As Britain braces itself for the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Revue, advocates of cycling are likely to feel a chill running down their spines on hearing of a particulalrly savage funding cut in Northern Ireland.
The Belfast Telegraph newspaper reports that the cycling budget for the city has been slashed from £450,000 to £8,000. The staggering 98% cut was announced in a written statement by the Minister for Regional Development, Conor Murphy.
The Province’s cyclists have, not surprisingly, reacted with a mixture of shock and outrage, with many descending on Belfast City Hall earlier this week to vent their frustrations.
SDLP regional development spokesperson, Conall McDevitt, told the Belfast Telegraph: “This shocking cut flies in the face of Murphy’s earlier commitment to promoting cycling and active transport after reassuring an audience at the launch of Belfast Cycle City in June of his commitment to the issue.
“It is completely disproportionate in terms of other cuts and investments being made within his department. This budget cut contrasts with the investment which the Minister is putting into new strategic roads, which has increased by 51 per cent from £149 million to £225 million — figures which dwarf the pathetic amount which is going into cycling."
Sustrans Director for Northern Ireland Steven Patterson told the paper: “We realise that government is making difficult funding decisions at the moment and no budgets will be exempt, however if we are to address major health, environmental and social inclusion issues we need to invest in transport options that get people cycling and walking, for short journeys.
"Sixty per cent (£225m) of the entire transport budget is being spent on new inter-urban roads and this figure has increased this year.
“We have proven that when a good walking and cycling route is built people will use it. For example the riverside cycle route in Belfast has seen increasing numbers of people using it every year — usage has increased by 225 per cent since 2000.
“The benefits of such investments are proven and we need the Assembly to invest in sustainable transport with all the benefits that they bring.”