It was never £12.8 million for cycling – Gloucestershire’s spin on levelling up announcement revealed in council budget.

In October 2021, Gloucestershire County Council announced;

[We have] ‘been awarded £12.8million from the government’s Levelling Up Fund, providing a cash injection into sustainable and active travel in the county.’

£12.8 million would be a huge investment for walking and cycling, and a real shift from a longstanding pattern of prioritising car-dependent planning in Gloucestershire.

Unfortunately, we reveal today that it’s a very different and familiar story, with 70% of this money actually being spent on the Gloucester Southwest Bypass, which has no benefits to walking or cycling.

What was originally announced?

Here’s what the council said;

The full bid of £12.822m has been awarded to support significant transport improvements through Gloucester city, connecting what has been known as “the missing link of cycle routes” in the heart of the county. (Gloucestershire County Council Press Release)

Leader of the council, Mark Hawthorne (Cons, Quedgeley) was quoted;

I’m absolutely delighted by the news Gloucestershire will receive a significant boost to sustainable transport.

As is often the case, media outlets including Gloucestershire Live, SoGlos and GlosNews used the press statement without scrutiny or challenge;

“Gloucestershire receives £12.8million to improve walking and cycling routes” SoGlos [Link]

A screenshot of the SoGlos website showing how it was reported with the headline 'Gloucestershire receives £12.8 million to improve walking and cycling routes"

“£12.8m has been secured to boost cycle routes” (Gloucestershire Live Facebook)

Screenshot from Gloucestershire Live social media showing the headline '£12.8m has been secured to boost cycle routes'

“The money is earmarked to provide a cash injection into sustainable and active travel” (GlosNews)

Screenshot of glosnews report showing photo of Mark Hawthorne and quote from council

Alarm bells ringing

Alarm bells rang for us though, as £12.8 million is incredibly expensive for such a short section.

We were already concerned having watched Gloucestershire spend millions slowly pursuing its isolated 26 mile cycle route concept (not due for completion until 2026) rather than prioritising early investment across the county where most people want to make local trips, but this seemed particularly excessive.

There was also one very worrying sentence tucked away just before the ‘Greener Gloucestershire’ conclusion;

“This will be complemented by addressing a pinch point on the Gloucester Southwest Bypass (GSWB) at Llanthony Road which will result in improved journey times for the 25,000 vehicles that use it daily.”

Gloucestershire County Council Press Release on levelling up fund

A ‘complementary’ scheme?

The Gloucester Southwest Bypass project is a major road expansion of tarmaced space, adding multiple extra lanes to the A430 Llanthony Road as it meets St Ann Way, which is justified by an increasingly outdated assumption that it’s possible to build enough lanes to fix long-term congestion.

It will create tens of thousands of extra car trips into and through Gloucester, and includes no dedicated public transport lanes. The total scheme costs are £11 million.

Image taken from GCC business case showing the near 100m widening of the bypass in West Gloucester
Artist’s impression from the GCC business case of Gloucester Southwest Bypass, with the blue lines showing the existing road widths

The benefits assessment is clear that people cycling aren’t welcome on this scheme, and apart from more multi-stage crossings where pedestrians wait long periods to cross, the pedestrian experience is an increasingly hostile and noisy streetscape.

GSWB has no net benefits for walking or cycling;

Whilst there are some shared paths included (which are not considered appropriate by national guidance for urban areas), this is what the council’s own business case says about the impact of the scheme on walking and cycling;

“The pedestrian crossings involved in the scheme will alter some of the pedestrian paths along the corridor. This could affect some pedestrians positively while others negatively,

albeit without increasing/ decreasing the number of pedestrians.”

“The pedestrian crossing facilities are included as part of the traffic signal regime at the St Ann Way junction. This is expected to improve the facility by making crossing safer and easier. However,

This is not expected to increase/ decrease pedestrian demand.”

“The route is not promoted for use by cyclists, as there are more appropriate nearby routes for leisure cycling (such as along the canal and on cycle paths). Therefore,

The scheme will not have any impacts on cycling demand.”

Excerpt from benefits assessment within GSWB business case [emphasis added]

What our investigation has found

Unlike more people-friendly schemes, these kind of road widening schemes don’t come cheap.

