Lack of funding holding back progress on sustainable travel, say councils

Lack of funding holding back progress on sustainable travel, say councils

Councils claim they could do more to boost cycling, walking and public transport use if they had more cash

Councils in England are being held back from investing more in sustainable transport systems because of a lack of current funding and uncertainty over future budgets, a new survey from the Local Government Association (LGA) has found.

A poll of 38 councils across England, released last Friday, found that 87 per cent of councils reported a lack of revenue funding as a major barrier to installing more cycling and walking schemes in their areas. Meanwhile, 82 per cent claimed they did not have enough cash in their current budgets to improve public transport.

Although many councils have taken steps to boost greener transport use by implementing 20mph zones, providing cycle parking and promoting walking or cycling, many said they lacked the cash for further work, and had little confidence that more money would be forthcoming in the future.

Three-quarters of councils surveyed said uncertainty over how much funding they would receive in the future was a major barrier to the development of sustainable transport schemes, while 68 per cent said they also lacked access to capital funding to pay for such schemes.

Since the financial crisis in 2008 councils have faced steep budget cuts, with a reduction of more than £16bn in core funding since 2010 – the equivalent of 60 pence out of every £1 provided by central government for local services.

But according to the LGA, providing extra funding for sustainable transport offers multiple social and economic benefits, from reducing obesity rates to improving air pollution and cutting road congestion.

“Uncertainty and a lack of revenue funding are highlighted as clear barriers to investment,” said Councillor Judith Blake, LGA spokesperson on transport about the survey.

She called for government to use revenues raised from fuel duty to help councils pay for sustainable transport. “The LGA has been calling on the government to provide long term funding certainty as well as to reinvest two pence per litre of existing fuel duty into local road maintenance, which would generate £1bn a year for councils to spend on promoting sustainable travel, reducing congestion and improving roads,” she said. 

Reports earlier this summer suggested the Treasury was considering ending the eight year freeze on fuel duty increases in this autumn’s budgets. But the speculation sparked immediate criticism from parts of the media, which have long argued against fuel duty hikes.

The LGA survey came as a report also released last week suggested councils are not implementing sustainable transport in their own operations.

According to the study from bioeconomy consultants National Non-Food Crop Centre (NNFCC), prepared on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Group for British Bioethanol, local authorities across the UK are still overwhelmingly opting for diesel or petrol fleets over more sustainable alternatives.  

Some 90 per cent of cars currently operated by local authorities are fossil fuel based, and 88 per cent of those bought in the last 12 months are fuelled by petrol or diesel. Just three per cent of local council fleets are hybrid, and five per cent are electric, according to the data, which was obtained via questionnaires completed by 314 local councils in the UK.

Even those councils with the worst air quality in the country are failing to take action according to the study – not a single council in that bracket has bought, rented or ordered an electric car in the last year, the study said.

Bioethanol supporters claimed the results demonstrate the need to encourage greater use of biofuels in the road transport mix to cut carbon emissions, although some green campaigners have concerns that a widespread switch to biofuels could have negative land use impacts.

“It is clear that despite all the efforts made to incentivise electric vehicles, fossil-fuelled vehicles will remain on our roads for decades to come and we need to be thinking about how to decarbonise and lower their emissions during that time,” insisted Nic Dakin MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for British Bioethanol.