Nick Clegg insists the Liberal Democrats are committed to spending £10 per head on cycling and that he is “determined that Britain becomes a cycling nation to rival our European neighbours” – but the Labour Party says the figure is “just an aspiration” with no set timeframe to implement it.
Deputy prime minister Clegg, who is seeking re-election as member of parliament for Sheffield Hallam, made his comments in a letter sent in response to the #ChooseCycling network, with major businesses asking party leaders to make four specific pledges regarding cycling.
• Fulfil the requirements of the Infrastructure Act to create an adequate Cycling and Walking investment strategy with clear and ambitious targets by 2016
• A commitment to invest 5% of Britain’s combined transport spend every year into designing cycling back into our roads and junctions
• Setting a meaningful target, to make cycling account for 10% of all trips by 2025
• The creation and distribution of uniform design guidance – put together in consultation with world experts – to be followed by all local authorities by 2016.
In his letter, Clegg said: “Cycle-proofing our roads is vital to in encouraging more people to cycle, both safely and with confidence.”
He added that he was “very keen to implement the recommendations of the Get Britain Cycling report,” which are similar to those of the #ChooseCycling network.
The party’s backing of the report, which followed an inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, “includes steps to deliver an annual £10 a head annual public expenditure on cycling within existing budgets.”
With England’s population standing at 53 million – funding for cycling is devolved to the national legislative bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – that would equate to total spend of £530 million each year.
However, a spokesman for Labour’s shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher told road.cc: “This is not a funded commitment to spend £530 million per year in the next Parliament – it's just an aspiration to get to £10 per head at some unspecified point in the future.
“The Lib Dem manifesto only just states that they will take ‘steps to deliver a £10 a head annual public expenditure on cycling.’
“To illustrate this, the Tories and Lib Dems have already set out all spending plans for the year 2015/16 and it is no way near £530 million for the year.
“Labour is offering a fully funded budget for cycling and walking that goes beyond what the Tories and Lib Dems have actually set out for the next parliament.”
He said the £89 million Labour pledged for cycling last week if it comes to power following next week’s general election is additional to the £250 million set aside for cycling safety and integration in the road investment strategy, as well as the £114 million committed by Clegg to the second wave of Cycle City Ambition funding.
The spokesman added: “This takes the total funded commitment from Labour so far for the next Parliament to £453 million.”
While there’s an implication that more money may follow, and there’s also likely to be local match funding not included in the headline sum, that figure itself equates to £1.71 per head each year over the next parliament, less than a fifth of the £10 figure many campaigners are pushing for.
Clegg meanwhile claimed in his letter that including that latest Cycle City Ambition funding – which he put at £115 million – “brings the government’s total investment in cycling up to £588 million,” although that appears to include money spent not just in the past five years, but pledged to be spend during the next parliament.
British Cycling, which is co-ordinating the #ChooseCycling network – it launched a campaign under the same name early last year – says it is still waiting for a response to the pledges from Labour, as well as from Plaid Cymru and UKIP.
Its policy advisor, Chris Boardman, commenting on Clegg’s response, said: “The Liberal Democrats are the only party to nail their colours to the mast and pledge to implement everything the network is asking for.
“It’s encouraging to hear that Nick Clegg is passionate about Britain becoming a cycling nation to rival our European neighbours. The difference is that he is actually bold enough to put some numbers and targets against this aim with measures that could have a colossal impact on how people get around.
“If the Liberal Democrats form part of a new coalition we will certainly be pressing them to ensure that these ambitions form a central part of the government’s transport strategy,” he added.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.