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£2 bn to fund “revolutionary” cycling and walking plan

The government has announced an ambitious plan for encouraging cycling and walking which could be truly transformative if the rhetoric translates into reality. Nick Terdre reports. Photos by Russell Jacobs.

Prime minister Boris Johnson this week launched the government’s most ambitious plan yet to boost cycling and walking, backed by funding of £2bn.

Building on the surge in the popularity of cycling released by the lockdown, the “revolutionary plan” – in the words of transport minister Grant Shapps – includes “thousands of miles” of protected bike lanes, cycle training for any child or adult and bikes available on prescription as a health aid.

To encourage people to dig out that neglected bike from among the cobwebs at the back of the garden shed, £50 bike repair vouchers are to be made available to the public. The website handling initial applications crashed a short time after opening due to the heavy demand.

Huge role

“From helping people get fit and healthy and lowering their risk of illness, to improving air quality and cutting congestion, cycling and walking have a huge role to play in tackling some of the biggest health and environmental challenges that we face,” Johnson, a cyclist himself, said.

“But to build a healthier, more active nation, we need the right infrastructure, training and support in place to give people the confidence to travel on two wheels.

“That’s why now is the time to shift gears and press ahead with our biggest and boldest plans yet to boost active travel – so that everyone can feel the transformative benefits of cycling.”

Also under the programme, an inspectorate will be set up which will oversee the installation of protected cycle lanes, while improvements will be made to the National Cycling Network. The Highway Code will be amended to provide better protection for pedestrians and cyclists, and legal protections for vulnerable road users will be improved.

Councils will be empowered to crack down on traffic offences. More low traffic neighbourhoods will be created, improving air quality and reducing traffic to reduce rat running, including by consulting on communities’ right to close side streets.

New guidance on infrastructure

Updated guidance has been published to help councils tackle the problem of widespread “substandard” cycling infrastructure. Funding may have to be returned for any new infrastructure which does not make use of the guidance.

Handsome Bicycles in Harold Place, one of two workshops in Hastings and St Leonards accredited for doing work under the Fix Your Bike voucher scheme.

Inspiration has also been drawn from the cycling-friendly Netherlands. Three London boroughs are already being turned into ‘mini Hollands,’ with “intensive, transformational spending on their roads and streetscapes to make them, over time, as cycle and pedestrian-friendly as their Dutch equivalents.”

Now the government wants 12 local authorities outside London to apply to undergo the same treatment. It is also looking to turn a small or medium-sized city into a zero-emissions zone, with extensive bike lanes, an-all electric (or zero-emission) bus fleet, and a ban on nearly all petrol and diesel vehicles in the city centre, leaving goods to make the final leg of their journey by cargo bike or electric van.

Good ambition

The £2bn is part of a £5bn pot announced by transport minister Grant Shapps in February to boost both cycling and bus services. Tim Godwin of Bike Lab Hastings, the community bike workshop, calls the plan, which is detailed in a DfT document entitled Gear Change, “The best thing I’ve ever seen from UK government on Walking and Cycling…The actual implementation will be the hard and revealing bit, we’ll see. But it is good in its ambition.”

He notes that other countries are making similar commitments – Ireland, with a population roughly 10% that of the UK, is committed to spending £360m a year for five years on cycling and walking infrastructure. And the £2bn pales into insignificance beside the government’s £27bn road-building programme (which is currently being challenged in court).

Cycling and walking hardly feature in Hastings Borough Council’s climate strategy, though low carbon sustainable transport is one of its focus areas, with the aim of replacing its own fleet with zero and low carbon vehicles and electric bikes and increasing the number of electric vehicle charge points available to the public.

If, as HOT hears, the council is planning to create a new transport portfolio, opening up a space for active travel within the strategy could be a first job for the lead councillor.

September deadline for ESCC schemes

Meanwhile ESCC has been told by government that the schemes approved by the Department for Transport under the first round of its Emergency Active Travel Fund, which include the widening of two pavements in Hastings and St Leonards and a road closure in Bexhill, must be in place by early September.

