Campaigners have warned Barnet Council’s stance on cycling is creating a “traffic-heavy, polluted borough” that puts residents’ lives at risk.

It comes as the borough secured one of the lowest amounts of funding in the capital for emergency cycling and walking infrastructure under a Transport for London (TfL) scheme.

Barnet Cycling Campaign wrote to council leader Cllr Dan Thomas saying he and other councillors showed a “clear lack of understanding of what motivates people to cycle” and urging a rethink of current policy.

The letter came in response to an article in the Barnet Times on the role cycling could play in the borough’s Covid-19 recovery plan.

It takes issue with several comments made by Cllr Thomas during a meeting of the policy and resources committee in June – in which he claimed cycling had “barely grown” in recent years – and calls on the council to seize a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to improve cycling and walking infrastructure.

Barnet won £341,186 from TfL’s Streetspace scheme to fund walking and cycling projects following the coronavirus lockdown, putting it in 26th position out of 32 London boroughs and the City of London in terms of the amount received.

Neighbouring Enfield, which scooped £2.06m, and Haringey, which bagged £1.14m, were both in the top ten.

The letter states: “You have a very simple choice to make. You can carry on your current path, acting under assumptions and misrepresentation, heading towards a traffic-heavy, polluted borough which will continue put the lives of its residents at risk daily.

“Alternatively, you can work with us and other groups to truly free our borough’s economy and secure a legacy as leader of a healthy, vibrant borough with a revitalised high street scene capable of fighting the next pandemic.”

Jon Klaff, a member of Barnet Cycling Campaign, said Cllr Thomas did not seem to be “au fait” with all the facts around cycling, and the campaigners want to sit down with him and try to get their message across.

Mr Klaff said: “If you look globally, where people have taken the step to provide proper, segregated infrastructure, cycling has rocketed – and that is borne out in the city centre, where the mayor has provided segregated cycle tracks and demand has exploded.

“The disappointing thing is Barnet seems stuck in a 20-year-old concept, which is that you need to have the demand first before the infrastructure. It is the other way around. It is not even a debate we should be having anymore.

“When in Barnet, cycling is a mental challenge. I have to be very defensive in the way I ride. If you are a new cyclist, it would be terrifying and put you off riding. I have been doing it for 30 years, but for anyone who has picked up a bike in the last three months, it is a very steep learning curve, riding through Barnet.

“Other boroughs’ reactions to the lockdown and emergency cycling measures put Barnet to shame.”

In response to concerns over the impact of cycle lanes on the local economy, Mr Klaff argued cyclists often spend money in high street shops and would make more journeys per week than motorists, even if they buy fewer items per trip.

A Barnet Council spokesperson said: “We were awarded £263,800 from TfL and £55,000 from the Department for Transport (DfT) towards phase one of the A1000 cycle lane. This will give us a great opportunity to boost cycling provision across the borough.

“We will begin work on phase one – which will stretch 3.2km from the boundary with Haringey to just south of North Finchley town centre – in August.

“Subject to further funding being available, the cycle lane will eventually connect many of our main town centres – including Chipping Barnet, North Finchley and East Finchley. This is a big project, the scale of which cannot be underestimated, and will support our Long Term Transport Strategy to provide more sustainable ways to travel around the borough.

“It will boost residents’ health and wellbeing and help make our borough more family-friendly. We hope that the cycle lane will encourage many more people to cycle to and from work, and we will be monitoring its effect to gain a ‘before and after’ comparison.

“Unfortunately, TfL turned down funding for phase two of the project – we will investigate why this was, but we are still very much committed to the over-all project.

“The recent completion of the £5 million regeneration of Silkstream Park and Montrose Playing Fields – with their wide paths – will provide another important cycling link between Burnt Oak and Colindale. There are also new cycling routes planned as part of the Brent Cross Cricklewood regeneration scheme. We are committed to improving cycling routes across Barnet and will continue to do so.”