Gov spending review to bump this year’s cycling budget up 30%

The UK Government has announced a 30% increase in the walking and cycling budget to be spent this year, with the planned £257 million investment rising to £338 million.

Though there has been no indication of a rise in the top line £2 billion commitment across the Government term, the moving forwards of the investment will be welcomed as much of the cash is allocated to schemes that will make cycling safer through infrastructure developments, as well as proposed changes to the Highway Code to better shield vulnerable road user.

(Edit: For the avoidance of doubt CI.N checked with the DfT, confirming that the cash is not an increase in funding, rather a moving forwards of spend.)

The new Government body, Active Travel England, will be responsible for delivery of the cycling budget and will soon begin work following a lengthy recruitment phase.

There is a sense that the Government may be warming up a few initiatives seen as environmentally sound ahead of the COP26 Climate Conference due for Glasgow later this year and the announcement today makes direct reference to cycling playing “a key role in the Government’s drive to build back greener from the pandemic and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Millions of us have found over the past year how cycling and walking are great ways to stay fit, ease congestion on the roads and do your bit for the environment. As we build back greener from the pandemic, we’re determined to keep that trend going by making active travel easier and safer for everyone.

“This £338m package marks the start of what promises to be a great summer of cycling and walking, enabling more people to make those sustainable travel choices that make our air cleaner and cities greener.”

The spend will support a rise in ridership that was said to tally a 45.7% increase in 2020, equating to 5 billion miles ridden. This spike in ridership, which at its peak topped a 300% growth on normal levels, was largely attributed to quiet (safer) roads, as well as a Government green light for cycling as permitted exercise during the pandemic’s fist wave. In tandem with the rise in ridership came a boom in sales that has since left the industry struggling for supply of key goods for sale and service.

Supporting the infrastructure plans, Highway Code changes are one of the more groundbreaking elements of today’s announcement. Pedestrians and cyclists will now gain greater protections, which will likely have an impact on future court cases relating to incidents on the road. The proposed changes, which remain subject to approval by MPs, include:

  • A hierarchy of road users that ensures road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger they may pose to others;
  • Strengthened pedestrian priority on pavements and when crossing or waiting to cross the road;
  • Guidance on safe passing distances and speeds and ensuring that cyclists have priority at junctions when travelling straight ahead.

Furthermore, today’s announcement references the DfT led e-Cycle fund that aims to introduce people to electric bikes via grants for local authorities. Thus far nine local authorities have already gained access to a dedicated assisted cycling budget and it is indicated further provisions will follow.

Xavier Brice, Sustrans Chief Executive, said of the adjusted cycling budget: “This funding will bring major improvements to the National Cycle Network in England by linking communities together and enhancing valued and well-used cycling and walking routes. Most importantly of all, this vital boost will further enable those who want to cycle or walk to do so.

“The pandemic has highlighted the huge benefits of active forms of travel to people’s personal health and wellbeing, to local communities and to the environment. We’ve seen a marked increase in numbers using the cycle network and this commitment to funding underlines its importance.

“We welcome the Government’s continued focus on cycling and walking. The time is right to ensure we’re able to carry on working with our volunteers and other organisations in our role as a proud custodian of the network, to create and offer a safe, accessible and traffic-free travel environment for everyone’s benefit.”

Projects to improve the National Cycle Network include:

Project name NCN route number Region Local Authority / partner Total project value Description
Tutshill Sluice 33 South West North Somerset Council £633,000 A funding contribution to the missing link in National Route 33 between Clevedon and Weston-Super-Mare, creating an iconic Pier to Pier route and the first viable link for walking and cycling between the two towns.
Wylam to Newburn 72 North East Northumberland County Council £785,000 Surface quality improvements to the existing National Route 72 between Wylam and Newburn in Northumberland, a key leisure and commuter route linking the towns and villages of the Tyne Valley with Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Skelton Grange Rd bridge 67 Yorkshire and The Humber Leeds City Council £109,000 Feasibility & design study to consider access improvements on Skelton Grange Bridge, a significant barrier on National Route 67 – a popular route that links Leeds City Centre with the communities to the East of the City
Burton to Stapenhill 54 West Midlands Staffordshire County Council, Derbyshire County Council, South Derbyshire District Council £1.033m Realignment of an on-road section of National Route 63 to a traffic-free and quietway alternative through the town centre, linking with Staffordshire County Council’s Active Travel Fund road space reallocation scheme on Station Street and Town Deal public realm improvements.
Macclesfield-Hurdsfield Road 55 North West Cheshire East Council £651,000 Improvements to National Route 55, with a road crossing on Middlewood Way and widening of a shared use path through a reallocation of road space – the route provides a key active travel route between Macclesfield town centre and the northern suburbs of the town which also has a large employment zone.