Plans for a linked cycle network across Merseyside could be delayed for years after the government cut funding for new active travel infrastructure.
On 9 March, government ministers announced that funding for active travel infrastructure would be reduced from £308m to £100m over the next two years as part of £40bn spending commitment on roads, rail, and other infrastructure.
This announcement doesn’t affect any cycle lane funding the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority has already received, but future bids could see far less money granted in the future as the general pot for England has been reduced by two-thirds.
Labour councillor Liz Grey who chairs Wirral Council’s environment and transport committee said it was “a real shame that the government backtracked on significant promises” and Wirral was going to have to scale back its plans to introduce more walking and cycle routes.
However, Conservatives in Wirral said any delay to new active travel schemes could be an opportunity to get people on board and properly consult people about the changes. They also called on the government to relax the rules around tight funding deadlines for councils.
Cllr Grey said, “It’s more a case of we can afford to do it. It is more effective to invest here and now.
“That has got to be better value for money than trying to do it last minute. This is a case of we can’t afford not to do it and the government should be far more strategic and long term about this.”
Cllr Grey argued slow progress on cycle lanes is going to annoy both drivers and cyclists because cycle lanes won’t be joined up and cyclists will be in traffic.
She added, “People aren’t going to take up cycling in any significant numbers and we aren’t going to change lifestyles unless cycling is made to be safe and feel safe. At the moment, you do not feel safe on the road and if you look at the data it’s genuinely not safe.”
Cllr Grey believes the delay could have a wider impact too. She said, “We are more likely to have health problems if we are not active. One of the biggest problems we have is air pollution in our area from cars and traffic pollution so we need to clean the air and get people fitter and more active.”
Cllr Grey also pointed to statistics showing places like Birkenhead have higher air pollution, more walkers and cyclists hit by vehicles but the lowest car ownership in Wirral, calling it a “terrible social injustice.”
Funding deadlines can be tight for some schemes with money having to be committed within weeks in some cases. If funding is turned down, this could impact the chances of bidding for future projects.
Cllr Max Booth said, “They should be joining up with existing cycle lanes but I think that the government also has a role to play. The government needs to look at the red tape around funding around that and the regulations on that funding and give councils more control in consultation.
“When people are under pressure bad decisions can be made and in my mind Fender Lane was a bad decision. The government has a wider role in streamlining the process, being more transparent, and open.”
He added: “We do not want to be seen as people against cycling or cycling infrastructure but it needs to be done in the right way and put in the right places with local businesses and people on board. We do not want this to be also seen as a campaign against cars and driving vans and cars off the road. I think a balanced approach is still needed.
“I do not buy the argument that delay is a bad thing in this case. There are still pots of funding and we have a lot of good capital investment schemes going on. It needs to be done right and if that means a delay I think that will be a positive thing.”
Image: Cllr Ed Lamb tries to use cycling as a way to get his kids to school as well as commuting. Credit: Liverpool City Region Combined Authority