We were therefore surprised to see Gloucestershire County Council say the bypass widening was taking a ‘complementary’ role to the cycle scheme, and started an investigation.

Our information request on the Levelling up fund allocation between the schemes, which would have revealed how the bid was described and what the budget request was, was refused.

However, with the recent publication of the council’s proposed 2022/23 ‘Gloucestershire budget‘, we think the allocation of external grant monies has now had to be revealed.

Understanding the budget is difficult because of the way it is presented, but we have been particularly interested in the ‘external funding’ columns for the two projects;

Extract from the Gloucestershire budget grid with the two relevant figures highlighted, for both the Gloucester Cycle lane and the Gloucester Southwest Bypass
Extract from the council budget grid

Looking at the allocation of external grants for the two projects, it seems we are able to confirm what we suspected all along, particularly when referenced with the updated FAQ on the scheme page.

This is how the external funding allocation of £12.8 million is shown between the two schemes;

£3.8m – Cycle Route
£8.9m – Bypass Expansion

Yes, that’s right. It appears over two thirds of the money headlined by Gloucestershire County Council as an ‘injection into sustainable and active travel’ is going on yet another junction and road widening scheme that has no net benefits to walking or cycling at all, and which with the extra traffic and vehicle speeds that car dominated schemes create, is likely to make things far worse.

Time for honesty

As a reminder, here’s how the council decided to announce this money. We don’t think it would have read quite the same with the image of the bypass in the headline.

Gloucestershire County council's news header announcing their Levelling Up Fund award

It’s time for honesty on our council’s priorities and investments on greener transport for all, and Gloucestershire County Council needs to stop thinking that moving cars quicker will avert a climate emergency, or that local people can feel able to make the changes the county’s own Climate Change strategy expects them to make with the existing travel choices.

Of course, we’re pleased to see that the council has secured money to potentially improve cycle routes through Gloucester, which it has neglected for far too long. However, we’re disappointed that the ambition wasn’t for something truely focussed on sustainable travel modes.

We think;

  1. Council leaders would be wrong to hide or greenwash their desire for an £11 million road expansion behind a smaller cycle project, particularly where it makes people think more money is being given to cycling than the truth. Given the refusal by DfLU to answer our freedom of information request, we want urgent clarification on the proportion of the £12.8 million that will be spent on walking and cycling, and whether it’s indeed less than £4 million.
  2. GCC needs to end the spin that the majority of their 26-mile route is of benefit to more than some leisure riders and a small number of local communities, particularly given it will not be completed until 2026.
  3. Council leaders have again failed to recognise that creating more space for cars will simply induce many more private vehicle trips, adding risk, inconvenience and pollution to those trying to use public and active travel modes. It is not possible to effectively promote cycling alongside promoting more motor vehicle use, and we consistently see this in Gloucestershire’s schemes. Squeezing some extra paths onto the edge of major road schemes will not deliver the necessary change in travel habits.
  4. A strategy that relegates cycle users to canals and out of the way routes fails to recognise the need for direct routes for those who want to cycle for transport rather than leisure, and the vulnerability that some cycle users (such as lone women) feel when riding, particularly during dark winter months.
  5. Local journalism needs to begin investigating green claims, rather than amplifying publicity without scrutiny.

So can we trust the Gloucestershire budget on green travel?

The headline for this year’s Gloucestershire County Council budget makes a lot of noise about sustainability and a ‘Greener Gloucestershire’, but as this annnouncement has shown, things aren’t always as they seem with these kind of news stories.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be looking into the proposals, particularly for how much of the councils own money is actually going on helping local citizens who want to travel more sustainably, and how much is just relying or hoping on others, whilst council money continues to go into unchecked road building.

Make sure you keep in touch with us if you want to find out more.

About the campaign

This investigation is one part of the regular scrutiny of active travel in North Gloucestershire undertaken by the Cheltenham and Tewkesbury Cycling Campaign. We are a completely volunteer-powered group, bringing together a diverse group of people who want anyone to be able to feel comfortable cycling in and around our towns.

To support our work, and to receive regular updates, why not join for only £5 per year. Donations are used entirely for campaign purposes, supporting our website and events that we run.

Social Media Attachments

Here’s the original news release from Gloucestershire County Council showing the breakdown of content in the article;

Highlighted copy of Gloucestershire County Council news release