Cycling vision for borough: are the wheels coming off?

Free training may be scrapped – in blow for green transport plan

Friday, 1st April — By Charlotte Chambers

Islington instructors James Holloway and Suami Rocha

Cycling instructors James Holloway and Suami Rocha

THE future of free cycling training in Islington – which has been made available to schoolchildren and adults in the borough for more than 20 years – is hanging in the balance amid a funding dispute.

Transport for London, which has repeatedly encouraged people to cycle more, last night (Thursday) looked set to slash the money it provides for instruction.

Teachers earlier in the week had worried there would be no money at all, but even suggestions from City Hall cycling czar Will Norman that there would be partial funding was not proving reassuring. Less than half of the £200,000 a year previously set aside for the work is expected to be available.

Suami Rocha, secretary of the Cycling Instructors branch of the IWGB union, said some children would miss out, as well as adults who wanted tuition on how to start cycling in roads – still a daunting prospect for many in London.

He said: “The funding that we had over the past three terms would only cover half of what you normally get to train every Year 5 child.

“And that doesn’t even include anything else. [It means there’s been] a little bit of each – [Islington] just reduced everything: there’s less bikeability, there’s less learn to ride, there’s less adult training, there’s less holiday training. All of the things are still happening but to a lower frequency.”

He warned that the longer the lack of clarity went on, the greater the financial insecurity was for instructors – and eventually experienced teachers would be lost.

“They’re just hoping eventually they’ll get more money for cycle training and all the instructors will be sitting at home waiting for it to happen,” he said.

“As we’ve seen over the last two years of Covid and cutting funding and I’m hearing from instructors all over London who are just packing up and moving on. There needs to be a long-term sustainable solution to cycle training funding in London which doesn’t keep a whole industry waiting in limbo every few months.”

He also criticised Islington Council for not “valuing” cycle training enough to fund it, “regardless of what’s going on with TfL”, adding: “I’m an Islington instructor and the anxiety we’ve been put through is not fair.”

James Holloway, one of around 15 cycling instructors in Islington, described the funding drop-off as “tragic” and warned it was effectively “chopping off any ambition at the knees for growing cycling” in the borough – a key Town Hall aspiration in its drive to be a heartland of cycling.

As it cuts budgets following its Covid losses, TfL is also understood to be considering cutting a quarter of its workforce under a raft of cuts being rolled out.

Earlier this month the IWGB wrote an open letter to the Mayor of London and transport minister Grant Shapps, signed by 583 people, including cycling instructors, healthcare professionals, teachers, politicians and members of the public who have used the service.

The letter blamed “political gamesmanship” between government and Transport for London (TfL) over the cuts and called on TfL not to pick on instructors as an easy target to “balance the books”.

When the Tribune contacted the Treasury, they said there had been no cuts in funding to the Department of Transport (DfT) while the DfT said they had provided TfL with £5billion worth of “emergency” funding in the past two years.

“Funding for active travel, including cycle training in London, is a matter for the mayor,” a spokesperson added.

A TfL spokesperson said: “Despite the pandemic having a devastating impact on TfL’s finances, we remain committed to helping people with cycle training.

“We are in ongoing discussions with the government to try and secure more funding for cycle training.”

Islington’s environment chief, Councillor Rowena Champion, said the government should “provide long-term funding to TfL to enable boroughs to continue to support active travel”.

She described the cycling trainers as being “at the heart” of Islington’s active travel goals and celebrated them as “skilled and dedicated” instructors who “play a fundamental role in enabling children and adults to cycle safely and confidently”.

An Islington Council spokesperson said: “We’ve received funds for the first quarter of 2022/23 from TfL and are discussing how much of that we can allocate towards cycle training, and are exploring other possible funding sources to support this.”

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