Sustrans warns that cuts in cycling & walking budget could cost Scottish economy £100m a year

Scottish government at risk of missing own cycling targets as it increases spend on major road schemes

by Simon_MacMichael   October 10, 2011  

Scottish Parliament Bike Stands (copyright Simon MacMichael).jpg

Proposed cuts in the Scottish Government’s budget for cycling risk costing the country’s economy more than £100 million a year and derailing the country’s cycling boom, warns Sustrans Scotland, which also says it would have to axe the majority of its 22 staff there. The sustainable transport charity also said that cutting spend on active travel while increasing it in areas such as major road schemes made no economic or environmental sense.

In the current year, 2011/2012, £25.1 million has been set aside for sustainable travel initiatives, but that has been slashed by a third to £16 million in the Scottish Government’s 2012/13 draft budget published last month. While funding is anticipated to return to £25 million in 2013/14, it is planned to cut it by 40 per cent to just £15 million in 2014/15.

According to Sustrans Scotland, those cuts could lead to over £100 million being lost to the Scottish economy annually, most of that - £74 million – attributable to leisure and tourism.

The absence of previous match funding by local authorities on new cycle routes that would not now be developed would contribute another £12 million to the total, while missing out on the health benefits of cycling would cost the economy a further £17 million.

Quoted in The Scotsman, John Lauder, director of Sustrans Scotland, said: "The figures starkly demonstrate the worth of small investment in local projects that are making big impacts, both locally and nationally.

"Cutting funding in active travel now is the wrong direction for Scotland. Without continued funding, usage and associated economic activity will fall back to levels recorded in 2000. Re-instating a £25 million budget to prevent a £100 million lost opportunity is an investment well worth making."

He added. "Sustrans Scotland would be reduced to a core staff of just a few people."

Ian Aitken, chief executive of the government-funded body Cycling Scotland, warned that the cuts would also make it very difficult to achieve the Scottish Government’s own targets for growing cycling in the country.

"Substantial cuts in funding will make delivering the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland vision of 10 per cent of all journeys made by bike by 2020 very challenging,” he told The Scotsman.

"In times of recession, cycling projects are the schemes that should be prioritised as they offer fantastic return on investment at a fraction of the cost of road and rail projects."

Sustrans says that its own review of its operations in Scotland between 2008 and 2011, also published last month shortly after the draft budget, demonstrate that the funding it has received from the Scottish Government during that period has led to 44 per cent growth in the number of walking and cycling trips made on the National Cycle Network in Scotland.

The report, named, Walking and cycling outcomes for Sustrans in Scotland: assessment against Key Performance Indicators, showed that 41 million trips were made in 2010 compared to 28 million in 2007.

"It is highly concerning that the Government is reneging on its own policy commitments to better public health by the proposed decrease in funding to the sustainable transport team in Transport Scotland, which is responsible for delivering walking and cycling initiatives, which are yielding great results,” Mr Lauder said.

“They have undermined the public health aspects of the obesity strategy and the national activity strategy,” he added, going on to outline the proposed funding for sustainable travel initiatives in the next three years. “At the same time they are spending thousands of millions of pounds on trunk road and motorway initiatives, and doing so by robbing small but productive budgets like that for active travel,” he continued.

“The evidence is that the 1.1% of transport spending dedicated to the healthy, carbon reducing modes is generating real gain for Scotland and a great return on investment of public funds, but by reducing the budget to 0.8% of transport spending we are retreating back to a position worse than that in 2004. Quite how the government will meet its carbon reduction targets for transport is a mystery under the proposed funding scenario.”

According to Sustrans Scotland, all the key figures from the National Cycle Network point to it having a beneficial effect for the Scottish economy, whether that be the fact that more than a third of the journeys made on it are for commuting purposes, a 45,400 tonne reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, or health benefits estimated as equivalent £49.2 million for walking and £54.2 million for cycling.

According to the draft budget, spend on motorways and trunk roads, which stands at £557.6 million in 2011/12, is set to jump to £655.4 million in 2012/13, and £700.2 million by 2014/15.

“These results fly in the face of last week’s draft budget which shows the potentially drastic cuts to active travel funding in Scotland,” insists Mr Lauder, “thereby torpedoing the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland, which is part of the delivery of the Climate Change Act. 

“At the same time, thousands of millions of pounds are being given to trunk road and motorway initiatives,” he goes on. “So, transport spending rises in one area whilst another suffers a disproportionate cut. Scottish Government policies recommend that walking and cycling have a big part to play in reducing the environmental impact of transport and improving public health and Scotland has the unenviable reputation of one of the most obese populations in the world, but these are now being ignored.

“No other country in Northern Europe and certainly none of the Nordic countries are following a similar path, they match the rhetoric of their policies with real action on the ground,” he concluded.