So following on from the West Swindon Forum Posts, I’d like to get down to the real business of why I was there: The Local Sustainable Transport Fund Projects.

Local Sustainable Transport Fund

I don’t know ALL the in’s and out’s, but following the ‘Bonfire of the Quangos’ and various other Government wranglings, the powers that be decided to create a “Local Sustainable Transport Fund” – £560 million allocated to local authorities using a grant scheme based on the principle of “Creating Growth, Cutting Carbon”.

Details of the fund and application process are on the Department for Transport’s website.

Here’s the purpose of the fund from the guidance document:

The purpose of the Fund is to enable the delivery by local transport authorities of sustainable transport solutions that support economic growth while reducing carbon. These solutions will be geared to supporting jobs and business through effectively tackling the problems of congestion, improving the reliability and predictability of journey times, enabling economic investment, revitalising town centres and enhancing access to employment. They should at the same time bring about changing patterns of travel behaviour and greater use of more sustainable transport modes and so deliver a reduction in carbon and other harmful emissions. The Fund also provides the opportunity to take an integrated approach to meeting local challenges and to delivering additional wider social, environmental, health and safety benefits for local communities.

All sounds good, and Swindon has won nearly £4.5 million in its bid, which is amazing! Though, the transport planning guy seemed amused at my excitement and told me we pretty much won it “just by following the rules of the grant application process”.  Along with £1.6 million match funding we’ve got a total of just over £6 million for our local projects.

This is a good thing, right?!

What We’ll Do

As far as I understood it (and I may have got this wrong, and no, I don’t have time to read the full proposal), there are four things being done:

  1. Personal Travel Planning for over 11,000 residents explaining to them alternative travel possibilities.
  2. Minor infrastructure improvements for the town centre’s largest employers (such as lockers, cycle racks)
  3. Improvements to the cycle and pedestrian routes between West Swindon and the Town Centre
  4. Improvements to the “permeability” of the town centre – i.e. making it easier to get into and through the town centre

This is a plan right?

 Questions

Actually, I think this is definitely half a plan, and I’m not so sure about the other half.

Let me be clear though, I’m really glad we’ve won this money, and I know some of the people at the council who will spend it and they’re really good people who are very hard working and really, genuinely trying to improve things.  And I hope to be able to help and contribute my own experiences of cycling between town and West Swindon, and my own ideas for improvement.

I had two questions last night:

Why work with large employers?

I get that working with large employers is probably an easy and efficient way to target lots of people at once. But in my experience, large employers already have significant budgets for occupation health, facilities and employee benefits.  They can easily pay for a few lockers and bike racks themselves.

It’s the smaller employers that need help and funding to allow their employees to make better travel choices.

The response was that it’s harder to target many smaller employers. Yet they’re going to do personal travel planning for 11,000 residents?!

I would like to see the council encouraging large employers to invest their own money in helping employees make sustainable travel choices, and then use the grant funding, through things like the local chamber of commerce, to help smaller employers who can’t afford simple improvements.

What about maintenance

I suppose this question can really be summed up in a statement that I got a minor cheer for: “There’s no point doing personal travel planning for 11,000 people if the infrastructure you’d like them to use is unsafe, unusable or impassable for 3 or 4 months of the year.”

This is a slight exaggeration, but you can read about my experiences of maintenance of cycle and pedestrian paths here and here. Many of the cycle and pedestrian paths and not gritted in snowy/icy conditions, and in Autumn are often covered with slippery layers of leaf mulch.  While our roads are gritted up to the max and cleared and well maintained all year round, maintenance of cycle and pedestrian facilities is an after-thought.  They’ll do something if you ring up and complain, but it’s not proactive and there doesn’t seem to be a plan for dealing with it.

So my question was “Will any of the money be used for maintenance?” and the response was basically no, the cash is for capital investment in on-off expenditure items. But they are looking at improving the infrastructure to make these things better.  Which I can only assume means installing evergreen trees and automatic de-icing systems!

Thoughts

I do think this the plan is good. But I’m skeptical about personal travel planning.  Encouraging people to use alternative facilities is never going to work if the alternative facilities are inconvenient, difficult to use often unsafe.  I’d rather see the money used on improving infrastructure: more and better signage, maintenance, more direct routes, cheaper buses, etc.

And the second half of the plan will, hopefully address some of these things.  Town centre permeability is a REAL issue.  When you hit the edge of town, be it at Faringdon Road or at the end of Penzance Drive by the Outlet Village, there’s nowhere for a cyclist to go. No signs for the town centre, no paths, just a very dodgy, busy road where a vehicle overtaking could be the end of you, or a long walk through the pedestrianised Outlet Village.

So, I’m encouraged, but I still want MORE!!!