By Tony Earnshaw LDRS
Councillors in Kirklees have been accused of “hypocrisy” after trumpeting about a £2m investment in active travel in the borough.
The cash is part of a wider £10m pot handed by the government to West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), a group of leading councillors and officers from West Yorkshire councils, plus York, that works on major infrastructure projects.
Kirklees Council’s Labour administration has identified improvements to cycling and walking in towns across the borough and specifically the A62 Leeds Road in Huddersfield, the Spen Valley Greenway in and around Cleckheaton, and improved connections to Dewsbury Station.
Clr Peter McBride, the council’s deputy leader and Cabinet Member for Regeneration, said: “This funding could make a significant difference to how we travel in future; it is no secret that as a council we are committed to making it safer and easier for people to travel by bike or on foot.”
But his comments have not found favour with the Conservatives’ Clr Martyn Bolt, who said Labour was using “creative bidding” to “prop up existing schemes”.
Clr Bolt, a keen cyclist and a fierce critic of the council’s transport policies and projects, described the spending plans as “same-old, same-old” and accused Clr McBride and other Cabinet members of hypocrisy.
He said: “When they are making these supportive statements, that is the hypocrisy. Councillors are not demonstrating the support in real life that they do in a press release.”
Last year Clr Bolt urged Clr McBride and his ward colleagues to act on cutting back overgrowing vegetation on the greenway in their Dalton ward, which had reduced the width for walkers, cyclists and horse-riders.
He asked: “As it is a primary link in the National Cycle Network, a much-used route for walking, family cycling and horse-riding, please will you look at this as it is in your ward?”
It got short shrift from Clr McBride, who replied: “Not the biggest priority in a ward savaged by Tory cuts.”
Clr Bolt added: “Cabinet have never been proactive to active travel. Clr McBride frequently used to dismiss questions with an erroneous claim that only 0.01 % of the population cycled.
“That is a falsehood and has been proved to be so when statistics from WYCA show a three-year average of 10%. If the Kirklees population is 447,583, then the number of people who cycle at least once a month in Kirklees would be 44,758.
“Is he 1,000 times out on his figures? It looks that way.
“Now Clr McBride is saying £2m to be spent in an unspecified manner will make a significant difference.
“One portion is said to be towards the Spen Valley Greenway, which simultaneously Clr McBride is supporting for use as a mass rapid transit – tram – track.
“Whilst only that greenway in Kirklees has any regular and scheduled maintenance so routes such as the Calder Valley Greenway in his own Dalton ward are treacherous from autumn until the next summer.
“Labour fails to accept the strategic aspect but are now allegedly embracing the concept, with no plans for where and when to connect all the disparate lengths of greenway in Kirklees.
“I welcome the money but there appears to be this lack of strategy and a long-term plan. There’s nothing new going on here. They’re not joining up the network.
“If this is improvement it still doesn’t resolve the fact that they are not maintaining greenways when they build them.”
Clr McBride responded: “The council’s commitment to improving cycling conditions across the whole of Kirklees is clear. This additional £2m will help us build on that further and will support our pledge to tackle the climate emergency and get more people travelling in a greener way.
“Reducing carbon emissions and getting more people active are central to our ambitions for Kirklees. It’s true that not everyone cycles and it’s not an option for some, but we want to encourage as many people as possible to take it up if they can.
“It is something that I and the council have always supported and we have a genuine commitment to making cycling and walking a safer and easier way for people in Kirklees to travel.”