An access to information (FoI) request revealed behind-the-scenes coordination between a borough council and a group of companies in the December 2020 dismantling of a pop-up cycle lane on Kensington High Street in London .
The chief information officer of the Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) edited what was supposed to be an independent press release from the chairman of the Kensington Business Forum (KBF), reveals the FoI request by a scientist based in London Steve Pettitt.
Names on FoI documents have been redacted, but according to Linkedin, RBKC’s chief information officer is currently Lyndsey Hannam, and the president of KBF is Tom frost, director of London-based real estate firm Bricks & Mortar Consulting.
The RBKC dismantled the busy cycle path in early December last year. It had been installed in September with the help of £ 320,000 provided by the central government via Transport for London, which controls many of London’s roads.
According to drafted emails, RBKC’s senior transport member wrote to residents’ associations on November 17, suggesting that if RBKC had not taken the money and installed the bike path, “we might have lost control. roads “.
(The main RBKC member for transport is Cllr Johnny Thalassites.)
Speaking on LBC radio on December 3London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said he will seek reimbursement of the £ 320,000 paid to RBKC. Khan said the council was guilty of a “knee-jerk” reaction in removing the bike path three months before its assessment.
Removing the cycle lane “would lead to more pollution and more traffic jams in London,” he said, saying the advice “encouraged driving when you could easily use public transport, walk or walk. ride a bike”.
“We’re going to recoup the money we spent on this cycle path,” he promised, “and also consider all of the other options for this particular route.”
From the emails provided in FoI’s application it appears that the advice was lukewarm on the bike path. “We recognize that the local population had legitimate concerns (…) about the route and its effect on travel times,” the RBKC senior transport member wrote on November 17.
The RBKC sought the advice of business groups, disabled people’s organizations and residents’ associations on the cycle path. At the end of November, RBKC’s chief information officer edited the statement provided by the chairman of the Kensington Business forum.
“If you don’t mind, I made a few suggestions to directly reference the removal of the track without adding too many words,” explained the RBKC news manager.
“Let me know if this works for you,” the news executive added, “I don’t want to put words in your mouth that you don’t like.”
In the November 26 email, the chief information officer told the KBF president that he would provide the edited statement to the press.
“For now,” the chief information officer said, “I think I’ll give this to the Standard Evening as exclusive commercial coverage for Monday, after residents receive letters on the weekends and we expect some coverage in the Mail on Sunday. ”
“Getting along with partners, community groups and stakeholders before announcements is standard practice,” said a spokesperson for the Kensington and Chelsea council.
The spokesperson, who confirmed that the main member of the council for transport is Cllr Thalassites and that the chief information officer is Lyndsey Hannam, added:
“Council did the exact same thing by announcing other projects like 20 mph across the borough; he also did the same when starting the cycle track test in the first place.
In an email on November 24, the KBF president told the board:
“You know how much I care about a greener Kensington, but we need to make sure locals and visitors aren’t put off by travel times or loading restrictions …”
Computer analysis of traffic cameras on Kensington High Street has since shown that, since the dismantling of the cycle path, average travel times for motorists appear to have increased.
According to campaign group Bike is Best, Kensington High Street was blocked by parked cars 63.6% of the time during the last week of December.
This new study, Mentioned in The Guardian January 1, 2020, will be embarrassing for the Kensington and Chelsea board, especially since its agents appeared to use top-tier language when sending emails in October and November for third-party opinions on the cycle path.
“Frankly, we are thinking about keeping, modifying or giving up [sic] program, ”the RBKC Senior Transport Member said in a Nov. 17 email to the Kensington and Chelsea Chamber of Commerce and Commerce.
“One of our stated goals for the project was to help businesses,” the RBKC transport manager continued.
“I’m afraid your members can’t find help,” the email suggested.
“If you had a position and you oppose the project,” asked the transport manager, “then we will take this very seriously.”
Much of the criticism of the cycle path was based on the alleged lack of use by cyclists, but a separate access to information request found that council figures show this to be false.
According to automated counters monitored by an external body, cyclists made up 23% of traffic on Kensington High Street for a week in October, when the cycle path was operational.
The agency informed the council that manual counts found sensors had underestimated the number of cyclists using the road. Between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. on October 15, the agency counted 576 cyclists using the road near the Derry Street intersection.
However, according to actor Nigel Havers, written in the Daily mail November 21, “few cyclists use … this disastrous and ill-conceived scheme [on Kensington High Street]. ”
Havers – who claimed in the Daily Mail article that cyclists “don’t obey the rules of the road” – was convicted of drunk driving in the 1990s, and possibly t he now has vision problems because he added, “squinting up and down the road, you have trouble spotting more than one or two [cyclists using the cycleway] at any time. ”
Prior to its dismantling, BBC TV presenter Jeremy Vine, five local schools, the local NHS hospital, Royal Albert Hall, Imperial College and Baron Bird of Notting Hill in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea all had expressed their support for the cycle path.
In a letter to the Respondent FoI Steve PettittRBKC’s FoI agent told him that his request for the minutes of the meeting in which the decision to remove the cycle lane was made could not be provided.
“The decision to remove the cycle path was not taken at a meeting,” the FoI officer revealed, “so there are no minutes.”
Article amended January 2, 2020, with statement from Kensington and Chelsea Council.