The Independent:

Transport Action Network is bringing a legal challenge against the Department for Transport.

More than £200 million was unlawfully cut from the Government’s investment plans for cycling and walking after last-minute “pressure” from the Treasury, a campaign group has alleged at the High Court.

Transport Action Network (TAN) is bringing a legal challenge against the Department for Transport’s (DfT) March 2023 decision to reduce funding for “active travel”.

Lawyers for the group, which supports sustainable transport campaigns, argued at a hearing on Tuesday that the move amounted to a £225 million, or 65%, cut in dedicated funding between 2023 and 2025.

They claim the reduction created a “clear inconsistency” with the Government’s aims under its Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy for 2021 to 2025 and did not take into account the impact on air quality, carbon emissions and equality issues.

The Government says the claim should be dismissed, arguing the decision was not contrary to its strategy and came amid inflationary and other financial pressures.

Its objectives for active travel include doubling the number of journeys made by cycling from 0.8 billion in 2013 to 1.6 billion in 2025.

Ministers also want to increase the percentage of short journeys in towns and cities that are walked or cycled from 41% in 2018/19 to 46% in 2025, and have targets for boosting walking activity.

The legal challenge comes after a June 2023 National Audit Office report which said it was “unlikely” that the DfT objectives for increased active travel will be achieved by 2025.

The department has said it is “committed to ensuring that more people choose to walk, wheel and cycle” and is investing £3 billion up to 2025.

David Forsdick KC, representing TAN, said in written arguments that the DfT had decided not to cut funding which was “central to achieving the objectives for active travel, was important for equality ambitions, for air quality targets and for delivery confidence in meeting carbon targets, and had a very high cost-benefit ratio”.

The barrister said “immediately prior” to the March 2023 decision, the Treasury and No 10 required Transport Secretary Mark Harper “to impose ‘additional savings’”.

“This appears to explain, at least in part, the illegalities in the decision,” Mr Forsdick said.

He said dedicated funding for active travel is allocated to local authorities to spend on plans and maintenance and infrastructure such as improved pedestrian and cycle paths and routes and highway crossings.

“There is no suggestion, nor could there be, that the objectives could be met with fewer resources,” Mr Forsdick said.

He added that a suggestion that “flexibility elsewhere later” may make up for the funding reduction was an “unevidenced assertion and implausible”.

“The commitment to ‘review these levels as soon as practically possible’ in the decision has to be understood in the context of the pressure from HM Treasury which led to the decision in the first place,” the lawyer said.

He said the DfT did not consult or revisit its objectives over the funding cut “apparently for the short reason that the decision was the result of a last-minute intervention/direction from HM Treasury and No 10.”

Hugh Flanagan, for the DfT, said in written arguments that the funding decision had involved “the exercise of a broad discretion involving numerous and competing policy and public interest considerations”.

He said the department “expressly took into account all the material considerations”, adding that the campaign group’s characterisation of the decision-making process was “incorrect”.

“In this instance, the context was a government-wide spending review in light of inflationary and other pressures. The involvement of HM Treasury in respect of final agreement to departmental spending plans is therefore entirely to be expected,” the barrister said.

He said active travel funding was one of several areas to see its budget reduced amid the pressures of funding high speed rail, a bus sector support package and the impact of the war in Ukraine.

The lawyer said a “flexed” approach to “complex” active travel finances meant the overall reduction in funding was £179 million.

It was “inappropriate” to look at this “relatively modest” reduction in isolation amid wider investment, the court was told.

The hearing before Mr Justice Kerr is due to end on Tuesday, with a ruling expected at a later date.


This was also covered in The Evening Standard


Signing up will allow you to access our monthly newsletter and the latest actions and events