The party is over, now it is time for funding

Transport Minister Robert Goodwill MP and Shadow Transport Minister Richard Burden MP at Birmingham's Space for Cycling ride. Photo: David Weight

The party is over, now it is time for funding

With party conference season over for another year, CTC Campaigner Robbie Gillett takes a look at the main political parties’ positions on funding for cycling.

Former Health Minister and Labour MP for Exeter Ben Bradshaw urged his party’s front bench at their Manchester conference two weeks ago: "Don't let us be outbid on cycling by the Greens and Lib Dems." 

Bradshaw, a long-term cycling advocate who has served as the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, is right to be concerned. The Liberal Democrats became the first party to endorse the recommendations of the Get Britain Cycling report in September last year, including specific funding commitments. The Greens, on home territory when it comes to sustainable transport, are also backing the plans. The question with both of them is whether they'd be able to deliver on their promises.

Meanwhile the current Government, with Robert Goodwill MP as Transport Minister, has the opportunity to put words into actions. Yet after a burst of activity last year, including the announcement of £94 million of funding for eight UK cities under Goodwill's ministerial predecessor Norman Baker MP, the Government has dragged its feet and the Cycling and Walking Delivery Plan is still not published. The plan is supposed to outline how David Cameron’s ‘cycling revolution’ will be delivered.

Labour have made some strong policy progress with an eight point plan for cycling, including a requirement for councils to 'cycle-proof' highway and traffic schemes to a high and enforceable design standard, and a review of the road justice system. 

Crucially though, both the two main parties have yet to commit to long-term funding for cycling in their election manifestos next year.

In the last few weeks, CTC and its partners Sustrans, the Bicycle Association and British Cycling emphasised this point at breakfast events at both the Labour and Conservative Party conferences. Speaking at the event, Chris Boardman said: “We need actual numbers, time scales, targets. That’s what will send the message to give local government the confidence to commit and start to build things that they can maintain in two or three years’ time.”

In order to match German levels of cycling by 2025 and Dutch levels by 2050, the Get Britain Cycling report recommended spending levels of £10 per person per year, rising to £20 as cycling use increases.  For Britain, excluding London, this would amount to around £550 million per year."

Robbie Gillett
CTC Space for Cycling Campaigner

           
In his conference speech in Birmingham, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin MP stated that the Government had “doubled spending on cycling”.  A doubling of funding from a relatively low starting point may not be that much to shout about, however, given the relatively small amounts of cash dedicated to cycling compared to the £24 billion allocated for the roads budget. “Twice zero is still zero,” commented one Twitter user.

In order to match German levels of cycling by 2025 and Dutch levels by 2050, the Get Britain Cycling report recommended spending levels of £10 per person per year, rising to £20 as cycling use increases.  For Britain, excluding London, this would amount to around £550 million per year.

London has secured these cycling funds, with £913 million allocated by the Mayor for the next 10 years. For the rest of the country, current average spend is just £2 per person.

At a local level, over 500 councillors (outside of London) are now backing CTC and Cyclenation's Space for Cycling campaign - calling for cycle-friendly design standards and the funding needed to match this. 

Of these 500 councillors, nearly half are Labour, a fifth are Lib Dem and another fifth are Tory. However, the high support amongst Labour councillors may partly reflect the fact that Labour has the greatest number of councillors in Highway Authorities, particularly in city areas where the campaign has been most active. Newcastle, for example, has seen 67% of its councillors back the call.

In Wales, Labour’s role in legislating the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 should be acknowledged, and could set a useful precedent for local government elsewhere in the UK. The Act mandates local councils to map their existing walking and cycling provision and their ideal networks for the future – and to draw up plans to deliver the latter. This preparation work can help to avoid some of the rushed implementation of low quality schemes, when councils are forced to submit quick bids for central government cash.

Addressing a mass cycle ride around this year's Conservative Party conference, Robert Goodwill MP said: “It’s good to see [Shadow Transport Minister] Richard Burden here, because we spend our time trying to find things that we disagree about and, although there are a number of those, cycling isn’t one of them.”

Let’s hope this apparent cross-party support can make its way both into the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement and the manifestos of all the main parties in next May’s General Election. That way, local authorities will have the continuity and stability of funding they need to plan effectively for cycling in the future.

TAKE ACTION BY FRIDAY 17 OCTOBER: Write to the Treasury asking that the funding for cycling be included in the Autumn Statement.

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