Transport Committee – local decision making on transport expenditure

To a call by the Transport Committee – Local decision making on transport expenditure Newcycling (Newcastle’s cycling campaign, 1,200 members, volunteer organisation, constituted, formed in 2010) would like to respond to your request about views on local transport expenditure. We will focus solely on cycling (and progress on council policy to increase cycle modal share) as this shows both the complexity of the process and the current disconnect in clear accountability and evidenced decision-making for public spending and policy.

The wider context is that other countries spend up to £30 per head on cycling to extend and maintain their networks [ref.1] and that 30% of journeys, or more, are done by bike. The UK spends about £1-2 per head and has a cycle modal share of 2-3%. It’s clear that it is the bicycle that’s so silently absent from the modal share, expenditure and economic planning in the UK.

1. Better availability of data and stronger presence of national leadership
We know from various sources that Newcastle’s cycle modal share is the national average of about 3%. When trying to take a look at actual figures for transport spending however these are hard to find and obtain. It is our understanding, from analysing requested information, that Newcastle sets aside (informally ring-fenced) £0.3m on an annual basis from its portion of the ITA block grant (LTP3 budget) with a pre-determined split between revenue and capital. The budget remains unscrutinised, unmonitored and unchecked – public society has no say. This also means that in a city of nearly 300,000 inhabitants less than £1 is spent on cycling (as a combination of revenue and capital). Newcastle recently received £5.7m for two years (till March 2015) from the DfT’s Cycle City Ambition Fund topping up a £1.3m grant from the DfT Cycle Safety Fund, hence temporarily elevating the annual budget to £12.7 per head, still falling short of the £30 spend on cycling in other countries. Nonetheless, the increase in available budget comes with a challenge too. Newcastle will find it difficult to draw up sensible plans in the short timescale, and spending the money well is a challenge due to organisational, institutional, technical and political pressures.
Recommendation: Transport authorities to make expenditure clear and publish routinely for public scrutiny and debate. In the short-term and in light of current drip-fed national funding system, transport authorities to make plans in advance in line with sustainable transport policies and reactivate those plans when funding sources become available. In the medium term, a national cycling budget to be set aside ie £1-2bn year on year to provide funding certainty to local transport authorities.

2. Mainstreaming cycle design into major projects
We also know that other government monies are available to the ITA (and in the future LEP) through competitive bidding (e.g LSTF, Pinchpoint). These opportunities provide short windows of opportunities and are disconnected from other sources of transport funding, supporting a ‘silo’ culture. We ought to stress that the large majority of funding to so called ‘major projects’ is invested in roads and highways and to some lesser extent in transport hubs and public transport. Despite a positive ITA policy for sustainable transport (LTP3) walking and cycling remains underfunded.
Recommendation: National government to mainstream cycle-proofing in major transport projects and compel local transport authorities to comply. Better national design standards may help to achieve this.

3. National leadership on transport planning matters
There is also monies available from developers’ contributions (section 106, now CIL). In Newcastle, Great Park was a high-profile green belt/field development with great hopes for a cutting-edge and green building and living standard. Neither did materialise to great degree, devastating the masterplanning process and the city’s reputation. Years later, the development has driven people into car dependency, has not improved viable sustainable links into the city centre and remains ‘traditional’ in its design layout and off-site impact. The developer’s contribution of reportedly £5m is now slowly released and there may be ways to improve cycling on the A167 Great North Road into the city centre – which is badly needed given the number of schools and communities on this busy stretch too. The promise to fund and build sustainable travel options and even a cycle network through new developments has been Newcastle’s policy for decades; but this has not materialised to any acceptable degree.
Recommendation: Stronger land-use planning and engineering design rules for sustainable travel and avoiding negative on and off-site impacts of traditional designs.

4. Local transport authorities to plan and work smarter
Other monies could be utilised through tapping into the road maintenance budget. Routine re-surfacing works for example whenever carried out could include a review of the current road layout and space apportioning. This has been promised by the council for two decades but, again, has not materialised as a practice on the ground in Newcastle.
Recommendation: Council(s) to overcome silo working and connect relevant departments to work together, make good use of spending and make each pound go further.

5. Newcastle to scrutinise their policies
There is a large number of unfulfilled and unsuccessful policies. Newcastle in policy (dating back to early 1990s) promised that modal shift will be brought about and that cycle routes would be created through various policy means – but this has not materialised. Policies are (too) many and often contradict each other too much so that Councillors and officers alike don’t know or observe them.
Recommendation: Policy review on Council level to strip policy back to basics and make it relevant for debating, authorising and approving budgets.

6. Cities as trip attractors to have special status in regional planning
In Newcastle figures from census data show that 42% households have no access to a motor vehicle [ref.2] showing that Newcastle in itself is less car-dependent than other cities which should be celebrated and welcomed. About 100,000 journeys are generated into the city centre, which can be expected for a regional hub like Newcastle. Many of these journeys are done by car, and likely to be generated from outside Newcastle.
Recommendation: For per-capita funding applications Newcastle should use population figures including its surroundings, to mitigate for the traffic generation elsewhere and modal shift be funded at destination (ie car parking restraint policy, public realm improvements etc). A decoupled / ringfenced budget stream would be helpful.

7. National ring-fencing expenditure for sustainable road design
Looking ahead, we see the proposed transfer of transport expenditure to LEPs or a combined authority as a real concern. There is a genuine risk to marginalise sustainable transport priorities given the focus on “traditional” economics taken by some LEPs. It is too early to comment on the effectiveness of the Local Transport Boards but the previous Tyne and Wear ITA board lacked inclusivity and representation / involvement in decision-making of civil society including public transport user groups and sustainable transport organisations.
Recommendation: DfT should ring-fence minimum levels of expenditure for sustainable transport including cycling & walking and any funding allocation managed through competition to include a prominent cycling and walking criteria. Government should require Local Transport Boards to include civil society representatives.

In summary

We appreciate and understand the rationale for the devolution of decision, control and resources but we urge central government to have a national transport policy which promotes cycling and walking through a well-structured and sustained budget and to show leadership in recognising the importance of cycling infrastructure and best practice design to achieve higher cycling modal shares to unlock the health, social and environmental benefits.

A restructuring of the budget is required to align with the desired outcomes. The current mechanism for cycle transport expenditure and budget (as part of the overall transport allocation) is too complex and interconnected, and therefore easily remains marginalised, as exactly has happened in the past. Due to the inconsistent and random nature, expenditure figures are rarely available. However it is clear that Newcastle, apart from the funding boost over the next two years, may not sustain the same levels of investment if decisions are made through an economic partnership with a traditional motor vehicle focus which could even be less transparent and accountable than its predecessor.

National assistance is required to bring about that understanding and focus, so that cycling will be duly reflected in national as well as local structure of budgets and design principles.

Hope this is of use.

Thanks
Katja Leyendecker, chair

References

1. City Cycling, by Pucher and Buehler, 2012
2. Census 2011