A lively AGM

This article was published in 2012, in Newsletter 105.

The campaign’s Annual General Meeting on 6 November 2012 was well attended, owing either to the guest speaker or to the potentially contentious motion on helmet policy. Jim Chisholm introduced Martin Curtis, the county council’s cycling champion, saying he’d had to overcome some preconceptions about a ‘Tory from the fens’. Councillor Curtis said he’d had the same issue with the Campaign, but in fact realised that we worked in much the same way as a good councillor, testing officials and policies. The struggle to improve Gilbert Road had been a good example of Cabinet actually being influenced by presentations from us and other stakeholders.

Martin Curtis, ‘cycling champion’ at the county council.
Image as described adjacent

Sporting a fine pair of Wigginsesque sideburns, he said that his aim was ‘More people cycling, more safely, more often, in Cambridgeshire’, which has a familiar sound to it. Being also in charge of the county’s Adult Services, he saw cycling as an ideal strategy to help prevent the massive looming increase in the numbers of those aged over 90 from translating into a massive increase in health and care costs. Responsibility for public health is moving from the NHS to county councils, and preventative care is a crucial part of their thinking. He’s also keen on public engagement and partnership working to counter the tendency to top-down decision-making.

He cited the cycle route from his home patch of Whittlesey to Peterborough, the route along the Busway and the Willow Bridge in St Neots as good examples of new provision and wants to build on them with local connections, for instance a Girton-Madingley-Coton route. On the issue of helmet compulsion, he agreed in principle with the argument that any barrier to taking up cycling was counter-productive. Bikeability training is now fully funded by government, but there is perhaps a need to educate parents too. There had been a struggle over funding for gritting, but two quadbikes will be available this winter, rather than one, and the map will be posted online imminently.

Rounding up, Councillor Curtis spoke of the cross-party support for cycling, and for the Chisholm Trail, and said he was now receiving many more requests, even from Fenland towns such as Wisbech and Chatteris, for cycle provision to be provided.

Time for questions

Happily, he left plenty of time for questions. Asked why it was so hard to find a round-up of new routes online, he agreed that mapping was bitty and that cycle tourism was potentially important, and hoped that the upcoming Cycle Summit would tackle the issue. He was also told that new roads such as the Longstanton and Papworth bypasses had actually closed off cycle routes, and said that he hoped changing attitudes would in future prevent this – it wasn’t mentioned that in fact crossings have been provided for horse-riders here, but the surfacing isn’t good enough for cycling. Lighting cycle routes (including the Busway and to Anglesey Abbey) is also important, but as county cycling officer Mike Davies pointed out, these things tend to be driven by funding opportunities rather than designed in from the start.

If developers were allowed to put in poor facilities, the council would have to spend more within a decade’s time to put them right

Asked why the county is so risk-averse, for example the plague of ‘Cyclists Dismount’ signs and the unnecessary ban on right turns from Gresham Road on to Gonville Place, he said that thinking was changing and that one thing you have to say about county council leader Nick Clarke is that he’s not risk averse!

Asked how the Campaign can hassle him, for instance over contractors’ signs blocking cycle lanes, or overgrown rural routes, he was keen for us to challenge him (especially on Twitter) and the council officers. Michael Cahn said that he can challenge officers such as Mike Davies on details, but that he wanted to challenge Councillor Curtis on his big vision – the reply was that a Cycling Strategy would come out of the Cycling Summit, and that he’s keen on a bottom-up approach, also working with the city council and ideally with future cycling campaigns across the county.

Asked why Dutch standards of cycling provision weren’t being required on new developments such as Northstowe, he said again that the Cycling Summit would be important, but stressed that the financial situation was very tough. Martin Lucas-Smith noted that if developers were allowed to put in poor facilities, the council would have to spend more within a decade’s time to put them right. Councillor Curtis said that the Local Plans had to be got right, and stressed that much-needed housing couldn’t be provided if the sums didn’t add up. The social costs of car-dominated developments, where people for instance need two cars instead of one, were mentioned, and he agreed, noting that economic and health benefits were the two most-mentioned reasons for switching to cycling – but stressed that the developers have not yet been convinced.

‘Cyclists Dismount’ signs should just be destroyed

It was noted that creating a cycling culture could be virtually cost-free – for instance persuading contractors not to put signs in cycle lanes – and he again asked us to challenge him and the county officers, but thought things were moving in the right direction. David Earl asked us to take photos of problems of this sort and post them on CycleStreets. It was thought that the cycling provision during the recent Hills Road roadworks was an encouraging sign, although Mike Davies said that he thought contractors usually just turned up in a van and did the same here as in Barnsley or anywhere else; David Earl said their ‘Cyclists Dismount’ signs should just be destroyed, and I agree.

A question on the enforcement of 20mph limits was easily avoided by referring to the imminent election of Police and Crime Commissioners. Asked about the possibility of linking the Whittlesey-Peterborough cycle route with trains [probably a non-starter, as these trains only take two bikes and by reservation only], he said that he was trying to influence the Train Operating Companies to improve facilities. He also said that Whittlesey was unique in having a station name (Whittlesea) spelt differently from the village name – which indicates he’s never been to Harringay/Haringey.


