In March 2023, ministers cut two-thirds of England’s dedicated funding for walking and cycling, the cheapest and most effective forms of local travel in a cost of living crisis. Days later, ministers published an updated climate plan, showing the UK is set to miss its 2030 target due to carbon emissions from road transport. This just doesn’t makes sense.
“Increasing walking and cycling can make life easier and more convenient for people, whilst helping to tackle some of the most challenging issues we face as a society – improving health and wellbeing, improving air quality, combatting climate change and tackling congestion on our roads.”
These are the words of the Department for Transport (DfT) in 2022. It even acknowledged investment in active travel delivers some of the greatest benefits of all its proposals. But the new Secretary of State for Transport, Mark Harper, is now in the driving seat. He recently told MPs he believes “the private car is the right method of transport”, no wonder he’s busy running down bus and rail services as well as slashing funding for walking and cycling to try and protect his roads programme.
This case is far more than being about climate change. The slashing of this vital budget is set to scupper new air quality targets to cut exposure to deadly particulates that damage children's lungs and older people’s brains in particular. Both the climate and pollution targets were set assuming cycling and walking would increase to 50% of shorter journeys in our towns and cities by 2030. But, even before the cuts, this ambition was in trouble. If we don’t invest much more in making places safe, convenient and appealing to walk, wheel and cycle, then people will keep driving, damaging health and increasing pressure on our NHS. Our streets will stay congested, our air unsafe to breathe and our climate on the road to disaster.
The cuts reduce dedicated cycling funding in England outside London to just £1.07 per person per year, compared to £17.40 in Wales and £34.30 in Scotland. This makes a mockery of claims to level up the country. There is a strong link between active travel rates, health and productivity across the UK but these cuts will hurt smaller cities, towns and left behind places the most.
Disabled people are less likely to drive than non-disabled people but face decades of discrimination entrenched in the built environment. Inaccessible barriers, narrow paths, steps with no ramps, muddy surfaces and hostile road conditions mean they can become trapped, especially in the many areas where bus services have been cut. The DfT acknowledges the importance of “consistent, long-term funding” to deliver consistent, accessible standards but has now made cuts without considering the equality impacts.
While budget decisions are normally hard to challenge in the courts, a 2015 law creates a duty on the Government to publish a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS). This means they have to set walking and cycling objectives and then provide adequate funding to deliver them. Modelled on other transport funding, it includes legal requirements to protect the “certainty and stability” of a CWIS.
We believe that by making ad hoc announcements, ministers have tried to unlawfully bypass the framework set by Parliament. By cutting funding, there is now a stark and inevitable inconsistency between the active travel objectives and the funding to achieve them. Ministers appear to have failed to take into account the impacts on climate and air pollution targets. Also, their legal duties to make facilities more accessible for people with disabilities and cycling more inclusive for children, older people and women.
For more details about the legal arguments, click on the button below: