Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Cycling 'vision' remains distant dream as government fail to improve funding

The £1.2bn government funding announced last week for their Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) is all smoke and mirrors.

This is the sum offered a year ago when it  was widely criticised as being too little.
Yet this time the cycling campaigners have hardly raised their voices, seemingly resigned to battling on as before, hoping that one day they might at last get  ministers to make up the deficit.
In the meantime, they are praising the government's "vision".

 The £1.2bn is to be spread over five years and includes £800m contributed by Local Authorities - who may or may not pay up because they’ve always blown and hot and cold over cycling.  

This leaves us with the £316m spread over five years which the Department for Transport is putting in. Peanuts. It works out at £65m per annum.

Roger Geffen, Policy Director at Cycling UK, knows the funding is totally inadequate and hints at such on his blog.

Here it is in a nutshell.

Under the title: “Reasons to be positive (despite the funding deficit!)” Geffen admits that many will expect Cycling UK to be “sharply critical” of the government’s £1.2bn funding.

Amazingly, he says they’re not!  And this is why:

He says this is the first time the Government has legally committed to “any kind of multi-year” investment in cycling and walking.

He also lays great store by the government’s “vision” for cycling and walking.

I think he’s just being brave. 

Meanwhile, in Cycling UK’s magazine emailed to members, everything about the Cycling and Walk Strategy is wonderful, there are no negatives, it’s all a brilliant “vision”. Only Geffen gives a hint of the truth. It begs the question, was he being leaned on not to spell out the truth, that the money will simply not deliver the “vision”.  

British Cycling, too, are majoring on the fact that the cycling strategy itself is a very good one. Which it is on paper.  But like Cycling UK, British Cycling plays down the funding deficit which remains exactly as it was when announced a year ago for the Consultation period. Then BC called it “Laughingly low”.

If you expected their policy advisor Chris Boardman to scream blue murder, like he did when Cameron said he wouldn’t provide cabinet backing for cycling, you will be disappointed.

He’s almost mute, as though struck dumb by the utter stupidity of the government not to back a policy which is good for the health of the nation.

You might just catch a sense of disappointment if you read between the lines of what Roger Geffen, Policy Director at Cycling UK, says on the Cycling UK missive emailed members: 

"Cycling UK has spent years campaigning for a strong and well-funded Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, so we’re pleased to see it finally published two years after it was initially announced.  A big ‘thank you’ is due to the DfT officials who have put a huge amount of effort into it.

“Now the hard work begins. With national as well as local elections now looming, Cycling UK will be doing all we can to build the cross-party support needed to strengthen this investment strategy over time, while supporting councils in making best use of the resources available, as they start bringing this vision to life.”

“Strengthen the investment…make best use of the resources available”!!!!

He was more forthright when I called him.

Geffen told me:    “The CWIS contains some really excellent ‘vision’ statements….it’s just a shame the Government’s funding allocations don’t remotely match the fine words.”

He also confirmed what has been known for a number of years, that funding for cycling is to get progressively lower, while funding for roads is to expand by many £billions.

And he reiterated what he told me last year:  “It’s pretty clear that at some stage Government funding for cycling and walking will drop below £1 (per head of population in England) – a tenth of what Goodwill and Cameron both publicly declared as the amount they wanted to make available for cycling alone. “

The desired figure is £10 per head. Anything less and the vision remains a dream.

 Here’s what Chris Boardman said on British Cycling’s website.

 “The first ever cycling and walking investment strategy for England should be a watershed moment for active travel in this country, giving the government a clear leadership role. Andrew Jones and Chris Grayling deserves praise for getting this published and I look forward to working with their Department to hit the targets that have been set,” said Boardman.

"It is not clear, however, how the target to double the number of journeys made by bike will be met with the funding levels set out in the strategy.

“We will be calling on the *chancellor to make the necessary funding, starting at 5% of transport spend, available to local government so that they can invest in truly ambitious plans to a develop world-class cycling infrastructure and networks to meet these targets.

"It is not solely about money, policy initiatives such as updating the Highway Code - as called for by our Turning the Corner campaign - will help to support local infrastructure plans by helping create better bike lanes and safer junctions. This can be started now.”

*Chris, a word in your ear about the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond. He was the guy who, in the newly elected Cameron led government, killed off Cycling England.

Many will surely be puzzled as to why Cycling  UK and British Cycling have rolled over and accepted what was unacceptable to them a year ago.

Then they had urged ministers to reallocate to cycling some of the £15bn  earmarked for the Government's Roads Investment Strategy.  

They wanted £10 per head minimum called, as called for by the APPCG. That means £450m annually for England outside London, or £2.25bn over the five-year period.

However, it should be even more, at least £3bn, and preferably nearer £4bn.

That is the sum needed if investment levels are to rise from an initial starting point of £10 per person for cycling, with enough funding to cover walking as well. Below that level of funding nothing much happens to stimulate cycling.

The government ignored the call. They failed to come up with the cash then and they have failed to do so now.

Funding remains at just over a £1 per head of population, instead of the £10 called for. This is well below what we’ve been told is required to emulate the admired Dutch cycling infrastructure.

I’ll leave you with the government policy statement – their “vision”.

“We want to make cycling and walking the natural choices for shorter journeys, or as part of a longer journey.

 “The Government wants walking and cycling to be a normal part of everyday life, and the natural choices for shorter journeys such as going to school, college or work, travelling to the station, and for simple enjoyment. As part of our aim to build a society that works for all, we want more people to have access to safe, attractive routes for cycling and walking by 2040.”

The good thing here is that cycling strategy is now officially part of DfT policy, writ large in the annals of transport planning, whereas before it was not.

These are, I believe, important levers put in place before the upcoming election.
Cycling UK and British Cycling pay praise where it is due, thanking

the cycling team in the DfT who worked their magic on the politicians. 
But the spell they cast didn’t extend to squeezing any more money out of them.
The huge deficit which remains for the Cycling and Walking Strategy means it will struggle to get off the drawing board.