Cycle and walkway ideas need quick wheels

Where hard standing gives way to nature

Wandering around Earlswood Common, some thoughts occur on whether the area is ripe for applications to improve walking and cycle facilities.

During National Walking Month (May), this area has been popular, as locked down residents seek their daily exercise. Many other areas, such as Redhill’s Memorial Park, have become equally as populated, especially by those who like to spend their exercise time sitting – on the grass as much as a bicycle.

Recently, as previously commented upon, the Government announced a £2bn pot to fund walking and cycling access around towns, with Surrey so far offering a temporary scheme in Farnham, in the west of the county, and another to follow in Reigate town centre.

Counties have awarded various amounts, Surrey just over £8million, for emergency walking and cycle routes – and it could be if these are not put forward within a week and implemented within four then not only could this funding have to be returned but future bids for funding could fail.

Memorial Park has within the outer edge of its boundary a hard standing path, suitable for easy cycling as well as walking. At Earlswood Lakes, there is an equally solid pathway around the first lake visible from the car park. However, this becomes woodland afterwards, either along the ridged back of the common to the A23 or the more circular route to the same end.

Would the public benefit from firmer paths there or anywhere on the common, to facilitate cycling or easier walking in winter, when these paths are muddy? Or is that the attraction for an autumn stroll in boots? Would more people venture there in winter if there was hard standing? If it was so desired, why did golfers not request it at the crossing point of the A23 when their sport was still part of this common?

Would firmer footings spoil the area? And would it serve a purpose other than recreation, for example as a walk/cycle way to schools or businesses? Probably not. Is that a prime consideration? In winter there are still plenty of dog walkers who use the area for exercise and the common is used for football (whether they are playable for much of winter is not the issue here).

Chatter on Twitter mentioned Woodhatch as an area that could benefit from designated cycle and walking routes to schools. Up the hill from Reigate town centre perhaps? Or around the shops. The streets heave with pupils from Reigate School on a weekday. 

There is a safe cycle and walkway alongside Earlswood Lakes. Could Cockshott Hill or Dovers Green Road be shut to cars at certain times? Or have a cycle lane marked? Or the speed limits of roads around be reduced to 20mph (not considered on their own but as part of a package) which seems a popular suggestion in many places?

Is it better to leave nature alone or would this area up to St John‘s off the common benefit from becoming a firmer cycle path?
Picture: Is it better to leave nature alone or would this area up to St John’s off the common benefit from becoming a firmer cycle path?

Normally, it would take several months for planners to devise and have approved such schemes. But temporary barriers were imposed at London Bridge quickly after a terror attack. So while time is of the essence the turnaround can be quick.   

For many years, schools have had annual “walk to school” or “cycle to school” initiatives. If you have ever been part of one of these and can see the potential for improved traffic management to facilitate easier cycling and walking, read through the low traffic neighbourhoods section on Living Streets and make a plan.

It’s great to see the Government, in this way, answering calls to come out of Covid-19 with a greener outlook. So now is the time, when people are enjoying walks and cycling, to capture the mood, the imagination and chance to embed those changes of culture by striking while the spokes are spinning. 

Global Action Plan, a sustainability group, urges residents to back a School Streets campaign, to minimise traffic outside schools. How students can reach East Surrey College or Reigate College by public transport – when it returns to full tilt – by walking and cycling is another issue. The wide catchment area means many go by car.

The turnaround for ideas has to be quick. Surely there is no time for surveys to canvas public opinions. So when you get home from that walk or cycle, seize the moment. Contact your Surrey county councillor. Or even your Reigate & Banstead Borough members who should be able to oil the wheels of progress.

It is a journalist’s nature to pose more questions than provide solutions. However, perhaps the discussion above on Earlswood Common provides food for thought on what questions need to be satisfied if you feel an area could benefit from this funding. Maybe there are alterations or additions you would like to see in Redhill town centre? Or further afield? Be prepared to give a bit of a detailed plan, rather than have a vague aspiration.

It’s also worth viewing the tweet thread begun by @cyclerandr (Cycle Redhill & Reigate) this morning for details of how the Department for Transport will roll out the funding.