London's 33 local authorities have united to call on the Government to fund a 1,200-mile cycle network across the city to improve the environment and save lives.

The local authorities, led by Kingston upon Thames, have entered a joint bid to the Department of Transport for pounds 36.5m over the next five years. They argue that the figure is a fraction of the pounds 1.36bn that the Government spent on road building in Britain during the 12 months to April.

The bid includes a request for pounds 3m for the Thames Cycle Route linking Dartford to Hampton Court along more than 40 miles of riverside paths and roads.

Formerly known as the Heart of London route, this stretch has already received the backing of Steven Norris, the Minister for Transport in London, who in June praised the environmental advantages of cycling while hailing such specially designated routes as ways to 'allow cyclists to enjoy many attractive parts of London in a safe, healthy environment'.

One fifth of the city's proposed cycle network is already in place but government money would mean the rest could be built and a comprehensive system, costing a total of pounds 47m, would then be accessible across the city. The funds would be used for laying cycle paths, developing routes along existing roads and constructing more than 700 special crossing facilities at junctions with main roads.

David Stuart-Watt, Kingston's director of engineering and transportation, thinks the bid is far from ambitious and is confident of securing the money.

'This really isn't all that much when you consider it has to be shared between all 33 local authorities over the next five years and when you look at how much the Government has spent on roads each year.

'It's only a bit over pounds 1m for each borough, and some might get less than that.'

He said the network would help to meet the government environmental targets for transport as well as save the lives of many cyclists, who are among the most vulnerable of road users.

North London looks set to gain the largest financial handout (pounds 21.8m) if the bid is successful , while areas south of the river stand to get a total of just over pounds 8m. Central London will get pounds 3.5m.

It is hoped that the introduction of more cycle routes and the subsequent tempting of people out of their cars and on to their saddles will help to ease the air pollution which has caused such concern in the capital during the past few weeks of hot weather.

Reports that London was suffering the worst air quality for 40 years prompted warnings to joggers to desist from exercise and calls for school sports days to be cancelled as air quality deteriorated in temperatures which climbed into the Nineties.

Kingston submitted the cycle network bid on behalf of the London boroughs on Friday and Mr Stuart-Watt expects to meet with government officials again in two months after the parliamentary summer recess.

A decision could be forthcoming from Westminster by the end of the year.

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