Analysis: The pros and cons of today’s big cycling investment announcement

What's in the fine detail of the government's investment plans?

Any funding for cycling is arguably a good thing. As Chris Boardman pointed out today after Nick Clegg’s announcement of £214m cycle funding, for every £1 spent on cycling there is a £5 return. However, as in life, all funding is not made equal. So, how does today’s funding announcement weigh up?

Good: The money, and the Deputy Prime Minister’s personal touch

Nick Clegg came with cycling minister Robert Goodwill to Bristol today to personally announce £114m cycle funding for Bristol, Birmingham, Cambridge, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich and Oxford. These are the same eight cities that received government cycle funding in 2013.

Roger Geffen of the CTC feels that it’s a good sign that Clegg came personally. He says, “it shows the government are receptive to pressure, even if they are moving very slowly.”

Bad: The details are still up in the air

Mike Davies, team leader for cycling projects at Cambridgeshire County Council, said he knew nothing about the funding until Clegg announced it, and it seems even the Department for Transport (DfT) hasn’t ironed out the details yet. “The issue we have got now is that we don’t know how much we are getting, or whether we have got to bid. When we asked the DfT, they said they didn’t know.”

He said that the eight cities sat down to discuss ways the money might be spent after the announcement. “I don’t think Cambridge and Bristol will have a problem at all [spending the money],” Davies said, as Cambridge has projects in the pipeline it can bring forward. He added other cities may not find it so easy to spend the money, if they are newer to cycling, or lack political will.

Good: For the chosen cities

The announcement, which raises spending on cycling to £6 per person per year in those eight cities, will help showcase great cycling infrastructure, and arguably make it easier to demonstrate the benefits of focussed investment. On the other hand, it will inevitably frustrate people who want to cycle outside those cities.

Oxford will benefit — but what about other UK cities?

Oxford will benefit — but what about other UK cities?

Bad: Is short-term funding the answer?

As CTC’s Roger Geffen said: “What we have got today… is another short term spurt of cash.” The Government has committed to spending £114m on the eight chosen cities over the next three years, but that presents challenges in itself. It means the clock is ticking for authorities to spend the money they’ve been allocated quickly — and any significant long-term planning is impossible without long-term commitments to funding.

Good: Money to improve main roads

The £100m investment on the UK’s busiest roads over the next five years is welcome, because often these roads are real barriers to cycling. However, as Chris Boardman pointed out this is a “tiny fraction” of the government’s £13bn roads fund.

Could do better: Commitment to targets

Nick Clegg’s renewed commitment to a cycling revolution, and to double cycling by 2020 is significant. But as Boardman says, the commitment to double cycling from 2 per cent to 4 four per cent over ten years “doesn’t feel like a revolution to me, or a significant commitment”. He says: “I think we can do better” — but at least this is a start.

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