘The relationship between Burnham’s small team – and the regional transport body that employs thousands – is broken and needs fixing if the new Transport Commissioner is to have a chance of delivering on the mayor’s promises.’’
The second area of review must be with the relationship with councils – where a new governance system is needed that holds to account leaders on their committed ‘support’ to the Bee Network and Streets for All – as well as support to help each council with cultural change and upskilling that is clearly needed.
Walk Ride also calls on the new commissioner to take a renewed focus on road safety, enforcement and footway & crossing improvements to make moving around safer and easier for pedestrians – in line with the recommendations of a recent report from the Active Cities team at the University of Salford.
We also urge the mayor to mandate councils to take up powers to enforce moving traffic offences, ban pavement parking using traffic orders, introduce 20 mph default limits, and other highways measures that would make roads safer and pavements clutter free.
And in the future, take up the powers which were consulted on by the Department for Transport earlier this year giving him the authority to enforce the Local Transport Plan (in GM the Local Transport Plan is the GM Transport Strategy) in the future if councils do not play ball.
Otherwise we fear any new candidate will face the same frustrated fate as Boardman, and find that deeds continue to not match words.
We urge Burnham and his GM leadership group to look at cities like London and Birmingham and ask why schemes of similar vision aren’t happening here – and do something about it.
‘‘Manchester is the region’s economic hub and aims to be a world-class city in part by attracting and better serving young people – who increasingly want clean, green places to live and work where walking and cycling are the easiest way to get around.
‘But it’s being left behind by cities such as Barcelona and Paris – and now even closer to home by cities such as Birmingham – who are creating safer streets for people, and reducing the dominance of cars.
‘’The City Centre Transport strategy sets out a vision for Manchester to be a walking city which we fully support – but not til 2040 which is way too far off. And while there has been a bit of good work in the Northern Quarter, and some temporary measures on a tiny stretch of Deansgate, other than that we see very little to improve the life of pedestrians or those in wheelchairs or with buggies, and lots of new things that make it worse.
‘’We believe there are some good people working hard and there are the odd bright spots – but these are incremental changes set against a picture of continued vehicle dominance in the face of an agreed carbon budget that is also massively off track’’.
There are boroughs such as Bury that are still without a metre of bike lane and Bolton where it’s been privately told not to bid for Active Travel funding unless it embraces the Network’s walking and cycling standards. There were meant to be up to 25 Active Neighborhoods across the region, including Manchester’s Levenshulme and Burnage scheme, the ‘final’ designs for which have now been released and are again being consulted on.
The next few months will see the launch of Active Travel England, a new regulatory and fund-holding body for walking and cycling schemes in England, led by Boardman himself, which should help increase accountability and delivery.
The DfT says in future councils would need to show how their overall transport plans deliver on net zero in order to receive their transport funding (not just the walking and cycling funding) but that’s not the case currently where there seems no comeback against councils who choose not to get on board.
To that end, Walk Ride calls on Burnham to do more to ensure delivery of measures to enable people to move out of vehicles and choose walking and cycling, in line with his manifesto promises – or if he is not prepared to get stuck in to solving the blockages, then stop talking things up and admit it’s not happening.