Governments are sometimes accused of ‘burying bad news’. There’s certainly no shortage of news of all kinds at the moment. So you could be forgiven for missing one announcement that is good news for sustainable transport.
The Sustainable Travel Access Fund has £60M of funding available to local authorities to bid for walking and cycling schemes that will improve access to jobs and training.
While this fund is new, it’s the legacy of years of campaigning to secure and protect funds for local green transport.
We were rightly proud to help achieve the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF). Running from 2011-2015, it awarded £600M for nearly 100 projects across 77 local authorities. So we were concerned when the Government announced that from 2015 onwards, the LSTF would be merged into the wider Local Growth Fund.
We’ve continued to make the case for dedicated funds. Without a specific budget, the evidence is that sustainable travel will lose out. As our LEP Watch project shows, too often the transport money allocated through the Growth Fund to Local Enterprise Partnerships ends up being spent on new roads, generating more traffic and pollution, and reinforcing car dependency. On average, only £1 in every £100 that LEPs allocate for transport projects goes on cycling.
Across England, transport budgets are being cut as councils struggle to fund social care and other priorities. The latest local government spending figures show that the total council highways and transport budget for 2016-17 is £4.4bn, down by £521 million from 2015-16, putting bus services and active travel at risk. A false economy, given each £1 spent on bus services generates £3.50 in wider benefits, and the vital role buses play in connecting young people to work.
This new fund won’t replace bus funding – that battle continues - but although modest in size, it is a welcome boost. Councils have until Friday 9 September to apply for funding, on a competitive basis: there’s more detail from the DfT. If you want to see your local area benefit, ask your Council to put in a bid.
The case for active travel is growing stronger. Concern about air pollution is forcing action to tackle dirty diesel vehicles, as seen in the Mayor of London’s proposals for an expanded Ultra Low Emission Zone. It’s not just for major cities: communities across the country, from Southport to Southend, are embracing change. The Faculty of Public Health is the latest in a long list of expert bodies to call for a major shift away from cars in favour of walking, cycling and public transport.
If the Government is serious about delivering the aims set out in its draft Cycling & Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS), then spending decisions need to change. The Access Fund is a small but welcome step in the right direction.