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“A backward move” – Government slashes active travel budget for England

Campaigners say two-thirds cut to funding will make it “impossible” to meet Net Zero and cycling and walking targets

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.

> Government’s second cycling and walking investment strategy outlines almost £4bn funding for active travel – and aims to double the number of cycling trips by 2025

“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).

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.

> Boris Johnson resignation: A blow for active travel?

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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32 comments

Avatar
Awavey | 11 months ago
3 likes

meanwhile Active Travel Funding round 4 kicks off sad

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/how-to-complete-the-active-tr...

still, Im waiting for anyone to actually review what round 2 or even round 3 actually achieved.

but at least ATE have completed their ratings of local authorities so we know how bad they are at it https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploa...

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Clem Fandango | 11 months ago
9 likes

Meanwhile the same amount ( nearly 320 million) is being spent on one road junction at Wisely. Colour me shocked.

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chrisonabike replied to Clem Fandango | 11 months ago
4 likes

Looks like you've coloured yourself shocked - or at least your cyan hair is standing on end.

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Clem Fandango replied to chrisonabike | 11 months ago
10 likes

It's "electric aqua" I'll have you know.

My genetic predisposition to bad hair days is also a protected characteristic. So this is a hate crime.
Or cyber bullying or whatever Nige's personas refer to it as. 😃😜

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chrisonabike replied to Clem Fandango | 11 months ago
7 likes
Clem Fandango wrote:

My genetic predisposition to bad hair days is also a protected characteristic.

Thank goodness - we avoided the "helmet hair" sideshow!

As for spending a little (hundred millions) to save / get back a little more it would seem that providing for more active travel is a no-brainer. Cycling simply being the most efficient form of that, it would be the thing to preferentially fund.

However going in a different direction after several generations of mass motoring (heavily pushed - and subsidised - by our governments) is a political and psychological poser. The actual "how to" is *almost* * as simple as Googling "Dutch cycle infrastructure", or better "sustainable safety". Or given that we are cheap and right at the start of the change maybe "copenhagen cycling"...

* "Almost" because the concept of mass cycling is apparently just too advanced for UK politicians and planners to understand. At least the majority of "Dutch" infra in the UK is strictly cargo-cult lookalike stuff. Or maybe they do know but just can't see beyond the motor vehicle?

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eburtthebike replied to chrisonabike | 11 months ago
10 likes
chrisonatrike][quote=Clem Fandango wrote:

Or maybe they do know but just can't see beyond the motor vehicle?

They can't see past the bonnet of the car and can't see that they are driving over a cliff.

Obesity, pollution, congestion, health, climate change; cycling is one of the best answers to all these modern problems, but, hey, mustn't upset the great car economy.

The human race is descended from lemmings; discuss.

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chrisonabike replied to eburtthebike | 11 months ago
5 likes

I think there was a commitment in England that 50% of journeys in towns and cities should be walked or cycled by 2030? Walking (easy, common but inefficient / slow / very limited distances for most) is at around 30% modal share by trips IIRC, cycling about 2%.

This clearly is a goal that has minimal political commitment and shows little sign of being met. Quite frankly if they'd committed to an increase to 5% cycling modal share nationally and 35% walking I'd have called that ambitious. And probably unachievable with the current pace and sense of urgency.

I remain hopeful... but it will take policy changes and a lot *more* cash, not less.

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IanMK replied to eburtthebike | 11 months ago
5 likes

They certainly can't see past the next general election. They know their cliff is in Dec 2025.

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brooksby replied to IanMK | 11 months ago
6 likes
IanMK wrote:

They certainly can't see past the next general election. They know their cliff is in Dec 2025.

Do you know, I read somewhere that governments in the olden days used to think 'long term' (defined as 'beyond the next election')..

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chrisonabike replied to brooksby | 11 months ago
2 likes
brooksby wrote:

Do you know, I read somewhere that governments in the olden days used to think 'long term' (defined as 'beyond the next election')..

