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High Court grants legal challenge to government’s cycling funding cuts – as ministers forced to concede they were aware of “devastating” impact of decision to slash active travel budget

“It’s obvious that ministers are no longer serious, whether about their commitments to cut congestion, improve travel choices, address climate change, or clean up our air”

The Department for Transport’s decision earlier this year to slash the budget for cycling and walking schemes in England by around 75 percent can be legally challenged, the High Court ruled yesterday.

The action was brought by active travel campaign group Transport Action Network (TAN), who wrote to the government in June seeking a judicial review into the cuts, which activists described at the time as a “backward move” that would make it “impossible” to meet Net Zero and cycling and walking targets.

Lawyers for TAN, who launched a crowdfunding campaign to challenge the cuts, argued that the ministers who made the decision bypassed legal processes and risk undermining commitments concerning equality, air pollution, and the climate emergency – despite only months earlier trumpeting the “significant” benefits of active travel.

Yesterday at the Hight Court, the appropriately named Mr Justice Jay granted permission for a full judicial review into the cuts, noting that this was “potentially an important case” concerning a legal provision that had not been looked at before.

While the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy’s central target of over half of urban journeys being walked or cycled by 2030 forms a key part of the government’s climate and air quality plans, the DfT forecast even before March’s cuts that they would fail to meet this target.

And, just hours before yesterday’s hearing, lawyers acting for the department were forced to disclose slides which highlighted how the cuts would “devastate” sustainable travel in most of England’s local transport authorities outside of London.

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

Transport Secretary Mark Harper’s announcement in March that the active travel budget for England would be slashed – with the Walking and Cycling Alliance estimating that over two thirds of previously promised funding would be lost – was roundly condemned, with SNP MP Gavin Newlands pointing out that the cuts mean that less than £1 per head will be spent in England outside of London, compared to over £50 per head in Scotland.

In a pre-action letter sent to Harper in June, TAN also noted the disparity between active travel funding in England and the rest of Britain, while arguing that the DfT’s claim that more than £3 billion is being spent on active travel during this parliament includes budgets from other departments that may benefit active travel, but do not provide evidence of how.

Additionally, even if the £3 billion figure is met, TAN notes this is less than the £18 billion required to meet the government’s target for half of all urban journeys to be walked or cycled by 2030.

Following yesterday’s High Court ruling, TAN’s director Chris Todd said: “It’s fantastic to be making legal history. This could set a hugely helpful precedent for healthy travel.

“When they cut funding in March, ministers promised to find additional cash as soon as possible. Yet of the £36 billion saved from cutting HS2 this month, not a penny was dedicated to active travel. There wasn’t a single example of a walking or cycling scheme in the huge list of projects the Prime Minister was promising.

“It’s obvious that ministers are no longer serious, whether about their commitments to cut congestion, improve travel choices, address climate change, or clean up our air. We’re disappointed that we had no choice but to take them to court. However, we’re delighted the judge agreed this important case deserves a full hearing.”

> MP stresses need for "consistent" cycling funding after "disappointing" cut to active travel budget

Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith, acting on behalf of TAN, added: “Transport Action Network believes that these cuts to national cycling and walking funding massively undermine the government's plans to address climate change and air pollution.

“It appears the government hasn’t followed its own statutory rules in this area, so TAN is delighted the Court today has agreed a full hearing to question whether the minister’s decision was lawful.”

“It was only after independent scrutiny from a National Audit Office investigation that double-counting in active travel funding was revealed,” Todd said.

“The court case should shed light on the DfT’s lack of join-up between funding, cycling and walking objectives, and targets to address climate change and air quality. This could be an uncomfortable ride for ministers.“

Speaking at April’s annual showcase event for the All Party Parliamentary Group for Cycling and Walking, MP Ruth Cadbury stressed the need for “consistent” cycling funding in the wake of the previous month's cuts.

“Debate around active travel can be polarising,” she acknowledged. “In reality, I don’t think it’s controversial at all... the talk of 15-minute cities, that term may have become a bit pejorative but basically it means having the things you need within 15 minutes walk or cycle, including points of public transport.

“For most of us this is popular and it provides tangible benefits for communities — cleaner air, better high streets, easier access to amenities and safer roads — as well as free travel and healthier outcomes for those who walk or cycle.”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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11 comments

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eburtthebike | 4 months ago
3 likes

“When they cut funding in March, ministers promised to find additional cash as soon as possible. Yet of the £36 billion saved from cutting HS2 this month, not a penny was dedicated to active travel. There wasn’t a single example of a walking or cycling scheme in the huge list of projects the Prime Minister was promising."

I wrote to my MP, the less than competent Mark Harper, the transport secretary himself, expressing my concern over the cuts and urging him to reinstate them immediately, but yet again, no reply.

