Spending on cycling increases eight fold in one year
GOVERNMENT spending on cycling initiatives has increased almost eight fold in just a year, according to figures from the Department for Regional Development.
It means that more than £4 for each person in the north was invested into cycling last year, by a department which has said it does not have enough money to deal with other issues such as repairing street lights.
The average spend per head of population on cycling in Northern Ireland has jumped from 54p in 2013/14 to £4.17 last year, an increase of 672%.
Five years ago, the DRD spent just £430,000 on cycling, which increased to just under £1m in 2013 and 2014, before shooting up to £7.5 million last year.
However, the department predicts that spending for the year up to next April will drop to £2m.
DRD minister Michelle McIlveen said: "The attribution of spend to cycling specifically is not a precise exercise as many projects have benefits for cycling even if not carried out specifically for that purpose."
She added that other departments had recently invested in projects with benefits for cycling, such as the Lagan Weir bridge in Belfast.
The figures were released in response to an assembly question by Green Party leader Steven Agnew MLA, who defended the increase in spending by a department implementing severe budget cuts in other areas.
He said: "Whereas it is important to retain the infrastructure we have, there has been under-investment in cycling for many years. The department doesn't act in isolation and cycling can save lives in terms of obesity and health problems."
Mr Agnew added: "The Giro brought a big event to Northern Ireland, there was a lot of demand following that and it showed that cycling can provide events of interest to tourists. It is important that we sustain this funding."
The DRD said the majority of the £7.5m spent on cycling had covered projects including the Belfast Bikes scheme, a six-mile cycle route between Lurgan and Portadown rail stations, and 3km of traffic-free greenways in Derry.
A spokeswoman said: "The department also spent £0.34m on the Active School Travel programme and £1m on infrastructure projects supporting the Active School Travel programme. The balance of the £7.5m was spent by Transport NI on many schemes and cycling measures throughout Northern Ireland."
She added: "Now that the Active Travel projects are complete the 2014/15 level of spend on cycling will not be repeated in 2015/16. It is expected that the department will spend around £2m."