May 2020

Emergency CovidStreets cash, Scotland v England

Stop Press 26 May: Scot Gov trebles the £10m ‘covidstreets’ fund to £30m – as we predicted below (end of The Cash para) – and for the reasons we gave!

Both governments have allocated cash for councils to install pop-up low-cost measures – cycle lanes, road closures, wider footways etc. The aims are to help people spatially distance – and to maintain healthy streets with car use and pollution well below the previous levels, which cost 20,000 UK premature deaths in NO2 pollution alone.

Scotland has allocated just £10m and England a comparatively whopping £250m – but this ‘headline’ disparity masks the true picture, which if anything puts Scotland ahead.

The Top Line

Before turning to the cash, we must highlight that both governments have taken steps which are pretty revolutionary in UK terms but are critical to giving the cash a chance of working…

  • The cash is for rapid schemes – not the painfully long and repeated consultations with which we are so familiar. Indeed we are already seeing early schemes on the ground in Edinburgh, and proving very popular
  • Councils are strongly urged to act, and in England required to do so
  • Councils have been given legal guidance which gives them confidence to use Traffic Regulation Orders expeditiously [England, Scotland]
  • Some other aspects are covered below, but the above are the critical ones
The Cash

In both England and Scotland it is not new money. It is from cash which had already been announced for active travel [England, Scotland] – but is now repurposed to be used for emergency ‘temporary’ measures rather than for long-term ‘permanent’ projects. This makes great sense in the current emergency – and there is every chance that many or most of these schemes will be made permanent at a later date if they prove successful.

To their credit, both governments have been open over the fact that it is not new money, mentioning this in their news releases.

The cash calculations are as follows…

[rounded figures]ScotlandEngland
Cash for rapid measures £10m£250m
Total Active Travel budget*£100m for 1 year£2000m for 5 years
Total AT cash per person p.a.£18.20£7.10

*In both Scotland and England there are other funding sources but these are currently the main national cycle budgets and the source of the new rapid-implementation funds.

So although the cash initially allocated for immediate measures is much higher in England, it comes from a (proportionately) far smaller total budget, leaving much less for other schemes – or to increase the ‘rapid’ budget if that proves necessary.

In contrast, in Scotland, if the £10m is all used by Councils, there could well be scope for it to be doubled or perhaps even trebled. Indeed, in view of Scotland’s construction lockdown, and the probable transfer of council cycling staff from permanent to rapid measures, it seems likely that spending on ‘permanent’ schemes may be lower than budgeted, paralleled by a greater need for ‘temporary’ scheme cash.

Other measures

Both governments are doing more than just dishing out cash and telling councils to spend it. On these other measures, England probably comes out on top. Some of the most important and interesting are in the table below. Note however that the England announcements are all promises – none have yet been implemented.

England [main source]Scotland
A national active travel commissioner is to be appointed [this was in fact promised some time ago, but never implemented]already in place, Lee Craigie, appointed December 2018
A national cycling and walking inspectorate will be created – no details, but presumably to foster & monitor council actionno mention – however all councils have already been asked to draw up AT strategies, with help for this available from Sustrans Scotland
A hint that presumed liability may be introduced – “legal changes to protect vulnerable road users” no mention
A long-term cycling budget “just like we have for roads”moving toward this in recent years, but not consistent
Vouchers for cycle repairsno mention
Higher standards for permanent cycle infrastructureScotland has been working on a revised Cycling by Design [2010 edition] for donkey’s years
GPs to prescribe cycling as a form of exerciseno mention
At least one zero-emission city – only bikes & EVs in the ‘centre’ [undefined]no mention, and LEZ implementations postponed although a rethink towards bolder plans is promised
Finally, what’s missing…

Yes, there are two big, very very big, omissions – demand management and road building.

Certainly, the cycling initiatives are the boldest and most exciting we’ve ever seen in Scotland and the UK, but to be sure of keeping motor use down, and preserving healthy streets – let alone tackling the climate emergency – cycling measures must be part of a larger package.

Demand management means measures such as road pricing, an end to the freeze on fuel duty, tougher parking rules and charges, and extension of workplace parking levy powers (in Scotland and England) to cover large customer car parks too. In other words, reducing the incentives to drive, and encouraging people to think of alternative options such as changing destination, purpose or travel mode.

Road building – expanding the road network – has been an unwavering masculinity symbol of both the Scottish and UK governments in recent years. Scotland still clings to its £6000m programme to dual the A96 and A9 (despite the huge safety improvements resulting from average speed cameras) whilst England proudly trumpets its £25bn roads cash mountain. Continuing the implicit policy making it easier and cheaper to drive between towns, whilst traffic and health conditions within the towns get worse and worse.

Expert bodies have told both governments that they are wrong. In Scotland, see p5 of Spokes 136 and, most recently, the UKCCC who urge prioritising broadband investment over road.

What you can do
  • Contact your MSPs about Scotland’s cycling and wider transport policies. Start with a big pat on the back for the great initiative on the rapid ‘temporary’ active travel measures – then point out what else is needed and ask them to raise your points with the relevant Minister. Use Find your MSPs at the Scottish Parliament website to get the email addresses.
  • Pass on these ideas by retweeting our tweet about this article.

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