The government is to cut funding for Brighton and Hove City Council if it axes the Old Shoreham Road cycle lane.
But the threat has been criticised by an active travel campaigner from Brighton who accused the government of trying to threaten councils and override local democracy.
As ministers announced six-figure sums to dozens of councils for “active travel” measures, the Department for Transport said that “further assurances are required before funding is confirmed” for Brighton and Hove.
The Old Shoreham Road cycle lane was extended between The Drive and the Hangleton Road traffic lights at the top of Boundary Road and Carlton Terrace in May last year.
The temporary extension has been the subject of controversy ever since with petitions for and against its retention – and with some calling for an extension further west.
But just over a week ago Labour and Conservative councillors voted not to extend the cycle lane through Portslade.
And they voted to scrap the changes that were made during the first coronavirus lockdown when commuters were urged to find alternatives to public transport.
A meeting of the council’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Urgency Sub-Committee has been called for Tuesday 10 August to settle the matter finally.
The government announcement today (Friday 30 July) is expected to heap pressure on councillors to go back on their decision of just nine days ago.
Neighbouring West Sussex County Council, which has already scrapped some pop up cycle lanes, has also been told that it will not be granted extra cash for active travel.
In a letter to council leaders, Transport Minister Chris Heaton-Harris wrote: “For all the controversy these schemes can sometimes cause, there is strong and growing evidence that they command public support.
“I do know that a few councils have removed or are proposing to remove cycle schemes installed under the fund – or to water them down.
“Of course, I understand not every scheme is perfect and a minority will not stand the test of time but if these schemes are not given that time to make a difference, then taxpayers’ monies have been wasted.”
Mr Heaton-Harris said that schemes need to be “allowed to bed in” and kept in place long enough “to be properly evaluated”.
He wrote: “We have no interest in requiring councils to keep schemes which are proven not to work but that proof must be presented.
“Schemes must not be removed prematurely or without proper evidence and too soon to collect proper evidence about their effects.”
Association of British Commuters co-founder Emily Yates said: “It’s great to see how popular … cycle lanes have become and government backing for these is – generally speaking – a good thing.
“However, this conversation is about devolution and democracy, particularly the trend of central government coercing councils into transport policies by the threat of losing funding.
“This is exactly the method also being used to lock local authorities into the deregulated bus market through so-called ‘Enhanced Partnerships’.
“Councils are working on these plans right now and dealing with absurdly tight deadlines, inadequate powers and resources and a huge imbalance of power with private bus operators.
“The government needs to end this controlling and coercive treatment of local authorities and give them the powers and resources they need to create a democratic and integrated transport system.
“Now is the time of the biggest redistribution of road space for a generation and it is vital that this is done with full public engagement at the local level.”
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