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Transforming Cities report from Sustrans calls for massive boost to funding for cycling in bid to prevent thousands of serious illnesses in major UK cities

Charity warns that annual spend oer head in England excluding London is set to drop to 37p - compared to £16 in Scotland

Sustrans is calling on the government to make a massive increase in investment in cycling, with the Bristol-based charity warning that spending on England outside London is set to fall to 37 pence per person per head in 2020/21 – almost one fiftieth of the £16 a head being spend annually in Scotland.

The sustainable transport charity says in its Transforming Cities: The Potential of Everyday Cycling report, published today, that 5 per cent of the transport budget should be committed to active travel, rising to 10 per cent in the next comprehensive spending review in 2025.

It says that in England, that would equate to £17 per person annually in 2020/21, increasing to £34 per person in 2024/25. It is calling for a similar commitments from the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Highlighting that spend north of the border is already almost £16 a person each year, Sustrans said that the rest of the UK should “follow Scotland’s example.”

Sustrans also flagged up the efforts being made to increase active travel in Greater Manchester where Mayor Andy Burnham, working alongside the city-region’s cycling and walking commissioner Chris Boardman, are spending £160 million on developing a network of safe routes, including protected cycle lanes.

The report is based on the findings of the Bike Life survey that Sustrans conducted in 2017 – and which will be repeated every two years – in seven major UK cities – Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Greater Manchester and Newcastle. 

It aims to underline the potential impact of doubling cycling trips between now and 2025, the model used in the government’s own Cycling & Investment Strategy (CWIS), and then again eight years later.

According to Sustrans, if that were achieved, then in 2040 some 628 early deaths would be prevented in those seven cities that year. It also says some 34,000 diagnoses of eight diseases including breast cancer could be avoided.

By getting more people active – physical inactivity is estimated to cost the NHS some £1 billion each year – Sustrans believes that between now and 2040 there would be a total saving of £21 billion to the economy.

Publication of the report comes in a month in which the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) urged city planners to prioritise cyclists and pedestrians through developing connected routes for them.

However, this month has also seen Sustrans join Cycling UK and Living Streets in warning the government that the CWIS is doomed to failure unless more investment is made in active forms of travel.

Calling for a “long-term political commitment” to provide more funds, Sustrans said that excluding London, ring-fenced government spending on cycling and walking in England stood at £2.16 per person in 2016/17 and was set to slide to just 37p in 2020/21.

The report sets out five “must-haves” that local authorities should adopt to help grow cycling and walking, and thereby make them seen as a normal way of undertaking local trips. Those are:

Political commitment alongside ambitious plans and long-term investment

Delivery of a high-quality cycling network: including on road cycle tracks separated from motor traffic, off road paths, and local routes on low-trafficked and low speed streets

Neighbourhoods are designed in a way that prioritises people walking and cycling, including traffic restraints measures

People and businesses are supported to change travel behaviours

Cycling is fully integrated with public transport, homes and work.

Xavier Brice, chief executive of Sustrans said: “Our report provides 34,000 reasons why governments across the UK should prioritise investment in cycling. “Every part of the country is facing a physical inactivity and obesity crisis, which is why decision-makers need to get on the front foot and tackle these problems head on.

“Prevention is better than cure is an often-repeated mantra of health ministers across the UK, but tackling the deepening health crisis shouldn’t be left to the NHS alone. “That’s why the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review should prioritise prevention and provide greater public funding for cycling to deliver our five ‘must haves’,” he added.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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