Government strategy on cycling and walking 'isn’t a strategy at all'
Shadow Transport Minister Daniel Zeichner argues that the Government's long-awaited draft Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) is nothing more than a 'glossy PR exercise'.
During recess, the Government finally published the long-awaited draft Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS). The timing of the publication, on ‘take out the trash day’, suggests the Government itself doesn’t think this strategy is much to hit home about. Presumably that’s why they chose to publish it alongside reams of other documents and pieces of bad news without the usual fanfare – in the hope it would go unnoticed. I can see why. Because after promising three years ago to kick-start a “cycling revolution”, it seems the Government has back-pedalled. Their aspirations are lofty and laudable, but their strategy is a sham.
Just two months ago the Transport Minister Robert Goodwill said in a debate on Government investment in cycling, “the Government understand the importance of a cycling revolution. We absolutely back the Prime Minister in wanting to have that revolution, and we are delivering it with both money and policies.” Unfortunately, the best talkers are always the worst doers, and as ever there is a gap here between rhetoric and reality. Indeed, funding commitments in the strategy fall well short of the recommendation of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG) – they call for a cycling spend amounting to £10 per person per year. The strategy contains no new funding commitments and instead merely parrots the pledge we have already heard: £300 million to support cycling and walking over the course of this Parliament. That figure actually amounts to a significant cut in current annual levels of cycling funding – from a planned £142 million in 2015/16 to an annual average of around £50 million. That’s a substantial cut of well over 50 per cent; far from delivering a cycling revolution with both money and policies, they are slashing its tires and stopping it in its tracks.
Furthermore, the Government claims that currently spend on cycling can be calculated as £6 per head across England. This, however, is somewhat misleading, as it includes the £10 per head spent in London and the eight Cycle Ambition Cities. In fact, less than £1.50 will be spent on cycling per head per year in areas outside of London and the cycling cities – worsening regional disparity. Put simply, the Government has drawn up an investment strategy without the investment needed to underpin it.
We want cycling and walking to be promoted for everyone, whatever their postcode, age or gender. Unfortunately, in addition to the regional variation in cycling and walking funding levels, the strategy fails to mention improving cycling diversity. In fact, the APPCG and Transport for London (TfL) have both highlighted gender and ethnicity issues in cycling. In 2013, TfL said “Frequent cyclists are typically white, male, between 25 to 44, and on a higher than average income…But much of the potential comes from women, ethnic minorities, younger and older people, and those on a lower income.” The Government claim they want to create a nation where cycling and walking are the norm for all people whatever their background or characteristics. Yet the strategy fails to produce any plan to promote cycling take-up amongst these groups.
Also extremely troubling was the omission of any measurable targets for walking. Instead, the document merely includes a promise to review whether ‘quantifiable targets for walking for 2025 are appropriate’ during the development of the next strategy. It’s ironic that targets to measure walking are coming along not at a walking pace, but at a snail’s pace.
As usual, the Government has loaded responsibility upon local authorities under the guise of devolution, and have left the design of walking and cycling facilities and infrastructure to them. In addition, while they discuss the importance of improving cyclist and pedestrian safety, they have failed to reintroduce the national road safety targets they previously scrapped. A lack of real design guidance and tangible goals to reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities marks yet another glaring omission in this draft document.
The aspirations included in the strategy are admirable, but the document at hand isn’t a strategy at all. It reads as a glossy PR exercise recounting what has already been promised. We need to see ambition underpinned by funding and clear goals if Britain is to truly become a cycling and walking nation.
Daniel Zeichner is a Shadow Transport Minister and the Labour MP for Cambridge Shadow Transport Minister