Department for Transport has to shave billions off its budget. First cuts announced today.

Sustrans puts case for cycling as DfT freezes spending

The transport secretary, Philip Hammond has today frozen plans for dozens of local transport projects. Local authorities have been told any scheme awaiting Department for Transport approval cannot progress at present.

Hammond said: "The Department for Transport will play a full part in the spending review which will be reporting in the autumn. Only once the Government’s spending review has been concluded will the Department for Transport be in a position to identify those major investments that can be supported…Local authorities will wish to consider carefully whether investing further time and resources in developing such schemes ahead of the spending review is justified."

Most cycling schemes are paid for by Local Authorities and a squeeze on their transport budgets could impact on cycling schemes, even though they tend to be cheap in comparison to road widenings and congestion-busting light rail schemes.

Jason Torrance, Policy Manager for sustainable transport charity Sustrans said:

"As scrutiny on public spending is intensified we believe it is more important than ever that investment is focused on interventions that deliver high value for money, and benefits across Government.

"Large road schemes often have a return on investment of less than £2 for every £1 spent. But we believe there are better, smarter ways to spend money. The work of Sustrans consistently proves that helping people to use their cars less for short local journeys delivers multiple benefits: not least financially – using the government’s own cost benefit system local walking and cycling schemes shows a return on investment of £15 to £33 for every pound spent."

The schemes in question are three Sustrans Links to Schools programme schemes. These were appraised and featured in Local Transport Today.

Cycling England – which is funded by the DfT and which, prior to the election, was praised by all the major political parties – has an economics impact report on cycling done by an independent consultant. This report, produced by SQW of Edinburgh, estimates that every new cyclist saves the nation £382 a year in costs related to health, pollution and congestion. It says a 20 per cent increase in biking by 2012 would save £107m in premature deaths, £52m for the NHS and £87m in costs to employers through reduced sickness. A cut in pollution would save £71m a year, while reducing congestion would save £207m. Spending one pound on cycling brings in four pounds of benefits.

Naturally, all transport modes argue their own corner on costs versus benefits. For instance, a proposed £184m set of road widening schemes in Somerset is estimated to produce benefits six times their cost (what’s not factored in to this are the externalities of extra driving). However, the hugely expensive High Speed Rail project has a ratio of benefits to costs of only 2.4 to one.

The 2006 Eddington report on the the UK’s transport system called for smaller transport schemes to be favoured over larger, riskier schemes.

According to the pro-motoring RAC Foundation, the Department for Transport no longer gives as much credence to cost-benefit analysis as previously.

However, the proof will be in the pudding: this Autumn’s Spending Review.

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