Is your local council up to something?

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Published on 28 September 2020 by Mike Waters

Bikers are warned to be on the alert as county councils set out their future transport policies – including their strategies for motorcycles. Jeremy Pick highlights a serious case where a BMF member raised the alarm in time to help protect riders’ rights...

Concerns are rising that councils may be pushing through transport plans that either ignore motorcycles or actively discriminate against them after an incident involving Oxfordshire County Council that caused uproar but which ultimately led to a victory for bikers.

The alarming issue was first raised a few years ago when Oxfordshire’s Local Transport Plan – ‘LTP4’ – came to the attention of local Cherwell District Councillor John Broad, who represents Bicester West as an Independent.

A keen motorcyclist and active British Motorcyclists Federation, Motorcycle Action Group and Vintage Motor Cycle Club member, he noted that Oxfordshire’s LTP4 only had one mention of motorcycling. Even then, it was about the accident rate.

Not wishing to see this happen again, he managed to attend a presentation about Oxford’s proposed Zero Emission Zone where motorcycling was again omitted from the discussion.

During question time, he ensured that the councillors and officers were made aware of this deficit and asked them to ensure that motorcyclists were included in future plans for both the city itself and the county.

He also arranged a separate meeting with the Lead Councillor for Transport and officers to advise them about the merging of powered two-wheelers (PTWs) since the take-up of e-pedal bikes and how all PTWs are part of the solution to the transport issues.

Earlier this year, Councillor Broad’s interest in local politics – and the transport policy in particular – led him to track down a public ‘Engagement’ request for the proposed Local Transport ‘Connectivity’ Plan 5 (LTCP5) document on the Oxfordshire County Council website. This document is intended to provide the guidance for the final LTCP5 future local government transport policy for Oxfordshire until 2050, covering all means of transport. What he discovered alarmed him. 

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“What I discovered hidden away on the website shocked me,” says Councillor Broad. “Within the section related to motorcycles – Section 28 – was the statement ‘motorcyclists are a danger to themselves’. This seemed a discriminatory opening statement to put in an official transport strategy document that, by its very nature, should be unbiased.”

As the BMF covered at the time, Cllr Broad found further alarming and seemingly ill-informed statements, including "motorcycles are substantially larger than bicycles so they take up considerably more land space to park in busy urban environments" and "motorcycles substantially lag behind the car industry in creating less polluting smaller engines and electric bikes have been slow to the market".

This was followed by a thesis on motorcycle accident rates based on a ‘per million miles travelled’ basis, ignoring the fact that fatality rates for cycling and walking would be even higher under the same measure. None of the other sections even mention accidents.

Nor was there any reference to where the data had been gathered.

“What I found was an incomplete and biased document that was being presented as the basis for future transport policy across the entire county of Oxfordshire,” Cllr Broad explained.

“The compilers of the document seemed to have cherry-picked data to support their own pre-existing bias towards the ‘holy trinity’ of public transport, cycling and walking, ignoring all the benefits that motorcycling can bring in terms of reduced congestion, parking requirements and pollution, rather than considering motorcycles and other PTWs as part of a properly considered and even-handed integrated transport policy strategy.” 

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Complaining to the councillors directly about the document and involving the BMF was effective in kick-starting engagement with Oxfordshire County Council.

A series of very strongly worded emails opened up discussion on the issue, resulting in a revised document which has now dropped the divisive "motorcyclists are a danger to themselves" comment.

However, it still appears to see motorcycling as a nuisance issue rather than as an essential element of a county-wide plan including all forms of transport.

It still includes the thesis on the accident rate too, and BMF Political and Technical Services Director Anna Zee has noted that another questionable statement remains as well.

“It’s hard to believe a public servant could have issued a document like the original LTCP5 plan’,” says Cllr Broad. “As motorcyclists, all we are asking is for a plan to be put in place to accept our form of transport without bias.

“What is most concerning is that if this issue hadn’t been highlighted when it was, the original inflammatory statement about ‘motorcyclists being a danger to themselves’ and the implications about high accident rates would have found their way into the next stage of the process, the forthcoming LTCP5 policy, and potentially into the final transport plan.

“What is also concerning is that councils across the country are putting together their own transport plans. How many of them also contain misleading statements and data about motorcycling and, with the current distraction of COVID-19, how many of them will find their way into the final plans being put into place?

“It also means there is a danger of piecemeal plans involving PTWs being put into place across the country. For example, Oxfordshire’s neighbouring county of Northamptonshire has a transport plan which considers motorcycling in a much more favourable light – the implication being that, once you cross the county line, motorcyclists are seen completely differently.” 

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Highlighting Oxfordshire’s approach to motorcyclists has been effective in raising publicity for the issue, with Oxfordshire County Council’s proposals even reaching the attention of the Federation of European Motorcycling Associations (FEMA).

National motorcycle interest groups have been quick to make their own voices heard too. MAG, the VMCC and the Trail Riders Fellowship (TRF) have also voiced their opposition to Oxfordshire’s apparent anti-motorcycling bias, and these three organisations have joined forces with others and are working closely together to provide a constructive response to ensure the voice of motorcyclists continues to be fairly included in Local Transport Plans nationwide.

For the BMF, Anna Zee said: “We cannot allow Oxfordshire County Council to create a transport plan which completely ignores a legitimate mode of transport.”

The TRF’s statement is equally forthright: “Oxfordshire County Council currently seeks to deliver a ‘lack of transport’ plan, which fails to protect the public interest.

“The Council has adopted an exclusive approach that focuses solely on a small proportion of the public whose transport needs are predominantly met by public transport, walking and cycling. The interests of those few are being championed to the disadvantage of the majority whose transport needs are being treated with callous disregard.”

It is possible that similar documents may be being pushed through in other parts of the country while COVID-19 is distracting attention from such issues, with potentially serious implications for the future of motorcycling. BMF members are urged to check their own area’s policies, which can be as simple as accessing your local county council website and searching for ‘transport plan’.

“This isn’t just ‘local politics’; this is people putting plans together that will affect all of us,” Cllr Broad emphasises.

“People ride across counties all the time, of course, so it is important that members in each area take a look at the proposed transport plan in their own region. It also emphasises the importance of being a member of an active lobbying organisation like the BMF.”

BMF Chairman Jim Freeman added: “The BMF totally supports John Broad in his opposition to the appalling, discriminatory bias shown by Oxfordshire County Council’s Transport Plan. The BMF urges all members to be especially vigilant at this time in scrutinising local authorities and other bodies, who may use this crisis to ‘bury news’ concerning similar discriminatory attitudes and moves.

“We urge any member who is aware of any local issue to contact the BMF via admin@bmf.co.uk.” 

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2020 edition of BMF Motorcycle Rider. 

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