Friday, 12 October 2012

The need to educate Plymouth City Council

As I've said many times to just about anybody willing to listen (or just within earshot, even if unwilling to listen!) my hometown of Plymouth has the potential to be absolutely fantastic.
Situated on one of the most stunning bits of coastline in the world, it has so much to offer to residents and visitors alike. Although the largest city this side of Bristol, Plymouth isn't exactly what I would consider a global economic powerhouse, but there are signs of moving in the right direction.

For example, Plymouth City Council spent considerable sums of money repairing Tinside lido, despite so many shortsighted people crying out in protest. The protesters clearly cannot see that something like Tinside is an investment that by itself will never turn a profit, but as an asset to the city results in higher visitor numbers.
In South Africa, the coastal resort city of Durban is internationally renowned for its golden beaches, for which there obviously is no admission fee. Less well known is the fact that Durban's natural beaches aren't very big, nor very nice, and the city spends a small fortune each year trucking sand in from further up the coast, as it knows investing in things that tourists want will bring in the punters - and their wallets!

Plymouth created a new position for somebody to head up Destination Plymouth, an almost unheard of body tasked with promoting Plymouth as a tourist destination. Given the fact that almost nobody's heard of Destination Plymouth suggests they're not particularly good at their task, wouldn't you say? In fact, just Google Destination Plymouth for a quick demonstration of how unheard of they are!

Anyway, the idea is to get some new blood in to breathe some new life into the stale campaign to turn Plymouth into a tourist hot spot, which is certainly a rather large step in the right direction.

Except...

On the page listing details about the role, there's a link to the Plymouth Visitor Plan as a PDF download. On page 9 of that illustrious document is the start of a section entitled Our Markets, which goes into some detail identifying potential lucrative market segments, together with information showing what each distinct group is looking for, and why Plymouth should target them.
Now that certainly could be a good move, if it was done right. For example, if a particular target group was prioritised while a potentially far more lucrative group is left out, I wouldn't consider that particularly clever, would you?

I've blogged before about the absolute enormous size of the European cycle tourist market and I've posted before about how Plymouth should target that market, but clearly these experts at Destination Plymouth, who are so good at their jobs almost nobody's ever heard of them, believe they know better.

They believe they can safely discount research that clearly puts the European cycle tourist market at over £35 BILLION per year, and that makes them either remarkably arrogant, remarkably shortsighted, or a combination of the two. And yes, they ignored that market.

In their Plymouth Visitor Plan, they do mention cycling, but not as a distinct target market. They say "Walking and cycling trails along the Waterfront to encourage visitors to explore and discover more of Plymouth and travel out to our rural hinterland – using opportunities to connect with National Trust trails to Saltram and to Plym Valley and link up with walking and cycling trails across the city"

Those are the words of people who don't cycle, and believe cycling is all about occasionally pootling along at 5 mph, being happy to be forced to stop at every junction as if you are an inferior being. They are the words of people who are so narrow-minded they've dismissed cycle tourism without investigating the value it can bring to the city, and they're not prepared to give it any more thought.

They go on to say "We will also encourage pedestrian and cycle networks to be given priority over cars". I absolutely doubt the integrity of the sentiment being expressed here: do a word search in the document and you'd see "cycling" is mentioned twice, and "cycle" once. That's it! Thee times (twice in one sentence!) that cycling is mentioned in a 29 page strategy document.

Plymouth is the end of the Devon Coast-to-Coast route, a.k.a. National Cycle Route 27 (NCN27), or more recently, Velodyssee and as such is part of EuroVelo 1. Stop! Read that sentence again, and think about the implications for a moment. Yes, Plymouth is where potentially scores of European cyclists will set foot on British soil, after having cycled along gorgeous, well-maintained traffic-free cycle paths criss-crossing Europe.

And what awaits them? What has Plymouth done to put in place decent, safe and fit-for-purpose cycling infrastructure? Almost nothing, that's what.

On the 11 of September I blogged about the poor treatment of cycling, and cyclists, during the roadworks causing mayhem around Laira Bridge. I contacted a councilor, asking for their feedback, and I was promised a detailed reply. In less than three weeks the roadworks are meant to be completed, and I guess I'd still be waiting for my reply.

Plymouth City Council makes some right noises about cycling. However, there's an old American saying: "You talk the talk, but do you walk the walk?" In the case of Plymouth City Council, it is abundantly clear that it doesn't walk the walk. The right noises it makes are just that - noises. There is NO action, there is NO improvement on the ground.

And that is quite sad, don't you think? They're pulling their noses up at a ready-made, potentially very lucrative income stream, they're failing in making the changes that would really make Plymouth a world-class city.

When we do what we've always done, we get what we always got. And yet Plymouth is simply doing what it's always done, and wondering why there isn't a major improvement.