Government is clear that communities must be consulted on schemes like the Haverstock Hill cycle lanes

Cllr Oliver Cooper says that residents need to have their say on the Haverstock Hill cycle lanes.

Cllr Oliver Cooper says that residents need to have their say on the Haverstock Hill cycle lanes. - Credit: Oliver Cooper

“Build back better” is the slogan of our times. It was coined by Boris Johnson, but taken global and used as the winning slogan by Joe Biden earlier this month.

Biden’s victory shows that building back better can have a democratic mandate. And it means when plans to change things are proposed, we shouldn’t hide from seeking it and asking the public their views.

As regular readers know, Camden has proposed removing every parking bay on both sides for a mile of the steep Haverstock Hill and replacing them with cycle lanes. Unlike Joe Biden, this has proven to be very unpopular with residents and businesses, and new rules issued last week mean that residents need to have a say.

In September, Conservative councillors proposed consulting residents before any of Camden’s traffic and transport changes were made. Labour said we were “obsessed with process” for suggesting residents be asked their views.

Last week, the government issued new legally-binding guidance that made it clear that residents, businesses, and disability groups have to be consulted before decisions are made.

Far from consulting residents, Camden has been doing the opposite. When they told us as local councillors about these plans, Camden explicitly demanded we not tell anyone else. Labour’s obsession with secrecy, and cooking up schemes behind closed doors, was completely unnecessary and counterproductive, but it served one purpose. 1,300 local residents responded to my and Cllr Steve Adams’ survey on the changes to Haverstock Hill, and over 80 per cent of them opposed the proposal. Among businesses on the hill, the views were unanimous – with all signing a petition against the proposals. Labour know that asking residents or businesses locally would get an answer they don’t want.

Documents newly released by Transport for London under the Freedom of Information Act show that Camden put in a bid for the money for this scheme in July. There was plenty of time for Labour to ask residents for their views at the same time they were asking for taxpayers’ money.

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Labour were keen to point to a line in the guidance that said that schemes should be brought forward “within weeks”. However, that line has been removed from the guidance and replaced with one that says that speed should not be “at the expense of consulting local communities”.

This rebuke was because the guidance has been so abused by Labour councils like Camden, that wanted government money but with no strings attached. After all: how can they claim they couldn’t consult because of urgency, but still sit on things and demand secrecy for four months?

There’s a reason that consultation is legally required. Grandiose plans that are designed against the wishes of the community, rather than with the community, don’t just fail to get public support – they fail on their own terms by overlooking important local details that residents know and the council might not.

The council’s patronising “we know best” attitude to businesses, residents, and disability groups jeopardises schemes’ viability. It hurts other road users, including pedestrians, bus users, and emergency vehicles. It also wastes the record £2bn that the government has put into cycling.

Now the government has made it clear that councils have to consult. A little more of Conservatives’ “obsession” with asking residents their views would mean Camden wouldn’t be in this mess, and we’d be in a better place to build back better.