Another 'record announcement'

Today the government has announced a 'record amount' of cycling funding. There are, confusingly, two different headline figure, of  £94 million and £148 million, to be spent between now and 2015. 

It is now clear that this larger figure of £148 million includes contributions from local government (amounting to £54 million) and £42 million of investment that has already been announced, back in January 2013. Of the £94 million pounds of genuine central government spending being announced today, only £52 million is new funding.

Even if we take the figure of £94 million at face value as genuine new money, it amounts to barely £1 per person per year in England, up to 2015. This is well short of the £10 per head of population recommended by the Get Britain Cycling Report, and desperately far behind countries like the Netherlands, which spends €37 (£32) per person on bicycle infrastructure alone, with an equivalent amount spent on bicycle parking and non-infrastructure measures.1

In other words, Dutch annual spending on cycling is, conservatively, at least thirty times what has been announced today, and is continuous, not just a one-off disbursement. We need to start catching up, and yet we are falling further and further behind.

To give some context to the paucity of today's announcement, the government has only just presented £28 billion in funding for the strategic road network, and even released £500m in funding for electric vehicles, the take-up of which remains dire.

It should also be noted that the funding being announced today barely exceeds the tiny budget of Cycling England - a body abolished by this government. In effect, we are scrabbling to get back to where we were before 2010.

The small amount of money being presented today is unlikely to be spent all that wisely, given that our current guidance for cycling infrastructure is not up to scratch, and we have no expert oversight - lost when Cycling England was cut.

In addition, we desperately need continuity and security of funding, so that government and local authorities feel secure enough to hire, train and retain the experts that are needed to get it right, and so that they can plan their cycling networks and the delivery of those networks properly, instead of scrambling to throw things together when the funding tap is switched on, and losing everything every time it is switched off. This kind of thin funding is likely to disappear down the plughole.

Given the widely acknowledged long-term savings from investment in cycling infrastructure - in terms of improved public health and well-being, reduced congestion and road maintenance -  it is high time the governmnent started putting serious money into cycling as a mode of transport, rather than reannouncing crumbs from the table.