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General Election 2024 — What do the main parties promise for cycling and active travel?

We take a detailed look at what the manifestos say for cycling, walking and issues such as LTNs and 20mph zones

Voters across the UK head to the ballot box on Thursday for a general election that according to the latest polls will result in a solid Labour victory, bringing an end to 14 years of Conservative government, the first five of those in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Ahead of polling day on 4 July, we take a look at what the main parties’ manifestos say about active travel and other issues such as motoring and the environment.

It should be noted that in the context of a UK general election, where a political party is talking about road transport policy and spending, essentially it means England, outside London, with the issue in the devolved nations of the UK being reserved to their own legislatures and coming to the fore in elections to those bodies, rather than Westminster.

The focus here, then, is on the five parties that according to the opinion polls will gain the biggest share of votes in England, starting with the one that has been in power these past 14 years, the Conservatives. You can access each manifesto by clicking the link in the name of the party.

Conservatives

Backing Drivers Bill

Flagship polices include the so-called Backing Drivers Bill, which proposes among other things not to introduce pay-per-mile road pricing (and which would prevent metropolitan mayors and local authorities from doing so), to scrap last year’s expansion of the capital’s Ultra-low Emission Zone (ULEZ), and to ban the introduction of “top-down blanket Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and 20mph zones” – which the party insists  “must only be considered on a road-by-road basis and with the support of people who live there” – including requiring a referendum to be held for new schemes and enabling a “right to challenge” existing ones.

Rishi Sunak official portrait

The pledge to scrap the ULEZ expansion is accompanied by a claim that it has made it more difficult and expensive for people living outside London to travel to hospital appointments and places of work and study there (the capital’s own residents having resoundingly re-elected Sadiq Khan last month despite Tory opponent Susan Hall pledging to dispense with it from her first day in office, if elected.

It does seem counter-intuitive though that the focus on non-residents in the party’s reasoning for why it believes the ULEZ expansion should be reversed is at odds with the requirement for LTNs and 20mph zones to have support from local people. Why not those, too, who may not live in a particular area but travel through it as part of their commute by bike, or have children at school in a place where such schemes are proposed?

Other policies mentioned in the manifesto include overturning the 20mph speed limit recently implemented across much of Wales by the Welsh Government, and permitting motorcycle riders to use bus lanes – something that would have implications for the safety of cyclists, particularly in major cities with high numbers of deliveries made by mopeds and the like.

Minimal mention of active travel

There is just one mention of support for people cycling, walking or wheeling, with the manifesto stating: “We will work with Active Travel England to make it safer for people to walk or cycle, including projects like ensuring safe walking routes to schools and measures to protect pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users. Where new schemes are introduced, we will ensure they have local support first.”

What the manifesto fails to mention, however, is that the budget Active Travel England now has is a fraction of the £2 billion over five years put aside for it when the agency was set up in 2021, when Rishi Sunak was Chancellor of the Exchequer – the cuts coming after he had been installed as Prime Minister.

One of the goals of Active Travel England is to ensure a unified, nationwide approach to the design and build of cycling and walking infrastructure, so it’s also unclear how within the current framework central government could intervene on what are essentially decisions made at local authority level without putting specific legislation in place, for example requiring a certain level of support for schemes before they can be implemented.

Not mentioned at all is the Gear Change strategy unveiled by Boris Johnson at the height of the pandemic in 2020, which committed to half of journeys in England to be made by cycling, walking and wheeling by 2030, and which has been quietly ditched as Sunak has instead pivoted to pro-motoring policies.

“Dangerous cyclists” law pledged

The Conservatives add that “While we back responsible cyclists, we will bring penalties for the rare instances where dangerous cyclists kill or injure into line with those for other road users.”

It’s an issue that comes to the fore perhaps once every couple of years when an incident involving a pedestrian being killed in a crash involving someone on a bike is covered in the mainstream media – the infrequency of such events being what makes it newsworthy in the first place.

