We’re living in an age of faux austerity – fausterity, if you will. We’re not “all in it together”. Bankers get bail-outs; steel-workers don’t. £167 billion is set to be wasted on replacing Trident but Treasury penny-pinchers earlier forced the closure of historic army regiments. The Tory government has shackled us to an eye-wateringly uneconomic nuclear-power deal with the Communist Party of China yet has pulled the plug from eco-friendly solar- and wind-generation. All of this is done to supposedly balance the books so we “live within our means” but political pet projects – such as High Speed 2 – are allowed to write their own cheques.
Measures that would curb carbon emissions and help save the planet are labelled as “green crap” by Prime Minister David Cameron. The deficit reduction plan is meant to provide stability and security for “Britain’s hard-working families” but it took the House of Lords to point out how hard-working families would be far worse off if the now binned tax-credit cuts were actioned.
George Osborne’s 2015 Spending Review lavished money on trunk roads but did next to nothing for active travel. In this age of fausterity we can still apparently afford congestion-busting schemes that will, with scientific certainty, lead to more congestion. The once discredited “predict and provide” model of road building is back with a vengeance. While commentators thrash and cry over the wanton and criminal destruction by Islamic State of Roman temples in Palmyra, the digging of a road tunnel within the sacred landscape of Stonehenge in Wiltshire raises hardly a murmur.
The government says it wants to “revolutionise our roads” but the revolution is, in truth, more of the same. More tarmac, and less space for cyclists. Slow moving vehicles – such as tractors and bicycles – are set to be banned from many A-roads despite the fact many A-roads are sometimes the only roads available between towns.
Even though investing in cycling has a payback of 30-to-1 – far in advance of the cost-to-benefit ratios for road- or rail-building – cycling is back to start-stop funding.
In theory, the government has a walking and cycling strategy – it was introduced as an amendment to the Infrastructure Act earlier this year, but without significant amounts of cash it’s all just hot air.
Before the Spending Review British Cycling told the Treasury that some of Britain’s biggest businesses, including GSK, Virgin Trains, Orange and the National Grid, want to see more investment in cycling. Sustrans and CTC joined with these companies and British Cycling to deliver an open letter spelling out the strong economic case for investing in active travel. It didn’t work.
For all sorts of social, jam-busting, health-of-the-nation, ecological and economic reasons it’s time to get serious about cycling but I don’t think Osborne views transport cycling as anything other than an irrelevance. Bigger fool him.