Metro mayor makes record cycling investment commitment in West Midlands
Ask someone to picture the West Midlands and few people conjure images of tree lined boulevards and Dutch style cycle ways. Instead, images of gridlock on the Spaghetti Junction may spring to mind.
At times the West Midlands gets an unduly tough time in the press for its approach to highways planning. But tongue-in-cheek aside, like any region, certain challenges exist that need addressing.
High on the list of challenges are the issues of congestion and pollution. Earlier this year, the West Midlands was ranked the third most congested place in the UK. Air pollution in the region contributes to roughly 1500 early deaths per year. The region also has one of the country’s worst rates of adult physical inactivity.
All this, we hope, looks set to change. Earlier this week, the new Conservative metro mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street, published a groundbreaking in its ambition transport program for the region. A glance at the foreword demonstrates the intent of the strategy: beyond HS2, cycling is the only form of transport that gets an explicit mention.
The truly landmark announcement of the document is the commitment to seek funding for cycling equating to £10 per head to build a network of strategic “high quality” cycle routes across the region - a massive leap from the current estimated £0.20 annual spend per head.
The announcement is all the more astounding when compared to the draft strategy, which went out for consultation prior to Mr Street’s election. At that time, the strategy did not have a chapter on cycling – let alone a funding commitment.
Recognising the disparity between the draft strategy and Mr Street’s manifesto, Cycling UK joined with the Bike West Midlands Network and called on our supporters to respond to the consultation asking for the strategy to:
- Commit to finding funding for cycling worth £10 per head annually
- Include a dedicated chapter for cycling
- Commit to build-in cycling where any new transport schemes, developments or road maintenance projects are planned
That all of our points have been addressed is a relief but certainly no surprise. Throughout the mayoral elections, and since winning, Mr Street has made a point of championing cycling.
Prior to the elections, Cycling UK joined with the Bike West Midlands Network and asked candidates to sign up to a set of asks.
Our first ask was to support the West Midlands Cycling Charter, which aims to have 5% of all trips in the West Midlands made by cycle by 2023 and to deliver a high quality and coherent cycle network across the West Midlands.
Our second ask was that the mayor actively seek the funding necessary to implement the charter. The suggested budget was £10 per person annually, rising over time to £20, based upon recommendations made by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group's "Get Britain Cycling" report.
The Bike West Midlands Network is delighted to see that promises made in the election campaign are fully reflected in the mayor’s transport strategy. Achieving Space for Cycling on a regional scale is the prize and this ambitious plan is a big step in the right direction.
David Cox OBE, Chair, Bike West Midlands Network
Before we had even put the questions to the candidates, Mr Street shot out of the starting box, announcing his intention to increase funding for cycling to £10 per head annually.
It did not take long for Mr Street to sign up to our campaign, adding enthusiastically, “We need to supercharge cycling in the West Midlands.”
This transport strategy was the first test of his resolve and he has certainly risen to the challenge, and welcomed by the local campaign group, as David Cox OBE, Chair, Bike West Midlands Network said, "The Bike West Midlands Network is delighted to see that promises made in the election campaign are fully reflected in the mayor’s transport strategy. Achieving Space for Cycling on a regional scale is the prize and this ambitious plan is a big step in the right direction."
This story is particularly heartening as it clearly demonstrates the value of campaigners and local political leaders working together. Through the process of devising this strategy, Cycling UK, local campaign groups and our members and supporters engaged with decision makers – and those in charge listened and acted.
When announcing the strategy, Cllr Roger Lawrence, the deputy mayor for transport in the West Midlands said, “I am particularly pleased at how the views of the public helped shape this final plan, that sort of input is key in helping us deliver what people need.”
Cllr Lawrence added, “Now that this blueprint has been approved we can get to work in putting it into action.” And therein lies the next challenge. The funding must be found and the cycleways constructed.
There is no date set by which Mr Street must find the funding but the strategy is to be reviewed every year. Cycling UK and our local partners will continue to monitor developments closely. If no progress has been made by the next version of the strategy, there will be more than disappointment. But on current form, we see little reason to believe this will happen.
In our view, Mr Street has thrown down the gauntlet for city leaders around the country. We hope to see others follow suit.
To help your own local politicians create Space for Cycling, why not see if you can work with them to pass this draft motion.