Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s ‘Vision for Cycling’ for the capital, including a major segregated cycle route running from east to west through the heart of the city and improved safety features at junctions, is reportedly at risk of being dramatically scaled back due to potential cuts in government funding for Transport for London (TfL) under next month’s Comprehensive Spending Review, published on 26 June.
London’s plans, which equate to a per capita spend of £12.50 a year, were described in the Get Britain Cycling report from the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG) as potentially “transformational” and held up as something other local authorities could seek to emulate.
However, while the headline figure of £913 million that is planned to be spent on cycling in the city over the next decade sounds impressive – often, it’s rounded up to a soundbite-friendly £1 billion – it’s half of what opposition politicians such as Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon, chair of the London Assembly’s Transport Committee would like to see spent.
The funding faces a threat from two directions, however; the first comes from HM Treasury, which needs to approve £640 million of it, more than two thirds of the total. The other comes from TfL itself, which may be forced to reassess its own budget should rumoured cuts to its funding from central government happen.
According to reports in newspapers including the London Evening Standard, with the Comprehensive Spending Review being finalised, battle lines are being drawn between TfL and the Treasury, which reportedly believes that London receives too much central government cash for transport projects.
With TfL said to be facing cuts to its government funding of up to 30 per cent, it appears that the agency will have to juggle its budget, and it is reportedly determined to maintain spend in areas such as upgrades to the London Underground network, which potentially could take money away from areas such as cycling.
Also likely to suffer as a result of austerity measures at TfL are other areas of its budget including £300 million earmarked for transport schemes in deprived areas, bus fare concessions available to youngsters and the jobless, and planned spending of £1.8 billion on capital projects.
Public spending on transport in London dwarfs that elsewhere in Britain - £774 per capita in 2010/11 compared to £337 in the north west of England, ranked in second place.
But TfL Commissioner Sir Peter Hendy insists that there is a sound economic case for it, and that the spend benefits the UK as a whole; he says 40 per cent of money spent in TfL’s supply chain destined for British companies outside the capital, helping to support up to 40,000 jobs.
Mr Johnson, who in recent days visited a factory in Northern Ireland where the chassis for 600 new buses destined for London is being built under a contract worth £212 million, has said that TfL, which he chairs, is trying to cut costs where possible without undermining the essential services it provides.
He told the Standard: “To remain a leading world city we have a programme of shovel ready projects that we believe would deliver major improvements to our roads for motorists, cyclists and bus passengers, and would continue vital improvements to the Tube.
“It would be lunacy to throttle back on all that productive activity now, just when the country needs it most.”
However, Ms Pidegon believes that Mr Johnson – and by extension, TfL and London – are set to pay the price for profligate spending in the past in certain areas connected with transport.
She told the Standard: “I support the Mayor fighting London’s corner for continued Treasury investment in London’s transport network, however he runs the risk of undermining his case with the Treasury by his long-standing record of wasting money, especially the way he has poured millions of pounds into vanity projects, such as the incredibly expensive new bus for London or the Thames cable car.”
The latter – officially, the Emirates Air Line – spans the Thames between the Royal Victoria Dock and North Greenwich and cost an estimated £60 million. Opening shortly before the Olympics, traffic has continued to decline from an early peak, and its 36 gondolas are now said to be running at just 10 per cent of capacity.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.