Sunday, 7 December 2008

Sustrans sups with Devil

Cycling England (whose 'partners' include Sustrans, whose board includes Malcolm Shepherd, head of Sustrans, and who now employ John Grimshaw, founder and president of Sustrans) have awarded the contract for the monitoring of cycling levels in the 17 Cycling Towns and the Cycling City (Bristol) to ..... Sustrans (surprise, surprise) and their new 'partners', the University of Bolton. The monitoring of cycling will extend over three years and will use methods developed over 10 years of monitoring the National Cycle Network. The information, we are told, will be central to monitoring how the Cycling City is working.

The University of Bolton (pic above), eh? Not some new blood in the incestuous old relationships, surely? Perhaps we should have a look at the 'green credentials of this new 'partner' in the drive to promote cycling. Here are the University of Bolton's 'visitors' guide and their how to find us guide, telling you everything you need to know to visit, car - just turn left off the A666 (really!) just past ToysRUs and Burger King (other local landmarks include McDonalds, Kwikfit, Mecca Bingo and Grosvenor Casino - classy!) - and naturally there's plenty of highly subsidised parking.

There's even a few hints if you're coming to Bolton by coach, train or plane (but nothing whatsoever about local buses). Even those reduced to walking through this benighted environment get some indication of pedestrian routes (which of course fail to show a direct link into the university campus), but nothing, absolutely nothing, on cycling, not even an indication as to whether there might be any cycle parking available on site.

So it seems that Sustrans has no scruples about who it teams up with these days (unless they happen to be genuinely passionate about cycling, in which case they can take a hike). There was a time when one or two people at Sustrans might have cared enough to make a few elementary checks on any prospective 'partners' (and the 'how to find us' check really is elementary) but today we have just another self-serving quangocracy intent on empire building at whatever cost to any principles it might once have had.


WestfieldWanderers said...

Your views on Sustrans are both distressing and depressing.

But, sadly, true.

Anonymous said...

There are two ways of viewing the Sustrans/Bolton project:

1. The tolerant, optimistic view - "Sustrans have already done more for sustainable transport than anyone else in the UK - we therefore trust them to choose partners who are the best in their field."

2. The cynical/pessimistic view based on irrelevent "evidence" - i.e. yours.

Mud-slinging is easy! I just did it!

t1mmyb said...

Perhaps we could stop with the greener-than-thou silliness? What does it really achieve?

Chris Hutt said...

Anonymous, you call that mud slinging? Way to go I'm afraid.

Actually there are a lot more than your two ways of viewing Sustrans. One could for example be objectively critical, looking for hard evidence instead of just marketing hype.

You say "Sustrans have already done more for sustainable transport than anyone else in the UK". Who says that, apart from Sustrans themselves? What about say Friends of the Earth, transport 2000/Campaign for Better transport or the CTC, who were all promoting sustainable transport ideas way before Sustrans?

Sustrans' achievements, outside of self-promotion and marketing, are far less significant than they have led people to believe. For example most of the NCN is on existing roads that have been attractive cycling routes for the last 50 years or more. Yet having designated these as part of the NCN Sustrans seem to claim credit for their existence.

I could go on, but I hope most people reading this will see that the truth lies somewhere between the artificially extreme views you suggest.

As for t1mmby, what "greener-than-thou silliness"? Do you mean Sustrans' claim to be the UK's leading sustainable transport charity? Or is it fine for them to make such 'greener-than-thou' claims but not alright for anyone to challenge them?

t1mmyb said...

Well, Chris, I must say that my opinion of you dipped during the Stop at Red episode over at Josh Hart's blog. (Incidentally, I stop at red when on my bike, because I drive, walk and cycle at various times and think the world needs more respect for other people, not more antagonism, and think that sticking to an agreed set of rules is helpful).

Perhaps I just don't see why it all has to be so confrontational. It seems (as was alluded to at On The Level) like the Judean People's Front vs The People's Front of Judea: not conducive to actually effecting any change. Maybe I'm too pragmatic, and think that some change is better than none. Not everyone will be as Deep Green as you and others, but their efforts surely shouldn't be derided.

Chris Hutt said...

Change comes about when the status quo is effectively challenged. Sustrans is now a vested interest that is part of the contemporary status quo and is not an instrument for real change itself. In fact it never was, but that's another story.

