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Campaigners slam councils for delays and misuse of cycling funding

With new funding announced today, is the last round being spent well?

Delays, council reluctance to provide for cycling, and lack of planning transparency have blighted the implementation of cycling improvements funded the Cycle City Ambition scheme according to campaign groups in three of the eight cities awarded money by the scheme.

Campaigners called on councils to spend the additional funding announced today by Nick Clegg on kerb-separated cycling infrastructure, improved junctions and reallocation of road space.

An extra £124 million pounds is to be allocated to the English cities that have already been awarded the Department for Transport's Cycle City Ambition grants.

That's on top of £77 million already awarded to the eight: Greater Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Bristol, Norwich, Oxford, Cambridge and Birmingham.

But the track record of some councils when it comes to spending the cash already allocated to cycling has not been impressive, according to campaigners in Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle. Those three cities account for 56 percent of the cash allocated in the initial Cycle City Ambition funding. asked campaign groups in all eight cities how their councils had performed so far. We received replies from the three Northern groups and Cambridge.

Katja Leyendecker of Newcastle campaign group Newcycling said there had been “much talk, hype and consultation, but nothing linear has been built, [aside from] one small junction improvement and we aren't even happy with the quality as it incorporates shared space - unfairly pitting walking and cycling against each other.”

Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign (GMCC) is also unhappy at the use of Cycle City Ambition funding for shared-space schemes.

Jonathan Fingland of GMCC told that Manchester had put shovels in the ground, but the results so far were unimpressive.

He said: “One example being Manchester Road in Cheadle where it's now less comfortable to cycle on the road due to lane narrowing, and it's not yet possible to cycle effectively on the shared-use footway as it is obstructed by large, free-standing speed limit and roadworks signs.”

Other Manchester schemes have also involved the construction of shared-use paths, which inevitably lead to conflict between riders and pedestrians if they become busy. Fingland said: “Shared-use footways and toucan crossings do not a cycle route make”.

It's particularly disappointing, says Fingland, in light of the guidelines supposed to shape these projects.

Greater Manchester's bid document said facilities would be built “in accordance with the core Vélocity 2025 objective of providing largely segregated cycle facilities to cater for the full range of cyclists" and "cycle tracks or cycle lanes with a safety buffer should be considered first and provided where it is viable to do so". [My emphasis.]

“The level of ambition is low,” Fingland adds.

Leeds is also making slow progress on projects funded by Cycle Ambition grants.

Leeds Cycling Campaign's Lizzie Reather told the planned canal towpath refurbishment, part of a Leeds-Bradford 'cycle superhighway' was either underway or about to start, and construction of the superhighway itself was due to start in January.

The towpath refurbishment was originally due to have been finished in time for the Tour de France.

Reather believes that Leeds could do a huge amount by carefully spending the grants, but that's just not happening.

She said: “Instead we spend multiple millions on a bike track alongside a major road, that's in danger of being seriously compromised because we can't make the junctions work well for bikes without reducing vehicle capacity, and can't reduce car parking even when there's plenty within a 60 second walk.”

Things are rather better in Cambridge, where out-of-town schemes are complete or mostly complete, according to CamCycle's Hester Wells, and projects within Cambridge are ready to go.

She said there had been some delays, but they're not critical.

Wells said: “The council deferred approval of the Hills Road and Huntingdon Road schemes due to concerns over floating bus stops which set things back, but it was resolved and approved at a subsequent meeting. The money should all be spent by the timescales required.”

Opposition and secrecy

All three Northern groups identified council attitudes to cycling as impeding the building of high quality facilities.

As detailed above, Manchester has ignored its pledge to build largely segregated cycle facilities, while Newcastle has rebuffed attempts by NewCycling to explain flaws in its projects, when they could actually find out about them.

Leyendecker said: "Council plays everything close to their chests; budgets, programme and timetables are totally unclear and not transparent to the public."

When the campaigners realised that the schedule was slipping and Newcastle was in danger of failing to spend the grant in time, and therefore risked having to return the money, NewCycling attempted to raise the issue.

"We spent days analysing data to make sure we had this right, and then we alerted the programme board, but they weren't interested in hearing us. There's a bit of head-in-sand attitude here. Openness and transparency in decision-making and communication is still lacking."

Reather says that the single thing that would improve Leeds most for cycling is to have one lane of the city centre loop road reallocated to a two-way bike track.

"Decision makers just laugh at that idea," she said. "Changes are desperately needed to attitudes and working practices."

Spending the new funding

All four campaign groups emphasised that the new funding must be directed into high quality cycling facilities, and that their cities could be transformed by intelligent use of the money.

Reather can see many ways Leeds could spend the cash, as well as Leeds Cycling Campaign's dream of a cycleway round the city loop.

She said: "We could make that money go a long way, by making streets more cycle-friendly as part of road renewals, limiting car parking where it gets in the way of cycling, blocking off rat-runs with filtered permeability, high quality crossings of major roads (better value than expensive remodelling of major junctions), reallocating space on multi-laned roads to protected bike provision (instead of chewing up pavements and verges), opening up public parks to family cycling, and making 20mph default."

Fingland said GMCC wanted to see: "Re-allocation of road space on main routes, to create safe space for cycling that will enable more people to cycle for their everyday journeys."

And in Newcastle Leyendecker said that roadspace reallocation would fulfil the original Cycle City Ambition bid specification.

A civil engineer, Leyendecker said: "Apart from building grade-separated infrastructure (bridges, subways) shifting kerbs is the most expensive construction that's needed to enable cycling, by far. In Newcastle that'd enable building the seven Strategic Cycle Routes along the main corridors into the city centre."

CamCycle's Wells sees a chance to use the ne funding to solve one of the biggest problems in cycleway designs: crossing junctions.