Is that a quote from Seneca? I'm assuming Marcus Aurelius wouldn't criticise himself in that way? Or possibly from the Epic of Gilgamesh?

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JustTryingToGet... replied to chrisonabike | 11 months ago
2 likes
chrisonatrike wrote:
brooksby wrote:

Do you know, I read somewhere that governments in the olden days used to think 'long term' (defined as 'beyond the next election')..

Is that a quote from Seneca? I'm assuming Marcus Aurelius wouldn't criticise himself in that way? Or possibly from the Epic of Gilgamesh?

I think it was Inherited-Wealthicus Twaticus

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brooksby replied to chrisonabike | 11 months ago
2 likes
chrisonatrike wrote:
brooksby wrote:

Do you know, I read somewhere that governments in the olden days used to think 'long term' (defined as 'beyond the next election')..

Is that a quote from Seneca? I'm assuming Marcus Aurelius wouldn't criticise himself in that way? Or possibly from the Epic of Gilgamesh?

I wasn’t thinking of the olden days being quite that olden, tbh…

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HoarseMann | 11 months ago
10 likes

They just need to add up all the fuel duty rises they put on hold and drop the whole lot at the next budget. Should free up a bit of money for active travel schemes.

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brooksby replied to HoarseMann | 11 months ago
8 likes
HoarseMann wrote:

They just need to add up all the fuel duty rises they put on hold and drop the whole lot at the next budget. Should free up a bit of money for active travel schemes.

Howard Cox and certain right wing newspapers have already started ranting about how it would be a Terrible Mistake to remove the fuel duty freeze at the next budget.

These would be the same right wing newspapers which profess to hate state subsidy in any other field... 

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JustTryingToGet... replied to brooksby | 11 months ago
6 likes
brooksby wrote:
HoarseMann wrote:

They just need to add up all the fuel duty rises they put on hold and drop the whole lot at the next budget. Should free up a bit of money for active travel schemes.

Howard Cox and certain right wing newspapers have already started ranting about how it would be a Terrible Mistake to remove the fuel duty freeze at the next budget.

These would be the same right wing newspapers which profess to hate state subsidy in any other field... 

"State subsidies are for free loading scum, except when I'm being subsidised which is the natural order of things. Give me your tithes peasants"

I think that's what they said anyway.

Though I suspect they may want to protect the car finance bubble from bursting until a tory govt isn't in power.

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Car Delenda Est replied to JustTryingToGetFromAtoB | 11 months ago
1 like

Welfare bad, subsidies good 🐷

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Owd Big 'Ead | 11 months ago
12 likes

Let me ser if I've got this right.....
The government have committed to building the London to Birmingham branch of HS2 along with ensuring capital spend for active travel in London is maintained, while the rest of the country can go fuck itself.
So much for levelling up!
I hope no one is considering voting for these Tory bastards at the next GE.
They are intent on throwing the country, including London into the abyss of climate breakdown, but at least their grubby pockets will be lined with filthy lucre.

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hawkinspeter replied to Owd Big 'Ead | 11 months ago
9 likes
Owd Big 'Ead wrote:

Let me ser if I've got this right..... The government have committed to building the London to Birmingham branch of HS2 along with ensuring capital spend for active travel in London is maintained, while the rest of the country can go fuck itself. So much for levelling up! I hope no one is considering voting for these Tory bastards at the next GE. They are intent on throwing the country, including London into the abyss of climate breakdown, but at least their grubby pockets will be lined with filthy lucre.

This has been predictable as they made so many promises and plans about reducing CO2 in the future and they never had any intention of going against the oil/motor lobby.

Can we start lining them up against a wall for shooting yet?

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IanMSpencer replied to hawkinspeter | 11 months ago
8 likes

At the risk of getting banned from presenting MotD, my observation is that the Tories only have one overriding policy which is how to extract the tax take into private hands, given that all state assets have been sold off. They do also have a secondary policy of ensuring that the last pennies of the poor who can't earn enough to be taxed are also up for grabs to private companies.

