Huge local support for A26 cycle path despite KCC’s opposition

PATH TO PROGRESS: Campaigners gather on Southborough Common. Picture: Fred Long

Hundreds of cyclists from Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge Wells came together last week for a mass ‘ride along’ in a campaign for a dedicated, off-road cycle route between the two towns on the A26.

It is a project that is reportedly supported by the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, but is currently being blocked by one member of Kent County Council.

Almost 300 cyclists convened last Friday evening (June 9) on Southborough Common as part of a ‘critical mass’ campaign organised by the Tunbridge Wells Bicycle Users Group (TWBUG).

Paul Mason, organiser of TWBUG was pleased with the turnout and told the Times: “It went very smoothly and we have what, 300 people here? I was looking at the plans at the beginning of the year, and we wondered how many people would come, but it worked out really well.

“Car-dominated societies are so engrained in the entire layout of our country, so you have to keep going to bring about political change.”

Cyclists rode in a large group along the busy main road, with half of the riders starting from Five Ways in Tunbridge Wells and the other from Tonbridge Railway Station, where they were met with crowds clapping and cheering them along the route.

Cyclists were joined by local councillors, including Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) Cllr Ben Chapelard (Lib Dem), who told the Times: “People want a cycle path. We had people in the shops coming out clapping us, people coming out of their houses…

“TWBC – we are all for it – but it’s Kent County Council’s (KCC) final decision.”

Representing Tonbridge, and cycling in support of the campaign, KCC member and Borough councillor Mr Mark Hood (Green) told the Times: “We’ve got a situation where every single councillor along the route, bar one, wants this dedicated off-road cycle route. and it’s a key strategic link between the two towns.

“If we can get more people on bikes, it means we will have less people on the roads in cars… Cycling is good for mental health, physical health, it’s good for the environment,” Mr Hood added.

“The Active Travel funding is there, and it’s up to us to make sure that West Kent, Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge get that funding.”

Voicing his opposition to the project, Peter Oakford (Conservative) KCC member for Tunbridge Wells North told the Times: “The A26 is one of the busiest roads in Kent and has been deemed by professional
KCC Highways engineers as unsuitable for an on-road cycle route.

“Cycling must be developed within areas where families and young people can be encouraged to cycle knowing they are safe to do so, away from high-density major roads. The A26 Does not meet this goal.

“I understand TWBC is developing a plan for a cycle route from Rusthall into TW which is off-road, and I am very supportive of it,” he added.

“At the moment, if you’re cycling back into Tonbridge, you have to cross the slip road to the A21, and that is extremely dangerous, and I wouldn’t let my children do that and I don’t expect any parent to do that either.”

Speaking to the Times, TWBC Walking and Cycling Champion, Cllr Peter Lidstone (Lib Dem) said: “A lot of people cycle already, and many children are cycling along the A26, so why not, even if it’s just part of a stretch, provide something safer.

“I agree we can’t do a perfect cycle lane, but I think you can’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

One main concern of the project is how it will be funded with the government making cuts to the Active Travel England fund and the increased budget pressures on KCC.

Cllr Lidstone said: “There is money still out there, so we are confident that this scheme is not beyond the realm of their ability to fund it.

“There are developers who, whenever they build near the A26, give the Council money to mitigate the impact of the development on the roads. We can use that.

“In the past there was £600,000 of funding [from Active Travel England] under a different scheme from here [Southborough] to Tonbridge by widening the pavement and allowing shared use. It got blocked by KCC, so we lost that funding and it had to be returned. This is not the first time it has happened.”

Share this article

Recommended articles


Please enter a search term below.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter