Bike Sheds: The Latest Bump in the Road
In late 2020, we reviewed the progress that had been made toward Boris Johnson's projected 'Golden Age of Cycling': bike sales were at an all-time high and there was still much government support for promoting cycling through approving subsidies and building infrastructure.
However, as mentioned back in March, the current initiative has already had a spotted track record - we have highlighted already the prevalence of 'bike lash', the complaints from a minority of local residents against the opening of new cycle lanes, which has led to councils closing some of the excellent low traffic areas and temporary cycle lanes with little explanation. Now the latest furore involving councils comes from the installation of bike sheds.
With sales of bikes up 60% since March 2020, there are far more bicycles on the road which are in need of essential storage (especially with the surge of bike theft seen over the past year.) Residents with new bikes have logically invested in personal storage for these bicycles, with sheds popping up in front gardens across the country.
However, front gardens are subject to strict planning permission regulations, which includes the placing of bike sheds - according to the Local Government Authority, the body which represents councils in England, residents cannot freely place a bike shed or scooter store which are not 'suitable and appropriate for their environment.' If a bike shed is erected in infringement of this law, then residents can be fined up to 20,000 pounds.
Such instances include a family in Leicester which came under fire from the local council for placing a bike shed in their front garden. Thankfully, after the council told them to take it down, the mayor weighed in with the astute observation that a bike shed was much more desirable than another tarmacked garden, and the family won their planning case.
While it must be admitted that councils have been investing more in public storage, cases like this only highlight the lack of suitable places for storing bikes safely. Moreover, it flies in the face of these councils' supposed commitment to encouraging cycling.
Again, Scotland is leading by example here, where, having announced subsidies for eBike purchasing, they updated planning permission rules in April to allow homes to place bike sheds in front gardens with a height of 1.5m.
Cycling shops, charities and pressure groups have recently coordinated for lobbying local government and making sure all of these adopted measures become permanent, but the task of instilling real behavioural changes and reducing car dependence still largely falls to the authorities.
With the announcement last year of £2bn worth of subsidies for cycling, the resistance over personal bike storage along with the roll back of essential cycling routes is concerning, especially in light of a report that this promised money falls far short of what is needed to meet the government’s own targets of doubling cycling and walking by 2025 anyway.
If the ‘Golden Age of Cycling’, as UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has dubbed this moment is to be made a reality, then national and local government must continue to promote cycling at a public and individual level, avoiding such interference like this.