Scottish Government urged to increase investment in cycling and make its budget more transparent

Campaigners have told Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) that there is “no way” that a target of 10 per cent of journeys in the country being made by bicycle by 2020 will be achieved while spending remains at its current levels. They have also called for more transparency over the country's active travel budget.

That 10 oer cent target was reiterated in last year’s updated Cycle Action Plan for Scotland (CAPS). However, as we reported last month, in the recently published document, A Long Term Vision for Active Travel in Scotland 2030, transport minister Keith Brown speaks more of a “vision” than a “target.”

MSPs sitting on Holyrood’s transport committee warned the Scottish Government more than four years ago that without adequate funding, the target was unachievable.

But according to Sustrans Scotland, the share of trips made by bicycle was just 1 per cent in 2013, reports Local Transport Today.

Now, an inquiry into the Scottish Government’s budget by the infrastructure and capital investment committee has been told by campaigners Pedal on Parliament, who want 10 per cent of the country’s £2 billion transport budget dedicated to cycling,  that the target is beyond reach at current levels of spend.

In its submission to the committee, Pedal on Parliament said: “There is certainly no way that the current rate of progress, nor that the current Cycling Action Plan for Scotland approach will achieve anything like the growth required.”

Lothian cycling campaign group Spokes warned that the Scottish Government’s spend on active travel was set to fall from £40.3 million in 2014/15 to £37 million next year, a decline of 8 per cent, and that within that, expenditure on infrastructure would slide by 22 per cent from £36 million to £28 million.

That represents a little more than 1 per cent of the country’s transport budget of around £2 billion, and just a tenth of the level of investment Pedal and Parliament says is needed for the target to be reached.

Spokes also criticised the Scottish Government over what it says is a lack of transparency in planned investment in active travel, saying: “The most absurd example is that the ‘sustainable & active travel’ and the ‘future transport fund’ budget lines both cover very similar and overlapping expenditure types.

“Both include spending on active travel infrastructure, encouraging modal shift and other ‘green transport’ initiatives, yet the amounts going to these purposes from both budget lines are obscure.

“Since active travel expenditure probably accounts for (very roughly) 50% of the combined total of these two lines, far greater transparency would be achieved by replacing those two budget lines by one for active travel and another for other future/green transport,” it added.

Sustrans Scotland likewisehit out at what it said was an absence of clarity in the budget. It said: “The draft budget does not contain a clear line about funding for active travel despite repeated calls for this to be the case.

“At present, it is well-nigh impossible to accurately ascertain how much money will be directed towards active travel as the figure is so buried away within other funding pots.

“Active travel funding in 2014/15 and the proposed funding for 2015/16 is noticeably higher than in previous years,” it went on.

“However, we had hoped that 2014/15 marked the start of an ongoing rise and drive to reach the CAPS vision for 10 per cent of trips to be by bike by 2020. It now looks like 2014/15 was a peak or, at best, the start of a plateau in investment.”

Addressing the infrastructure and capital investment committee last month, transport minister Mr Brown said: “The target is a shared aspiration. Achieving it is not just down to the government, but is between the local authorities and all the agencies.”

City of Edinburgh City Council is one local authority that has increased spend on cycling, and urged the Scottish Government to do likewise.

It said: “This council, in support of its ambitious targets for active travel, has set aside a percentage of its overall transport budget for investment in and promotion of cycling. The percentage stands at 7 per cent in the current financial year.

“It’s worth noting that Scotland’s cities, Edinburgh in particular, have recently been making some significant progress in the share of journeys made by active travel and especially cycling,” it added.

Mr Brown accepted that to date, increased levels of cycling had not materialised, but insisted: “It is true to say that what we expected to happen has happened, in that the early investment in behavioural change needs time to work through.

He added: “We are still aiming for the 10 per cent by 2020, but the early work is hard work. We want to see real progress towards that shared ambition soon.”

With more than five years having elapsed since that 10 per cent target was first set, however, and just five more to go until the deadline of 2020 the Scottish Government set itself, many must fear it is already impossible to achieve.

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.