A story in this morning’s Guardian perfectly illustrates the policy incoherence that runs to the heart of the current government.
It concerns Britain’s National Cycling network, a linked chain of over 16,500 miles of cycleways which are used by half the number of people who currently use the trains each year.
Sustrans, the organisation responsible for the network, says it would cost £2.8bn to bring the paths up to scratch, as many are potholed or damaged, have difficult obstructions on them, or rejoin highways at difficult or dangerous places.
Meanwhile, we have a Government facing many significant challenges such as meeting the climate change goals, currently likely to be missed, and a National Health Service struggling to cope in the face of an ailing population made sick by obesity and dirty air.
One obvious part of the solution to these challenges is to reduce the amount we drive significantly and to encourage the population to exercise more.
So you would think getting the population on their bikes, as some of our Continental neighbours do so well, would be an obvious part of the plan.
More than half of the UK population lives within a mile of their nearest route and 4.4 million people used the Network last year, making 786m trips.
And each year the network saves the UK economy nearly £90m through reduced road congestion, according to Sustrans. Its health benefits save the NHS the equivalent of 2,206 nurses’ salaries, and leisure and tourist trips contribute £2.5bn to local economies, the charity claims.
The benefits are therefore obvious.
The Government’s response? In his recent budget, the chancellor, Philip Hammond, pledged £30bn for road improvements targeted primarily at motorists.
What about cycling?
Jesse Norman, the government’s cycling and walking minister, said: “This report shows that more needs to be done to make [the network] fully accessible, and that’s why earlier this year the government dedicated £1m to support initial work repairing and upgrading sections of this popular network.”
Doesn’t quite stack up, does it?