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  • Writer's pictureHICO

Active Travel: Unblocking Schemes

Updated: 6 days ago



Photo by FORTYTWO on Unsplash

The name and concept of ‘active travel’ has become a hot topic recently with supporters keen to claim it as a key solution to reducing air-pollution, improving road safety and increasing community wellbeing. However, those in opposition see it as part of the ‘war on motorists’ and a threat to their freedoms.


HICO has stepped into this debate recently as they seeked to support Local Authorities (LA) where their Active Travel schemes had ‘hit the buffers’.


In one LA, a well organised campaign group was lobbying against an active travel scheme in their neighbourhood. The council which designed the scheme had identified roads across the area which could benefit from active travel measures and these schemes were agreed at cabinet. The introduction of segregated cycle lanes and other pedestrian measures are not subject to statutory consultation per se, though it is generally seen as best practice and effective to engage with local communities when it comes to these types of projects. This council chose not to engage beyond relying on some borough wide social research indicating support for active travel and sending a letter to catchment residents informing of works. As a result, the lobby group called a public meeting and forced the council to undertake further public engagement.


Our advice was to reset relationships with this community and recruit a ‘balanced room’ of stakeholders to guide the engagement process. This Stakeholder Reference Group (SRG) was drawn from a detailed stakeholder mapping exercise and Equalities Impact Assessment and was chaired by a Local Authority member.


We used deliberative, co-design principles with the group and exposed them to all the information used in the design of the existing scheme and all the statutory guidance. In return, they provided lived experience. The prime objective of the group was the design of a fair and transparent engagement process. We settled on an online survey, drop-in sessions and, one-to-one meetings with protected characteristics groups. We also convened design and traffic management workshops, using co-design principles, with officers sharing plans and SRG members sharing lived experience.


As a result of this solid groundwork, a range of online and face-to-face activities were designed, and an online survey was distributed to the community to gain detailed insight regarding the scheme's objectives. Importantly, the survey did not ask any questions about whether respondents wished the scheme to go ahead or not as we had agreed that this binary choice would not allow for a consideration of the national and local policies in this area of public infrastructure and would end up as a de facto referendum on the scheme.


From a public meeting of over 300 people vehemently opposed to the scheme, the engagement process delivered much more balanced and nuanced insight. However, this did leave local politicians with an interesting decision to make. Again, we advised the authority that decisions must be made balancing several factors, not just resident views and, given the number of policies they had already approved (climate, pollution, road safety), there was more than enough evidence for them to give the green light to the scheme.


Their decision was a brave one due to the strength of feelings on both

sides but parts of the scheme were indeed approved.


So, what have we learnt that could be applied to other schemes?


In short, whilst Active Travel schemes are emotive, playing into the conflict between the rights of drivers and those of others who should be able to expect to travel safely and in clean air, there is certainly a demand across the board for positive changes they can bring about.


The best way to address concerns and ensure buy-in is through early dialogue with local communities and a deliberative process.


We’d like to share more about what we’ve done with other Local Authorities experiencing strong pushback from communities on local schemes.


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