The government has slashed the budget for active travel schemes in England outside London in what has been described as “a backward move” by the Walking & Cycling Alliance (WACA), which estimates that two thirds of previously promised funding will be lost, making it “impossible” to meet Net Zero and active travel targets.
The announcement of the cuts, which come ahead of Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt’s Spring Budget next week, was made yesterday in a written statement by Secretary of State for Transport, Mark Harper.
He said that since the current funding round was agreed, “headwinds” resulting from inflation relating to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and continued supply chain disruption following the coronavirus pandemic “have made it difficult to deliver on our capital programmes, and we recognise that some schemes are going to take longer than expected.”
Missing from that list of “headwinds” however was the shock to the economy brought on by former Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng’s ‘fiscal event’ last September which forced the Bank of England into a £65 billion emergency bond-buying programme and resulted in the cost of government borrowing soaring, leading to the collapse of Liz Truss’s Premiership and making cuts to public spending inevitable.
While it was delays announced in yesterday’s statement to the HS2 high speed rail project and the planned Lower Thames Crossing that grabbed the headlines in the mainstream media, it also covered cuts to active travel funding.
“We remain committed to supporting all forms of transport and have invested over £850 million in active travel between 2020/21 and 2022/23,” Harper said.
“Despite the need to deliver efficiency in all areas of our budget, we will still commit to spend at least a further £100 million capital into active travel over the remainder of the spending period, as part of a total of around £3 billion investment in active travel over this Parliament, including from City and Region Sustainable Transport settlements and National Highways. We will review these levels as soon as practically possible.”
While the various funding pots make it difficult to put a definitive figure on the size of the cuts, CAWA puts it at around two-thirds of the money previously promised for cycling and walking schemes in England outside London, which already received far less investment in active travel than the capital, as well as Scotland and Wales, where transport is the responsibility of the devolved administrations.
In a statement, WACA, which brings together a number of groups campaigning on active travel issues, described the cuts as a “backward move” and “disproportionate” compared to those made for other modes of transport, and would make it “impossible” for the government to meet walking and cycling, as well as Net Zero, targets.
“It is heart-breaking to see vital active travel budgets wiped away in England, at the exact time when they are most essential to UK economic, social and environmental prospects,” WACA said. “It simply doesn’t make sense to withdraw investment in active travel at this time.
“Representing a two-thirds cut to promised capital investment in walking, cycling and wheeling, these cuts are a backward move for active travel and will counteract the tremendous progress we’ve seen in recent years.
“These cuts are disproportionate compared to those for road and rail and will leave England lagging far behind other UK nations and London, at a time when we need to be raising the bar everywhere.
“Promised Government targets of 50 per cent of all journeys in English towns and cities being walked or cycled by 2030, and for the UK to be Net Zero by 2050, are made impossible by these cuts.
“People walking, wheeling and cycling take 14.6 million cars off the road, saving 2.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year.
“More than ever, people want and need support to walk, cycle or wheel, and these cuts will impact those that would have benefited most, limiting our choice to travel healthily, cheaply and emissions-free,” WACA added.
The announcement of the funding cuts was also greeted with dismay by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Cycling & Walking (APPGCW).
NEW: Significant cuts announced for walking and cycling
£710m was approved for active travel in the 2021 Spending Review.
£230m has been spent so far. Today’s announcement of £100m for the remaining two years, means a cut of £380m. https://t.co/Wf3bO2kkWC
— APPGCW (@allpartycycling) March 9, 2023
APPGCW co-chairs Ruth Cadbury, the Labour MP for Brentford & Isleworth, and Selaine Saxby, the Conservative MP for North Devon, said in a statement: “It is incredibly disappointing that the active travel budget has seen extensive cuts at a time when we need to really make progress on decarbonisation and when people need cheap transport choices.
“We’ve witnessed the popularity of active travel increase in the capital but other parts of England will now not benefit from the same quality transport system. London now has three times as much funding per year for active travel than the rest of England combined.
“We understand that there are pressures on the public purse but active travel schemes frequently have much higher benefit:cost rations than road building schemes, many of which are still going ahead despite falling value for money for taxpayers.
“No other mode of transport will deliver the same health benefits and actually save the NHS money,” the statement continued. “If we’re serious about decarbonisation and giving people real choices on how they move, active travel needs to be properly and consistently funded.”
The announcement of the funding cuts comes little more than a year after the government set up the arm’s length body Active Travel England, with then Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his transport adviser at Number 10, Andrew Gilligan, both strong proponents of cycling and walking.
When Johnson resigned as Prime Minister last July, we wondered whether that might impact efforts to grow active travel in England – fears that have now been confirmed by yesterday’s statement from the Secretary of State for Transport.
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.