Cash boost for pedal power

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The Government is to double its cycling budget in a bid to get more people out of their cars and on to two wheels.

The Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander will announce today a total of £30 million to be spent over three years with extra cycle training for 100,000 children and an expansion of safer cycle links to schools.

In a speech to a Transport and Climate Change conference in Oxford, Mr Alexander will attempt to reverse the trend of children becoming what his department call "the back of the car generation".

He has vowed to make cycling safer and more convenient so it becomes an attractive alternative to getting behind the wheel for the school-run.

The extra £15 million will be targeted at the Cycling Links to Schools project - which join up schools to the wider 10,000 mile of cycling routes - and a new, more rigorous, cycling proficiency test for schoolchildren.

"If we can get them into cycling early with a strong focus on safety, there are real potential benefits. Seemingly small choices like this can have big impacts - for the health of children, on congestion and the environment."

But Tories seized on the announcement to claim since Labour's promise to treble the level of cycling trips from their 2000 level by 2010, the distance travelled by cycle per person per year has fallen every year since the turn of the century.

Shadow transport secretary Chris Grayling said his party would remain "sceptical" until positive results were seen from the scheme.

"Supporting cycling is important, so this is a move in the right direction. But the Government is very fond of announcements: sadly many of these don't deliver results.

"In the Government's 10 Year Plan for Transport, a strong commitment was made to treble the number of cycling trips; yet since then bicycle use has fallen. As always, we will remain sceptical until we actually see some evidence that the Government is keeping its promises.

"Parents need to feel that their children are safe when travelling to and from school - and yet some 30% of people would not say that they feel safe walking in their local streets."

Phillip Darnton, chairman of Cycling England, said the announcement was "wonderful news".

"The investment is welcome but the Government's strategic commitment to cycling represents a tremendous opportunity. It will underpin Cycling England's determination to ensure that in the long term every child has the opportunity to learn and enjoy safe cycling before they leave primary school."

Cycling England is the independent, national expert body charged by Government with getting get more people cycling. Its budget will be doubled from £5 million a year to £10 million a year, funding more cycle training and routes to schools.

The Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Alistair Carmichael said: "With the school run now accounting for 20% of rush-hour traffic, there is an urgent need for real Government action.

"Though this initiative should be welcomed, the Government must ensure that conditions for cyclists improve greatly in the future.

"There are almost a million children driven less than a mile to school. No wonder obesity levels among six-year-olds have doubled to nearly one in 10."