Motoring groups erupted in anger last night after ministers unveiled a further £175million for new cycle lanes and road closures during the pandemic.
Under the Department for Transport’s (DfT) ‘active travel’ scheme, councils have been granted millions in taxpayer money to turn over vast sections of road to pedestrians and bikes, and in some cases, to close them off altogether.
Rather than improving local areas, opponents say the schemes have worsened gridlock and pollution, caused delays for 999 services and hurt firms which rely on trade from passing traffic.
Critics, including 14 Tory MPs, have been pressuring Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to abandon the policy, which is part of a wider £2billion plan to promote more walking and cycling.
Ministers unveiled a further £175million for new cycle lanes and road closures during the pandemic. Pictured: The empty cycle lane and congested traffic on West Derby Road, Liverpool
But last night Mr Shapps destroyed hopes of a U-turn by announcing a further £175million for new road schemes –quadruple the £42million already given to councils since July.
He cited survey evidence suggesting eight out of ten people support measures to reduce traffic in their area, and two-thirds of people support reallocating road space for walking and cycling.
In a bid to appease critics, he promised tough new conditions would force councils to consult residents and local businesses before making changes to roads.
Local authorities who fail to do so face having funding withdrawn and may even have to pay the money back, he said.
Critics have been pressuring Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured) to abandon the policy, which is part of a wider £2billion plan to promote more walking and cycling
The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) accused the Conservative Party of waging war on motorists.
ABD founder Hugh Bladon said: ‘Grant Shapps claims he is not anti-driver but these schemes are, by their very nature, anti-driver. He can’t have it both ways.’
And Howard Cox, founder of the FairFuelUK pressure group, added: ‘What is the purpose of spending millions of taxpayers’ money when the economy is broke?
‘This is wasted money by a gullible minister.’
But other voiced their support of the scheme including former Olympic racing cyclist Chris Boardman.
The 52-year-old told Radio 4’s Today: ‘Nobody wants the amount of traffic that we have on our residential streets now.
‘We know have 20 billion more miles driven past homes than we did just 10 ago ago.
Supporters of the scheme said that an ‘integrated package’ inlcuding bus reform was needed to effectively encourage people to ditch their cars (file photo)
Former Olympic racing cyclist Chris Boardman (pictured) voiced his support for the scheme and said people needed to be encouraged out of their cars to reduce traffic on residential roads
‘People want the change. But those changes have to be done properly and in consultation. I welcome consultation because this is something people want.’
He added: ‘We have to give people a genuinely attractive option to not having to drive.
‘We simply cannot afford the status quo whether its health pollution or climate (change)’.
He also said that he supported the scheme’s clear focus on consulting communities for a period of between six and 12 months as he claimed it would help them collect data and ‘prove’ these schemes are effective.
He added that an ‘integrated package’ inlcuding bus reform was needed to effectively encourage people to ditch their cars.
Mr Shapps has previously said that he is ‘not prepared to tolerate’ ill-conceived road closures.
He added yesterday: ‘In a minority of cases, funding was poorly used. I’ve put a series of strict conditions on councils to make sure they all get schemes right, as most already have, and work with their community to deliver them.’
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson explained: ‘We can see the public’s strong appetite for greener and more active travel, and this funding will help ensure the right infrastructure is in place to build truly active neighbourhoods.’