Kirklees Cycling Campaign – An Open Letter to Karl Battersby

Dear Karl,

Thank you for speaking recently to the Huddersfield Civic Society where you made an excellent presentation on Kirklees plans for a “Huddersfield Blueprint”
On behalf of the Kirklees Cycling Campaign I would like to congratulate you on providing the drive and vision for this project. You have made some important decisions in recognising that a lot of the existing retail in the town centre will inevitably decline over the next few years and that the function and nature of the town centre has to change.

The concept of having a focus on an Arts Centre to build on what already exists in the town is an imaginative leap, but with good planning and an imaginative Arts management team it bodes well for the future. The project to have more people living in, or close to the town centre, will also help to revitalise it.

I am disappointed, however, that you have decided to not to be even more ambitious and restrict, or close off vehicle access to a part of Queensgate, so that there is no longer the formidable barrier for pedestrians of the Ring Road between the University and the rest of the town centre. This would have made the University an integral part of the town, and unify the two constituent parts through the Arts complex.

In your presentation you indicated your concern that this would make problems for traffic flow on the alternative routes. It is well known, however, that traffic engineers and their forecasts are frequently wrong, and it would have been possible, anyway, to trial some experiments before committing to a firm decision.
There is still time for much more extensive research and modelling of other alternatives. One alternative, for example, is to use the remains of the Ring Road as a by-pass around Huddersfield Town Centre.

The Huddersfield Blueprint has tended to focus on the creating or re-use of buildings, places and spaces within the Ring Road and, apart from Cross Church Street, makes very little reference to traffic management; either within the Ring Road, or on the approaches to the town.
These matters have, to some extent, been addressed by the various Kirklees road schemes that have been proposed. For example The ‘smart corridor’ project on Leeds Road, the planned works on the A629, and the Southern Corridors scheme.

Some time ago, when these projects were first announced, I was very optimistic that, as well as fulfilling objectives such as improving traffic flow, they would also include significant cycling infrastructure. This would make a start at encouraging more people, who only have a short journey from their home (less than 5 miles) to leave their cars at home, and use a bike for their journey into the town centre. It is very disappointing that Kirklees has decided not to include any comprehensive cycling infrastructure in many of their Major Road Schemes.

It is true that The Leeds Road scheme includes good cycling infrastructure from the Railway Station and across the Ring Road at Southgate. But the Kirklees Cycling Campaign requested that this be continued on to Bradley, by surfacing the Huddersfield Broad Canal towpath to Red Doles Lane. This request, however, has been ignored and what remains is cycling infrastructure along the rest of Leeds Road that is “sometime there and sometimes not”. As it stands this project is likely to increase car use, and to have little effect on increasing the numbers of people cycling.

I fully recognise that there are, of course, significant projects to encourage more cycling in Kirklees. For example, the council is to be congratulated for finally making progress, after many years, towards establishing a cycle route between Bradley and Brighouse. I am also optimistic about the two “QuietWay” routes that are planned on either side of the A629.
The A629 is used by many HGV’s and has a limited width. This makes the overtaking of cyclists potentially very dangerous, particularly northbound, where there is a gradual incline. As well as making a through route from Huddersfield to Halifax, the “Quietway” routes give the opportunity to local people to use a bike for their short journeys to school or to the shops and services. It will also make the residential areas through which they run, less dominated by the motor vehicle and make a better environment for pedestrians as well as cyclists.
It is important to state, however, that this scheme will only be successful if the council is fully committed to the Dutch principals of “Quietways” where cyclists have priority on the carriageway and motorists are “guests”. If the council allows itself to give way to opposition pressure, and makes compromises, then the scheme will be a pointless exercise.

The recently announced proposal to construct a protected segregated cycle route from Waterloo alongside the Wakefield Road, and into Huddersfield Town Centre, is the one route that makes a coherent and continuous route into the town. This is no doubt due to it’s being the first part of the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) that Kirklees has been required to implement by central government.
Many more routes, such as this, are required if Kirklees is going to get more people to make fewer journeys by car, and more journeys by bike. Yet this excellent planned route has no current finance to start implementation. The cost of this scheme in comparison with the various Kirklees road schemes is tiny, and we would urge you to seek out sources of funding for the project.

Up to now there seems to have been a fundamental misunderstanding by council officers and politicians as to the reasons why they should be constructing good cycling infrastructure. It seems to have been viewed by the council as something akin to a “charitable act”. They would very much like do something to make cyclists happy if they had the money. As they didn’t have the money then the best they could do was to make some of the wider pavements shared-used with pedestrians. This, as they saw it, was the best they could do because there were so few cyclists using our roads that financing anything substantial couldn’t be justified. This is to miss the point as to why Kirklees should be developing high quality safe routes to cycle.
Although it will make life better for current cyclists, the important point to bear in mind, is that it will encourage more people to cycle more often, and reduce the need for us to use our motor vehicles so frequently.
We currently have a world climate change emergency. We have a British Government climate change objective of zero carbon emissions by 2050. Amongst other things this means that, by this date, we will all need to be driving 50% less. What then is the justification for Kirklees to encourage more people to drive, rather than starting to facilitate alternative ways to travel?
Despite the health benefits of active travel, despite the proven economic advantages of developing good cycling infrastructure, the current Kirklees road projects seem to indicate that Kirklees is not yet up to speed in its future planning.

If Kirklees is to get more people cycling, then there is a desperate need to construct good links that enable cyclists to get into the town centres from the existing and proposed cycling routes. Here is just one example of what needs to be done:

By this time next year the Huddersfield Narrow Canal towpath will be surfaced as far as Slaithwaite. It has the potential to make an excellent cycling commuter route from many Colne Valley settlements, but, at the moment, it finishes short of Huddersfield Town Centre. There is a desperate need to construct a safe link from Chapel Hill where it currently ends or from Longroyd Bridge. The Southern Corridors project was an excellent opportunity to secure funding for this project, but no one in Kirklees Council was listening to the Kirklees Cycling Campaign (KCC). KCC has long proposed that a segregated protected cycle route be constructed from Longroyd Bridge to the Underpass at the Leisure Centre, and from there, we have requested a straightforward permeable route in both directions to and from the Railway Station.

This is proposed as a workable option but KCC are open to any other good alternatives. What is important is, that without a good link into the town centre, the use of the HNC route will not achieve its potential. People from the Colne Valley will continue to use their cars, because this will continue to be the most advantageous means of transport for them. If, on the other hand, there was a continuous safe route right into the town centre; making it only a 20 minute bike journey from Slaithwaite to the Railway Station; there would be many who would forsake their car and use a bike instead.

I hope that, in this letter, I might have persuaded you to realise the important role that cycling could play in a Kirklees transport strategy. If cycling could become a normal everyday means of transport for many, rather than a peripheral activity of the few, it could make a significant contribution in helping to make a better road network for everyone, and it could help to address many other important issues in our society. It just needs the drive and knowledge of how to go about it, the financial investment, and the political will.
Kirklees Cycling Campaign would very much like to have the opportunity of meeting with you and your team to discuss this further. The contents in this letter are only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and we would like to help start the process of developing a coherent and comprehensive cycling plan for Huddersfield and the rest of Kirklees.

Yours Sincerely

John Lewis
– chair Kirklees Cycling Campaign