TWEEDDALE councillors have rejected claims that they used a Scottish Government-funded programme to implement cycle lanes “by the back door”.

Scottish Borders Council (SBC) obtained funding from the Spaces for People scheme designed to create temporary walking and cycling routes while also maintaining social distancing.

Following a consultation, the idea to introduce cycle lanes on Peebles' High Street and along the Eastgate was scrapped, but councillors decided to trial them on Kingmeadows Road and Innerleithen Road.

A Peebles community councillor has slammed this decision, and has told elected representatives that SBC needs to “get its act together and listen to the people of Peebles”.

And the town’s community council chairman said he submitted a detailed response explaining why members thought the cycle lanes on Innerleithen Road were inappropriate.

Les Turnbull said: “I also highlighted in that letter that the Spaces for People project was about making the transport and transfer of people across the town safe in relation to COVID, it wasn’t particularly a road safety issue, it was a COVID issue.

“It seems to me that the legislation and the Spaces for People project were being used to bring in these cycle lanes by the back door.

“We have all received the hard data of consultation, and I have to say, I am somewhat bemused because there is a very clear majority in that consultation which is saying we do not want, or see the need for cycle lanes on the Innerleithen Road and Kingsmeadows Road.”

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However, council leader Shona Haslam defended the decision. The Conservative member for Tweeddale East said: “When you drill down into the data of the responses you will see, unsurprisingly, that drivers were against cycle lanes and cyclists were in favour of them.

“I think what the consultation shows is that there are more drivers in Peebles than there are cyclists, so we came up with this crazy new concept called a compromise.”

Mrs Haslam reiterated that the decision was made by the six Tweeddale councillors and not SBC officers.

“We felt that there was a large enough body of cyclists in favour of cycle lanes to try cycle lanes in these two areas,” she said.

“The roads are very wide, there’s plenty of space, there’s no parking on those roads. But we did take into account the very strong views held by the community council in terms of the High Street, and we took that option out of those proposals.

“It’s a compromise, we realise not every group is going to be happy. We tried to make sure that both groups were represented in terms of the planning of travel in our town.”

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This view was backed by Stuart Bell, the SNP councillor for Tweeddale East, who said that both Innerleithen and Kingsmeadows roads are significantly wider than the High Street, and he thinks it is worthwhile trialling the cycle lanes.

Mr Bell said that he responded to the consultation as both a driver and a cyclist.

“As a cyclist, who cycles into Peebles along the Innerleithen Road, and sometimes along the Kingsmeadows Road, I prefer to be in a situation where there are cycle lanes on those sections of the road, so that I had some confidence, that vehicles that were travelling at or in the vicinity of the speed limit, thought carefully about whether they encroached upon the space that I was occupying as a cyclist.”

However, Mr Turnbull said that if road safety is the issue there are better alternative routes.

“I know you cannot use the Spaces for People money to create these other routes, and it does seem to me that the Spaces for People project is being misused to put these cycle lanes into Innerleithen Road and Kingsmeadows Road,” Mr Turnbull said.

Questions were raised regarding the criteria for determining the success of the trial and funding to remove the cycle lanes if the trial concludes that they are ineffective.

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Members of the community council were told that money will be drawn down to remove the cycle lanes, if necessary.

Mrs Haslam said she would investigate the terms of how it will be evaluated. She added: “With this programme, it's based on how many people feel more comfortable to use active travel than use their cars, that’s the prime reason for doing it.”

Community councillor Lawrie Hayworth said it was important to highlight that the cycle lanes are “advisory” and not statutory lanes for cyclists.

But one member of the community council felt the views of the public were not considered when making the decision.

Scott Watson said: “Why did we have a consultation when the councillors have decided they know what’s best for us?

“The council really needs to get its act together and listen to the people of Peebles, rather than deciding what they want.”

Mr Bell, the Tweeddale East councillor, responded: “We as councillors have a responsibility to take a view in regard to the representation that was made on that consultation.

“We have to take a view of what is appropriate across all people in Peebles and all the people that travel in and out of Peebles, and we took the consultation into account when we took that view.”

Mr Turnbull raised concerns about members of the public potentially being reluctant to engage in future consultations “if they think their views really aren't going to be listened to”.

The council leader interjected, adding: “Sorry I have to come back on that, what Stuart said was right, we did listen to the views and we took account of all the views and drilled right down into the data and so the premise that we did not listen to views is one that we would seriously dispute.

“We did, we listened and we listened hard.”