CYCLING campaigners are at loggerheads with Leeds politicians after a proposal to scrap gas-guzzling mileage rates for council staff – and invest the savings into safer cycling routes across the city – was jettisoned during a key vote.
Opposition Lib Dem councillors had put forward a plan to save £420,000 a year by reducing the petrol allowance for higher-powered vehicles from 65p to the standard 45p a mile set by HMRC.
The saving would equate to 2.1 million less miles being claimed by council workers at the higher rate every year.
However the idea was voted out by councillors at this week’s crucial budget-setting meeting at Leeds Civic Hall.
Lib Dem group leader Stewart Golton said that just four months before the Grand Depart comes to Leeds, it was time for the council to “put its money where its mouth is” when it comes to its ‘cycling city’ ambitions, and to “seize the opportunity presented by the Tour de France to improve cycling in Leeds and get more people cycling”.
Following the meeting, a Twitter row broke out, with campaigners branding the vote “depressing”, and some councillors accusing opposition colleagues of mischief-making and a “johnny-come-lately” attitude.
Lizzie Reather, chair of the Leeds Cycling Campaign, who is backing the plan, said that despite some good work, the city is generally still “anti-cycling”.
“Cycling in Leeds is absolutely not safe and a lot more could be done,” she told the YEP.
“The cycle superhighway is really good but it’s really just one road. What are they going to do about the rest of the city?”
She said the savings on higher level petrol claims could be used sensibly to realign roads when routine maintenance work is being done. She added: “The council should not be spending public money unnecessarily encouraging car use by its staff which is both unsustainable and economically costly.”
Coun Golton added: “With the Tour de France coming to Leeds, 2014 is the best opportunity we’ll ever have to get more people cycling in the city. But the council seems unable to adopt an approach that doesn’t prioritise motorists above other road users.”
Coun Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds city council, insisted the authority’s “commitment to cycling has never been stronger”.
Responding to the petrol expenses row, he said: “Changes to mileage rates are one of a number of issues already under discussion with staff and trade unions. It is right that we allow those discussions to conclude before taking any decisions.”
Speaking of work already underway in the city on improving cycling, he said that in addition to the £29m package of local projects that includes a 23 kilometre Cycle Superhighway, a raft of other measures were already under way or in the pipeline.
These include the Leeds Core Cycle Network, new bus and cycle lanes, and improved cycle parking at Leeds City Rail Station.
“We are developing more 20mph zones than ever before, creating a city centre cycle hub, upgrading the canal towpath from Leeds towards Shipley, and delivering cycle safety training in schools,” he added.
“We are also working with employers and staff to encourage people to cycle to work.
“Securing the Tour de France gives us a unique opportunity to inspire our young people to get on their bikes and we are working to ensure it will leave a lasting legacy for the city.”
The Lib Dem group had proposed to set up a £420,000 per year fund to pay for improvements to the city’s cycling infrastructure.
Projects mooted as part of the new ‘cycling fund’ include:
- High quality infrastructure through the Hyde Park Corner/Victoria Road junction and the centre of Headingley.
- A bridleway linking the A61 at Rothwell jawbones to a safer route into Leeds via Middleton.
- Provision of cycle training and bike loans to people who want to try cycling for the first time.
- A safer crossing of the railway tracks at Sutton Street, near Armley Gyratory.
- Improving cycle infrastructure along Chapeltown Road and Harrogate Road.