The National Cycle Network has saved the UK economy more than £7undefined billion (equivalent to £1m a day) since it was established 20 years ago, by improving people’s health and reducing congestion, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, according to new research from Sustrans.
Now the charity is calling on the government to press on with developing its promised Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy to ensure that even more people can choose to walk and cycle their everyday journeys.
Over £6 billion of those savings have come from reducing health costs, a result of people being healthier due to walking and cycling more of their journeys. Indeed in the past year the Network has saved the UK economy £162 million and has saved the NHS £22 million[ii] from reducing obesity and overweight alone.
Health budgets are under increasing pressure and physical inactivity already costs the UK economy around £20 billion every year[iii]. Enabling people to walk and bike for many more local and everyday journeys is one of the easiest ways to get the nation healthier and reduce spending on conditions linked with physical inactivity. For example, additional research from Sustrans has shown that if we doubled the number of local journeys already being made by foot, bike and public transport the economy would benefit from over £110 billion over the next 30 years from the impact on health alone[iv].
Malcolm Shepherd, Sustrans Chief Executive, said: “When we launched the National Cycle Network in 1995 we wanted to show both the huge potential and the enormous benefits of people being able to choose to make healthy journeys. The figures speak for themselves – we have demonstrated beyond doubt that many more people walking and cycling is good for our health, and it’s smarter for our economy.
“If a charity can lead the creation of a Network of routes that runs the length and breadth of the country, imagine what could be possible if government created safer conditions for walking and cycling, including reducing speeds.
“To make walking and cycling local journeys an option for everyone we need the new government to provide funding for cycling and walking to be equivalent of 5% of the transport budget, and a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy that contains a long-term vision and targets, in the same way that already exists for our roads and railways. This relatively small investment has the potential to have huge benefits for us all.”
Dr Penny Woods, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “Air pollution kills 29,000 people a year in the UK, and can lead to diseases like lung cancer, whilst worsening other lung conditions like COPD and asthma. Yet, even though cars are responsible for 70% of air pollution in urban areas, this is still how over two thirds of people choose to make journeys of between one and five miles. We therefore urgently need to look at ways in which we can support more people to make these shorter journeys by bike or on foot if they are able, and Sustrans are to be applauded for shining a light on the benefits this could have for our economy, our healthcare services, and the overall health of the nation."
This year marks 20 years since Sustrans gained funding from the Lottery to develop the National Cycle Network. The Network now stretches to all four corners of the UK and covers over 14,000 miles running along traffic-free and quiet on-road routes. New data shows that in 2014 the Network saw over 4.9 million people make 764 million trips by bike and on foot (v).
undefined Sustrans, (2015) Economic benefit of the impact of the National Cycle Network on obesity and overweight (internal)[ii] ibid [iii] All Party Commission on Physical Activity, (2014), Tackling Physical Inactivity – a Coordinated Approach, http://activitycommission.com// [iv] Sustrans, (2015) Economic benefit of achieving Sustrans Call to Action (internal) [v] Sustrans, (2015) 2014 NCN Annual Usage Estimate (internal)