Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Cycling England is dead; long live cycling in England

A delayed posting of the link to my second story for Guardian Environment. 28 March 2011. Cycling England has been abolished and the Department for the Environment says it will take the work in house and promote sustainable transport using a new £560m Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF). But sustainable transport lobbyists say the "localism agenda" may derail attempts by government to achieve "modal shift towards sustainable transport". After all, not all local authorities want sustainable transport - the Tory administration in Brighton and Hove declared in January that it wants to repeal moves in that direction.

Link to Guardian story, with comments, here

My story was subbed to fit the Guardian word count. My original story is below:

Cycling in England after Cycling England is abolished
1590 words
By Russell Honeyman

22 March 2011. On March 31, Cycling England will be no more, and critics fear its successor will be unable to achieve modal shift toward sustainable transport because it is crippled by the “localisation agenda”.

To all intents and purposes, Cycling England is dead already. The “Non Governmental Public Body” that was supposed to get “more people cycling, more safely, more often” in England has been abolished as part of coalition government reforms to “increase accountability, deliver smaller government and improve efficiency”.

The Department for Transport (DfT) will bring key functions of Cycling England in-house. It says the work can be done better within the Department through the mechanism of a £560m Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF).

Secretary of State Norman Baker launched of the LSTF in an online video describing his vision for “modal shift to sustainable transport”. Electric cars and long distance rail travel will help reduce carbon and yield health and environmental benefits. Physical inactivity and poor air quality cost the state scores of billions a year, while walking and cycling improves high street turnover by 10-15%. Congestion, he said costs us £11bn a year.

Mr Baker praised Cycling England’s Demonstration towns. Over £160million in government funds to 18 towns and cities over 6 years saw increases of 27% in cycling, and doubled the number of children cycling to school. During this time cycling was on a general decline in the rest of the UK.

But Mr Baker wants an end to “the top down approach”. He wants to hand power back to local authorities, alongside decentralised economic power, regional growth funds and Local Enterprise Partnerships. He wants to move away from specific grants to local, customised solutions.

Hence, he abolished Cycling England, and in its stead, set up the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF). He envisages local authorities working in partnership with voluntary sector, community and business to put forward proposals for grant funding from the scheme. The first round will be in April 2011.

That’s just over a week a away.

Sustainable Transport charity Sustrans' Policy Manager Jason Torrance broadly welcomed the LSTF. But today, he warned: “The localism agenda makes it difficult to have an adequate response to climate change or physical inactivity. We need a national response to a national crisis. Devolving responsibility to Local Authorities to interpret, or in their own way prioritise as they see fit, is not necessarily a recipe for success. Phillip Hammond quotes national policy as giving over-riding commitment to localism – the reality is that this may well end up undermining the government’s very own strategy.”

Mr Torrance is sanguine about the demise of Cycling England: “We don’t have a funding environment that has £140m for a Cycling England. It is now incumbent on the local authorities to use the momentum in a wider sense and move towards integrated transport systems as a part of upcoming Local Transport Plans published at the end of March.” (more>>>)