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Research finds councils spend average of £2 per person per year on cycling infrastructure

Academics from Nottingham Trent University crucnhed numbers from 25 unitary authorities across England

New research has found that spend on cycling infrastructure by councils in England averaged just £2 per person per year over the past decade – with one spending an annual average of just 3p per capita.

Dr Seamus Allison and Aoife Allison of Nottingham Trent University obtained the figures following Freedom of Information requests to the 55 unitary authorities in England, which includes towns and cities including Brighton & Hove, Bristol, Leicester, Nottingham and York, with a full list here.

They do not include London boroughs nor cities including Birmingham, Cambridge, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Oxford and Sheffield.

According to Cycling Industry News, the researchers asked for data relating to the population served by the authority, plus its total spend on road transport as well as cycling infrastructure.

Responses were received from 25 unitary authorities, with the remainder either not replying or saying that they do not split out keep separate records of spend on cycling infrastructure.

Among the 25 unitary authorities that did reply, the average spent per head each year was £2.02, rising to £2.83 in 2018/19. With spend averaging £2.58 during the latest five years, that could indicate a slight increase in spend, but inflation is the most likely explanation.

The highest average annual spend per person was £8.58 and the lowest £0.03, while in some years a number of the unitary authorities that replied spent nothing on either new infrastructure or on maintenance. The maximum spent in any one year by an individual authority was £37.23.

Currently, there is uncertainty over exactly how much the government plans to spend on cycling in England outside London over the next five years.

The Conservative manifesto ahead of December’s general election pledged £350 million for the lifetime of the next parliament, a figure repeated in the House of Commons earlier this month, although Downing Street sources subsequently said he was mistaken “and in fact it’s about £1 billion now.”

> Prime Minister’s confusion over cycling funding reflects Downing Street “chaos” says MP

This week, however, in response to a question from Ruth Cadbury MP, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling and Walking Group, transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris would only say that “A significant proportion” of the £5 billion announced for buses and cycling would “be allocated to cycling and walking, with further details to be announced at the forthcoming Budget and Spending Review.”

Whatever the figure, it will clearly be below the £17 per person per year the Cycling & Walking Alliance has called for, rising to £34 by 2025.

Dr Allison said: “The data suggests that English local authorities are not investing in cycling infrastructure at anywhere near what has been called for by active travel organisations.

“What’s more, the fact that so many admitted that they do not record the spend on cycling suggests that they do not see this as a priority and are unlikely to have targets in this area. This appears to support the view that three-quarters of Britons feel their local authority does not take cycling seriously.” 

“Our collection and analysis of this data is important because, despite the many accepted benefits of active travel – for example it has been shown there is 15:1 to 19:1 benefit-to-cost ratio for cycling investment and a single “cycling city” could be worth £377 million in savings for the NHS – despite broad support from the UK population for investment in cycling infrastructure and despite positive noises from national politicians, there is little evidence to suggest that at the local level, where we as individuals are most likely to be impacted, plans and attitudes are in place that are likely to deliver either governmental aims or those of cycling bodies.

“The local reality suggests that the UK remains as far away as ever from achieving David Cameron’s 2013 goal of turning the UK into a cycling nation comparable with the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany,” 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.

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