Budget 2020 - an open letter to the Chancellor.
As it seems that the budget is to go ahead, we would like to take this opportunity as a business to appeal to you regarding the infrastructure agenda. My hope that high up on your list of longer-term priorities is the government’s recent promise to improve the health of the nation, and one sure-fire way to do this, is to develop the cycling network in England. Please be mindful of the estimated 36,000 deaths a year in the UK alone attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution (govt figures), plus a trend of increasing obesity rates.
The PM recently announced £5bn will be spent in the next five years on improving cycling and bus services across the country, but then hinted only £350m of that would be devoted to pedal power. I’m not an economic expert, but when the bill for a fully-segregated bike lane can reach £1.5m per km (also govt figures) then that sum is just a drop in the ocean. To achieve the government's tough environmental targets that have been set, drastic action is needed.
Our reliance on cars, especially in big cities and towns, is literally killing us, and while a move to electric vehicles is a step forward, please tell me how we plan to manufacture them and increase our electricity capacity without impacting the environment?
Surely the best idea, as Public Health England also suggests, is to encourage more people to walk and cycle more in our urban areas.
One very good way to start is to reduce the amount of frequent short car journeys - school runs, shop visits and daily commutes, make them less attractive and present cycling as a safer and more appealing proposition. A few ideas to consider:
- Cut the amount of on-street parking, one of the major dangers facing cyclists.
- Increase the spread and cost of congestion charging.
- Scrap VAT on bikes and improve finance schemes so more people can access a bike.
- Give tax breaks to companies who provide secure bike parking, showers and facilities for cyclists.
- Create a wider network of fully-segregated bike lanes, not just ineffectual painted lines.
- Provide nationwide cycling proficiency lessons in all schools.
These may be seen by some as draconian. But human nature tells us we will not change our habits unless we are forced to. And we can do it.
Look at Paris – it currently offers more than 1,000km dedicated to cyclists, and the mayor has pledged to make 100 per cent of roads cycle friendly by 2024. Closer to home Birmingham, Bristol and York, all have plans to reduce or ban private cars from the city centres.
And while cash is needed to pay for this, there are more than enough government studies to prove that the economy will improve by people riding bikes. Millions of pounds are lost each year on productivity due to congested roads alone.
Couple that with the mental and physical health benefits provided by cycling or walking and the case for a more radical approach continues to build. The NHS alone would save huge amounts in the longer term, rather than dealing with the multiple dangers associated with harmful environments and increasingly sedentary lifestyles.
I’m sure you’ll agree Mr Sunak, the long-term rewards for taking more immediate and drastic measures for the promotion of cycling and walking are compelling, the time to commit to serious investment is now.