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A Magazine for Sheffield

Why is Sheffield forced to fight for vital infrastructure cash?

South Yorkshire only received a sixth of the funding for walking and cycling improvements that it bid for.

Benjamin elliott Gk5 Ab C9 Fx Q unsplash

The council have received £1.4m to make safety improvements on Ecclesall Road.

Benjamin Elliott on Unsplash.

Last week, the government announced the latest wave of funding for new active travel (walking and cycling) infrastructure across England.

Of the £170.6m that makes up Active Travel Fund 4 (ATF4), South Yorkshire only received £2.4m despite putting in a bid for £15m. This compares to £17m awarded to West Yorkshire, £14m to Liverpool and £12m to the West Midlands.

Oliver Coppard, who has been South Yorkshire Mayor for just over a year, said on Twitter that the outcome wasn't "completely unfair" and that the region's bids have not been ambitious enough.

"Until we are able to change our attitude towards delivery of integrated active travel schemes across SY we will continue to fall behind other regions here and abroad," he said.

Now Then has seen a copy of the ATF4 bid submitted by the Mayoral Combined Authority (MCA). Apart from a few minor improvements to pedestrian crossings on Burngreave Road, much of the bid is for money to develop future schemes rather than to actually build anything.

With South Yorkshire receiving only a sixth of its bid, very few of these projects are now likely to happen. £2.4m is a miniscule amount of money for a region this size – for comparison, one new pedestrian crossing costs around £100,000.

“We are being let down by politicians in South Yorkshire, especially from the Labour Party, who aren’t championing active travel or public transport,” Dexter Johnstone of Cycle Sheffield told Now Then.

“As a result we are submitting weak bids and our region is missing out on huge sums of money that could be used to give people better, cleaner and greener transport options.”

Public cash for walking and cycling infrastructure is allocated by Active Travel England (ATE), a relatively new government agency led by former Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman.

ATE publish "capability ratings" for local authorities, which assesses their ability to deliver new schemes on a scale from 0 to 4. Local authorities with a higher rating are more likely to receive cash.

As has been shown by the latest round of funding, this creates a sharp divide between local authorities with a good track record like Greater Manchester, who receive more money, and those such as South Yorkshire which are left even further behind.

Forcing regions to compete against each other for cash is standard practice in the UK across a whole host of policy areas. Councils often spend huge amounts of time and money just putting together bids which may amount to nothing.

But this is not normal in the rest of Europe.

Elsewhere, central government funding is devolved based on population size to powerful regional assemblies, such as Germany's State Parliaments, who then choose how to spend the money.

Under this system, a body like Active Travel England would instead help local authorities spend their share of the money as wisely as possible, and would have a role in sharing best practice and linking up infrastructure between regions.

Brooks Bar CYCLOPS birds eye view

A new CYLOPS-style junction in Greater Manchester.

Manchester City Council.

But because of the 'Hunger Games' style fight for funding, which is almost unique to the UK, major cities like Sheffield receive a sixth of the money they asked for at the same time as Manchester presses ahead with building a world-class active travel network.

Campaigners say that, despite competing in a flawed system, as bid writers the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA, or MCA) still bear ultimate responsibility for the region receiving such a paltry amount of money.

“The MCA urgently need to appoint an active travel technical or project director to ensure the bids the MCA are submitting are as ambitious and high quality as possible, and to work with the four local authorities to support them to do this,” said Johnstone.

What’s the latest on schemes in Sheffield?

Despite South Yorkshire receiving no ATF4 money for actual construction, several other active travel projects in Sheffield are in various stages of development. Minutes from the latest cycle forum, which brings together council officers and campaigners, reveal the current status of these schemes.

The Sheaf Valley Cycle Route, which will connect the city centre to Woodseats Road, is slowly materialising, but planned interventions on Shoreham Street and Asline Road are being re-examined for technical reasons.

Dutch roundabout

Plans for a so-called 'Dutch roundabout' at West Bar, which is currently under construction.

Sheffield City Council.

Construction has started on the Kelham Island element of the Connecting Sheffield project, which will see West Bar transformed with new cycle lanes, pedestrian routes and green space.

The other parts of Connecting Sheffield are still in the detailed design phase. The council estimate that construction will start on the Darnall and Attercliffe phase in January 2024, the Tinsley phase in February 2024 and the city centre and Nether Edge phases in August 2024.

The council have received £1.4m from a government road safety fund to make safety improvements on Ecclesall Road, and are in the process of designing interventions.

In September, the Transport Committee will consider a report on the success of low-traffic neighbourhoods in Crookes, Walkley and Nether Edge, and make a decision on next steps.

The long-awaited city centre cycle hub, where people will be able to store their bikes in a Dutch-style secure bike park, has still not opened due to issues of water leaks from the car park above.

The council say they have submitted a bid to create a so-called ‘Mini Holland’ in Darnall, and have received positive feedback from the Department for Transport. They expect to receive a formal response by mid-summer.

In addition, there are a number of small infrastructure improvements planned across the city, including at Stocksbridge, the Five Weirs Walk, around the Northern General Hospital and at Prince of Wales Road.

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