Cycle superhighway on Westway to be cancelled, City Hall confirms

Sadiq Khan is to cancel the extension of the east-west superhighway from central London via the Westway flyover to White City, Shepherds Bush, Park Royal, the Old Oak Common development area, Wembley, Acton and Ealing.

The cancellation will probably mean that no segregated cycle route from central to west London is delivered in this mayoral term. It was confirmed by Sadiq’s deputy mayor for transport, Val Shawcross, at a meeting with British Cycling’s Chris Boardman earlier this month.

There was better news about the other two routes we consulted on in February: Shawcross said they would be delivered “on the same routes as originally consulted,” though there is still no word about whether the gate closures on the Outer Circle – the crucial element of the CS11 (Regent’s Park) proposal – will survive. The gates really are a key test for the mayoralty’s seriousness about cycling – but then, so is the Westway.

The Westway cancellation will be presented as a rerouting: Shawcross told Boardman that the extension “will not be routed on the Westway. We are looking at alternative routes that will be better.” In practice, though, and whatever the (doubtless genuine) intention, it probably spells the death of any meaningful cycle route through the area.

An elevated motorway does at first hearing sound like a weird place for a bike route, but it got 71 per cent support in the consultation. There was almost no opposition, apart from the Westfield shopping centre, which was reportedly worried about delays to car passengers. (The actual maximum delay to any car-borne shopper’s journey to or from Westfield, by the way, would have been 2 minutes. There would be longer delays from Westfield to central London in the morning peak, but nobody visiting the shopping centre would be driving in that direction at that time.)

And the flyover is in fact the easiest place to put a route. There are none of the usual issues with residents, pedestrians, buses, parking, loading, or junctions. There were even benefits for motorists – several westbound journeys would have been quicker. The Westway is also, crucially, the only mayoral-controlled road into a large chunk of West London. The surface roads are owned by a borough, Kensington & Chelsea, which does not want segregated tracks on them.

We could have had the Westway superhighway by next year. But a rerouting will mean perhaps two years’ delay for new designs, new traffic modelling, and a new consultation that will make the row with the local nimbies over CS11 look like a child’s tea-party.

Shawcross and Khan will have to exercise truly miraculous powers of persuasion on K&C to get them to accept segregated tracks – and then to keep them on board through the inevitable nimby tsunami during the consultation.

It’s not totally impossible, I suppose, but it seems pretty unlikely. There is little constituency for cycling among the wealthy, elderly voters of K&C, and not even an active LCC group (its blog has not been updated since 2014). In a perfect world, I too would have wanted to put the superhighway on the surface – but you have to make the best of the world you’ve got. I could have told Team Khan all this if they’d asked – we actually did think this stuff through – but they didn’t ask, and I’m not convinced they’ve yet given it the same amount of thought.

Under the “alternative and better” plans, then, what we will probably finish up with is either nothing at all, or another essentially pointless, old-style, paint-on-road scheme.

 

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IERA: watchdog slates extremists for “misconduct,” falsification, “reckless misleading” and “unauthorised payments”

I’ve several times covered the deeply troubling work of a body called IERA, the Islamic Education and Research Academy, which specialises in sending non-violent extremist speakers around British universities, sometimes in gender-segregated meetings. They are one of many extremist groups who have taken me to Ipso, and lost (three times, in their case: see here, here and here).

IERA is run by Abdurraheem Green, who says that a husband has the right to administer “some type of physical force… a very light beating” to his wife and advises that if a Muslim passes a Jew or a Christian in the street, he should “push them to the side.

IERA’s roll-call of stars includes, or has included, Khalid Yasin, who describes Christian and Jewish beliefs as “filth;” Haitham al-Haddad, who has described Jews and Christians as the “enemies of Allah;” plus two people banned from the UK, Zakir Naik, who has said that “every Muslim should be a terrorist,” and Bilal Philips, described by the US government as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the World Trade Center bombing. The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain describes IERA as a “hate group.

IERA is also linked to the “Pompey lads,” a group of young men from Portsmouth (most or all now dead) who travelled to fight for Isis in Syria. At least two, Mehdi Hassan and Ifthekar Jaman, and possibly as many as five, were members of the Portsmouth Dawah Team, described by IERA’s Mission Dawah unit as “our team in Portsmouth.” Hassan and Jaman were pictured in Portsmouth wearing IERA T-shirts.

Astonishingly, IERA is a registered charity, giving it a taxpayer subsidy in the form of Gift Aid (which allows it to reclaim tax on donations from the Government) and several other advantages. That wasn’t enough for some of the IERA trustees, however, who also paid themselves tens of thousands of pounds from charity funds, against the charity’s own rules.

This, and their extremism, exposed in media reports including my own, led to a regulatory case review by the Charity Commission, then a formal statutory inquiry, which finally concluded on Friday. The verdict is damning.

As so often with Islamist groups, IERA lied and falsified documents to head off scrutiny. A risk assessment for an extremist event

had not been carried out prior to the event to which it related, as indicated, and as it should have been. Instead it appeared to have been completed in response to the Commission’s pending records inspection.

IERA, the inspectors found, had made conflicting statements which the Commission was “unable to reconcile.” IERA had

recklessly provided misleading information to the Commission which is evidence of misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of the charity.

What the trustees were trying to conceal was two things. First, they were

putting the charity at risk in sharing or being perceived to be sharing, a platform for the expression of promotion of extremist views.

On the link with Phillips, the Commission

could not see how the trustees could show they were complying with their legal duties under charity law.

Second,

approximately £44,704 was made in payments to trustees which could not have been properly authorised… A number of the charity’s trustees had received payments from the charity which were considered more than reasonable costs for travelling expenses for trustee meetings and for fulfilment of trustee duties…in breach of the charity’s governing document and legal duties.

Pretty comprehensive, then. But it could have been better. First, this verdict has taken three years and eight months to deliver; the initial case was opened in March 2013. That is at least three years too long; three years in which IERA has been able to spread its poison.

Second, it hasn’t really put a stop to that even now. The Commission appears to have treated IERA as a legitimate charity which just needed to improve its financial management and “risk assessment” to avoid being a platform for extremism. But being a platform for extremism is, in fact, one of IERA’s main purposes. The real remedy for this organisation is to have its charitable status, and taxpayer subsidy, taken away.

To that extent, IERA got off lightly and should be very grateful. Instead, predictably enough, it has been using the report to bang the Islamophobia drum, decrying the “unjustified and disproportionate” nature of the criticism. For Islamists, every cloud has a silver lining.