The AGM proper began at 9pm with Martin Lucas-Smith’s review of the year – another busy one, with a new co-ordinator opening up some new directions and a reappearance of many large-scale planning applications. The county’s original Local Sustainable Transport Fund bid failed, but a second bid resulted in £5 million of matched funding, allowing Mike Davies to keep working with a team of eight. On the other hand the city council has not reversed its cuts to cycling staffing, and there’s no evidence of other planning staff adopting a more pro-cycling attitude. Northstowe has been approved, but with shared-use paths rather than the Dutch-style cycleways that are needed. There’s been a lively debate in London on Going Dutch, and we are being accused of asking for too little – but if, for example, we had continued to push strongly for traffic calming on Gilbert Road, would we have risked achieving the reasonably successful scheme we did finally get there? The new committee will have to consider whether we as a Campaign should also ‘Go Dutch’, with the accompanying changes in policy that would involve, to demand much greater benefits for cycling.

There have been signs of progress on the Chisholm Trail (with Network Rail finally beginning to co-operate) and the Ring Fort Path, and we’ve proposed a second, east-west, cycle superhighway between Newnham and Newmarket Road. We also have the basis of an excellent report on the dreadful situation at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Some awful cycle parking is being provided at the CB1 development, but we should soon see a big new cycle park at the station itself, with a good consensus on which type of double-deck rack to use. It’s just been announced that the city has approved funding for a third city-centre cycle park, although the location is still unknown.

Jim Chisholm is working hard on enforcement issues, including the LIT cycle lights campaign, and, having been co-opted to the Cyclenation board, has been touring other cycle campaign groups to share our experiences. A 20mph limit will cover the city centre (except for main roads) in 2014, but it mustn’t be done on the cheap and will also need enforcement. We have also engaged in consultation on a new taxi licensing system.

We organised a study tour to Copenhagen (perhaps we should be talking of going Danish, not Dutch?) and the Ride to Reach Fair, as well as a less successful Bike Harvest at the end of the academic year. The website has been improved, with a blog and more photos, and the committee e-list will soon be replaced by Cyclescape.

Michael Cahn reported that his first year as Co-ordinator had not gone exactly as planned, but he was glad to have brought a change in emphasis from free consultancy on infrastructure to other areas involving the public and celebration.

Treasurer Chris Dorling reported that our surplus was smaller than last year’s, but as that was for a 54-week year (from the date of becoming a charity) the performance was actually better this year. It will soon be possible to Gift Aid subscriptions, and we received two grants for the Ride to Reach Fair. On the expenditure side, the newsletter cost much more than last year owing to colour printing and higher postal costs – at the moment we have about £300 of advertising per issue, but we need £500.

Membership secretary David Earl said that Royal Mail had put its prices up by 40%, leading him to cut costs radically by giving up our PO Box, buying a year’s worth of stamps before the increase, and introducing re-useable membership cards. Membership has been around 1,100 for about three years but turnover has increased to 14%, or 150 per year. After 17 years as membership secretary, David is beginning to think of moving on and intends to put the database into shape for handing over in a year or two.

Monica Frisch, showing that we have printed recent newsletters in colour in her newsletter editor’s report.
Image as described adjacent

Monica Frisch reported that the Newsletter continues to be of a high standard and thanked all involved, but said that new blood is always welcome, particularly volunteers to help find advertising. Simon Nuttall reported that the Ride to Reach Fair had been successful, and that we had the ability to organise other similar events if anyone had any ideas.

John Hall reported that a donor might be prepared to fund an employee for three years and that he has been leading a subgroup since May to work on this. The employee would spend 10% of his/her time finding funding for his/her own post and then for a second employee; the rest of the time would be spent facilitating the work of volunteers and liaising with police, schools and ultimately with campaign groups in necklace villages, as well as organising meetings, taking minutes and other administrative tasks.

Following a successful bid to the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, the county council now has a team of eight working on cycling matters

Klaas Brümann said that the next study visit will be to his home town of Oldenburg over the late May Bank Holiday weekend of 2013 (not 2014) and should be both interesting and enjoyable. Oldenburg is similar in area to Cambridge and also has two universities but has 50,000 more people, which is what Cambridge will have before too long; however 42% of trips are by bike and just 3% by public transport (the average family has 1.2 cars and 3.1 bikes).

The motion on helmets

Simon Nuttall introduced a motion on behalf of the committee, reserving the right to decline to promote events or activities where helmets or high-visibility clothing are required or implied. A great year for cycling, with a (drug-free) British winner of the Tour de France and lots of Olympic gold medals, has been undermined by the total absence in the media of everyday cyclists going about their daily business in traffic and without special clothing. It’s getting very hard to find images of cyclists without helmets (although a struggle with the county council did result in the latest edition of their cycle map having a more normal cover) and there’s a feeling – inspired by Lothian’s Spokes cycle campaign – that it’s time to put down a marker. This motion would simply allow us to make a point but would not require us, for instance, to refuse to publicise You Can Bike Too all-ability events.

Early research on cycle helmets was very pro-helmet but these papers have turned out to be flawed, with some authors retracting their views, and there is now more awareness of the wider health context. News of this fairly mild motion itself produced a flurry of debate, giving publicity to pro- and anti-compulsion viewpoints. Nevertheless just this week another MP has called for helmet compulsion. Despite a minority view that, since ROSPA, the BMA and DfT all still recommend helmet use, it is not our place to contradict them, the motion was passed by 44 votes to 10, with 6 abstentions.

The new committee

And finally a new committee was elected (see list later in this Newsletter). Most posts were uncontested, with many incumbents willing to continue. There were two candidates for the Web and New Media post, but one candidate agreed to stand as Under-25 officer instead, which will include helping with new media as well, and both were duly elected. Five candidates remained for four general campaigner posts, but Heather Coleman chose to withdraw but would finish her report on Addenbrooke’s.

Incidentally, there was lots of tweeting going on throughout the meeting. If you want a blow-by-blow account, see twitter.com/camcycle or www.rtaylor.co.uk/5751.

Tim Burford