Many political pundits are saying this will be the most crucial general election of the post-war era. Brexit, the NHS, tackling poverty and violent crime are all among the issues that will help sway voters, as is fighting climate change, with some parties emphasising the role that active travel can play in the latter.
As the nation goes to the polls, we take a look at the various parties’ pledges on cycling and walking, which were also outlined – at least for the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Green Party at last week’s active travel hustings in West London, which we covered here in a special edition of our live blog.
> General Election Active Travel Hustings – politicians from the four main political parties explain their plans for cycling … but will they get your vote?
We don’t include the positions of the SNP, Plaid Cymru or the various parties in Northern Ireland here, since outside England active travel falls within the remit of the devolved administrations elsewhere in the UK and is therefore a campaigning issue for elections to Holyrood, the Senedd or Stormont.
It should also be borne in mind that ‘England’ in this context effectively excludes London, with responsibility for active travel in the capital falling to City Hall and Transport for London.
The parties are listed in order of the number of seats held (or in one case, not held) in the last parliament.
Should the Conservative Party win a majority tomorrow, they have pledged to spend £350 million over the lifetime of the next parliament, equivalent to £70 million a year over the next five years on a Cycling Infrastructure Fund.
To describe that as peanuts would be putting it kindly. It works out at less than £1.20 per person per year, compared to the current spend of £7 – and even that little more than a third of the £17 a head annual spend that campaigners united under the Cycling & Walking Alliance umbrella have called for, rising to £34 by 2025.
There’s also a pledge to put £2 billion aside to fix potholes – but trade body the Asphalt Industry Alliance has estimated that nearly £10 billion would need to be spent over the next decade to fix the country’s road defects.
The Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, finally published in 2017 but with no explanation of how much would be spent on it seems to have quietly disappeared, and earlier this year the Conservatives admitted that they would miss their own targets on increasing levels of cycling.
Behind the scenes, Boris Johnson has employed Andrew Gilligan – his former cycling commissioner in London – as his active travel advisor, and he is seen as someone who can knock heads together to turn plans for cycling infrastructure into reality; but how much he can do that at national level given that budget is open to question.
Labour has pledged to spend £50 per person per year on active travel – a figure that would transform cycling here, with the party also saying that it would draw inspiration from towns and cities in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands as part of a healthy streets programme that would encourage people to walk or cycle.
There is a strong commitment to Bikeability, which Labour says would be provided to all primary school children as well as their parents, as well as being offered to more adults and secondary school pupils.
The party says it would build 5,000 kilometres of cycleways in a bid to double the numbers of journeys made by bike, and provide safe routes to walk or cycle to 10,000 primary schools in the country.
It also promises grants to buy e-bikes and to make bicycles affordable for all.
That £50 headline figure was certainly an attention-grabber, although of course pledging money in opposition is one thing, but finding it once in power quite another. Moreover, if Labour does form the next government, the likelihood is that it would be as part of a coalition, and with all the bargaining that entails with other parties, the manifesto promise could be watered down.
There are some encouraging references to cycling in the party’s manifesto, including spending 10 per cent of the transport budget on active travel by the end of the next parliament – a figure that is on the wish-list of several campaign groups.
The party also pledges to draw up a national strategy for encouraging more walking and cycling including, for the latter, safe infrastructure, while other manifesto promises include reducing car use as well as greater integration of rail, bus and cycle routes.
You’d get pretty good odds on the Liberal Democrats winning an overall majority tomorrow, with the party struggling to make headway in the opinion polls and much of its campaigning focused on a small number of target seats in constituencies that voted remain in the 2016 referendum.
It’s entirely possible though that come Friday, the party could be in a similar position to 2010 and determine who will occupy Number 10 (although parties outside the main two could also have a say, of course). But it’s difficult to envisage that active travel would be a major factor in any coalition negotiations.
Tackling the climate crisis is unsurprisingly the party’s key campaigning issue, and getting more people walking and cycling is of course a big part of that. There’s a pledge to provide £2.5 billion for cycling over the next decade, and investing in “highest quality” infrastructure.
The party has set a target of more than one in two trips of up to five miles to be done by bike or on foot, and ultimately aims to achieve levels of cycling similar to those in Denmark or the Netherlands.
Other promises include a default 20mph speed limit in residential areas, a vision zero approach to injuries and deaths on the roads, and subsidies for e-bikes and cargo bikes.
The Green Party ticks a lot of boxes for active travel, but while the environment is a greater concern for many voters now than ever before, our first-past-the-post system inevitably means it struggles to turn support at national level into seats at Westminster – it had just the one in the last parliament, but won seven at the most recent European elections.
Where it can and does make a difference though, with a record 400 councillors and involvement in nine council coalitions is at local level – witness Caroline Russell’s successful campaigning for a 20mph speed limit for Islington’s roads, for example, or the way Jenny Jones held Boris Johnson to account when he was Mayor of London.
The Brexit Party
Manifestoes, apparently, are a thing of the past – instead, we have a so-called Contract With The People.
Scour it for references to cycling and you will find … Rien. Nada. Niente. Nichts. Or whatever the word for ‘Nothing’ is in any of the other 19 official languages of the European Union …