The Degradation of the Sheaf Valley Cycle: latest CycleSheffield response

The Council have been on the case with the Sheaf Valley Cycle Route. We received an email from Maria Duffy, who is Interim Head of Planning, of how they saw the situation and what they felt they could do.

We have responded assertively and argue that:

  • cycle access to Heeley Retail Park should be restored;
  • the situation with the access gates on VA is hazardous and compromises both the cycle route and the traffic flow in and around Broadfield as it has become a rat-run;
  • the officer who assessed the situation didn’t understand what he was looking at;
  • we expect the planned number of parking places as specified in U-Mix’s planning permission will be in place

In addition we have argued that planning officers:

  • should not trust developers to comply with planning permissions
  • have wasted money and compromised traffic flow by not ensuring compliance with planning permissions;
  • do not understand the difference between a road, path, lane and understand that a route may comprise all three;
  • would be better off consulting with cyclists when collecting evidence.

Lastly we have argued that we are not impressed by telling us that many Council officers cycle so understand our point of view.  We have said we will believe that when we see evidence of it in their work.

Full detailed reply below.

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To Maria Duffy

Interim Head of Planning

SCC

Dear Maria

Sheaf Valley Cycle Route

We have now considered your email of 20 Sep in response to our email of 2 Sep 2013  addressed to Richard Skelton. Congratulations on your appointment as Interim Head of Planning. I trust you are finding the post congenial. We thank you for the detail of your reply and we in turn are as detailed.  The devil is in the detail.

CycleSheffield has recently scouted the Sheaf Valley Cycle Route to corroborate what our members have been telling us.  We note what you said about the line of the route of the cycle path in the Heeley Retail Park.  The main point is that SCC will negotiate with the land-owner and accept that the main option is “the replacement of the steps with a ramp and reinstatement of the approved cycle route, sufficiently clear of Costa customers.”  We are pleased that this is so, although we worry about what the minor options could be.  We expect to hear what progress has been made, say, at the next CycleForum.

We wish to stress that ‘trunk’ cycle routes are important but are also pretty useless without ‘branches’ that are clearly signed and designed to connect to where people live, work and shop.  It would strike us that what Heeley Retail park is doing is closing down cycle access to their retail units.  We trust that SCC does not want to encourage or allow this kind of attitude or behaviour from developers.  Simon Geller has received an email from an officer suggesting an alternative link to Meersbrook via Little London Place that avoids entering Heeley Retail Park.  This suggestion does not negate the need for cycle access to the Retails Park via the path from Little London Road.  What it does do is take the connection to Meersbrook out of the Retail Park.  This is a helpful suggestion.  We will soon have a Cycle Schemes Sub-Committee as part of the Cycle Forum and this suggestion could be brought to and explained to this sub-committee, which in turn would report to the Cycle Forum.

With respect to planning in Sheffield we think the lessons are that

  • all new developments (whatever their purpose) should have, as part of their planning requirements/conditions, good quality cycle access, cycle parking and links to cycle trunk routes.
  • schemes for the development or alteration of cycle routes now has a formal forum to which we would expect officers to bring ideas, plans, TROs and so on.

We dispute your argument about the cycle route.  We think you and your officers have concentrated on the path, and ignored the designated route.  The cycle route is on a roughly north-south line along the road on Saxon Rd and is continuous with a shared-use path beside Virgin Active.  We are talking about a route which consists of a shared-use path and a road at the location in question.  Your argument misrepresents the situation.

Let’s be clear: travelling along the Sheaf Valley Cycle Route from the North to the South a cyclist leaves Saxon Rd by making a right turn, across oncoming traffic from the WNW direction on Saxon Rd, to continue on the route onto the shared-use path.  There is a ‘fillet’ of a cycle lane in the middle of Saxon Rd at this point to help cyclists with this manouevre and to flag to motorists that cyclists will be in the middle of the road.  Travelling from the South on the Sheaf Valley Cycle Route a cyclist leaves the path beside Virgin Active and has to join the traffic coming from the left in the WNW direction to continue on the route on Saxon Rd.

Now that VA has opened its access gates for access with Saxon Rd then vehicles leaving VA to turn left onto Saxon Rd will either come into conflict with north-travelling cyclists turning right, or south-travelling cyclists joining Saxon Rd traffic from the left. If the vehicles leaving VA join Saxon Rd to go North then there is not a conflict with the cyclists on the route.

Vehicles entering VA from the North from Saxon Rd may conflict with cyclists travelling South and cyclists travelling South waiting to turn right may block the field of view of oncoming traffic on Saxon Rd for these drivers.  Vehicles entering VA from the WNW direction on Saxon Rd may come into conflict with cyclists exiting the path to continue onto Saxon Rd.

This is represented on a map for your and your officers perusal at http://goo.gl/maps/nwlau.  The point is that this car traffic has increased traffic flow on Saxon Rd, created rat-runs that SCC did not want, drivers entering or leaving VA will be on to this junction before they are ready as there are no give way lines or signs within VA that it is a junction at which they have to Give Way or a hazard is present.

