Cycling England - the government appointed body which aims to get "more people cycling, more safely, more often" - will announce the winning towns at the Cycle Show in London, 13th October.
The Department of Transport will provide £500 000 per town per year for at least three years to help make the towns into beacons of cycling excellance. Each town has to find match-funding from other sources, in most cases council grants.
Most of the towns are already cycle-friendly but being cherry-picked by Cycling England will help them boost cycle-use levels even further. It's expected much of the cycle town investment would be spent on personnel and publicity, such as maps and marketing of cycling training schemes, rather than infrastructure. However, some cash would be spent on introducing speed-reduction measures to bring car speeds down.
Cycling England committee members will be taken on tours of the nine towns during the rest of September. The committee members include John Grimshaw of Sustrans, Lyn Sloman of Transport 2000, Tony Russell of CTC, and Cycling England boss Phillip Darnton, president of the Bicycle Association.
Darnton told BikeBiz.com he had been impressed by the "very high quality" of the thirty original applications.
"All thirty towns showed a degree of professionalism and preparedness that bodes well for the future of cycling in the UK. In August, they had to fill in detailed questionnaires and, at very short notice, get promises of match-funding. The applications had to have the support of senior council executives right through to cabinet level. That there were thirty such applications shows there's more support for cycling from councils around the UK than people thought."
While only five towns will be chosen, Darnton wants all thirty on the longlist to form a semi-formal group of pro-cycling town councils.
"I have a meeting soon with Derek Twigg [the transport minister with responsibility for cycling] and will impress on him the high level of commitment we've had from thirty councils. I'll ask him for more cash so we can extend the cycle town scheme."
Darnton doesn't believe he'll be successful but out of a budget of billions he believes it makes a lot of sense for more to be spent on cycling by the Department for Transport.
Prior to the last election, no promises of extra cash for cycling were made by the government because it felt it had to be seen to be pumping billions into the UK's railway system. However, cycling is now pressing many more buttons for the government and it has not gone unnoticed that cycle use in London is growing week by week. This is thanks to the congestion charge, public transport terrorism fears and cycle-friendly infrastructure improvements.