The dust has settled on the grand unveiling of the government's strategy for cycling in England. We examine what it means for the future of cycling in the nation...
The Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy – CWIS for short – was published over the long Easter Bank Holiday weekend. Detailing England’s cycle ambitions up until 2040 it is a document that naturally should be of vital importance to the cycle industry.
So how does it stack up?
The self-stated aim for England is, according to CWIS: “to make cycling and walking the natural choice for shorter journeys, or as part of a longer journey.”
There’s plenty of ambition and plenty of fine words, including: “We cannot afford not to grasp the opportunities available.” And: “Realising our ambition will take sustained investment in cycling and walking infrastructure”.
But these are more than mere encouraging soundbites, as the Bicycle Assocation’s executive director Phillip Darnton points out to BikeBiz: “For the first time ever, cycling and walking have the same status as Roads and Rail in terms of a formal government strategy.”
Placing cycling on the governmental agenda officially is no small deal. CWIS will see the formation of a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy Expert Committee that will meet once every two months to review strategy, create partnerships with local bodies and national businesses and also to help develop a second CWIS strategy.
Muddy financial waters
The financial backing for the CWIS ambitions is the major worry for cycle advocates. So what money is there for cycling? Helpfully the document attempts to pin this down but also inadvertently highlights the disjointed nature of cash for cycling.
The cash comes from five sources; firstly there’s the Department for Transport (DfT) and its £316m (including funding for Bikeability and Cycle Ambition Cities, as well as Highways England and Access Fund).
Things get altogether less straightforward with the remaining four sources – DfT local transport programmes, other central schemes supporting cycling, local body programmes and initiatives from the third sector and business. For instance, the DfT’s highways maintenance block has £3.8billion allocated between 2016 and 2021 but this funding is not ringfenced and “local highway authorities spend it according to their priorities”, in the words of CWIS. Likewise, local and city programmes is by definition a mixed bag for the nation, with London getting a whopping £913million (2012 to 2022, subject to review) and Manchester also cited as a beneficiary (£42m through the Cycle City Ambition Grant).
So in terms of finances, there’s the £316m dedicated to cycling, plus a largely unspecified share of various pots of money, apparently dependent on the inclinations of local governments (compare London with, say, Birmingham). It’s this that has worried pundits, who had hoped CWIS might define new funds for cycling – the circa £300m had actually been previously announced. Responding to the CWIS publication last month, Chris Boardman, on behalf of British Cycling, said: “The government’s own figures show that investment is barely at £5 per head. Cycling’s ability to tackle serious societal issues such as obesity cannot be achieved on the cheap. This consultation exposes the Prime Minister as reneging on the ‘cycling revolution’ he promised us three years ago.”
The CTC’s Roger Geffen put it even more succinctly: “If ministers are serious about their stated aims, they need to reallocate some of their £15 billion motorway and trunk road budget towards cycling and walking.”
Another area of disappointment was that CWIS stopped far short of bringing in a straightforward ‘Active Travel Bill’ for England, that Wales managed back in 2013 and now Northern Ireland is considering introducing. The Active Travel Bill makes it a legal requirement for local authorities to plan and deliver routes that link up hospitals, schools and shopping areas with traffic-free routes and cycle lanes. But not for England.
While ultimately the lack of financial investment for the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy has been a bitter disappointment for those battling for cycling, there are a number of positives to come out of the strategy, not least that it – on paper – places a commitment and a target for the government on cycling, rather than a spoken PR-friendly soundbite designed to win column inches. The industry should keep one eye on the continuing story of CWIS – after all, if the government manages to achieve its aims stated in the document, the cycle market will have doubled in size.
The Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy public consultation ends Monday May 23rd 2016.
“A MILESTONE FOR CYCLING”
Phillip Darnton, executive director of the Bicycle Association, gave BikeBiz his reaction to the strategy:
“It isn’t exactly an exciting title, but the ‘Infrastructure Act 2015’ is a very significant piece of legislation for the long term future of everyday cycling in England. It requires the government – and all future administrations – to commit to three things to sustain and strengthen cycling.
“First, to produce, and regularly update, a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS); then to set out funding to achieve that strategy, and thirdly to report progress to Parliament regularly.
“For the first time ever, cycling and walking have the same status as Roads and Rail in terms of a formal government strategy. This really is a milestone in the recognition of the role of cycling in an overall long-term transport plan for the nation.
“The publication of this first CWIS is really something to be welcomed wholeheartedly. The draft sets a target of doubling existing levels of cycling across England, and indicates various possible sources of funding to do this. It also sets up a management structure to help ensure that what is planned does happen; and it should involve a wide range of people and organisations who care about the future of cycling.
“So far, so very good. Everyone who believes in what cycling can do for our society – from reducing congestion to helping tackle obesity, from its environmental benefits to helping make more attractive streets, towns and cities – should acknowledge this major new initiative.
“Of course, there are a lot of things still to work for – there are still many questions about the ‘how’ it will happen, and ‘where’ precisely will it all be funded. And it probably still needs a big political champion to make it all happen. But, make no mistake, CWIS ( despite its terrible acronym!) should be a real ‘game changer’ for the future of cycling.”
This article was first published in the May edition of BikeBiz, which you can read online or download as a PDF for free here on BikeBiz.com.