Active Travel Funding: Time to Step Up a Gear

Earlier this year, Sustrans called on the Welsh Government to ramp up investment in active travel. Today campaigners from across Wales will join a mass lobby of Assembly Members, organised by Cardiff Cycle City, backing that call. Sustrans’ Steve Brooks explains why such investment is essential if Wales is to wean itself off car dependency.

The term ‘active travel’ means walking and cycling and focuses on walking and cycling for transport rather than leisure. The Active Travel Act defines an “active travel journey” as “a journey made to or from a workplace or educational establishment or in order to access health, leisure or other services or facilities.”


Wales can be rightly proud of some world leading policies and laws. The Well-being of Future Generations Act and the Active Travel Act are just two examples. But one consistent criticism of the Welsh Government from many sectors is that national policy often fails to translate into on the ground delivery. Five years on since the passage of the Active Travel Act, has the way we travel radically changed? In short, no. And whilst there are several reasons for this outlined in Sustrans’ evidence to the Assembly’s recent Active Travel Act inquiry, one of the big barriers is funding.


Getting a precise figure on how much we invest in active travel in Wales is difficult, but Sustrans estimates that Welsh Government probably spends somewhere in the region of £12 per person per year, up from £4-6 which was the estimated level before an additional £60 million over three years was announced.


Over the last 10 years capital budgets for transport have been around £300 million per annum. Funding for active travel schemes were usually between £12-20 million, an average of 5% of the total budget per year. By way of comparison recent estimates for the M4 relief road suggest that that new stretch of motorway equates to £466 per person in Wales.


Welsh Government really are behind other ambitious countries when it comes to spending. In Scotland, investment in walking and cycling is considerably more. In September 2017 it confirmed that it was doubling the walking and cycling budget (from £40m to £80m) equating to a spend of £16 per head per year. In 2016 the Mayor of London made a commitment to invest in ‘record levels’ in cycling which is expected to equate to £17 per capita per annum, an amount similar to that in Denmark and parts of the Netherlands. In Copenhagen city, investment levels on cycling have been more than £35 per capita per annum since 2004, resulting on a 41% modal share for cycling in the city.


The return on investment of investing in walking and cycling is a self-evident. Sustrans’ Bike Life report which was published last year was the UK’s biggest assessment of cycling in seven major UK cities, including Cardiff. Current spend in Cardiff delivers a £28m total benefit to the city including a saving for the NHS of £699,000 annually (equivalent to the average salary of 30 nurses); and taking 11,008 cars off the capital’s roads each day (equivalent to a 33 mile tailback). 


With this in mind when it comes to setting the budget, here are seven things Sustrans recommends Assembly Members think about.


  1. Welsh Government and opposition parties should use this budget round to publicly state their support for achieving £20 per person per year by the 2020/21 financial year.
  2. Whilst the bulk of investment should be capital funding so that local authorities can build the safe and accessible infrastructure we need, revenue funding to support initiatives that get more children walking, scooting and cycling to school be included.
  3. The annual funding cycle for local authorities should be replaced by a three or five year cycle which enables councils to plan more effectively and bring forward larger schemes, rather than shovel ready bitty projects. This is particularly important for rural councils who have little capacity to work up smaller prospective schemes.
  4. Lessons should be learnt from Scotland about ensuring quality, so that we can raise the bar with the infrastructure we build. There are no design or engineering problems Wales will encounter that haven’t already been solved somewhere else; but local authority officers need support. Equipping a national body, be it Welsh Government, Transport for Wales or even Sustrans, to monitor how design standards are delivered is a must.
  5. Spend wisely. In addition to funding priority schemes identified by local authorities under the Active Travel Act, money should be ring-fenced for major projects of national significance like Cardiff’s cycle super highways, integration with the rail network and connecting up Deeside
  6. Don’t forget rural Wales. The needs of urban and rural areas are different, and whilst investment in urban areas offers the biggest ‘bang for buck’ in terms of number of people, small schemes in rural areas can still have a transformative effect on the quality of life for local residents. A simple footpath connecting a village to a school eases rush hour traffic and makes the school run safer for children.
  7. This shouldn’t just be the remit of the Department for Economy and Transport. Other Welsh Government departments need to step up. Can, for example, a portion of the 21st Century Schools Programme budget be spent on better connecting new schools to walking and cycling routes?


Photo by Max Bender on Unsplash


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Steve Brooks is Director for Sustrans Cymru

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