Cycling UK has responded to the speech made by Transport Secretary Mark Harper this morning at the Conservative Party's conference in Manchester, accusing the government of being "intent on undermining" some of the "most successful transport policies of recent years" in an "ill-fated attempt to win support" ahead of the next general election.
Harper followed up on Rishi Sunak's comments from Friday about halting the so-called "war on motorists" with a promise that the Conservative Party is "proudly pro-car" and a pledge to introduce a number of pro-motorist policies.
The head of the Department for Transport said he would review guidance on 20mph speed limits in England and opposes their blanket use, would continue the review into low-traffic neighbourhoods, and aims "to stop councils implementing 15-minute cities".
One eyebrow-raising quote came in the form of claiming "sinister" 15-minute city misuse could see "local councils deciding how often you can go to the shops", a claim former BBC Newsnight host Emily Maitlis said amounted to "conspiracy".
"It is sinister. It's also not remotely true," she wrote on Twitter. "Would love to hear from any local council that is now 'deciding how often you can go to the shops' in case we have this wrong? We are now in a brand new world where policies that were never going to happen are being 'cancelled', or where we are being saved from 'sinister' practices that don't actually exist. That's called conspiracy."
"Like trying to complete a jigsaw with half the pieces missing"
Reacting to the speech Sarah Mitchell, Cycling UK's chief executive, called on the government to produce a plan that considers all modes of transport, not just for those who drive cars, and suggested the government "seems intent on undermining" some of the "most successful transport policies" of recent years.
She said: "When Beeching took an axe to local railways in the 1960s, we were robbed of the freedom to choose how we travel. The government's reported 'plan for the motorist' feels like history repeating itself.
"We need a holistic plan for how people can travel — not a plan that zooms in on one particular mode of transport. A plan that gives us the freedom to choose how we travel, maximising our ability to opt for healthy, cheap and convenient options.
"Better public transport, and safer ways for people to cycle and walk are entirely compatible with driving. Focusing on one way of travelling is like trying to complete a jigsaw with half the pieces missing.
"No.10 seems intent on undermining some of the government's most successful transport policies of recent years. Ministers should be proud of their achievements on walking and cycling rather than ditching them in an ill-fated attempt to win support in advance of the general election."
The Department for Transport said its plan will "support drivers and put the brakes on anti-car measures", and includes measures involving 20mph speed limits, low-traffic neighbourhoods, 15-minute cities, bus lanes and parking, Harper's speech also touching on more vague promises about fines, potholes and how resignalling traffic lights can reduce traffic jams.
"For most people, the most important mode of transport remains the car, the van, the lorry, the motorbike," he told his party's conference. "But from listening to certain corners of the metropolitan bubble, you would think that owning a car was immoral, a dirty habit, an optional extra in people's lives.
"Politicians like Sir Keir Starmer, Sadiq Khan, and Mark Drakeford are only interested in the short term, taking the easy way out, and making decisions that hammer motorists to seek praise from social media and London newspapers."
Harper's comments came a few days after the prime minister initially mentioned their proposal, before a weekend when active travel commissioner Chris Boardman had urged Sunak to "stick with" active travel policies.
Boardman argued that making it easier for people to drive would only encourage more people to do so, in turn putting more cars on the road, discouraging people who otherwise might cycle their journeys, and also subsequently making the roads "miserable" for drivers.
The head of Active Travel England also admitted Sunak's election-friendly language such as "slamming the brakes on the war on motorists" is "not the language I would choose".
Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.