But while most cycling campaigners would agree that it is less than satisfactory that any charges in such cases are often brought under a Victorian statute that predates the invention of the modern bicycle, they also highlight that better use of Parliamentary time and resources would be spent focusing on changes needed to the investigation, prosecution and punishment of all road collisions resulting in death or serious injury – and in the vast majority of which, it is drivers, not cyclists, who are involved.

It's worth noting too that when the Conservatives did announce in May that they would introduce an “Offence of causing death by dangerous, careless or inconsiderate cycling, and causing serious injury by careless or inconsiderate cycling,” under an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill proposed by former party leader Iain Duncan Smith, MP for Chingford, it failed to happen due to Parliament being dissolved after Sunak called the general election.

Labour

No specific active travel funding commitment

It’s clear that since the 2019 general election which saw the collapse of Labour’s ‘Red Wall’ heartland and the Tories secure a clear majority with the promise to “Get Brexit Done,”, under Sir Keir Starmer the party has moved to the right in an attempt to appeal to a broader section of the electorate – and if the polls are correct, it is an approach that is working, also benefiting from a widespread perception that the Conservatives have lost touch with ordinary people.

Sir Keir Starmer official portrait

During the intervening years, the economy has suffered three major shocks, triggered by the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the financial markets’ reaction to then Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng’s “fiscal event” in September 2022.

What that means in practice is that the likely incoming Labour government faces some tough financial choices – and one notable absence from this year’s manifesto compared to the one in 2019 is that there is no longer a commitment to increase funding for active travel.

A27 bypass scrapped to pay for pothole repairs

Indeed, one of the key transport-related pledges in the party’s 2024 manifesto, namely to fix 1 million potholes a year, will be funded by scrapping the proposed A27 bypass at Chichester in West Sussex, saving £320 million, with Labour insisting that the scheme “is poor value for money.”

That forms part of a manifesto promise to “maintain and renew our road network, to ensure it serves drivers, cyclists and other road users, remains safe, and tackles congestion.”

In contrast to the Conservatives, where pledges such as blocking clean air zones, LTNs and 20mph limits and requiring local referendums to be held on certain schemes, can be interpreted as seeking to interfere with local politics, Labour does say that it “will give mayors the power to create unified and integrated transport systems, allowing for more seamless journeys, and to promote active travel networks.”

Missing from the current manifesto compared to 2019, however, is the former commitment to a Vision Zero strategy for reducing road deaths and serious injuries.

Liberal Democrats

“A new nationwide active travel strategy”

The fourth largest party in the last Parliament behind the Conservatives, Labour and the SNP, the Liberal Democrats are according to some polls set for their best ever electoral performance, with some suggesting that the party may even find itself as the official opposition after 4 July.

While, as mentioned above, the Conservatives have in effect ditched their commitment to 2020’s Gear Change strategy and slashed funding for active travel, and Labour makes just the briefest mention of cycling and walking, the Liberal Democrats pledge in their manifesto to “Transform how people travel by creating new cycling and walking networks with a new nationwide active travel strategy,” without expanding on what shape those may take.

The manifesto maintains that “Everyone should have convenient, affordable options to get around – whether to get to work or the shops, to go to school or hospital, to visit friends and families or to access other services,” and criticises the outgoing government for its transport policy, insisting that “Conservative Ministers have badly neglected our transport infrastructure” and that “roads are in a terrible state, with potholes everywhere.”

In addressing the latter point, the party says it will “Give more of the roads budget to local councils to maintain existing roads, pavements and cycleways, including repairing potholes.”

Reform UK

A promise to “Stop the War on Drivers”

In contrast to the other parties’ manifestos, each of which run to more than 100 pages, Reform UK’s offering, published under the title “Our contract with you,” comes in at just 28 pages, heavy on photos and bullet points but light on explanation.

A section with the heading “Stop the War on Drivers” promises that the party – at best, predicted to win a handful of previously Conservative-held seats – will “legislate to ban ULEZ Clean Air Zones and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods,” as well as “scrapping Net Zero means no more bans on petrol and diesel cars and no legal requirements for manufacturers to sell electric cars.”