Most government decisions seem to follow on from that. They'd quite happily cancel HS2 knowing that the Government would probably have to pay out penalties of a similar amount, but even they can see limits to what they can blag their way out of. It would not surprise me to find that north of Birmingham is already effectively bought and paid for, delivered or not.

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Car Delenda Est replied to Owd Big 'Ead | 11 months ago
1 like

English devolution when?

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marmotte27 replied to Car Delenda Est | 11 months ago
2 likes

For 'd' read 'r'.

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Car Delenda Est replied to marmotte27 | 11 months ago
0 likes

Careful now

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mattw | 11 months ago
1 like

Backward step, of course.

Will this affect Sustrans? What about the 2030 target?

Do we know how much will be left after funding the new central structures just set up in York? 50 staff = £5 million ? Plus whatever will exist in the regions.

Perhaps we need to focus on low cost interventions, like getting rid of all the illegal barriers !

Can we apply an Ego Tax to Boris Johnson and Gary Lineker?

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hawkinspeter | 11 months ago
10 likes

So they're looking to "deliver efficiency" with the budgets, yet active travel produces a far greater return on investment than e.g. building roads or giving oil companies money to invest in drilling for oil.

This is clearly the right-wing pushing back against the climate catastrophe and the need for change as evidenced by their tampering with the BBC yet again: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2023/mar/10/david-attenborough-bbc-wild-isles-episode-rightwing-backlash-fears

They're going for the last cash-grab before the inevitable collapse of civilisation due to people continually kicking the can down the road and making false promises rather than actually doing what's necessary.

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brooksby replied to hawkinspeter | 11 months ago
4 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

So they're looking to "deliver efficiency" with the budgets, yet active travel produces a far greater return on investment than e.g. building roads or giving oil companies money to invest in drilling for oil.

And yet they're still going ahead with HS2!!! 

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brooksby replied to hawkinspeter | 11 months ago
5 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

 

They're going for the last cash-grab before the inevitable collapse of civilisation due to people continually kicking the can down the road and making false promises rather than actually doing what's necessary.

Very much this, I'm afraid.

Avatar
brooksby | 11 months ago
10 likes

Have the people in Govt maybe got a ticket to some sort of Elysium style orbital platform?

They're cutting funding for active travel, not bothering about restrictions on sewage discharges, banning David Attenborough from talking about the collapse in the British ecosystem (OK, not 'banning' per se, but not broadcasting the episode of his new show that talks about it), firing up the coal fired power stations because they haven't got any alternatives in place (still!), pretty much every power company and utility is owned by overseas entities (even overseas states).

<shakes head sadly>

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chrisonabike replied to brooksby | 11 months ago
3 likes

Well if we can't *use* some of the powers we won back from the evil empire of Europe, what's the point?  3

I think it's only covid, lawlessness at the top and Conservative party infighting* which has kept the government from reversing a hit list of legislation. Given the magnitude of the change though we should maybe wait a generation or two to see all the positive effects though.

* which Brexit strangely didn't put an end to.

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Argos74 | 11 months ago
7 likes

Not so much a backward move as turning right round and riding at GannaSpeed head first into the Net Zero targets. FFS.

Quote:

The plan focuses on increasing ambition in the following areas:

advancing offshore wind
driving the growth of low carbon hydrogen
delivering new and advanced nuclear power
accelerating the shift to zero emission vehicles
green public transport, cycling and walking
‘jet zero’ and green ships
greener buildings
investing in carbon capture, usage and storage
protecting our natural environment
green finance and innovation

Bold and strikethrough added to the first to be knocked off the list.

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Awavey | 11 months ago
10 likes

Just to correct the economics the Bank of Englands £65 billion emergency bond-buying programme, was just the notional amount the Bank said they were willing to commit to buy gilts.

In the end they spent only 19billion buying them and made about 3.8billion profit from selling them back...

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