The electoral cycle: What Leeds' elections may mean for cycling

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Leeds Cycling Campaign take to the streets to demand better cycling facilities

The electoral cycle: What Leeds' elections may mean for cycling

Cycling UK's Infrastructure Campaigner Tom Guha visited Leeds where boundary changes in the city mean that all 99 council seats are up for election. Tom met with Martin Stanley of the Leeds Cycling Campaign to find out what the election might mean for cycling.

As candidates vie for their opportunity to take office, it is the job of voters and campaigners to canvass their would-be representatives and lobby for their support on local issues.

Martin Stanley, the Chair of the Leeds Cycling Campaign is keen this election makes a difference for cycling in the city: “With every seat in the city up for grabs, we can make cycling a city-wide election issue – and hopefully secure some important commitments for cycling at a strategic level,” he explains.

Leeds Cycling Campaign's approach marks them distinctly apart from Push Bikes in Birmingham, who are using elections in their city to shine a light on local issues. In Birmingham, they have a metro mayor who has been championing cycling at the strategic level for the past year. In Leeds, the campaign group are asking all candidates to pledge their support to a motion that would commit the council to plan a city-wide network of safe cycleways and actively seek the funding to build it.

The motion is based on a Cycling UK template, which has recently been passed by councils such as Warwickshire, Portsmouth and Cheshire East. To meet their aims Leeds Cycling Campaign plan to send ‘mock ballots’, created by Cycling UK, to as many candidates as possible. The ballots will collect the candidates’ pledges, which the group will use to hold those elected to account.

“We are confident,” says Martin, “but it is by no means a done deal. We decided this approach was best as candidates’ postal addresses are the first contact details made publicly available.” But such an approach does present challenges. “To avoid party politics, we have a duty to give all candidates a fair shot at responding to us – but there are practicalities to take account of. Each of the 99 seats has roughly four or five candidates – we can’t afford to reach each and every one by post”.

The campaign’s aim is to reach as many candidates as possible via voters in each ward. “Not only does this reduce costs but candidates are likely to be more responsive to their voters than some monolithic group”. The group will also use digital means as email addresses and social media.

Transport schemes can become highly politicised in local elections. In Leeds, it is the iconic City Connect cycleway that has fallen foul of party campaigns. A Conservative campaign leaflet in the name of Cllrs Rob Wood and Alison and Andrew Carter describes the scheme as a "multi-million pound folly", "dangerous” and says the money should have been spent on road repairs and “safety measures.” Martin Stanley said: "City Connect has its problems but this kind of discourse is not conducive to a practical debate about how to get the best from it.”

One downside of the election will be the loss of some familiar supportive faces. Some may lose their seats but Leeds Cycling Campaign is already sad by the decision of deputy leader Cllr Lucinda Yeadon (a keen supporter of cycling and tricycle rider). Yeadon spent her time in office being a champion for inclusive cycling.

Leeds Cycling Campaign’s role is clear. If they play their cards right, the group have a unique opportunity to get a Lucinda Yeadon in every council seat.

Martin is positive: “Change has been slow but we are making progress. What we are lacking is political will and I hope, through this election, we can stimulate some.”

Campaign ride 

To galvanise support for their campaign, the group are organising a ride around the city centre this Saturday 21 April. Join them at Victoria Square at 11:00 if you would like to show your support.

If you are not in Leeds, why not join one of the many other pre-election rides taking place over the coming two weekends in:

  • Aberdeen
  • Cambridge
  • Crewe
  • Edinburgh
  • Huddersfield
  • Inverness
  • Liverpool
  • Portsmouth
  • Thirsk
  • Sheffield
  • Warwick
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