Wednesday 26 April 2017 11.45 BST
Unless you’re an avid transport campaigner, it’s likely that among the rush of government announcements made last week, you will have missed one very important one: the publication of the cycling and walking investment strategy (CWIS),
The government’s intention to launch a CWIS was first announced in January 2015. It took more than two years, but we now have the first legislation of its kind in England to bind the government with legal commitments to invest in cycling and walking provision.
The CWIS has been the result of years’ of pressure from cycling and walking groups and the concerted efforts of a small but dedicated group of civil servants. Its publication is a cause for both celebration and relief, as there were concerns that the forthcoming election could have delayed it further, or even halted it altogether.
It comes with a familiar positive vision set out at the start of the document: “We want to make cycling and walking the natural choices for shorter journeys, or as part of a longer journey.”
Cynics might point out that this is nothing new, as similar sentiments have been peddled since as far back as 1996, when the Department for Transport published its National Cycling Strategy.
That’s true, but the CWIS is a gamechanger as it has committed to long-term funding for the first time.
The CWIS promises up to £1.2bn will be spent on cycling and walking by 2020/21. However, this figure relies largely upon local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to stump up the majority of the cash, as funding pledged from central government coffers is only £316m.
Based on these calculations, we can expect £26 per head to be invested in cycling and walking over the next four years for everyone in England outside of London (London’s transport funding is devolved and determined by Transport for London). That’s far short of the minimum annual spend of £10 per head recommended for cycling by both the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group and transport select committee, and which was accepted by the previous prime minister, David Cameron.
With so much funding for cycling and walking reliant upon local authorities and LEPs, it is absolutely crucial it is spent wisely and in the areas where it will have the most impact.
Fortunately, the tools to do this are contained within the CWIS. There’s some excellent guidance for councils on how to begin planning and delivering comprehensive cycling and walking networks in their areas – something Dutch cycle planners have repeatedly stressed as necessary.
This is supported by the government-funded Propensity to Cycle Tool, which allows local authorities to map the potential for increased travel by bike under different scenarios.
This tool was already in operation before the CWIS, and has led some local campaign groups to start creating “tube-style” cycle network maps, showing the facilities they want to see prioritised in their areas.
The government has said it can achieve its goal of doubling cycling with half the recommended amount, and is now legally bound to do so.