£15m budget boost for cycling, walking and wheeling in Scotland

Scottish Government spending on active travel has been increased to £115m. Our campaigns and policy manager, Jim Densham, explains that whilst this is significant, much more needs to be invested by the next government after the election on 6 May

The budget for cycling and active travel in Scotland has been boosted by £15m after the Scottish Government made a budget deal with the Scottish Green Party. In summary, this is a positive step but the next Scottish Government must do much more. That’s why our Scottish election manifesto calls for at least 10% of the transport budget to be invested in active travel. Before you read on I therefore urge you to sign our election petition and tell party leaders you want them to invest and deliver for cycling across Scotland.

Right, now let’s take a closer look at this funding boost and what it means. The SNP does not have a majority in the Scottish Parliament so, to pass the Finance Bill (budget), they had to ask for the support of other parties. In recent years, the Scottish Greens have been willing to support this key piece of legislation in return for extra spending on ‘green’ priorities.

Last year our lobbying helped to secure more money for cycling in the 2020/21 budget. This year the Scottish Government has agreed to include a further £15m for cycling, walking and wheeling infrastructure which takes the total budget for active travel to £115.5m in 2021/22.

It is excellent that this 15% boost will go towards creating safe space for people to cycle, walk and wheel. My recent blog post, retelling the story of the hare and the tortoise, explained that safe infrastructure is desperately needed to give people the confidence to cycle for everyday short journeys.  In Scotland we need to design and create cycle lanes for people who don’t yet cycle if we are to meet the challenges ahead.

The climate emergency and the post-pandemic recovery requires that we do things differently from now onwards. To achieve Scotland’s climate targets (which are set into law) and enable a green recovery there must be more money for cycling and sustainable forms of transport to ensure they are positive alternatives to car use.

The extra £15m means that there have been incremental changes to active travel spending in the two most recent budgets. In the autumn we were critical of the government’s commitment to provide £500m over 5 years for active travel because it indicated stagnation rather than showing the necessity for consistent growth in active travel spending.

£15m is a positive outcome and something to be celebrated. It could pay for 7km of segregated cycle lanes akin to the South City Way in Glasgow. It brings the spending on active travel to 3.5% of the overall transport budget in Scotland – although we will be seeking clarity on some of the active travel budget lines.

We are calling for the next Scottish government to spend at least 10% of the transport budget on cycling, walking and wheeling

Jim Densham, Cycling UK's campaigns and policy manager in Scotland

What we do know is that this amount is only a tiny part of what is needed to make Scotland a cycling nation. That’s why, in our Scottish election 2021 manifesto for cycling, we are calling for the next Scottish government to spend at least 10% of the transport budget on cycling, walking and wheeling.

Based on current transport spending we estimate that a 10% share amounts to approximately £320m per year. An increase such as this would go a long way to giving councils across Scotland the resources they need to create the active travel network we are also calling for in asks 2 and 3 of our manifesto. This includes: cycle lanes physically separated from traffic on busy roads in every town and city, cycle routes on quiet streets, and off-road cycle paths, created in accordance with design standards based on accessibility for all.

In the longer term, transforming Scotland to make this a reality is likely to require a much greater funding pot and that’s why we are asking for 10% to be a minimum amount.

The government’s own sustainable transport hierarchy within the National Transport Strategy indicates that walking, wheeling and cycling are now the government’s highest priorities in terms of transport policy, with the private car being the lowest.

Despite the right words, in this and other government strategies, prioritising public transport and active travel, it feels like we haven't quite exited from a period when car was king. The next Scottish government must take the bold step to create a cleaner, greener and better Scotland, for example by cancelling multi-billion pound road building schemes, such as the A9 and A96 dualling projects. Instead, it must invest in sustainable transport and places for people.

If you agree, please show your support by signing our petition calling on political parties to include the following in their own election manifestos:  

1.            Invest more money in cycling

2.            Create safe space for people to cycle, walk and wheel

3.            Enable people in rural communities to cycle

Sign the petition and share with your friends and family.