Anyone hoping for genuine commitment from central government towards enabling cycling in England will be hugely disappointed and angered by the Department for Transport's official response to the Get Britain Cycling Inquiry report.
The response states that 'the Government is committed to turning Britain into a cycling nation to rival our European neighbours', but evidence for this commitment is entirely lacking. The call for a consistent funding stream, taken from the DfT budget, of £10 per person per year, rising to £20, is ignored. The Department points to just eight cities in England where cycle funding now stands above £10 per person per year, but even here the funding is not secure beyond 2015, and of course funding across the rest of the country remains negligible.
Likewise the call for a ringfencing of the Highways Agency’s budget, proportionate at the very least to the amount of trips made overall by bike, is rejected. Even the report’s recommendation for a programme to remove barriers to cycle journeys across or along trunk roads and motorways has not been met with a serious response - just £20m is proposed, over the next three years. This just one month after the Government announced new funding of £28 billion for the strategic road network. The DfT cannot continue to mask its failure to engage seriously with cycling as a mode of transport with their list of miserable sums, wasted on another small scattering of badly conceived and executed projects.
Elsewhere, responsibility for improving the physical environment for cycling is shunted down to local authorities. While in theory this may be a good idea, too many authorities lack the expertise, funding or indeed willingness to make anything like a significant impression on increasing cycling levels. Strong leadership from central government is required, and yet that responsibility has been ducked.
While it is welcome that proven continental design for cycling is being trialled (largely at the behest of Transport for London), and that the Department for Transport is apparently willing for these new designs to be implemented on the road network, it is simply not good enough to leave responsibility for implementation up to local authorities, who often have a track record of doing the bare minimum, or even nothing at all. It speaks volumes that the press release accompaning the DfT response is illustrated with a photograph of a desperately narrow shared use pavement - the kind of 'infrastructure' that needs to be rejected, not endorsed.
The Get Britain Cycling Inquiry recommended setting a target for cycling levels of 10% of all journeys by 2025. Targets like this have been set and missed many times before, but serious, independent monitoring of movement towards such a target would serve as an indicator of progress. The DfT response dismisses setting such a target, arguing that “the Government does not believe that to set national targets for cycling will encourage take up at local level” - this rather misses the point of a national target.
The Department for Transport was asked to take a lead - but they have refused to be pinned down. Instead of demonstrating the vital leadership on technical expertise and national policy-making that the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group requested, they have stuck to their failed ‘strategy’ of drip-fed, inconsistent funding, spread around with no overarching rationale - only the most driven local authorities will be able to provide any meaningful support for cycling when they don’t even know what funding will be available next year, or what random new rules will be set up for requesting it.
The Cycle Stakeholder Forum remains a closed-door talking shop - with no means to open it up to a wider debate. The consensus behind the Get Britain Cycling Report has been extraordinary in the world of cycle campaigning - with everyone from British Cycling to the CTC to the motoring organisations broadly welcoming its recommendations. It seems only the Government has failed to see the light.