"I'd like to see priority across side-roads to a standard design. I want someone, anyone, to get UK examples of junctions we can all point to and say: "the world didn't fall in, it's safe, convenient, it's UK highways-compliant: now let's do it everywhere".

"With relatively little money set aside for cycling compared with the full transport budget, the priority ought to be on creating examples the rest of the country can follow."

She added: "But then Cycle City Ambition suggests that as well, and it hasn't quite worked out like that."

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for Along with founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

Add new comment


johndonnelly | 9 years ago

I'd like to see a real centralised review process for cycle infrastructure. Rather than funds and vague suggestions to follow the guidelines being sent to councils, councils should submit the detailed proposal and when we've iterated on it to the point where it's a worthwhile contribution, then they can get access to the cycling fund.

The sting in the tail that I'd really love to see is that the cycling fund also unlocks a proportion of the general road maintenance/construction fund.

Snake8355 | 9 years ago

Newcastle have spent some on separating a shared use cycle path through a local park, the acuity Stadium. However they've also put in some rather expensive sculptures made out of telegraph poles. That's not what really irks me though. It's the outdoor fitness equipment they've installed alongside it. I don't know if it's cycle money that's paid for it, but I'd not be willing to bet on it.
I was at a meeting a year ago and suggested that one of the best ways to improve cycling throughout the city would be to invest in a dedicated road sweeper. You know the small ones you see cleaning city centre pedestrian areas. There are some good cycle paths in and around Newcastle, but they're all full of the crud thrown to the side of the roads by vehicles. Clean them and keep them clean.

Airzound | 9 years ago

Local authorities just use cycling funds to bolster their bank balances and spend the money the are allocated for cycling on other totally unrelated schemes or road improvements for cars. It's almost embezzlement. The Gov should ask for their money back if Councils have nothing or very little improvement to cycling to show for the money they are given or the money is just plain wasted.

Kim | 9 years ago

Realistically, campaign for £10 per head is a waste of time and show a total lack of ambition. It just isn't enough to make a serious change and if it is achieved it will only lead to a bitty approach and poor quality infrastructure which is a waste of public money. More of the sort of crap we get now.

Here in Scotland, the City of Edinburgh Council is already committing 8% of it total transport budget to cycling next year. It started in 2010 by committing 5% of transport spending to cycling and has increased it by 1% per year since then. It was this approach that inspired the Pedal on Parliament campaign to call on the Scottish Government to commit 5% of transport spending to cycling. So far PoP has manage to get the Scottish Government to spend almost 2% of its annual transport budget on cycling, and continues to press it to go further.

It is only by having real ambition that true success will ever be achieved!

mrchrispy | 9 years ago

there is a South Manchester conspiracy against cyclists. There are basically 3 routes from inside the M60 out into Cheshire directions.

Disdsbury to Cheadle. that road in the picture above and its been narrowed to a degree that the lanes are now just car width (used to be nice and wide).

Flixton to Carrington - similar to above, they narrowed the road and put in a wide shared use path (just on one side so you'd have to cross the road to use it going the otherway!!)

Northenden to Style - pretty grotty but that havent screwed this one totally up yet...I give it a year!

bunch of knobs

Some Fella replied to mrchrispy | 9 years ago
mrchrispy wrote:

there is a South Manchester conspiracy against cyclists. There are basically 3 routes from inside the M60 out into Cheshire directions.

Northenden to Style - pretty grotty but that havent screwed this one totally up yet...I give it a year!

bunch of knobs

I gave up using Styal Road because of the shocking surface and close passes but i noticed to day it has finally been resurfaced. After the mess they have made of Manchester Road i think i may start reusing Styal Road again to get in and out of Cheshire.

antonio | 9 years ago

Give councils a stack of money for cycling and they will just pay lip service to cycling, set up so called planning whereby the money just disappears.

Leodis | 9 years ago

Leeds council just wish LCC would forget about the £20m and so they could waste it on their Christmas parties and golden handshakes.

Leeds cycling infrastructure is totally out of date and the term motorway city of the 70's is very ept. The recent cycle paths are poorly designed and constructed with bus stops, bins in the way and no priority all, all this for the sake of the Tour which they failed to finish on time anyway.

LCC do a cracking job, I wish Leeds Council would pull their socks up and do the overpaid jobs they are paid to do, either that or Government should be passing the money to LCC to manage and instruct the council on what projects are needed and when the council will carry them out.

PonteD replied to Leodis | 9 years ago
Leodis wrote:

...Leeds cycling infrastructure is totally out of date...

At least there IS infrastructure! Meanwhile here in the area of Wakefield council I can only dream of these "cycle lanes" that people talk so much about.

I can't understand why the money didn't go to some other cities or councils, all that is going to happen is lots of money wasted by the existing councils (I assume the money comes with the caveat of spend it by a certain date or lose it) rather than other councils and cities that would love to add the infrastructure having to get by on ever dwindling funds.

What really needs to happen is a nationwide body at whitehall level developing a plan to ultimately build a decent cycle network to get from one town/city to another. Many people don't commute by bicycle because they don't live in the same city they work in, it's great getting to the edge of leeds and having a few token ASL's and intermittent lanes along the edge of the dual carriageways, but the other 10 miles of my 12 mile journey is on rural single carriageway national speed limit roads with no support for cyclists.

bikebot | 9 years ago

For all those local campaigners that keep battling on -  41

Initialised | 9 years ago

This is why we need design rules for cycle space baked into road building and town planning regulations, not piecemeal cycling facilities. Maybe a political party like the Greens could get the cyclist vote by committing to this alongside extending the power of the Health and Safety executive to road traffic prevention.

mrmo | 9 years ago

shock horror!

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