Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy carries much hope but little action

By Jason Torrance,
People walking and cycling through a park

The future of local communities and the health of our children hang in the balance

Today marks the end of the Government’s consultation on the draft Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy. When the obligation to produce a strategy was first put into law in February 2015 we called it “an historic opportunity to guarantee the long term funding that will extend travel choice, help ease congestion and improve our health and our environment”.

Sadly, the reality of the draft strategy falls well short of what is needed to realise the Government’s ambition of making cycling and walking the natural choice for shorter journeys, or as part of a longer journey.

There is no shortage of money. Transport infrastructure in England is experiencing something of a cash bonanza with the Chancellor announcing large investments for new roads, railways, and runways as part of a 2015 Spending Review that drove us back to the 1970’s.

The Roads Investment Strategy, a sibling to its Cycling and Walking relative, has a £15 billion budget compared to the identified investment for cycling and walking of just £316 million.

The gap between investment in enabling everyday and local journeys to be made by foot and bike and large, national infrastructure projects promoting car use in particular grows wider by the day. As a result local problems of ill health, air pollution, road traffic collisions and congestion continue to worsen.

From our work we know that cycling and walking can make a huge difference to people’s everyday lives and to the economic vitality of communities. This potential, well understood by government, will not be realised by a draft strategy with pitifully low levels of investment from central Government, with high expectations of investment from Local Authorities needed to plug the gap.

Under current plans Government will spend just £1.35 a year per person on boosting cycling - well short of its own recent pledge of £10.

Our calculations show that over the next 10 years an investment of £17.35 per person per year will transform cycling and meet the target of doubling cycling levels. This equates to spending just 10% of the Government’s transport budget for this financial year and for each year until 2025.

That equates to £8.2 billion, and may sound like a lot, but meeting the target would create an economic benefit of £61 billion - a cost/benefit ratio of nearly eight to one and a windfall to our health, environment, communities and quality of life.

Investment in cycling enjoys great public support. In the biggest survey ever conducted on public attitudes to cycling in the UK, carried out by ICM for Sustrans, three quarters (75%) of people want national governments to invest more in making cycling safer, with £26 per person per year the average amount people want governments to be investing.

MPs echo this sentiment and have today sent a letter to Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, calling for a strong, ambitious and successful Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy.

There are many questions that need to be answered about the strategy. Broadly it provides a huge opportunity to build on the Government’s welcome commitment to increase levels of cycling and walking in England.

However as currently envisaged it:

  • widens the gap between large scale, long-term investment in road/rail and small scale, short term investment in cycling/walking
  • fails to provide a coherent plan for how the Government’s ambition and target will be met and funded and how local bodies will be supported to play their part
  • fails to show what impact the activity and investment set out in the strategy is planned to have and identify ways that any successes can be built on and shortcomings plugged.

But the biggest question hanging over the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy is what kind of places do we want to live in and create for our children?

The future of local communities and the health of our children hang in the balance as Government consider changes to a draft strategy that carries much hope and little action.