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£7m new active travel cash

The Scottish Government has announced £7m completely new money for cycling and walking infrastructure, to be spent this financial year 2014/15…
[August update – how £4.5m of the cash will be used –  Sustrans press release   table of projects]

The welcome spending boost is part of a package of transport and non-transport measures in recognition of a rise in climate change emissions and the third year in which Scotland’s statutory climate change emissions targets have been missed[See end of this post for climate data, non-transport measures and reactions]

In addition to the 14/15 £7m active travel infrastructure cash, £5m will be included in the 15/16 budget for SCSP ‘Smarter Choices’ measures to encourage people to travel by more sustainable means – ranging from cycling to car-sharing and electric vehicles.  In the past it was reckoned that about 1/3 of SCSP money could be considered ‘walk,’ 1/3 ‘cycle’ and 1/3 ‘other.’

The complete transport package totals £15m over the two years 14/15 and 15/16.  Here is a summary by Sustrans.

Cycling Implications

Since government cycling investment comes from a variety of sources/budgets, and is spent in a variety of ways, complete clarity is very difficult.  However our latest estimates [Spokes Bulletin 119, page 7] are summarised below, along with the effect of today’s announcement.

Scottish Cycling Investment – Spokes estimates of amount and as % of transport budget

13-14

14-15

15-16

Before announcement

20.4m 1.0%

32.1m 1.6%

25.3m 1.2%

After announcement

20.4m 1.0%

39.1m 1.9%

27.0m 1.3%

As a result of this and previous announcements cycling investment in 14/15 will rise to the equivalent of nearly 2% of the total transport budget.   Still far less than many European countries, or Edinburgh Council’s exemplary 7%, or the 5%-10% which might just have achieved the government’s own ambitions for 2020 cycle use – but nonetheless double what we have previously seen from the Scottish Government.

The picture for 15/16, however, is still very unclear.  Our estimate, based on projections and on the little that is already known, suggest a big fall back, down to little above the level of earlier years.   The new 14/15 £7m, for example, is not part of a regular cycling budget but is savings from the Forth Bridge contingency fund – a source which is unlikely to be available in future years.

The Transport Minister, Keith Brown MSP, is to be complimented on finding extra cycling cash here and there – from the Forth Bridge and, in earlier announcements, from his Environment and Education colleagues and from the obscure and intermittent ‘Barnet Consequentials’ – but these are no substitute for a proper dedicated cycling budget which allows proper advance planning by Councils and others who implement the cycle projects.

What you can do

The government is now starting to think of its autumn budget for 2015/16 and beyond.  Please email your MSPs.  Thank them for this year’s big funding boost, but point out that we need the rising trend to continue in next year’s budget – and  it must be a proper cycle/ active travel budget which will allow advance planning rather than a scrabbling together of leftovers as the year proceeds.  Find your MSPs at www.writetothem.com.

How the new money will be used

Spending £7m on cycling/walking infrastructure in the current financial year is not as easy as it may sound!  Substantial cycling projects generally require steps such as Traffic Regulation Orders, public consultation on principles and on details, land purchase, tendering and so on.  There is no way such projects can be achieved in less than a year – showing again the need for clear advance cycle spending commitments in the main government budget, as is the case for almost every other area of public spending.

Hence the government announcement indicates that the funding will be allocated largely through the Sustrans Community Links scheme under which councils and others (such as Scottish Canals) bid to Sustrans for 50/50 project funding.   In the recent round of Community Links allocations, the available cash was well oversubscribed, so Sustrans still has a list of projects which councils had put forward but which remained unfunded.   Many of these should now get cash – provided councils can still find their 50% match-funding and have not reallocated it to other non-cycling schemes.

Sustrans, who are now used to getting dollops of short-term cash, is now also adept at coming up with ‘kiss-me-quick’ schemes such as grants to employers or schools for cycle parking, or similar ideas, so we may well see more of these opportunities.

In fact, if you have an idea for spending money quickly on cycling infrastructure, why not give Sustrans an email!  Not to suggest a particular scheme, as applications must come from councils and similar bodies, but to suggest a process by which Sustrans can quickly allocate funding to useful infrastructure schemes, for example by seeking bids from employers, schools, community organisations, etc.

The Contradiction

Whilst cycle funding is creeping up, and the government keeps publicising the benefits of cycling, we can’t omit the contrast with spending on roads.   The government has a well-publicised aim that 10% of all trips should be by bike in 2020It has no public target to raise car use, and indeed its green publicity asks you to reduce car use.

Yet cycling investment, even with the 14/15 rise, pales into insignificance compared to the £3,000 million promised to dual the A96, or the £3000 million for the A9 – promised even before the effect of average speed cameras has been assessed.  No one put it better than Transform Scotland in their new campaign #FixItFirst to get existing roads and paths decently maintained before starting to expand road capacity yet further.

Climate change figures & action package – statements and reactions

*New Cabinet Climate Change subcommittee – “to ensure coordination of our strategic response at the highest level within Government” [Paul Wheelhouse].   It is easy to be cynical about another Committee.  However the Committee should make it more difficult for individual departments to go slow on climate action, as Ministers in the Committee will be answerable to their own colleagues from other departments, so making it more likely that each department will have to take the issue seriously.

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