Chancellor wants infra projects - here's one with off-the-scale BCRs

Carlton Reid
Chancellor wants infra projects - here's one with off-the-scale BCRs

Chancellor Philip Hammond is planning to invest up to £15bn into Britain's creaking transport network in an attempt to "future-proof" the economy from the turbulence of Brexit, reports Sky News.

The Chancellor will back dozens of small-scale infrastructure projects across the UK, and is said to be seeking shovel-ready projects.

Hammond used to be the Transsport Secretary so he should know that Department for Transport officials released a report in 2014 showing that cycling projects have off-the-scale benefit to cost ratios.

The statistical report from the Department for Transport showed that investing in cycling brings huge economic, social and health benefits, with some cycling schemes having a benefit-to-cost ratio (BCR) of up to 35 to 1. The newly-funded cycling schemes have BCRs of 5.5:1 – the Department for Transport said this means that "for every £1 of public money spent, the funded schemes provide £5.50 worth of social benefit."

The DfT's "Value for Money" guidance says a project will generally be regarded as "medium" if the BCR is between 1.5 and 2; and "high" if it is above 2. In transport terms, 35 to 1 is most definitely "off the scale".

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To put this into perspective, the Eddington transport study of 2006 said the BCR for trunk roads was 4.66, local roads 4.23 and light rail schemes a measly 2.14. The UK's £43bn HS2 rail project has a BCR of just 2.3.

The Eddington report recommended that the government should prioritise spending on transport schemes that generated high BCRs – it's likely that after today cycling organisations and advocates will be rubbing ministerial noses into the cycle-specific BCRs at every opportunity.

Ministers often state that road and rail projects offer "high" benefit to cost ratios. However, the Treasury states that transport spending has to be prioritised not on projects with "high" BSRs, but with the "highest." According to the rules, announced in 2007, transport spending had to be "focused on the projects with the highest returns." From today's two reports it's clear that cycling offers the highest BSRs.

The DfT's newest findings are based on evaluations of the schemes funded by the government's £94m Cycle City Ambition Grants. These grants were started in August last year and were awarded to cities for capital expenditure on cycling and walking infrastructure. (Money was also granted to National Parks.)

Eight cities were awarded a total of £77m and four National Parks received £17m of funding.

The cycling schemes in Cambridge and Oxford had the highest BCRs, with 35.5 and 16.5 respectively.

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