In March, ministers tried to sneak out a cut of two-thirds of England’s dedicated funding for walking, wheeling and cycling, under the headlines of a record investment in infrastructure and delays to the roads programme and HS2. This prompted a huge outcry from walking, cycling, disability and environmental organisations. They weren’t fooled by the denials and evasions by ministers who tried to play down what happened.
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. With walking and cycling being the cheapest and most effective forms of local travel in a cost of living crisis and good for carbon reduction, the cuts to funding just didn’t make sense.
We felt we had to bring this action because of the strategic importance of the cuts and how they affect many other areas of Government policy. So, in early May, we sent the Government a letter, setting out our concerns and saying if we didn’t get a satisfactory answer, we would initiate legal proceedings. The Government asked for more time to respond but then failed to address our key concerns when it did so, although it did agree to meet us.
While the meeting was useful, we felt we needed to keep up the pressure on the Government so we served our claim, the first formal stage for taking legal proceedings the very next day.
The day after that, our position was vindicated when the National Audit Office published its damning report into the Government’s progress on delivering its walking and cycling targets. It looks set to miss three targets and this was before the cuts to funding, while the fourth target will be challenging to meet. It also shows that £233 million of dedicated funding has been cut, with possibly more elsewhere. More detail can be found in this blog by Cycling UK.
Our case is far more than being about climate change. These cuts could scupper new air quality targets to reduce deadly particulates that especially damage children’s lungs and older people’s brains. Both the climate and pollution targets were set by the Government assuming cycling and walking would increase to 50% of shorter journeys in towns and cities by 2030. But, even before these cuts, this ambition was in trouble. This is unsurprising when you see how paltry the dedicated funding for cycling is, now reduced to just £1.07 per person per year in England (outside London), 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.
The cuts also raise serious equality issues as disabled people are less likely to drive than non-disabled people, yet no impact assessment appears to have been done. The original funding would have been used to start to address the many obstacles placed in their path, from inaccessible barriers, blocked pavements, steps with no ramps, muddy surfaces and hostile road conditions. Now many people risk being trapped, or their independence remaining severely curtailed, especially as bus services are facing further cuts.
While the Government acknowledges the importance of “consistent, long-term funding” to deliver consistent and accessible standards, it seems it is one rule for walking, wheeling and cycling and another for road building. Active travel budgets are cut, whereas funding for roads remains protected, even if some projects have had to be delayed. This exposes the Government’s true motives and its lack of commitment to reduce deadly pollution quickly enough.
We remain committed to making the Government reconsider its decision and to restore the lost funding. We’re currently awaiting a response from the Government as to what it intends to do next.
To support our campaign, please donate to our crowdfunder and share it with your networks.
JOIN OUR NETWORK
Signing up will allow you to access our monthly newsletter and the latest actions and events