Sustrans Scotland warns that years of progress risk being undone following budget

Charity's fears over Cycling, Walking and Safer Streets Fund and Holyrood commitment to CAPS

by Simon_MacMichael   November 18, 2010  

Scottish Parliament Bike Stands (copyright Simon MacMichael).jpg

Sustrans Scotland has warned that yesterday’s Scottish budget announcement could undo successful efforts made in recent years to encourage greater numbers of people in the country to undertake more journeys by cycling and walking.

Finance minister John Swinney of the ruling Scottish National Party yesterday unveiled more than £1 billion pounds of budget cuts which he said were forced upon Holyrood by a reduction in funding from Westminster as the coalition government implements its own austerity measures.

However, Sustrans Scotland’s concerns revolve around not so much the cash being made available – indeed, it points out that Transport Scotland’s Sustainable and Active Travel Fund is set to benefit from £4 million in extra funding – but rather, how that money will be spent.

In the case of that additional £4 million, the charity, which besides promoting sustainable transport also administers and maintains the National Cycling Network says that three quarters of that sum looks likely to be spent on electric cars and low carbon vehicles, which it says “rings alarm bells.”

John Lauder, director of Sustrans Scotland, commented: “The £4 million increase to sustainable transport is bad news disguised as good news. Investment in walking and cycling is proving value for money and cost effective. Investment in electric cars will not make the same return. People sitting in a car, however it is powered, for short journeys are not improving their health or the quality of life of neighbourhoods.”

He continued: “Increased funding for the Transport Division of Transport Scotland, who deliver on sustainable transport, is welcome but taking the emphasis away from walking and cycling is not and totally undermines the Government’s delivery of the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland (CAPS). Along with the reduction in capital for local authorities, this could set Scotland back years in both the delivery of CAPS and the good progress that has been made in recent years to increase active travel.”

Sustrans Scotland is also worried that the omission of any mention of the £9 million Cycling, Walking and Safer Streets Fund (CWSS) in the budget announcement may result in the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) discontinuing it. The charity says that it believes that the CWSS budget, which is currently ring-fenced, is a “potential casualty” of spending cuts expected to be announced by COSLA tomorrow.

Referring to the prospect of that happening, Mr Lauder added: “Scrapping CWSS destroys the ability of local authorities to match fund the grant we manage on behalf of Government. This year, for a grant of £5M we were able to 50% match fund, thereby levering another £5M from our local authority partners and doubling the spend on healthy, sustainable travel.

“Removing CWSS from the budget lines of local authorities therefore removes a pot of money that transport departments could access to improve conditions for walking and cycling in local areas.”

Sustrans Scotland currently receives around £5 million annually from the Scottish Government with an additional sum paid this year to help boosts the launch of CAPS, which it says has enabled the “development, maintenance and promotion of the National Cycle Network, increasing cycling amongst schoolchildren and working with communities.”

Recently, the charity said that usage of the National Cycle Network in Scotland had exceeded expectations, rising by a third since 2007 and with one in three users either being new to it or returning to it as a way to get around on a daily basis. It also highlighted a 50% rise in commuting on the network, and says that investment in it is a “key part” of Scotland’s transport infrastructure.

Last month, looking ahead to next year’s Holyrood elections, it launched its Towards 2011 manifesto calling for a policy commitment to develop and maintain the National Cycle Network and the delivery of CAPS to be enshrined in statute.