How much money for cycling?

How much money for cycling?

How much money is being allocated for cycling across the UK, what’s being hidden, and how much is needed? Head of campaigns, Duncan Dollimore takes a closer look at the numbers and what we’re not being told

How much money is being spent on active travel across the UK’s four nations, and how much is needed, has been in the news this week.

On Wednesday, our campaigns and policy manager in Scotland Jim Densham reported on the £15 million budget boost for cycling, walking and wheeling in Scotland, while Cycling UK’s policy director Roger Geffen was simultaneously explaining to a select committee in Westminster that the government was suppressing a report showing how much more money was needed to meet the government’s own modest targets for increasing levels of cycling in England.

Smoke and mirrors

If you want to see more people cycling and you think national governments should be doing more to enable this, how much they spend on active travel is an important question. It may seem a simple one, but announcements of ‘new money’ are often repeated several times, the amounts aren’t always put in context as a percentage of overall transport spending, and working out what’s actually happening is sometimes more complex than it should be.

So, I’m going to have a whistle stop ride through what each government is promising to spend on active travel, which in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is a phrase commonly used when referring to cycling and walking, but in Scotland always means cycling, walking and wheeling.

I should say before going any further that no government in the UK is spending anywhere near enough on active travel, but I’ll not keep repeating that throughout this blog because I want to look at their actual spending and spending commitments.

£15 million more in Scotland

The SNP doesn’t have a majority in the Scottish Parliament, so to pass the Finance Bill (budget) it needs support from another party. In recent years the Scottish Green Party has voted to support the budget 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 week the Scottish Government agreed to include a further £15m for active travel infrastructure following a budget deal with the Scottish Greens, taking the total budget for active travel to £115.5m in 2021/22.

Of course, a 15% increase in active travel spending for next year is good news, but it does need to be put in context. It could pay for around 7km of separated cycle lanes akin to the South City Way in Glasgow, and it brings the spending on active travel to around 3.5% of the £3.4 billion overall transport budget in Scotland.

It’s only when you start looking at overall transport spending and the cost of building roads, railways and other transport infrastructure that you appreciate how little is spent on active travel in comparative terms, because a £15 million increase sounds like a lot of money – until you put it in context.

That’s why in our Scottish election 2021 manifesto for cycling, we’re calling for the next Scottish government to spend at least 10% of the transport budget on active travel. If you live in Scotland and agree with us that this is what’s needed to ensure that cycling is for everyone, please show your support by signing our petition calling on political parties to include commitments in their manifestos to: 

  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 our manifesto for Scotland

Deliberately hiding evidence from parliament

My colleague Roger Geffen is polite to a fault and diplomatic by nature, so his comments this week about the government in Whitehall deliberately hiding evidence from parliament display his immense frustration that the government is still sitting on research showing how much money needs to be invested to achieve the government’s target to double levels of cycling in England by 2025.

Roger has written a very detailed blog about this research and Cycling UK’s efforts to get the government to release it, but I’ll try and give a shorter potted summary.

The government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS), published in April 2017, has targets which include doubling 2013 levels of cycling by 2025. Back in 2018, the Department for Transport (DfT) commissioned a report from consultancy Transport for Quality of Life (TQL). This was publicly acknowledged by the DfT in footnote 38 on page 12 of the DfT’s ‘Call for evidence’ for its Cycling and Walking Safety Review (only Roger would have spotted that!), noting TQL had modelled whether the government was on course to meet its targets, but it was only set to get a third of the way there, with the report to be published in early 2019.

I’ll not go through the chronology in Roger’s blog, but we’ve been asking for it ever since, and it still hasn’t been published.

Jumping forward to 9 May last year, transport secretary Grant Shapps then announced £2 billion for active travel over the next five years – so £400 million a year over five years.

Little is spent on active travel in comparative terms, because a £15 million increase sounds like a lot of money – until you put it in context

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK's head of campaigns

OK, £2 billion sounds like a lot of money, but putting that into context, the budget for investment in motorways and major A roads is £27.4 billion. The important question is also whether £2 billion over five years is enough to get anywhere near the 2025 targets for doubling cycling, or does the TQL report indicate that the government needs to massively ramp up active travel investment to do that?

Sustrans has previously calculated that the government’s targets have a price tag of between £6 to £8 billion, depending on how and where it’s spent, and as Roger has made crystal clear, that’s what we understand the TQL report says too.

Ask yourself this question: do you really we’d have said anything publicly about this if we weren’t pretty certain we were right?

Of course, if we’re wrong, there’s an easy way for the government to prove that – just disclose the TQL report.

£20 million more in Wales

We’ve often talked about the need for investment in Wales to match the ambition within the Active Travel (Wales) Act, but sadly the former has often been lacking.

That’s why, as it is in Scotland for the elections in May, our Wales election 2021 manifesto for cycling calls for the next Welsh government to spend at least 10% of the transport budget on active travel.

Again, with the huge caveat that much more is needed, there’s another similarity with Scotland, namely that the active budget is nudging upwards.

The March 2021 budget included an additional £20 million for active travel, increasing total planned 2021-22 investment in active travel projects and interventions to around £75m. That’s on top of increases to the budget announced last summer though to put this in context again, a report commissioned by Friends of the Earth Cymru estimated that to equip a Welsh town that’s an employment centre at the convergence of four major roads with parallel cycle routes extending 15 km in all directions would cost around £24 million.

So, the extra £20 million could bring huge benefits for some, but to benefit everyone and ensure that cycling is for everyone requires at least 10% of the transport budget to be spent on active travel.

If you live in Wales and agree, please show your support by signing our petition calling on political parties to include commitments in their manifestos to: 

  1. Invest, spending more money on infrastructure and behaviour change
  2. Deliver, making it happen by creating high quality cycle lanes and liveable neighbourhoods.
  3. Do it across Wales, connecting communities across Wales with each other and the countryside.

Sign our manifesto for Wales

You can also sign up for our online active travel hustings on the evening of 23 March.

Still waiting in Northern Ireland

With apologies to everyone in Northern Ireland, this section is somewhat brief.

Whilst draft budget plans have been published for next year the budget lines don’t make clear how much is being allocated towards active travel spending. We’ll report back with further detail once we’ve found out, but it’s worth saying that last November Sustrans NI made it clear that Northern Ireland had the lowest level of official investment in active travel in the UK.

That must be particularly galling given that in the Republic of Ireland, active travel spending has gone through the roof. If anyone tells you that 10% of total transport spending on active travel is too much, it’s worth pointing out that the coalition government in Ireland has committed to investing 360 million euros per year over the next five years. That’s 66 euros a head, or 20% of its transport budget!

Be involved

General elections will be held in Wales and Scotland on 6 May. We're calling for new governments to invest 10% of their transport budget in cycling and walking, to ensure that cycling is for everyone.
 
If you share our vision that cycling should be a safe, easy and attractive option for everyone, please show your support by signing our petition.
 

Scotland

We're calling on political parties to:
  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
 
 

Wales

We're asking parties to commit to:
  1. Invest, spending more money on infrastructure and behaviour change
  2. Deliver, making it happen by creating high quality cycle lanes and liveable neighbourhoods
  3. Do it across Wales, connecting communities across Wales with each other and the countryside
 
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