We think these are all unnecessary hazards and would be avoided if VA stuck with sole access via Broadfield Court which was the intention of the original planning permission. 

We note that VA did not comply with its original planning permission.  It installed an internal gate instead of bollards and now it opens both its internal gate and its rear access gate with the intention of providing ease of access and convenience to its customers.  We surveyed VA the other night for approximately 5 minutes where we could see rear gates and front entrance.  We noted two vehicles use it as a rat-run to make a journey from Heeley to Broadfield and a CycleSheffield member has had it confirmed by his neighbours that they use it as a rat-run too.  VA’s actions are confounding the Council’s attempts to control the flow of traffic in this neighbourhood.

We would be willing to go with the officer who reported back to you to the location so he can listen to experienced cyclists to ensure that s/he understood the difference between a route, a path and a road.

You say, “Officers have investigated the planning permission for Virgin Active and the approved plans show a line of bollards across the access at the side of the building which would have prevented vehicles accessing the front.  Unfortunately, Virgin did not put the bollards in place and this has only very recently come to light because until a short time ago, the existing gates were kept shut allowing access for service traffic only.

Virgin have now been operating for more than 10 years and, unfortunately, planning legislation does not allow the Council to take any enforcement action to force Virgin to put the bollards in place.  We will however write to Virgin Active, pointing out the hazard and seeking their agreement to restrict the use of the gates for servicing.”

One of our members has written to VA and we received a surly, curt response and notification that they will only deal with the Council.  We trust you have more luck than we did.  It seems to us that this may be an issue you need to approach the CEO of VA about.  But it does seem to us that you have a moral argument.  VA stuck to the spirit of the planning permission by ensuring that the internal gate was always closed.  It may also be a legal argument of something like custom and practice and we would expect our Council not to be craven and to use any means at its disposal to ensure that its intentions are upheld. i.e. the internal gate where the bollards would be is to remain shut unless it needs opening for service purposes. Please let us know of your progress on this matter by, say, the next Cycle Forum.

Lastly we want to express our weary disappointment that nobody seems to ensure that developers comply with planning regs.  For a development of this size, think how much could have been saved by a visit early on to ensure the bollards were in place.  For the lack of a small amount of time enforcing compliance the Council is now left with both a flagship cycle route and expensive plans and developments of traffic flow in the neighbourhood compromised.  As you say VA has been there over 10 years so the reason for lack of enforcement can’t be shortage of staff brought on by Government cuts.  We think they are the result of poor, if not incompetent,  management and monitoring of developments.  Officers should be ashamed at this waste of money and degradation of facilities.

If you want more evidence of rat-running through VA and you are short of staff then we could discuss collecting it ourselves.

With respect to planning in Sheffield we think the lessons are these:

  • do not trust developers to comply with planning permissions.  Compliance is an essential part of the planning process too and compliance must be actively monitored by officers and if necessary enforcement must be done.
  • ensure when discussing items like cycle routes that officers take the time to know and understand that words like path, road, lane all have different and complementary meanings and routes are most often combinations of all three of these elements.
  • officers whose expertise may not be in cycling or understanding cyclists’ perspectives should consult with cyclists to check on what they are reporting.

We note what you say about the alternative parking provided for U-Mix.  We are delighted that this is being used and it is clearly signed.  The original planning permission was specific about the number of parkings spaces that should be available.  I think we would like confirmation that this number is now in place.  Please let us know of your progress on this matter by, say, the next Cycle Forum.

We note that you say, “There are full parking restrictions along Asline Road in the form of double yellow lines and there is also an issue of enforcing these restrictions separate from the planning issues.  We will be exploring the possibility of better enforcement of the parking restrictions.”  We have met the police commissioner about cycling matters in general and as a result we are meeting with a Superintendent in Sheffield to discuss cycling matters. The police directing football coaches to park on the Asline Rd cycle path will be one of those matters.  We will be providing feedback at the next CycleForum  Please let us know of your progress on this matter by, say, the next Cycle Forum.

We thank you for detailing who is looking after this case and we trust you share this correspondence with them.  We note that you say, “ …a number of my planning and highway officers use the Sheaf Valley Cycle route themselves on their cycle commute to and from work and that gives them a good understanding of the problems you have identified.”  That may well be but until the responsible officers: put cycling higher up the planning agenda; read, internalise and enact Council policy and action plans; consult with cyclists as they ought to; train themselves to do cycle audits, as they should have started to do in 2006; then we do not see how their personal cycling experience informs the quality of their work.

With respect to planning in Sheffield we think the lesson is one’s personal experience and attitude does not necessarily match one’s professional experience and attitude. Don’t confuse the two.

 We would find it helpful to meet with you and John Bann the Head of Transport ,Traffic and Parking Services to discuss matters in general and perhaps we can look at arranging a meeting after the next CycleForum where we can assess progress made and knock some ideas about.

Regards,

Mick Nott

Chair, CycleSheffield

 

 

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