A transport minister has admitted in the House of Commons this morning that current levels of active travel funding are around £600 million short of what is needed to achieve the government’s own targets for cycling and walking.
In February 2020, then Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced £2 billion in funding until 2025 for active travel in England, subsequently confirmed by former Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Prime Minister Boris Johnson in their Gear Change strategy, published in July 2020.
And in July this year, following the creation of Active Travel England, the second Cycling & Walking Strategy for England (CWIS2) increased the money set aside for cycling and walking to £3.68 billion.
That announcement was made in the same week Conservative MPs voted to remove Johnson as Prime Minister, since when the business of government has been hugely disrupted by the Tory leadership contest, the summer Parliamentary recess, the death of Queen Elizabeth and the current financial crisis facing the UK.
But taking Transport Questions in the House of Commons today, Minister of State at the Department for Transport (DfT) Lucy Frazer said that a minimum of £4.4 billion was needed to meet the 2025 target – around a further £600 million than the amount allocated in June, and which reflects funds sourced from across government departments.
Catherine West, the Labour MP for the north London constituency of Hornsey & Wood Green, had asked the minister whether the DfT “has made an assessment of the level of funding that will be required to meet its cycling targets for (a) 2025 and (b) 2030.”
In response, Ms Frazer, the Conservative MP for South East Cambridgeshire, appointed to her current position last month by Prime Minister Liz Truss, said that the DfT “estimates that a minimum of £4.4 billion is likely to be required to meet its cycling and walking objectives to 2025.”
She added that “a minimum of £5.5 billion is likely to be required to meet the objectives to 2030,” and that the actual amount will depend on a wide variety of factors.”
While the funding relates to England only – funding for active travel in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is reserved to the devolved administrations there – Cardiff West Labour MP Kevin Brennan sought assurances from the minister that funding for cycling “will not be one of the areas that has to be cut as a result of the government’s economic plans,” with huge spending cuts predicted across Whitehall departments in the wake of Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini budget last month.
The minister replied: “There are core funds available, but there are also funds from other departments, such as the levelling-up fund, the highways maintenance fund and the future high streets fund. Much of that money is already committed,” she added.
While it is true that funding for active travel may indeed come from other sources and therefore may be additional to the headline figure of £2 billion – much of which remains uncommitted – it would still be likely to fall well short of the £4.4 billion that Frazer said was needed to meet the 2025 target.
In reaction to Frazer’s comments, Matt Mallinder, Cycling UK director, commented: “Today we saw government recognise they need at least a minimum of £4.4 billion to meet their own modest targets for increasing active travel – more than a doubling of current levels," based on amounts committed to date.
“As cost of living hits us all hard across England, everyone is looking to save money wherever they can.
“Many are turning to cycling for their shorter journeys, whether to work, school or the shops – all journeys essential for the UK’s growth agenda.”
He added: “While we can but hope the Chancellor’s fiscal plan due at the end of the month will deliver an increase in active travel funding, it should at the very least maintain current levels to keep the nation moving and get Gear Change started.”
The figure of £4.4 billion referred to be Frazer is itself believed to be far less than the amounts cited in a report commissioned by the DfT from independent consultants in 2018 ahead of setting those 2025 targets, which has been referred to officially several times including in a government report as well as in ministerial answers in Parliament, but which still remains unpublished.
Last year, giving evidence before the House of Commons Transport Committee as part of its inquiry into Reforming public transport after the pandemic, Cycling UK policy director Roger Geffen, accused the government of withholding the report and called on it to make the findings public.
“The government has sat on research over the last 14 months, and our understanding is that it shows £2 billion is only about a quarter to a third of what is needed to meet the government’s own targets to double cycling and increase walking by 2025,” he said.
“It’s really important the government is clear about what its targets are and that it publishes the research which shows whether the funding is adequate to hit their targets and then act on the findings of the [suppressed] research as it sets its budgets for cycling and walking in the Spending Review,” he added.
The actual amount that Chris Boardman, installed earlier this year as Active Travel Commissioner for England, says is needed to meet the 2030 target of half of trips across England being made by cycling or walking is itself almost double the £9.9 billion cited by Frazer in the House of Commons today.
Speaking to journalist Laura Laker for an article published in Cycling Industry News last month, Boardman said that to achieve those levels across urban and rural areas would cost up to £18 billion, saying “this is what it takes to deliver the product. And then it’s a political decision of how important you think it is.”
Johnson’s former transport advisor at No 10 Downing Street, Andrew Gilligan, who previously served as cycling commissioner for the capital under the former Prime Minister at City Hall when he was Mayor of London, recently expressed concerns however over the future of Active Travel England.
Transport author and journalist Carlton Reid reported last week on Forbes.com that Gilligan, speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham had said: “I really do hope it survives the arrival of a new government. But I'm hearing slightly worrying things that it might not.”
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.