It adds that “We will keep the speed limit low where safety is critical. Otherwise, 20mph zones will be scrapped.”

Active travel and cycling receive no mention – one positive of which, we suppose, is that pledges such as those made in distant ancestor UKIP’s 2010 manifesto, including cyclists being required to display a disc showing they have third-party insurance, attend compulsory cycle training, and local authorities being given powers to require cyclists to dismount, or ban cycling altogether, “where there are safety concerns – such as on busy roundabouts, junctions or bus lanes, or where the road would be too narrowed by cycle lanes and cause unacceptable delays to traffic.”

Green Party

Promise to hold government to account over active travel

The Green Party is expected to achieve its strongest general election showing yet, buoyed by a good performance in the local elections last month. While the first-past-the-post system means that a solid performance across the country may only translate into three or four seats in the House of Commons, it has pledged to hold the incoming government to account on a range of issues, including active travel.

Alone among the main parties, there is no unsaid assumption that car ownership is universal – indeed, they highlight that one in five families do not have access to a motor vehicle, and that the disparity is greatest between the wealthiest and poorest households.

The party says that its candidates who are returned to Westminster will push whoever forms the next government to consider policies it has put forward to help reduce reliance on motor vehicles and thereby reduce pollution such as spending £2.5 billion a year on new cycleways and footpaths.

“Walking and cycling aren’t just good for reducing carbon emissions and air pollution – they help make us all happier and healthier,” the party says, outlining how its policies will help “reimagine how we use streets in residential areas to reduce traffic and open them up for use by the community,” as well as adopting a target of half of journeys in towns and cities in England to be made by walking, wheeling or cycling by 2030.

Other key policies include ensuring people have access to nature through a Right to Roam Act in England, similar to existing legislation in Scotland that has been welcomed by active travel campaigners.

It’s worth mentioning here that while the party won’t form the next UK government, you don’t have to look beyond these shores to see how its proposals can become part of national policy – its 2021 partnership agreement between the Scottish Green Party and the SNP in the wake of that year’s elections to the Scottish Parliament including a pledge to spend a tenth of the country’s transport budget on active travel by 2024/25.

The partnership agreement, made possible by the fact that the voting system in Scotland meant that the SNP fell just short of an overall majority, may now have been brought to an end, and the wider economic situation means that the planned £320 million spend on active travel for the current fiscal year was scaled down to £220 million, but in per-capita terms that is still well beyond anything being spend elsewhere in the UK.

That concludes our overview of the main parties’ policies when it comes to active travel ahead of Thursday’s general election and while of course for most of us there will be other factors that affect our decision of which candidate gets our vote, we know that it is of course an important issue to the vast majority of road.cc readers and we look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below.

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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13 comments

Avatar
Cyclo1964 | 2 weeks ago
5 likes

I'm in Waveney Valley straight fight between Green and Tories. I will be voting green !

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wycombewheeler | 2 weeks ago
3 likes

My constituency has been conservative since the 1930s, lkely not to be this time.

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jaymack | 2 weeks ago
7 likes

With a first past the post electoral system you , like me, may not be fortunate enough to live in a constituency in which you can afford to vote with your heart. Please do not be tempted to abstain. The most important thing to do on Thursday this week for most readers of this site is to go and vote. There are many who feel disillusioned and are disinclined to cast a ballot. You may not be convinced by the entriity of your local candiates' offers for active travel or indeed anything else but if you don't vote nothing will change and you're as much part of the problem as the awful people who's hands presently hold the levers of power. 

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Car Delenda Est replied to jaymack | 2 weeks ago
2 likes

Always vote with your heart. 'Safe' voters are called safe because they can be safely ignored, as it's better to spend time chasing the swings.
Tactical voter's are just swings moonlighting as safe voters.
The only voters who get listened to are the ones that actually expect politicians to earn their vote. Changing your vote to help win an election only encourages politicians to shift further away from what you believe.

