Cllr Rachael Robathan is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Westminster City Council.
While the ULEZ extension has been dominating London headlines, another equally unpopular TfL scheme has quietly been given the green light in our midst – the Park Lane cycle lane. While those of us in Westminster bear the brunt of this every day, there can be few people living in London who haven’t come into contact with it at some point over the last three years.
To rewind slightly, in June 2020, Sadiq Khan took advantage of the powers granted by the Government during covid to install the cycle lane in question running northbound from Hyde Park Corner to Marble Arch. There was no consultation of any kind in advance with either residents or Westminster City Council, of which I was Leader at the time, and I can say, with no shadow of a doubt, that it was the single issue on which I received most correspondence and still do. People were furious that something had been landed in their midst which they thought was poorly planned, unnecessary (it runs a few metres parallel to an existing cycle lane in Hyde Park), was barely used, and only served to cause congestion, rat running, and heavier emissions. Anyone forced to queue in the now single-traffic lane can look across at the empty cycle lane and wonder what on earth is going on.
Across the political divide, there is agreement that we must do everything we can to make cycling and walking safe and easy in our great City. However, any schemes introduced to achieve this must be designed taking into account the views of local people who know these streets best – and until they enjoy the support of the majority of local people they should be rethought. This is only fair – the greatest impact, cost, and inconvenience, will fall on local people; they know the roads in their neighbourhoods best and they know what will work.
This year, after almost three years, people finally got their chance to give their views on the Park Lane scheme. Almost half the responses to the consultation came from Westminster residents and businesses and the rest from wider London and beyond, but following a Freedom of Information request we now know what local people think. Of the 919 responses from people living in Westminster, 58 per cent said that the scheme would do nothing to encourage people to cycle or actually do the reverse and the figure for walking was even more stark with only 28 per cent thinking it would actually encourage people to walk. For Westminster businesses, the views were even more negative towards the cycle lane. On top of this, a whopping 947 people expressed concern about congestion and rat-running into surrounding streets. What is the point of a scheme which those people who live closest to it and see it every day, believe does nothing to improve cycling or walking and makes our streets more congested and polluted?
As a Conservative councillor, I believe strongly that we must represent the views of our residents and it was deeply depressing that Westminster Council’s new Labour administration, in their response, chose to call for the scheme to be made permanent, rather than reflecting the views of Westminster people and calling on Khan to rethink the whole thing. The new administration is quick to tell us of their strong relationship with Khan and of the large sums of money flowing from his coffers to help their schemes, but at what cost? It is the people of Westminster’s views which matter, no matter how deep the Mayor’s pockets, no matter how loud the wider London cycling lobby. With further cycle schemes now being planned, it is vital that the views of local people are heard and that they help shape these. It’s too easy for the voices of local people to be drowned out by those living elsewhere. Why should someone living in Croydon or Hackney decide what happens in Westminster? How is that fair?