Cycle funding and bike lanes: Is there enough money to create “mini-Hollands” in England?

This February, the Prime Minister pledged £5 bn to increase bus use and cycling in England.

With further details expected in the forthcoming Budget and Spending Review, this Insight looks at the latest developments in cycle funding and how projects to boost cycling may be identified, planned and delivered. 

Doubling rates of cycling by 2025

The Government’s ambition is to double the number of journeys made by bike by 2025 and: “make cycling and walking the natural choices for shorter journeys, or as part of a longer journey.”

During the February announcement, the Prime Minister committed investment for “hundreds of miles of brand-new separated lanes,” and for “mini-Hollands” to start “blooming like so many tulips in towns and cities right across the country.”

Evidence from the Netherlands and Denmark – leading cycling nations – highlight important interventions to boost cycling. These include:

  • Providing separated cycle paths and areas where through traffic is kept out
  • Safe cycle parking
  • Integrating cycling with public transport
  • Educating cyclists and motorists on road safety
  • Legal protection for vulnerable road users, such as strict liability laws.

How much funding does cycling currently get?

According to the Government, spending on cycling more than doubled between 2010 and 2016/17 from £2 to £6 per person per year in England. It is set to increase to £2.4bn in the period 2016-21. This is almost double the original forecasts in the Government’s 2017 Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS).

When published, the CWIS listed five main funding sources worth £1.2 bn that “may” be spent on cycling and walking in the period 2016-21. Critics highlighted that only £316 m of this was ring-fenced for cycling and walking. However, in its February 2020 CWIS review, the Government stated:

  • Total funding available for walking and cycling was projected to increase in the period 2016-21.
  • £1.2 bn had already been invested by the end of 2018/19.
  • Spending on cycling and walking, outside of London, is expected to more than double from around £3.50 to over £10 per head over the period 2016-21.
A chart showing that the £2.1 billion funding for cycling and walking will increase to £2.4 billion over the period of 2016 to 2021.  £0.4 billion of this is ring-fenced by the Department for Transport and £2.1 billion is wider government funding. The figures have been rounded to the nearest £0.1 billion.

Is this funding enough?

The current £2.4bn set aside to increase active travel in England from 2016-21 equates to approximately £400m per year. That’s equivalent to around 1.5% of public expenditure on transport in England in 2018.

Cycling groups, such as Cycling UK, argue this falls far short of what is required. Campaigners state that the per person spend in England is inadequate, particularly when the share allocated to London and the eight Cycling Ambition Cities is deducted. These cities have been allocated funding for pilot projects to support cycling.

The Government’s own analysis recognises funding must increase. In its review of the CWIS, the Government said current funded policy “would fill around 40% of the gap towards doubling cycling by 2025.” The Government therefore recognised the need for “substantial further investment” over the next five-year period.

How will projects be delivered?

LCWIPs (local cycling and walking infrastructure plans) are likely to form a key component of future cycling and walking delivery. The Government’s technical guidance explains that key components of LCWIPs are:

  • A network plan for walking and cycling which identifies preferred routes and core zones for further development.
  • A prioritised programme of infrastructure improvements for future investment.
  • A report which sets out analysis carried out and provides a narrative which supports the identified improvements.

46 local authorities in England piloted developing their own LCWIP. As of December 2019, just over half had been completed (see for instance Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council’s draft plan).

The Government plans to evaluate the success of these schemes before a wider rollout. A key measure of success will be if, and how, targeted investments in infrastructure can achieve a modal shift away from every day, short car journeys.

Nationally, two out of three personal trips are made within five miles, which the Government considers to be an achievable distance for most people to cycle.

Cycling spending in the forthcoming Budget

Ahead of the Budget, the Prime Minister announced £5 bn to “overhaul bus and cycle links for every region outside London.”

Of this, £350 m is earmarked for the Cycle Infrastructure Fund, which was announced in the Conservative manifesto. Details of the rest of the funding is expected in the Budget. Longer term funding commitments for cycling (beyond 2021) are expected in the multi-year Spending Review later in 2020.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Cycling and Walking welcomed the intentions in the Prime Minister’s February statement but said some questions still remained. These are:

  • How will this investment balance the various needs of different road user groups – drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists?   
  • Will local authorities be given enough ring-fenced funding to deliver the Government’s cycling targets? 
  • How much of the £5 bn funding for buses and cycling announced in February will be used to deliver cycling initiatives?

Further reading

Active travel: Trends, policy and funding, House of Commons Library.

Cycling, walking and mobility: FAQs for 2020, House of Commons Library.


About the author: David Hirst is a researcher at the House of Commons Library, specialising in transport.