This is ostensibly an article about cycling in London – but even if neither cycling, nor London floats your boat and you are tempted to turn away – don’t. For it actually reveals a lot about those vested interests that try to move things their way in a hidden manner, instead of being willing to be open and democratic about things.
By way of some background, the Mayor of London (Boris himself) has been pushing a relatively pro-cycling agenda at City Hall, and in particular what are called Cycle Superhighways. Up until now these have basically consisted of some blue paint at the side of a main road, with the occasional diversion around a major junction.
The next suggested phase however is for what many cycling organisations have been calling for for a while – genuinely segregated cycle lanes. There is currently a consultation process for what has been dubbed ‘Crossrail for Bikes’ – an 18mile segregated cycle lane from Tower Hill along the Embankment, past Westminster, Hyde Park and all the way out to Acton.
Whilst the proposal has been heavily supported by cyclists, and more recently by a wide range of businesses who recognise the benefits to their employees there has been an undercurrent of anonymous briefings and lobbying against the idea by the Canary Wharf Group.
What is telling, is that these briefings have been done anonymously, rather than openly and only when challenged did they admit to being behind it. Where the tale of undercover influence gets more noticeable is that the decision on going ahead or not will ultimately be taken by the Finance and Policy Committee of Transport for London, before being ratified by the full board. According to page 4 of the TFL Forward Plan this is due to take place in November and December respectively.
Now, who is the Chair of TFL’s Finance and Policy Committee? A certain Peter Anderson. That same Peter Anderson is also Finance Director of the Canary Wharf Group – that same company who have been submitting anonymous lobby briefings against the scheme.
As Danny Williams who runs the excellent CityCyclists blog points out – this is almost certainly a conflict of interest – which has to be declared prior to a meeting or discussion according to the Greater London Authority Act which sets out the Governance for TfL
We wait and see if Peter Anderson will be declaring his conflict of interest prior to, or at the start of that meeting and recusing himself from the Chair. If he does not, then I am sure that some people will be looking to challenge it. It is positive that TfL has been set-up to be open and transparent about both its governance and consultation process which means that this is an option. It highlights the need for citizens to be aware of the decision making bodies that affect them, and who sits on them, as well as for lobbying briefings to be open and transparent.
In the meanwhile – if you are a London cyclist and have not yet submitted a response to the consultation, I would strongly encourage you to do so. With a sufficiently large positive response rate from the public the weight of opinion should help to counter the vested lobbying interests trying to prevent meaningful cycle progress in London.