£140m for cycling? It’s a drop in the ocean

Yesterday’s news that Cycling England is to be given a massive funding hike is welcome. But per capita, England is still spending just minuscule amounts on such an environmentally-friendly, fat-busting form of transport.

The so-called ‘cash windfall’ will not materialise overnight. Cycling England currently gets £10m a year from the Department for Transport. Next this is doubled but the bigger cash handouts don’t come until years two and three, when Cycling England will get £60m a year.

The £140m is for trail-blazing projects, such as Bikeability and the roll out of more Cycling Demonstration Towns. Local Authorities have their own budgets for cycle provision.

£140m is small change lost down the back of the sofa when you consider Britain has road building plans costing an estimated £13bn.

The widening of the M6 motorway along a 51-mile stretch between Birmingham and Manchester is going over-budget all of the time. It’s currently budgeted at a shade under £3bn. With inflation, it’s expected to cost £1000 an inch. An inch, a ruddy inch.

If the Government scrapped that bit of tarmacisation and instead put the cash into cycling and public transit the health, social and transport benefits to the country would be immense. Not going to happen, though, although it’s good to aim high.

John Grimshaw, founder of Sustrans and soon to be the ex-CEO, once told of a road building conversation he had with one-time Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey:

“Healey said a billion here, a billion there…Soon you are talking about quite serious money. All ministers are preoccupied with huge projects. Yet cycling breaks this rule. By spending pathetically small amounts of money, huge improvements can be made in cycling provision. The cost of a small by-pass would quadruple the national cycle network. The cost of one mile of motorway would increase it ten times. The benefits are enormous.”

Perhaps one of the best bits of yesterday’s funding annoucement was that not all of the cash was coming from the Department for Transport. A contribution is also coming from the Department of Health in recognition of cycling’s role in helping build the recommended levels of activity into people’s daily lives. This is a small but attractive example of joined-up Government. More, please.