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

[Article updates – please note this article has been updated in February 2022 to respond to a GCC comment, and again in May 2022 following a revised scheme being shared with the public]

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 South West Bypass (GSWB), 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" and which makes no reference to the Gloucester South West Bypass

“£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' and which makes no reference to the Gloucester South West Bypass (GSWB)

“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

The Gloucester South West Bypass – a ‘complementary’ scheme?

The Gloucester South West Bypass (GSWB) 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 Gloucester South West Bypass (GSWB)
Artist’s impression from the GCC business case of Gloucester South West Bypass (GSWB), 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.

The Gloucester South West Bypass (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 Gloucestershire South West Bypass (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 South West Bypass (GSWB)
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 Gloucester South West Bypass (GSWB) 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.

February 2022 Update – GCC response to coverage of Gloucester South West Bypass report

After the campaign investigation attracted coverage by Gloucestershire Live, the county council issued a statement from Councillor Gray defending the scheme. This included the assertion that;

“The claims made by this group are completely inaccurate, based on silo thinking and worst of all, based on information that is five years old” and that “We have always been clear that the £12.8million will deliver a significantly increased and improved cycle network for cyclists in the county – this includes separate walking and cycling facilities on Llanthony Road Gloucester South West Bypass that are compliant with the latest standards.”

The committee reviewed our investigation in light of these comments.

We believe that we have referenced each claim with links to contemporary information on the scheme’s current website, and the latest planning application for the Gloucester Southwest Bypass (GSWB) approved in 2019, including the approved general arrangement plan.

We were not able to identify new plans that we assess as compliant to current standards for the proposals along the new section of Gloucester South West Bypass (GSWB), where the planning application shows compromised width shared paths within an urban environment which would be against LTN 1/20 current design standards.

We have not received any more recent plans from Gloucestershire County Council that show updated plans for this location up to March 2022.

We also believe the comment avoids addressing the main concern of our investigation, in that the council announced £12.8 million for sustainable travel, when in fact only a much smaller proportion will actually be spent on any cycling measures at all.

The campaign strives for transparency, and we take an evidence based approach to all we do. We therefore continue to invite the reader to review the presented evidence and the council resources to form their own view on whether the communications, and the council’s reply, were fair representations of investments in sustainable travel.

May 2022 Update – GCC Publish revised scheme plans

In May 2022 (six months post publication of our article), Gloucestershire County Council have released a revised scheme plan, which does include some revised cycle infrastructure.

Revised scheme plan shared by Gloucestershire County Council

We have not been invited to provide formal comment on it, but observe that the majority of the £12.8 million scheme continues to focus on motor vehicle traffic, and that some of the cycle facilities appear inadequate for the volumes and nature of adjacent and crossing traffic.

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 and the small section devoted to the Gloucester South West Bypass (GSWB);

Social media image highlighting the balance of coverage on the Gloucester South West Bypass (GSWB) and the Gloucester cycling route
Highlighted copy of Gloucestershire County Council news release