I also wrote to the PM, when he asked for schemes to spend the HS2 money on, suggesting that it be used to restore the cuts to the active travel budget, and received a completely irrelevant letter from DfT in response.

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to eburtthebike | 4 months ago
6 likes
eburtthebike wrote:

“When they cut funding in March, ministers promised to find additional cash as soon as possible. Yet of the £36 billion saved from cutting HS2 this month, not a penny was dedicated to active travel. There wasn’t a single example of a walking or cycling scheme in the huge list of projects the Prime Minister was promising."

I wrote to my MP, the less than competent Mark Harper, the transport secretary himself, expressing my concern over the cuts and urging him to reinstate them immediately, but yet again, no reply.

I also wrote to the PM, when he asked for schemes to spend the HS2 money on, suggesting that it be used to restore the cuts to the active travel budget, and received a completely irrelevant letter from DfT in response.

I think it's fairly obvious that the Tories under Sunak have no interest in the future and certainly no interest in the health of the country, either physically, financially or ecologically.

e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/oct/27/england-to-diverge-from-eu-water-monitoring-standards

Avatar
Cugel replied to hawkinspeter | 4 months ago
2 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

I think it's fairly obvious that the Tories under Sunak have no interest in the future and certainly no interest in the health of the country, either physically, financially or ecologically.

e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/oct/27/england-to-diverge-from-eu-water-monitoring-standards

If this is true (and it certainly looks like it) it begs the question: what is motivating the Toryspivs to behave as they do? The short answer might be the standard, "Power and riches" but that in turn begs the questions: to what ultimate purpose do they want them; what methods have they chosen to get them and why?

There seems to be some sort of extreme version of a neoliberal economics going on, as well as some sort of crazed belief in the ultimate saviour emerging from technological evolutions, including AI which they feel can be "controlled". Yet these "methods" seem inchoate, dark and dissolute.

Anyone care to speculate on just WTF the Toryspivs believe, in their tiny minds, they are doing, planning or looking to achieve? Their manifesto-spiels seem also to have dissolved into a murky pool of smelly goo. Their latest "policies" seem to consist entirely of various dog whistles.

 

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to Cugel | 4 months ago
3 likes

Ain't it just that if the shadow of the future is short (eg you think you'll get kicked out soon) your priorities may change? Bit like parasites turning nastier when they think their host is ailing.

Less likely to be looking out for the UK as a whole, longer term. More likely to be tossing bribes at parts of the electorate, playing to your core supporters, or just trying to catch the eye of those who might sustain you in the wilderness.

The calculation will be "am I likely to have to make proposals happen or be around to deal with the consequences?"

Avatar
brooksby replied to eburtthebike | 4 months ago
3 likes
eburtthebike wrote:

“When they cut funding in March, ministers promised to find additional cash as soon as possible. Yet of the £36 billion saved from cutting HS2 this month, not a penny was dedicated to active travel. There wasn’t a single example of a walking or cycling scheme in the huge list of projects the Prime Minister was promising."

I wrote to my MP, the less than competent Mark Harper, the transport secretary himself, expressing my concern over the cuts and urging him to reinstate them immediately, but yet again, no reply.

I also wrote to the PM, when he asked for schemes to spend the HS2 money on, suggesting that it be used to restore the cuts to the active travel budget, and received a completely irrelevant letter from DfT in response.

IIRC about half the declared projects turned out to have already been completed or cancelled years ago... When called out on it, the Govt said they were just for illustrative purposes and not to be taken literally.

Avatar
jaymack | 4 months ago
6 likes

If you wish to make a dontation you can do so via thier website https://transportactionnetwork.org.uk/. And by 'thier website' I don't mean the DfT; they don't need your money the Transport Action Network does. 

Avatar
brooksby replied to jaymack | 4 months ago
5 likes
jaymack wrote:

And by 'thier website' I don't mean the DfT; they don't need your money the Transport Action Network does. 

The DfT already gets our money, from taxes 

Avatar
Morgoth985 | 4 months ago
12 likes

Yet again the Government breaks the law. . .

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chrisonabike replied to Morgoth985 | 4 months ago
9 likes

But again only in a specific, limited way...

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brooksby replied to chrisonabike | 4 months ago
9 likes

I thought that the Govt had been trying to outlaw requests for judicial reviews of their decisions.  Lucky this one got in first...

Avatar
eburtthebike replied to brooksby | 4 months ago
3 likes
brooksby wrote:

I thought that the Govt had been trying to outlaw requests for judicial reviews of their decisions.

It's the democratic way: suppress all attempts to hold the government to account.

They're pretty well banning any effective protest too, just in case people start protesting about the suppression of attempts to hold the government to account.

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