Rishi Sunak’s much ridiculed and widely condemned pledge to water down some of the government’s key net zero commitments has been criticised by Cycling UK, who say the prime minister’s ongoing attack on green initiatives and schemes could “destroy any hopes of a cycle friendly future”.
Among the climate change-focused policies and proposals the prime minister claimed he was set to axe or row back on yesterday include his already infamous promise to prevent the possibility of meat taxes, flying bans, and forcing families to have seven bins (three measures which have since been dismissed by former government colleagues as “straw men”), along with delaying the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by five years and weakening targets to phase out gas boilers.
Sunak claimed last night and in interviews today that the UK’s net zero target for 2050 remains in place even after this latest flurry of U-turns on key climate targets – though the Climate Change Committee, which already deemed the country’s progress towards net zero “worryingly slow”, has said that the prime minister’s latest bid to seize the political agenda has moved the UK “backwards”.
And now Cycling UK has called on the country’s cyclists to put pressure on Sunak to retain the range of traffic-calming and active travel schemes implemented in recent years, with the charity arguing that yesterday’s “watering down” of the UK’s net zero commitments underlines the need for the public to show their support for green, healthy policies.
The prospect of active travel initiatives being dragged onto the campaign trail ahead of the next general election became increasingly likely over the summer, in the wake of the Conservatives’ win at the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, a narrow victory credited to the Tory opposition to Labour mayor Sadiq Khan’s plans to extend London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone.
In the wake of that symbolic by-election, Sunak announced that was “on the side” of motorists and ordered the Department for Transport (DfT) to undertake a review of LTNs and traffic-calming measures, prompting Cycling UK to urge the prime minister to avoid sowing dissension between cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists by using the schemes as a “political football” during the election campaign.
Faced with yesterday’s watering down of key green policies, and fearing the prospect of a similar U-turn on active travel, Cycling UK has urged cyclists to “stand up and be counted” by writing to the prime minister outlining their support for LTNs and other measures designed to improve walking and cycling, such as the implementation of 20mph zones, to ensure that politicians “know you want action for safer cycling”.
“In response to a by-election win with a margin of just 495 votes, Rishi Sunak and his ministers have attacked their own government policy supporting low traffic neighbourhoods and 20mph zones in England,” Cycling UK say, telling road.cc that more than 5,000 people have already used their portal to share their concerns with the PM.
“These vital measures have likely helped bring cycling fatalities to a 30-year low, but we urgently need to see them rolled out more widely, alongside protected cycle lanes. A government U-turn on safe residential roads would destroy any hopes of a cycle friendly future.”
Keir Gallagher, Cycling UK campaigns manager, told road.cc today: “Yesterday’s announcement which saw the watering down of Net Zero commitments shows how important it is for the public to show their support for measures which are green, good for the public health, and affordable. Enabling cycling ticks all of these boxes.
“Politicians today seem to rely on faceless polling to make policy decisions on the hoof, but by writing to the Prime Minister this is an opportunity to show that individuals care and matter.”
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.