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This week is an important one for cycling. On Wednesday Sustrans officially launch the 5000 mile National Cycle Network. This wouldnt have got off the ground without the promise of £42.5m seed capital from the Millennium Commission. BicycleBusiness talks bikes with Bill Alexander, the Millennium Commissions second in command (who is going to be taking part in one of the launch cycle rides)

Millennium commissioner saddles up

This is a busy time for Millenniumn Commissioners, lottery-funded projects are opening thick and fast right now.

BikeBiz collared Bill Alexander, the Millennium Commissions deputy director of projects, at the opening of the MeadowVale Maze at Muncaster Castle in Western Cumbria.

He revealed that his family has four bikes and they get used, although the perception of road danger keeps them in the garage more often than not. The idea of urban-to-rural cycle routes is an appealing one for a closet cycling family, he said, and the cash grant to Sustrans was one of the first to be awarded. John Grimshaws dream was clearly a good cause with national scope and demonstrable environmental enhancement.

After the lottery started in 1995, and it proved an instant money spinner, the Millennium Commission were allowed to allocate £2billion to worthy projects, of which £1.3 billion was for capital projects. One third of cash had to be spent on environmental schemes.

£700 million has been allocated so far but no bids have been allowed since November 1998 and the budget is now capped. There were 4000 grant applications but only 200 were accepted.

The £42.5m Sustrans received from the Millennium Commission (or, more accurately, is receiving because the cash is handed over in quarterly lump sums but only if pre-agreed construction targets are reached) is the only lottery cash Sustrans can ever receive.

Once the Millennium Commission has emptied its coffers, it will cease to exist.

Sustrans and their National Cycle Network won through as one of the first awards because it had clear user benefits.

Things that effect the individual was an important criteria, Alexander told BikeBiz.

The NCN is the Commissions biggest supported project after the Millenniun Dome.

In terms of linear features it it the longest and most continous of our projects, said Alexander.

However, its not the only cycle project to benefit from lottery cash. Other recipients include the Kingdom of Fife cycle tourism project and the Transpennine trail.

When Sustrans applied for their grant which was met in full like the other successful projects (except, it could be argued, the Dome) it had to demonstrate community support. In Sustrans case this was match funding from local authorities and other bodies, as well as a committment from the bicycle industry.

This committment is now wavering, with some trade figures preferring some of the levy cash if it is retained being allocated to a broad spectrum PR and marketing campaign.

Unfortunately, for people like Bill Alexander and other hesitant cyclists no amount of positive PR will get them on their bikes. Only safe routes can do that.

Later this week Alexander is cycling in Exeter as his contribution to the Cyclethon nationwide mass ride but at his home in Farnborough hell only ride on traffic-free routes of the sort championed by Sustrans.


Bill Alexander at Muncaster Castle on Friday.

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