Cycling industry reacts to ‘backward move’ as Government cuts Active Travel budget for England

Representatives from the cycling industry have criticised the Government’s decision to cut Active Travel funding outside London, describing it as “a backward move”.

Last week, the Transport Secretary Mark Harper confirmed the cuts in a written statement ahead of the spring budget.

Harper cited rising inflation caused by Russia’s invasion and supply chain issues as the main reasons behind the decision.

The statement read: “We remain committed to supporting all forms of transport and have invested over £850m in active travel between 2020/21 and 2022/23. 

“Despite the need to deliver efficiency in all areas of our budget, we will still commit to spend at least a further £100m capital into active travel over the remainder of the spending period, as part of a total of around £3 billion investment in active travel over this Parliament, including from City and Region Sustainable Transport settlements and National Highways. We will review these levels as soon as practically possible.

“These are the difficult but responsible decisions we are taking, that put the priorities of the British people first, in controlling inflation and reducing government debt.”

Although the official figure was not confirmed in the statement, Sustrans expects this cut to be in the region of £200 million.

In a joint statement, the walking and cycling charity, alongside organisations representing the Walking and Cycling Alliance (WACA) and Women in Transport, said: “It is heartbreaking to see vital active travel budgets wiped away in England, at the exact time when they are most essential to UK economic, social and environmental prospects.  

“It simply doesn’t make sense to withdraw investment in active travel at this time, particularly as it contributed £36.5 billion to the UK economy in 2021.   

“Representing a two-thirds cut to promised capital investment in safe infrastructure for walking, wheeling and cycling, these cuts are a backward move for active travel and will counteract the tremendous progress we’ve seen in recent years.”

The WACA includes the Bicycle Association, Bikeability, British Cycling, Cycling UK, Living Streets, Ramblers and Sustrans.

The statement continued: “These cuts will leave England lagging far behind other UK nations and London, at a time when we need to be raising the bar everywhere.  

“Promised Government targets of 50% of all journeys in English towns and cities being walked or cycled by 2030, and for the UK to be Net Zero by 2050, are made impossible by these cuts.  

“People walking, wheeling and cycling take 14.6 million cars off the road, saving 2.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year.  

“More than ever, people want and need support to walk, wheel and cycle, and these cuts will impact those that would have benefited most, limiting our choice to travel healthily, cheaply and emissions-free.”

Adam Tranter, the founder of the Bike is Best campaign and sports communications agency Fusion Media, has also criticised the decision.

Speaking to BBC World at One, the cycling and walking commissioner for the West Midlands said the reduction in funding would have “a huge impact”.

He added: “The kind of change that we need for the future to hit our net zero targets and to give people the dignity of choice in transport is really wide-ranging.

“We have got the money to do some stuff but we haven’t got enough money to really hit those net zero goals.”

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Selaine Saxby MP and Ruth Cadbury MP, co-chairs of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cycling & Walking, released a statement describing the decision as “incredibly disappointing”.

They said: “We’ve witnessed the popularity of active travel increase in the capital but other parts of England will now not benefit from the same quality transport system. London now has three times as much funding per year for active travel than the rest of England combined.

“We understand that there are pressures on the public purse but active travel schemes frequently have much higher benefit:cost ratios than road building schemes, many of which are still going ahead despite falling value for money for taxpayers. 

“No other mode of transport will deliver the same health benefits and actually save the NHS money. If we’re serious about decarbonisation and giving people real choices on how they move, active travel needs to be properly and consistently funded.”