Don’t let Mini Holland be a missed opportunity

It is now more than 18 months since Kingston Council (RBK) won over £30m of funding from Transport for London (TfL) for its Mini Holland (MH) schemes. We supported the original bid and see these funds as a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to provide safe cycling routes in our Borough and to make improvements benefitting all. We appreciate such new developments take time but progress so far has been painfully and disappointingly slow.
The positives:
1 Work on the Portsmouth Road scheme commenced November 2015. This scheme has improved radically to incorporate fully protected space.
2 We are now able to engage regularly and helpfully with both Officers and Councillors.
3 There are some really exciting and innovative schemes under design. Among these schemes are a segregated track on the east side of Wheatfield Way (avoiding the Kingston one way system), the Boardway along the Thames (bypassing, and allowing access to, Kingston Town Centre) and a semi segregated route from Kingston to Tolworth via Surbiton.
The negatives:
1 In the last year the project has had three Programme Managers and a considerable turnover of other staff. There appears to have been a lack of leadership and consistency at the most senior level from Officers.
2 There is a lack of political leadership and enthusiasm for the Programme. This surprises us as the Bid was supported by all political parties, has clear and obvious benefits for the Borough, is funded by a Conservative Mayor and RBK has a Conservative administration and we would expect any local Politician to support a scheme involving money being spent on, and in, his or her Borough.
3 There is very considerable support for the New Malden to Raynes Park route, which outweighed the poorly informed opposition, but we are frustrated that this scheme does not appear to have unequivocal backing from the Council. We understand there are issues to be resolved with Thames Water but that should not prevent RBK, TfL and Thames Water entering into a Memorandum of Understanding, or similar, to secure funding and proceeding to consultation.
4 We currently understand it is unlikely any scheme will be brought to consultation before the Mayoral elections “purdah” period; March to May 2016.

The only consultation to date was Portsmouth Road in February 2015. It is a great pity for there to be a gap of 15 months before the next consultation. We appreciate RBK can only consult on schemes which are ready for it, in their design and engagement processes. On the other hand if Portsmouth Road completes in mid or late 2016 we need to be ready to start on the next scheme then or soon after to keep up momentum.
The Mini Holland programme is new and innovative; rightly so. Inevitably there is opposition as there is to anything different; although in Kingston, as elsewhere, levels of support have been appreciably higher. Of the three Mini Holland boroughs, Waltham Forest was the first to implement a scheme. Kingston was second in making progress but, it seems likely that, following their recent successful consultation, Enfield will soon draw ahead. Both Waltham Forest and Enfield are going “full steam ahead” with forthcoming engagement and consultations, whereas that is not true of Kingston.
We are worried that Kingston’s poor progress will reflect badly on the Borough; we would have expected that to concern Officers and Councillors too. It would be a tragedy  our Mini Holland was the only one of the three to be a disappointment. Most of all we do not want this fantastic opportunity to improve our Borough to be lost.
RBK have informed us the Mini Holland budget is guaranteed until 2017. That is a relief but it is still subject to the Comprehensive Spending Review and change of Mayor so nothing can be taken for granted. We understand RBK want to engage with the public and check there is support for schemes but, it seems to us, they are taking an avoidable risk with their funding. We consider now is the time to be bold and to press ahead. Come on Kingston get a move on before it is too late !