5th March 2019
Government plans for a ‘world-class’ national cycleway stretching the length of the HS2 railway line, which remained hidden for more than two years, were finally revealed in October. The Government-commissioned report detailed a cycleway of unprecedented ambition throughout England, linking communities up on a more than 1,000-mile route, in an enormous Y-configuration from London to Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds.
This national cycleway would link six cities, 40 towns, 200 smaller settlements, 276 mainline rail stations, two areas of outstanding national beauty, 76 air quality management areas (areas set to miss air pollution reduction targets), and numerous places of business. Benefits could range from tourism, to congestion busting, health and air quality improvements, to public realm and high street regeneration. The report’s authors, Royal Haskoning, co-founder of Sustrans, John Grimshaw, and highways engineer, Phil Jones, of PJA, drew up design standards that they hoped would set a high bar for the design of future cycle routes across the country.
However, BikeBiz understands the report was not published for fear it would put pressure on Government to fund the route. Given the return on investment for cycling infrastructure ranges from £5.50 to £35 per £1 spent, and HS2 has an ROI of just £1.47 per £1, the national cycleway could be the single biggest benefit for communities severed by HS2.
HS2 made a legally-binding commitment to Cycling UK it would ‘cycle proof’ crossings along the route, but has since been accused of back-pedalling on those commitments. Adding cycling and walking capacity on bridges and tunnels now comes with a minimal cost. Retrofitting infrastructure afterwards, meanwhile, would be so expensive as to be impossible. Without such links communities will be unable to cycle safely around much of the rail line.
The report outlined 12 ‘pathfinder’ schemes, routes that could have been delivered by next year, that had work started when the report was published. In the meantime, Grimshaw has managed to fundraise, negotiate and deliver the first, the Waddesdon Greenway, a four-kilometre route in Aylesbury from Waddesdon to Wendover, opened in September.
Advocates argue the Government-owned HS2 Ltd should be required by the Department for Transport (DfT) to deliver infrastructure for the cycleway, by adding extra width to bridges and tunnels, and wide paths on roadsides.
HS2 would deliver cycling infrastructure if required to by the Government, which begs the question, why isn’t the DfT requiring HS2 to deliver the cycleway as part of its community benefits? Even if the route isn’t delivered now, at least there will be the option to complete it in future.
What does the budget mean for the cycling sector?
You have to look quite hard to find cycling in this year’s Autumn budget. Campaigners have criticised the Government for once again ignoring calls to invest five per cent of its budget in active travel, and Cycling UK says this budget overlooks cycling in rural areas. The charity’s Duncan Dollimore says money is “disproportionately ploughed into motorways and highways which make up two per cent of our roads network.
“Overall this Budget fails to provide sufficient funding for rural communities and small towns, with the focus on our larger cities and the major road network.” The following aren’t solely cycling funds, but are ways councils can apply for funding for cycling and walking.
So, where is the money? In a nutshell, this is the roadmap to the various squirrelled stashes, from which canny councils may be able to extract cycling-shaped nuggets. The DfT says its Roads Investment Strategy is “bound to include dedicated funding for cycling”, but the details haven’t been published yet. Transforming Cities Fund (£680 million): £240 million for ‘significant transport projects’ in six English metro mayor cities, and £440 million for city regions shortlisted for additional ‘competitive funding’, to be announced.