Funding for cyclist and pedestrian infrastructure much lower than people perceive, council figures show

THERE might be a perception among some people that new schemes for cyclists and pedestrians in Swansea get most of the funding at the expense of roads.

But that’s not the case, according to council figures. In 2021-22, just under £3.9 million was spent on Active Travel schemes, as they are known, while just over £9 million was spent on roads. The difference was higher the previous year.

It’s also not a direct comparison as the shared-use paths are new infrastructure whereas money spent on roads is for repairs, resurfacing and general maintenance.

However, there are 690 miles of roads maintained by Swansea Council compared to 75 miles of shared-use paths, roads are generally used more than shared-use paths, and roads take a battering from vehicles – including the chunky SUVs so many people drive – and the weather.

The funding figures may offer a clue to Welsh Government transport priorities. Ministers made around £50 million available for Active Travel schemes in Wales in 2021-22, with £60 million pledged the year after.

Swansea Council has gained a healthy share of Active Travel money in recent years. The £3.9 million in 2021-22 is testament to this. In the same year the council received a Welsh Government highways grant of £1.9 million. While far from unhelpful it was less than a quarter of Swansea’s total road maintenance budget, and that excludes pavement resurfacing.

But it’s also the case that the council has a £561 million revenue budget this year – that’s day-to-day spending on services – and a £105 million capital one for projects like new schools and ongoing investment in city centre regeneration schemes. They’re big numbers but savings still need to be made. Inflationary and wage pressures are acute.

The harsh winter of 2022-23 has left its mark, quite literally, on roads in the city and across Wales. Icy conditions in early December followed weeks of heavy rain. Another cold spell hit in January and the heavens opened again throughout March. Tackling it, as always, means juggling spending priorities.

Cllr Andrew Stevens, cabinet member for environment and infrastructure, said in a written response to Uplands Party councillors that the authority had not received any additional road funding from the UK Government via the Welsh Government in 2023-24 – this despite the billions the Treasury receives in fuel duty and car tax.

“That money should be coming to local authorities, so we are able to resurface roads and make repairs more often,” said Cllr Stevens.

The road maintenance backlog in Swansea is around £60 million. Most councils have hefty backlogs. The highways department publishes a five-year forward programme of work for the repair of roads and pavements. It’s a mix of preventative and reactive schemes. Surveys and inspections are used to prioritise resurfacing work, with factors such as network importance and bus usage also considered.

City transport chiefs in Swansea have announced a list of roads where resurfacing will take place in 2023-24. They include Birchgrove Road, Birchgrove; Phillip Street, Manselton; Mumbles Road, from Ashleigh Road to Derwen Fawr Road; Valley Way, Llansamlet; Heol Ddu, Treboeth; Gors Avenue, Townhill; Tycoch Road, Tycoch; Station Road and Blodwen Terrace, Penclawdd; Middle Road, Gendros; Gorwydd Road, Gowerton; Church Road and Walters Road, Llansamlet; and the M4 junction 47, Penllergaer.

On top of the £2.6 million resurfacing work, £1.1 million will be spent fixing potholes. There’ll also be drainage work and an enhanced winter maintenance allowance, among other expenditure.

It’s not known yet how much Active Travel funding will come Swansea’s way in 2023-24. In fact the total amount spent on Active Travel in 2022-23 hasn’t been finalised, although it’s expected to be under £5 million.

New Active Travel routes earmarked in 2022-23 included work on a new shared-use path from Mayals, across Clyne Common, to Bishopston. Work was also to be taken forward on a Swansea northern route, which covers areas such as Penllergaer, Gorseinon and Pontarddulais. Some Active Travel money was also allocated to designing new a route from Sketty to the city centre via Sketty Road and Walter Road, one along Morfa Distributor Road and the adjacent River Tawe, and another on Pont-y-Cob Road, Gowerton.

Last month the council submitted plans for a 1.7-mile Active Travel route off the A48 in Penllergaer down to Fforestfach. Subject to planning consent it will pass through Penllergaer Valley Woods, and a link will be provided to Parc Penllergaer – the housing estate by the woods.

Swansea Bay cycle campaign group Wheelrights has welcomed the recent Active Travel investment in the county, which it said has made up for decades when no cycle routes were built.

John Sayce, the group’s chairman, said: “The long-term aim must surely be that residents should be able to complete everyday journeys to schools, surgeries, and shops feeling safe from the dangers of motor traffic.

“For example, the newly opened cycle and walking route from Swansea all the way to Pontarddulais has meant that many people are now commuting to work by bike.”

But according to Mr Sayce, safe cycling remained a “distant prospect” for communities from Treboeth through Penlan and Cwmbwlra and up to Fforestfach.

He added: “For motorists stuck in traffic jams, it is worth remembering that every cyclist that they see on a cycle lane represents one less car ahead of them in the queue.”

Expenditure in Swansea on Active Travel projects:

2018-19 – £2.04 million

2019-20 – £4.91 million

2020-21 – £4.31 million

2021-22 – £3.89 million

Expenditure in Swansea on roads, including drainage work:

2018-19 – £9 million

2019-20 – £7.9 million

2020-21 – £11.28 million

2021-22 – £9.2 million

Expenditure in Swansea on pavements:

2018-19 – £910,000

2019-20 – £1 million

2020-21 – £1.27 million

2021-22 – £802,000

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