8 FEB 2019
London mayor Sadiq Khan faces renewed questions over delivery of his active travel programme after official documents this week revealed a £142m underspend on cycling under his watch.
Khan’s ambitious plans for cycling infrastructure in London, including a £100m funding boost announced in December, have been widely applauded.
However, Green Assembly Member Caroline Russell, who spotted the official underspend figures this week after a series of questions to the Mayor, now says delays put air quality improvement plans at risk and raise questions over whether the money can now be spent at all.
For its part, Transport for London (TfL) says it is ‘frustrated’ by a lack of progress on the matter. However, it said ‘lots’ of consultation and construction is planned for this year and called on boroughs, which are responsible for 95% of London’s roads, to work with them to help move matters forward.
Russell told Cyclist: ‘The Mayor should be embarrassed that he has twice announced bigger budgets, and he hasn’t spent either of them.
‘Over the past three years, spending has gone down, year on year. They are really struggling to spend the money now.
‘If all of that £142m had been spent we would be a lot further forward and more boroughs would be seeing the benefits of having decent places to cycle,’ Russell added.
‘The Mayor talks about a record average spend but he’s just combining spending averages into the future [based on money] that he hasn’t spent yet.’
While TfL commissioner Mike Brown insisted on Thursday that TfL has the capacity to deploy unspent money in future years, Russell countered that ‘there’s nothing in terms of evidence over the last three years that gives any confidence’ that will happen.
Among delayed schemes are those consulted on under former mayor Boris Johnson, including Cycle Superhighway CS11 (delayed indefinitely by Westminster Council) along with the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street. Other approved schemes that have got underway are behind schedule in construction.
The London Cycling Campaign’s Simon Munk said: ‘Sadiq and Will Norman and others were very keen to say “no more underspend”. We can see in fact [spending] has gone down every year but somehow we are predicting a spend next year over anything that has been achieved ever before.
‘We aren’t talking about new schemes, or his schemes, even on the protected routes. All the schemes he’s expecting to spend [on] by 2020 were all consulted on prior to him becoming mayor.’
Some progress does seem to be being made, however, if slowly. In December, Khan increased the three-year cycling budget from £552m (2020/21-22/23) to £664m. As well as a new quality standard for cycling infrastructure, under which sub-standard schemes won’t get funded, Khan and his walking and cycling commissioner, Will Norman, are introducing a lorry permit scheme that will progressively ban the most dangerous HGVs from London roads.
In January the long delayed cycle route through Hammersmith, formerly CS9, took a major step forward when construction was announced for over the summer, and six further cycle routes across London were also given the green light. Completed protected cycle routes have seen significant increases in the number of cycling journeys made, with one quietway seeing a 188% increase.
In a recent meeting at City Hall Khan pointed out there is £2.3bn available for Healthy Streets, the name for TfL’s active travel and urban realm work, against a backdrop of declining funds from central government, a subdued national economy, and escalating costs of the new Elizabeth Line.
While Khan claims to have built 100km of Quietways since he became Mayor in 2016, Munk questioned the level of improvements. ‘We are still waiting to hear how much of that 100km matches the criteria bars that TfL has set. We know there are clearly going to be sections of even CS7 and CS8 that will not make the quality bar.
‘Our perception is most of that is sub-standard quality,’ he said. ‘Quite significant parts haven’t had anything, not a Q logo, not a sign.’
‘And if it is just a Quietway logo, that’s 100km of nothing. We don’t agree with that figure, we think it’s misleading.’
Campaigners say schemes are being ‘held hostage’ by unwilling councils and that progress is slow even on schemes not seen as being contentious.
‘Even minor special interest groups, a single church, shop or residents associations can have a massive amount of sway over councillors, who have a massive amount of sway over borough leaders,’ Munk said.
‘It’s very difficult to work out what’s going on at TfL but every scheme seems to spend six months in modelling. Do we only have one tiny computer at the back of the office doing the modelling?’
However, Russell urged all parties to put aside their grievances and work together: ‘I would like to see them just pushing ahead; they know how to do good stuff now and they just need to get on and do it.
‘The work they are doing recently – they are thinking about the benefits not only to cycling but those living in the area, those walking and catching the bus. It’s really good for Londoners.
‘Of course there are boroughs who aren’t doing a good job and of course they have come up with a new quality standard.
‘However, the ULEZ [Ultra Low Emission Zone] plans will be undermined if there isn’t the cycling infrastructure. People need real alternatives to driving the car, particularly in outer London.’
She has also asked for better transparency over quietway construction so that it’s clear exactly what has and has not been built. Tfl commissioner Brown said this week he will look into this.
Nigel Hardy, head of programme sponsorship for TfL, said, ‘We are frustrated that delivery hasn’t been as quick as we would have liked. We’re planning lots of construction and consultations on new routes to begin this year, including consultations in the spring on several new cycle routes.
‘However, we need councils to work with us to deliver new routes and safer junctions, which are needed to reduce danger for people walking and cycling, who are amongst the most vulnerable road users, and to help us to achieve our Vision Zero ambition of no deaths and serious injuries by 2041.’