Tuesday, 27 November 2007

The People's 50 million: Vote, but don't be fooled

Like every blogger with an interest in cycling, I am now about to exhort you to vote for the Sustrans Connect2 project on the People's 50 Million charity giveaway. If you don't know about this, the National Lottery has £50 million to give to charity, and we can vote for where it goes (presumably to make us feel that we live in some sort of democracy). Anyway, I would suggest you vote for the Connect2 project, which will open up valuable possibilities for off-road cycling and walking all over the country. For example, the plans for the two cities in which I have a personal interest - Salisbury (where I live) and Bath (where I work) - will be magnificent developments, and the Salisbury plans in particular will transform cycling in the city. So vote now - it only takes a moment. And apparently you can do it even if you're not British, so all the people who visit this blog from places like Singapore and the US, you can help too!

Right, now you've done that, let's have a good moan about the whole process. What has happened to our country when a set of highly valuable and important developments - and the Eden Project - are having to fight it out in a vulgar, gladiatorial winner-takes-all combat for a piffling pot of money like this? It is notable that all four projects have some sort of ecological/nature theme, but there is only a small amount of funding and most must lose out. But in a contest to decide where money gets spent in this country, why isn't road-building included? Or Heathrow's expansion? Or the Iraq war? Even if we stick with the transport theme, £50 million is a drop in the ocean of the budget used for building and maintaining highways, or expanding airports and shipping capacity: Why can't we the people choose whether some money gets taken from these budgets to fund ecological work? That way we could fund all four bids. In fact, we could go crazy and give a few million quid to a whole raft of good causes (and the Eden Project). Of course, I've little doubt that in such a straight choice, the British people would choose to have lots more roads and runways now, rather than a peaceful and inhabitable planet in 100 years, but at least it would be their decision and their children would be the ones who would live with its consequences.

But my main concern with this preposterous contest is that it will almost certainly cloud the public and political memories for many years. Funding ecological or non-motorized transport projects three years from now is probably going to be a lot more difficult because as far as the average person and politician will be concerned, those issues were all taken care of during this high-profile event. Indeed, given the publicity that will inevitably surround the winning project, there's the real danger that the three projects that don't get funded (as well as the thousands that were never able to compete) will be perceived as "unpopular" or "unwanted" by the public, and so will be marginalized and in a worse situation that they are now (especially given all the money they will have spent on their bids and publicity). This contest could well prove to be a two-edged sword. Just be careful, is all I'm saying. The average Briton doesn't think about sustainability issues very much as it is, and if they get the impression that it's all been taken care of with a nice big media-friendly quick-fix, changing their behaviour in the future will be a lot more difficult than it is already.

To forestall any flood of emails telling me how great the Eden Project is: it isn't. I will not entertain claims to sustainability or eco-friendliness from an installation built down in a far distant corner of the country which is local only to a handful of cows and which cannot realistically be reached except by car. If they want me to believe they care about the environment they'd have built it near Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds-Sheffield or in the Scottish Central Belt. That way, there would be millions of people who could reach it without travelling a long way, and there would be a useable public transport infrastructure that could bring people from further afield. Tommy-rot.

1 comment:

Carlton Reid said...

Spot on, Ian. It's pretty sickening, but it's the reality right now so let's make sure cycling 'wins' this beauty contest by a long margin. Afterwards we can worry about the moral crap.