What does the Autumn Statement mean for Space for Cycling?

The Chancellor delivered his Autumn Statement in the Commons on Wednesday. Image credit: Maurice, CC Licensed
Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his first (and last) Autumn Statement in the House of Commons on Wednesday (23 November). Infrastructure was the centrepiece – with a £1.1 billion package to be invested in England’s local roads. What does this mean for cycling? Our Space for Cycling campaigner, Tom Guha, investigates.

Transport and infrastructure were put right at the heart of the Chancellor's Autumn Statement this week. The shiny centrepiece was a £1.1billion investment package for England’s local roads.

The Chancellor also announced a new Government commitment to spend between 1-1.2% of GDP on infrastructure from 2020 onwards, as well as allocating £220million to tackle 'pinch points' on England's motorway and trunk road network (this is in addition to the £15bn already earmarked for Highways England over the next 5 years).

In an Autumn Statement littered with language about “keeping Britain moving” and investing in “the vehicles of the future”, it is regrettable that there was no mention of cycling beyond retention of the cycle to work scheme (a relief!) and investing in velodromes.

Hammond announced that “small investments in local infrastructure can offer big wins” – something Cycling UK has been  saying for years. Few small investments yield as far reaching benefits as high quality Space for Cycling, with the Government's own conservative estimate suggesting that every £1 invested in cycling yields at least £5 of benefits. These include improved health, less pollution, congestion and absenteeism, and roads, streets and communities that are safer and more attractive for everyone.

While it is unfortunate that the Chancellor does not personally seem to share our enthusiasm for cycling, we should not be too sullen. The £1.1 billion for local roads does offer opportunities for cycle campaigners. Where local authorities upgrade their roads, we must make sure that they simultaneously install facilities for cycling. Using road upgrades as a vehicle for ‘cycle proofing’ has proved over the years to be extremely cost and time effective.

The Chancellor’s pledge of £1.1bn to upgrade our local roads is a real opportunity for councils to tackle not just congestion, but also the health issues caused by dire air quality and physical inactivity. Local authorities must use these new local road funds to make Space for Cycling at the same time. This would be a cost efficient use of new money that will benefit all road users and the local community.”

Paul Tuohy, Cycling UK CEO

Similar opportunities arise through the £1.8billion being allocated to Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) via the Local Growth Fund. LEPs are formal partnerships between local authorities and businesses. Though most LEPs do not have particularly stunning track records regarding cycling, several are now starting to 'get it' and a little extra leg room in the budget could be no bad thing.

The other opportunity to have arisen through the Autumn Statement is the Government’s commitment to building 100,000 new homes in high demand areas and 40,000 new ‘affordable homes’. Building Space for Cycling into new developments can be an extremely effective way of installing high quality provision at minimal cost and disruption.  

The 2016 Autumn Statement has done nothing spectacular for cycling. It provides no reason for fanfare but also no insurmountable barriers. It is just disappointing that an Autumn Statement with such a heavy focus on transport and investment in local roads categorically ignored such a simple solution.

Hammond’s statement was very much an exercise in localism. There was no grand rolling out of cycle networks or an announcement of a thrilling new ‘Space for Cycling’ budget (if only!). Instead, money is being divvied out to local authorities and LEPs to spend as they like. With illegal levels of air pollution blighting the UK and with congestion, obesity and climate crises looming, it is the job of Cycling UK and local campaign groups to make sure Space for Cycling gets a look-in.

If you want to make sure your local authority and LEP invest properly in cycling, please join our Space for Cycling campaign. No one has a better chance of influencing your local authority than you!

We are currently doing a Space for Cycling roadshow – so please find an event near you and get stuck in! In the meantime, tell your Councillors to support Space for Cycling!