The central representative body for English councils has surveyed 57 local authorities on a full range of active travel issues, including funding, governance, delivery, barriers and the nature of projects to build up a detailed picture of cycling and walking at a local level.
Three quarters of councils have a cycling and walking plan and more local authorities are expected to increase spending on cycling in 2015-16 than are expecting to reduce it, the new research from the Local Government Association has revealed.
The survey found 28% expected to increase cycling spending this year, compared to 20% who expected it to fall.
Of those who expected a reduction, 55% of respondents blamed the transfer of cash from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) to the Local Growth Fund – a pooled budget allocated to Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) based on Local Growth Deals.
The LSTF ran from 2011 to 2015 and saw the Department for Transport (DfT) provide £600m towards sustainable transport including walking, cycling and buses, which along with local contributions provided more than £1bn of dedicated local transport funding.
Jason Torrance policy director at Sustrans – a sustainable transport charity, which works with the DfT to deliver improvements in cycling – said it was a ‘mistake’ to move away from the greater certainty of dedicated funding under the LSTF.
Mr Torrance went on to criticise the lack of funding certainty across the sustainable transport sector, a problem exacerbated by complicated governance structures in local transport he said.
‘There is absolutely a lack of certainty on funding. If you look at what happened when the strategic roads investment strategy came about, the arguments from the DfT and the Treasury were all about creating confidence and certainty of funding. Investing in cycling and walking is no different to investing in roads. The problem over the last decade or so is stop start funding.
‘We have an opportunity over the coming months for the Government to move forward with the cycling and walking investment strategy required under the amended Infrastructure Act.
‘They now need to commence it and one of the things I think this survey says is that local authorities across the country need a long-term investment strategy that involves different government departments at a national and local level combined into a broader strategy just as we have for roads, that can join up health and transport. The coming months give the Government an opportunity to do that.’
In suggesting ways to remove barriers other than a lack of funds, a wide range of ideas was presented to the LGA by councils in the survey. The major focus of these agreed with Sustrans that long-term national strategies and streamlined funding with less competitive bidding was needed.
The LGA research also revealed that lack of capital (61%) and revenue funding (65%) were barriers to promoting cycling and walking to a great extent, as was uncertainty of future funding (58%). Worryingly 51% were not even aware of EU funding opportunities.
It also showed that councils use a range of funding sources to promote cycling, including their core funding (35%), through LEPs (31%), through highways maintenance funding (25%), the LSTF (25%), public health (21%) and cycle city ambition grants (21%).
In terms of governance, of the 30 respondents that had proposed measures 90% said their measures featured in the LEPs’ Growth Plan submission, although only 60% were agreed by government in the final allocation.
‘I think the LEP structure needs to be reviewed,’ Mr Torrance said, ‘I think accountability needs to be at a local level and clearly this survey points to the current system needing to be improved in terms of governance and financing’.
‘At the moment we have lots of different governance systems in transport, with lots of different crossover. It is unclear at times who has accountability for what at times at a local level and I think that’s clearly not a happy place to enable things to move forward.
‘We have a lot of challenges at a local and regional level and making clear where the accountability lies to make that happen is essential, losing it is really detrimental to the process. Organisations and people make things happen and generally the simpler they are the better conditions they have. I think the institutions that we have built up are just way to complicated.’
Responding to questions on the key drivers behind the active travel agenda, 98% considered improvement in public health to a great or moderate extent, followed by enhanced travel choices (93%), reduction of traffic congestion (87%) and economic and regeneration reasons (77%).
Mr Torrance said it was not a surprise that the pressures of public health influence many transport officers in local authorities.
‘There is clearly a lot more to do particularly around changing our physical environment and I think local health teams need to work collaboratively with local transport teams. Most notably you could say that public health teams have revenue funding, they are revenue rich in fact and local transport teams are capital rich,’ he added.
‘One of the things we have learned through the years is these funding streams need to go hand in hand, certainly in transport funding there is a real problem with the absence of revenue funding.’
In terms of the work on the ground, 75% of councils said they were currently promoting active travel through schools, 65% were implementing a cycle investment programme, 63% were providing secure cycle parking and/or facilities and 60% were cycle proofing new transport infrastructure.
However when it comes to delivering such infrastructure 86% said there were barriers on main carriageways, and of these 65% felt funding was a barrier, followed by 57% bemoaning spatial conflicts with moving traffic and 47% citing conflicts with bus stops or parking.