Cameron's 'Cycling Revolution': one pedal-stroke forward but a long way still to go!

Deputy PM Nick Clegg on the CTC stand
Clegg's announcement of 'Funding4Cycling' is welcome but the Delivery Plan will need to do a lot more if we are to even start catching up with German, Danish or Dutch levels of cycle use.

Yesterday (27 November 2014), around 100 key players in cycle policy and planning travelled from around the country for the Government's latest cycle funding announcement, made in Bristol by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and cycling minister Robert Goodwill MP.

The funding amounted to £214m:

  • £114m over the next 3 years (2015/16 to 2017/18) to continue the progress made so far by the 8 cycling cities (Newcastle, Leeds/West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Birmingham, Norwich, Cambridge, Oxford and Greater Bristol); and
  • £100m over 6 years for the Highways Agency to improve cycle access along and across the corridors of the Strategic Road Network (SRN, i.e. England's motorways and trunk roads).

Here's CTC's press response.

The Government claimed - correctly - that this is the single biggest cash injection into cycle planning that this country has seen so far. Credit where credit is due - especially to the officials in the Department for Transport's cycling policy team, who really have worked tirelessly for every penny of this.

Yet the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain pointed out - equally correctly - that it still falls a long way short of what will be needed to deliver the "Cycling Revolution" which Prime Minister David Cameron promised in August 2013.

I don't doubt that ministers would genuinely want to make Britain "a cycling nation to rival our European neighbours" (an aspiration reiterated by Nick Clegg last Thursday). However, the Dutch are spending around £24 per person annually on cycling, having devoted significant resources to it for decades, while Britain has been 'driving' rapidly in precisely the opposite direction. There is a huge gulf between historic levels of cycle funding in Britain and what's needed to even start catching up with countries like the Netherlands. It will take a lot more than a few spurts of short-term funding before the PM's "Cycling Revolution" even begins to get rolling - let alone catching up with German, Danish or Dutch levels of cycle use.

The long wait

The Government's original intention was to publish the Cycling Delivery Plan in Autumn 2013. However, after several postponements, it seemed by summer 2014 as if things were on course for the Plan to be published as a consultation draft in August or September 2014, with the final Plan expected a couple of months later. MPs scheduled a Commons debate on the draft Plan for October 16th - yet the document only emerged half an hour before that debate was due to commence.

It seems that the delays were caused by parliamentary 'Get Britain Cycling' report's call for earmarked funding for cycling amounting to at least £10 per person annually, rising progressively to £20 over time - a call strongly backed by MPs of all parties, the Times newspaper and all the national cycling groups. Ministers evidently wanted to support the aim of 'Getting Britain Cycling', yet agreement on the funding required still wasn't forthcoming.

Instead, all the draft Plan offered was an "aspiration to work with local government and businesses to explore how we can achieve a minimum funding packet equivalent to £10 per person each year by 2020-21". CTC dismissed it as "A derisory plan, not a delivery plan".

Marking time?

Even at that point though, DfT's cycle policy team hoped to conclude the consultation by 13th November, so that the final version of the plan could be launched by "a senior Cabinet minister" at a "cycling summit" on 27th November. In the meantime, they somehow managed to organise a whirlwind series of road-show events around the country, seeking responses from local authorities, campaigners and others. But councils in particular all said they needed longer to respond. DfT was forced to extend the consultation period to, yes, 27th November.

At this point, the 'cycling summit' was now scheduled to take place 14 hours BEFORE the end of the delivery plan consultation period, and six days BEFORE the Chancellor makes his Autumn Statement on 3 December. So, without a Plan to unveil, it is at least possible that Nick Clegg's £214m may be no more than an interim announcement - we can but hope!

After all, the draft Cycling Delivery Plan places great emphasis on the importance of "partnerships" with local authorities who wish to develop serious ambitions for increased cycle use and improved cycling provision. There are plenty of other councils outside the 8 Cycle City Ambition Grant areas who are gagging to get involved in the "cycling revolution". If this offer of "partnership" is to mean anything whatsoever to Councils such as Nottingham, Leicester and Brighton, then the Government will need to bring something to the table.

What next?

I'll therefore be listening intently for more funding in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement on 3rd December. Let's face it, the Prime Minister has already told the CBI it will contain £15bn for road-building. So let me take this opportunity to say a big 'thank-you' to the 3,000+ of you who emailed the Treasury in October, supporting CTC's call for the Autumn Statement to include some serious 'Funding4Cycling' too.

But what if this fails to materialise?

Well, the Government's Infrastructure Bill has just progressed from the House of Lords to the Commons, with its 2nd Reading debate now due on December 8th. This Bill includes plans to turn the Highways Agency into a Government-owned company, with funding arrangements very similar to those of Network Rail. By law, the Government is required to set out a Rail Investment Strategy, agreeing with Network Rail what outcomes it expects for its money. The Infrastructure Bill will create similar arrangements for the Highways Agency, including a Roads Investment Strategy.

Yet the Government's own research shows that every £1 invested in cycling and walking typically delivers over £5 in benefits. That's far better value-for-money than either road or rail schemes, where a 2:1 ratio is considered "good" and 4:1 "very good".

So isn't it time we had a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy too?

CTC joined forces with the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Campaign for Better Transport, Sustrans, British Cycling and Living Streets to propose this while the Infrastructure Bill was passing through the Lords. As things turned out, our amendment sadly didn't get debated, for procedural reasons. We are now looking at how we might revive the idea when the Bill reappears in the Commons. Watch this space!