Fast food but no parking
It's Wednesday so I'm at home. I'm not usually here on Wednesdays, but I have a mission.
My poor Ruby Bike is hemmed in by cardboard boxes full of papers and stuff I have retrieved from my late brother's house. The weather looks dodgy, and his car is on my drive. Or I could take the bus, financially reckless at four times the cost of the car.
Ruby isn't properly organised as a utility bike. No pump, mudguards or decent lock, and the beam rack doesn't fit my usual panniers. But she's the best bike I have here. Brown Bike is on holiday at my Mum's because that's where I am usually. I seem to have inherited Grey Bike but he's still at my brother's house.
This may sound confusing (it certainly confuses me) but has the advantage that anywhere I happen to be, a bike is just waiting to be taken for a ride.
So I shift the boxes from around Ruby, put a D-lock with some papers in a small rucksack, and pluck her out of the crowded house like a cork from a bottle. She is the lightest of the three bikes, and I'm grateful. She's also the friskiest, exaggerated by the unaccustomed weight of a rucksack.
At Caxton Gibbet roundabout, the A428 becomes a dual carriageway but we take a shared-use path, glancing briefly at a burnt-out restaurant, the Yim Wah.
We pedal on to Cambourne, where South Cambridgeshire District Council do their wonderful work, and one of their planning officers has recommended that the planning committee should approve plans to replace the ruined Yim Wah with three restaurants: McDonald's, Costa Coffee and a to-be-decided third. SCDC policies define a maximum number of car-parking spaces and a minimum number of bike-parking spaces. If I read the policy correctly, this development should accommodate a maximum of 170 cars and a minimum of 85 bikes.
The application proposes spaces for 91 cars, which is less than 170 so that complies with policy, and zero bicycles for customers. Zero? I've searched the documents and peered at the plans with my strongest reading glasses. They mention covered secure bike parking for staff but none at all for customers.
I'm not a huge fan of McDonald's but I do enjoy a Big Mac, large fries and large shake once or twice a year. I always feel fit to burst after that lot, or maybe it's a guilty conscience, or my heart complaining that I'm undoing the goodness from the bike exercise. I expect that healthier meals are available from McD, but I do like those gherkins.
The local rag reckons the council will approve the application. That wouldn't surprise me. If I can persuade them to attach a condition, or even just convince someone to think about bikes once in a while, I'll have achieved something.
Outside SCDC, four people are holding up a banner: "Save our trees". This is one of the agenda items. A centuries-old cedar tree is (perhaps) causing a centuries-old rectory to crack up. Villagers love the tree and don't want it cut down, so they want a Tree Preservation Order confirmed. The owners (or perhaps the insurers) of the rectory want to remove the tree. If the council confirm the TPO and the rectory owners then want to remove the tree and the council says no, the council may be liable to pay the cost of mending the rectory. Not an easy decision. The council takes an hour to decide to defer it for a month.
We break for lunch. Only 30 minutes. I'm hungry but have no food with me. That's okay; Morrison's is a brief ride away. Before I can escape, a councillor I happen to know slightly grabs me informally and asks what I'm doing here. I explain that I'm objecting to McDonald's on the basis of no cycle parking. He says the committee will be sympathetic to this.
I ponder this while I'm getting food. I should ask for more than I expect, which means upping the game: instead of concluding by asking for some secure covered bike spaces, I'll ask for all 85 spaces. I load up the rucksack with food.
In the meeting, the committee plough through a handful of planning applications. Caxton Gibbet comes last, and is seven separate applications. Perhaps the applicants put the various signs and lighting separately so holdups there don't delay the major application, which comes first. And now the time has arrived.
As the only objector, I'm the first to get my three minutes of fame. This is plenty of time to make just a single point: your policy says we should get parking for 85 bikes, so please reject the application on those grounds. It's enough time also for secondary points: cyclists need more food and drink than drivers, and we can't carry as much around with us. The lack of dedicated cycling facilities is no excuse for providing no parking, whatever the application says.
I don't waste time explaining the benefits of cycling and how it needs to be supported. Everyone knows this. Even the written application contains these warm fuzzies. If those words aren't put into action, they are useless.
The applicant's agent comes next. He says they would accept a condition of, say, 20-30 spaces. Even (gulp) 84, if the committee were so minded.
The next speaker, a councillor, supports the application. But then it goes badly for the applicant. Other councillors don't like the design of the buildings. And they keep repeating about the bike parking. The applicant was "arrogant to ignore cyclists". They make a point I hadn't thought of: McDonald's will be visible from a new secondary school across a field, but with no off-road route between the two. (If I think keeping kids away from McD is a good thing, I keep it to myself.)
I try not to laugh but don't entirely succeed. The committee want a "beacon" design. Something imaginative and innovative, not this "appalling rubbish". And they want to encourage cycling.
So that's it. We all know where this is going. The agent is taking furious notes. Better luck next time, mate. The committee makes the formal decision: application rejected on the basis of horrible design and lack of bike parking.
Ruby and I ride home happy, if sweaty. A good day's work, tempered only by the local rag's report that doesn't mention the cycle parking.