So I challenge Sustrans just as I would any other vested interest (VI) that is doing very nicely out of the status quo. In that way Sustrans (or any other VI) will be obliged to adapt to the criticism by becoming a little less malign and a little more benign.

It's up to you whether you want to contribute to that process of change. For most people it's well outside their comfort zone. But there are always a few willing to do it, otherwise there would be little change other than that driven by economics, which of course is currently driving us towards an environmental catastrophe.

t1mmyb said...


I mean you no ill-feeling, and I respect your continued efforts regarding cycling and other green issues. I guess I just think "why can't we all get along" (plus I wish for more people cycling in normal clothes a la Copenhagen, in order to better inspire not-yet-cyclists to get on their bikes).

All the best,


scott redding said...

If you dig a bit deeper, the "University of Bolton" becomes John Parkin, in their Built Environment Department.

He's been working with Sustrans since 2005, so it's not something drastic or new. This nefarious man has three personal bicycles, and has done training work for Transport for London, training on cycling for all highway authorities, and runs an annual cycling course given at the University of Leeds.

The third partner in the monitioring scheme, which you haven't mentioned, is Cavill Associates, whose principal consultant is the health advisor for Cycling England.

If the University of Bolton, and therefore all academics who work there, is "the devil" since it's nigh impossible to find on their website how to get there by bike, that damns nearly all universities in the country!

If not Sustrans/Cavill/Parkin, who should do the monitoring?

Chris Hutt said...

Why can't we all get along? Human nature I guess. Just look at history - it's all about conflict. Conflict between cultures, classes, nations, political factions, interest groups, peasants, workers, capitalists, landowners, etc. etc.

You and I are here today because all our ancestors managed to survive and breed against the odds and in competition with others. Often than competition was literally life or death conflict. So it's absolutely fundamental to our nature.

It's only the ruling elites and their acolytes who have a vested interest in promoting peace and harmony. The dispossessed have little to lose from rocking the boat and they're fools if they don't.

So I guess that's the difference between us. You're an acolyte of the ruling elite (which concept can, if expanded, even embrace Sustrans) and I am one of the dispossessed. That's far more fundamental than whether we're cyclists or not.

Chris Hutt said...

Scott, the monitoring should be done by a truly independent agency, not by members of the clique who run Cycling England and Sustrans, who clearly have a vested interest in producing evidence of their success.

As for universities promoting car use and ignoring cycling, of course that's perfectly normal and reasonable, if you say so.

MJ Ray said...

Sustrans seem to be self-perpetuating self-regulating stupidity, but who else is there? I think CTC elected a "get cyclists off the road" president and their ordinary members were powerless to stop it, so are there any groups that represent cyclists properly?

Des said...

Happy Christmas everyone.

scott redding said...

I think you deliberately missed my point about Parkin.

I live in Coventry. Say Coventry University's Serious Games Institute does consultancy work for the MoD.

Does that invalidate the entire work of Cov Uni's department on Peace Studies?

Why does the "how to get to the University of Bolton" part of the website (which I doubt Parkin has any control over) invalidate all of his work?

I ask, who should do the monitoring? You say, a truly independent agency. Nice! It's easy to win your argument if you make it hypothetical. Give an example, name an agency. Cycling England can't give a tender to a hypothetical agency/consultancy. They have to give it to someone who exists.

Chris Hutt said...

Scott, did I say it invalidated his work? Do by all means criticise what I have actually said but there isn't much point in criticising what I haven't said.

The serious point in my piece is that Cycling England have appointed an agency that they more or less control to carry out the monitoring of their projects.

The monitoring should be carried out independently to establish whether the tax payer (whose money it is being spent) is getting value for money.

Chico said...

If you follow your argument to the full no 'green' organisation could ever work with Government due to the fact that they are also very 'un-green'. To create substantial change you have to work with Government. Also what are the green credentials of the provider of this is it?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Chico

In order to implement a 'sustainable' agenda, don't greens need to be the establishment ie have the power to make the changes (although I accept I would say that)

It is of course the classic 'power corrupts' dilemma

Charlie Bolton

Anonymous said...

Might be interesting for Bristol cyclists to do some of their own monitoring.