The battle of the bikes – and where to site cycle racks for them in the High Street – engulfed the new Marlborough town council at its first meeting last night (Monday).
It voted eight/four to delay its expected decision to agree to sites suggested by Marlborough Transition’s transport group, to be included in Wiltshire Council’s £400,000 resurfacing of the High Street this summer.
The initiative had come from Transition Marlborough as part of its development of a cycle network of quiet roads and paths through the town, the loss of two parking spaces approved by Wiltshire Council whose Marlborough area board will foot the bill.
And suggestions that the town council needed to revisit the agreed proposals as being considered inappropriate angered in particular new councillor and former Tesco campaigner Lisa Farrell, who daily cycles to work as catering manager at Marlborough College.
“Can’t we try, this,” she pleaded. “It’s not going to cost us anything. Let’s give it a go and see if it works.
“I know what it’s like with a bike because I ride one everywhere. Let’s just give it a go, please.”
Councillor Andrew Ross agreed. “I think it would be a tragedy to let this opportunity slip away by our reactionary views,” he declared.
“We are trying to encourage cycling among young people and we need to provide them with the correct facilities. This is just the sort of thing we need to be doing in the town. We must seen to be doing the correct things.”
Supporting a detailed report from Andrew Jack, Marlborough community area manager for Wiltshire Council, Transition member Ann Yates had explained the reasons why current free parking spaces outside Polly’s Tearooms and Valentino’s, on the other side of the High Street, had been chosen for new cycle racks.
“These sites are highly visible and convenient for the Post Office and for WH Smiths,” she said. “I have been to see the managers of these businesses and they have no reservations about the siting of cycle racks outside their shops and positively endorse their installation.”
A cyclist visiting Marlborough pointed out that other towns in the county had already catered for the interests of cyclists. “He was disappointed that this was not the case here in Marlborough,” she added.
But the initiative was not welcomed by Councillor Margaret Rose, who warned of the danger to motorists from cyclists backing out of cycle hoops at the side of the road.
Then Councillor Stewart Dobson, the newly-elected Tory member of Wiltshire Council, surprisingly made the case against the loss of two free-for-half an hour parking spaces for the benefit of cyclists.
“It is so important, especially in these present financial times, that we do all we can for residents,” he said. “There are an awful lot of people who are not disabled enough to qualify for a parking badge and therefore a disabled space, but nevertheless they are not terrible mobile.
“They do need to pop to the Post Office and to Boots for a prescription. So I would be loathe against taking away two parking spaces. But those two spaces are important. They are always being used.
“There is never an empty space there. And quite frankly we can’t afford to lose any more. We can’t inflict this on our traders.”
He approved the sensible upgrade of parking facilities outside the library and the town hall and suggested if that parking spaces were to be lost they should come from those running down the middle of the High Street.
“Cyclists by and large are very active people,” he added. “So I can’t see a problem with them walking from one end of the High Street to the other whereas we would be penalising people who are far from active.
“I would hope we can find a compromise, and that ought to be that the existing ones are adequate for the job and we look to see how it goes from there.”
And to applause from members of the Transition Group present, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson protested: “You are saying that ratepayers in the town don’t get anything except free parking. There are lot’s of hard done by ratepayers with pushbikes who have nowhere to lock them away.”
New councillor Richard Allen urged the erection of signage to help cyclists find the existing cycle racks. Cyclists needed to be encouraged by the fact that they know where to put their bike and that it is the right and proper place to have one, he said.
New councillor Justin Cook asked: “Why can’t we just dig our heels in and just say No? Why can’t we challenge Wiltshire? We have some good arguments, and, because we are split, there has to be a middle way.”
Town clerk Shelley Parker suggested the council consider a motion stating that it supports in principle the provision of appropriate cycling facilities but not in the way proposed, adding that it asks the Marlborough area board to revisit the site by making potential physical improvements to existing racks and to signage.
It was carried by eight votes to four.