Reading councillor calls for certainty over how funding bids can be made

A councillor in Reading has asked for clarity from the Department for Transport over how funding applications for cycling and walking modifications can be made following the recent government announcement.

The government has ordered local authorities to create more space for pedestrians and cyclists because of the coronavirus pandemic and Reading Borough Council says it’s keen to approve a series of changes to roads around the town, some which will be temporary and some permanent.

But Labour Councillor Tony Page, Reading’s lead councillor for Strategic Environment, Planning and transport, said he had some concerns over how the work would be funded: “Whilst I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s guidance, and his personal enthusiasm, I very much regret the failure of the Department for Transport to announce any details of how ambitious local authorities such as Reading can submit funding bids.

“There’s little value in constantly repeating that money has been allocated to support cycling and walking schemes when we cannot bid for it. The council’s resources are already heavily stretched by the current health emergency and we have only very limited ability to fund from our own resources the schemes identified in this report.” 

He says that due to the uncertainty of the bidding process, the council proposes using its own cash to do the work and then claim back the cash from the government’s active travel fund, once the bidding process is open and the government provides clarity on the process for local authorities.

The council has reported a big drop in car use during the pandemic, with traffic levels down by 35 per cent. Roadside monitoring also shows a drop between 32 and 39 per cent in nitrogen oxide in air pollution hotspot, according to the council.

The changes proposed include making four major roads one-way, introducing a new contraflow cycle lane in the current southbound lane. Closing a lane on Reading bridge to create northbound and southbound cycle lanes, as well as new cycle and bus lanes elsewhere in the city.

“While the long term effect of the pandemic is yet unknown, we do know that in the short term people’s travel behaviours have of course changed. It is important we move to accommodate that and make it easier and safer for people to walk and cycle as they continue to socially distance,” says Cllr Page.

“These proposals are a combination of major new schemes and initiatives which were already in development, that we now think are appropriate to bring forward. Once implemented we would of course monitor their success carefully. It is very likely schemes will need some adjustment over time before we can then consider making them permanent.”

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