Your sole responsibility is your own vote, winning the election is the future PM's responsibility.

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jaymack replied to Car Delenda Est | 2 weeks ago
1 like

My constituency's boundaries have been changed. However last time around the Tory's vote was more than the combined total of all the other candidates put together. However for the first time ever the local authority's no longer a Conservative administration, it's run by the Lib Dem's. Now it's a long stretch of the imagination to see the last election's third placed party (my team) winning; however if disaffected centrist Tories and those who supported other parties last time around voted for the previous election's second placed party, we'd be rid of the Tory - hurrah! It's a huge ask but not as huge as a Labour win down here in the Coservative's central belt. It's a sad fact that not all votes are equal, a tactical vote is not a wasted vote.

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mdavidford replied to Car Delenda Est | 2 weeks ago
5 likes

What if your heart says that keeping lot A out is more important than getting lot C in? Then voting tactically for lot B would be voting with your heart.

Besides which, there's rarely ever a candidate that represents exactly what you want (unless you stand yourself) - choosing who to vote for is almost always an exercise in deciding which compromises to accept.

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ubercurmudgeon replied to mdavidford | 2 weeks ago
3 likes

mdavidford wrote:

...there's rarely ever a candidate that represents exactly what you want (unless you stand yourself)...

...and often not even then, unless you stand as an independent.

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Car Delenda Est replied to mdavidford | 2 weeks ago
0 likes

That's your brain talking, not your heart.
It's the ego fooling itself into thinking that a smart enough individual vote could swing an election, in reality you might as well spoil your ballot.

Meanwhile lot B will have a focus group on who's voting for lot C instead of B and how to appeal to them. The only way to be in that important demographic is to actually be in it.

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mdavidford replied to Car Delenda Est | 2 weeks ago
3 likes

Well if we're going to get biological about it, it's all your brain - there's very little thinking going on in your heart.

You're making a big, and rather unjustified, assumption that someone can't have a dislike for one of the front-runners that outweighs their preference for their favourite/least disliked candidate.

Lot B can do all the focus groups they like, and it won't matter one bit if lot A get in anyway. And in any case, both lots A and B will have done all that and built it in to their offer, so it's already priced in.

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chrisonabike | 2 weeks ago
2 likes

Greens in Scotland managed to get some remarkable active travel commitments agreed with SNP last time - which actually started happening. Last Welsh labour leader also made a notable change.
Albeit maybe what history will be amazed by is the fuss about changing an arbitary default - (an existing "blanket" for you warm covering fans) - by just 10 mph.

Any other parties actually shown any *action* in practice? (I guess I should include Gear Change, the Road Safety Investigation Branch and ATE under Boris(?), albeit they've been stifled or binned by his party now?)

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chrisonabike | 2 weeks ago
5 likes

Don't forget the party of the current government also brought in a consultation on restricting the "generation of surplus funds" from traffic offenses. Because it's obviously immoral that penalties should bring in more money than a scheme costs to administer. That would create perverse incentives for councils to actually police stuff! Or even turn motorists into cash cows!

https://www.gov.uk/government/calls-for-evidence/restricting-the-generat...

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ubercurmudgeon | 2 weeks ago
4 likes

This video seems like a reasonably well-researched summary of the climate policies of the major parties:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpeYkJpqaCs

Although, as ever, the most optimistic assessment of even the least nakedly grifting of the main options feels like trusting the Golgafrinchams to invent a functional wheel, or not to burn down all the forests:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMoPR2IA2Uk

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HoarseMann | 2 weeks ago
10 likes

The Labour candidate (who actually has a more than fair chance of unseating the resident Conservative MP) knocked on my door the other day.

He probably regretted it afterwards, as I gave him a bit of an ear bashing about the local Labour councillor outright rejecting an Active Travel England funded proposal for cycle lanes in our town.

Oh well, perhaps he'll remember that ranty bloke who was concerned about cycling infrastructure and roads policing, if and when he gets elected to parliament. Makes a change from immigrants I guess 🤷🏻‍♂️.

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