It is busy consulting with businesses and residents in the areas which will be affected by the schemes, it says.

“We appreciate that this is an extremely challenging time for businesses trying to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 crisis.  As a county council, our priority is to support those businesses in their recovery and we do not want to put in place any measures that have an adverse effect on them with little benefit to the community…

“We have written to businesses and residents where we are proposing temporary measures, and asked them to let us know if the measures will have an effect on them.  The feedback, along with the benefits and disadvantages of the measures, will help decide which schemes we proceed with.”

In other words, it appears that some of the measures may not be proceeded with.

Clarification awaited

ESCC, which has been allocated funding of £535,145 for the first tranche of schemes, is still awaiting clarification on what its tranche 2 allocation of £1.96m can be spent on before it submits its proposals in August.The second phase calls for permanent schemes.

For this phase, at the request of the county council, Hastings Urban Bikes has provided suggestions for where 15 new cycle racks should be located in the town, and submitted a proposal for a cycling/walking route to be established between the railway station and the seafront.

Recalling that the government called for the tranche 1 funds to be used to make “emergency interventions,” Godwin told HOT, “it seems against the principle and spirit of ’emergency interventions’ to take three months over them, especially as road traffic has increased massively over that time since the funding was announced.”

Latest DfT statistics show that car traffic, which in mid April fell as low as 22% of its level in an equivalent pre-coronavirus period, averaged 86% in the seven days to 27 July and all private and commercial road traffic 89%.

Bike repair voucher scheme

The Fix Your Bike Voucher scheme offers £50 vouchers to people with unused bikes in need of repair. Applications can be made through a portal on the Energy Saving Trust website. The first batch of vouchers was distributed this week and a second will be announced in due course.

Repairers wishing to join the scheme can apply through the same portal, which also gives access to a list of accredited workshops. They include Handsome Bicycles of Harold Place and High Tide Cycles on Marine Court.

For whatever reason, the DfT declined to answer HOT’s question about how many vouchers were distributed in the first batch and how many will be made available in total. “Further vouchers will be released when we are confident people will be able to get their bikes fixed at a wide range of retailers without significant waiting times,” a spokesperson said.

Bell’s Bicycles of George Street has not yet signed up. “We’re just having to work out if we can cope with any extra workload,” they told HOT. “We’re already working at maximum capacity and with social distancing rules we can’t take on more mechanics.” They hope to register in September when the pressure has eased.

The many benefits of walking and cycling, as identified by the DfT in 2018 in a call for evidence (source: Cycle Infrastructure Design, DfT 2020).

Further information was added to this article on Sunday 2 August.

Posted 07:15 Friday, Jul 31, 2020 In: Home Ground

3 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Nick Terdre

    HBC is not planning to create a transport portfolio, as this article suggests. The council has told HOT: “[This] is because transport is distributed across existing portfolios according to needs, such as infrastructure and connectivity coming under the leader’s portfolio in her work as part of the local plan and the town’s fund and so on and elements around walking/ cycling coming under the culture/ tourism and urban & natural environment portfolios. Ultimately the leader is the transport lead.”

    Comment by Nick Terdre — Friday, Aug 14, 2020 @ 15:52

  2. Tim Barton

    the ‘dutch’ model is ‘mixed use’, & in my opinion wholly shortsighted and perhaps even borderline demented. i expect a toddler, pensioner, etc to be maimed or worse on the ‘mixed use’ bit between the pier and robertson street sooner or later. and the bit where there is an actual bike path is now less easy to navigate as the ‘mixed use’ message makes more people uncautious (both pedestrians and cyclists). but once the blinkers are on it’s like talking to a brick wall.

    Comment by Tim Barton — Thursday, Aug 6, 2020 @ 19:40

  3. ken davis

    Lovely pics of seafront cycling but the prob in Hastings is the steep hinterland. Will all this money include grants for buying electric bikes is surely the issue.

    Comment by ken davis — Thursday, Aug 6, 2020 @ 07:18

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