Cycling UK has released a scathing criticism of the UK Government's active travel policies after a Public Accounts Committee report showed that the Government is not on track to meet objectives to increase rates of active travel, and that not enough has been done with the £2.3 billion in taxpayers' money to understand and implement cycling infrastructure which will have a long-lasting impact.
The report, published today, warned that funding cuts made this year by the Department for Transport (DfT) could hold back objectives to increase active travel, including cycling and walking. It further warned that the impact of the funding for active travel infrastructure remains unclear.
The report mentioned that the DfT's efforts to increase active travel have seen disappointingly slow progress. The objectives had included a doubling of cycling rates, and a 6 percentage point increase in the proportion of children walking to school.
However, there has been no sustained increase in cycling rates, and fewer children now walk to school than when targets were set.
In March, the DfT announced a £233m reduction in dedicated active travel funding up to April 2025. Back then, the Cycling and Walking Alliance had described it as a "backward move" and estimated that two-thirds of previously promised funding will be lost, making it "impossible" to meet Net Zero and active travel targets.
Now, the report said that the objectives could have been affected by funding reductions, despite the DfT’s suggestion that funding has not been a key issue in its failure to achieve targets.
Sarah Mitchell, chief executive of Cycling UK, said: "Three years ago, the Government’s inspiring vision and ambition to increase levels of cycling and walking were widely supported, because the environmental, public health and economic benefits of doing that are huge.
"But hope is not a strategy, and sadly it was inevitable that the Public Accounts Committee would conclude that the Government’s decision to reduce dedicated funding for active travel by two thirds will further affect its ability to reach its own targets for increasing levels of active travel.
"And as the Committee also highlighted, the consequences of reduced funding are amplified because local authorities are held back from delivering successful schemes due to the uncertainty around future funding.
"Councils, professionals working in this field, the Local Government Association, the National Audit Office and numerous others have repeatedly said that stop-start funding doesn’t lead to long term planning and delivery.
"It’s time the Government listened and fixed this, and the Autumn statement later this month is a perfect opportunity to show it’s now prepared to back the admirable ambition with long term, sustained, and increased funding, which is what’s needed to turn the vision into reality."
The report also warned that the Government has not done enough to understand the impact and benefits of the £2.3bn in taxpayers’ money it has spent on active travel infrastructure between 2016 and 2021.
It said: "Too little is known about the quality of the infrastructure that has been built. DfT has an incomplete understanding of what has been built because the majority of schemes have cost less than the amount required to monitor or evaluate them. The PAC is calling on DfT to lay out its plans to evaluate active travel interventions by December."
Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said: "The Government itself estimates that every pound invested in active travel reaps around £4.30 in benefits, in health, in air quality, in decarbonisation.
"If true, these are significant levels of potential value for taxpayers’ money to be realised. But close monitoring is required to understand what works and why in active travel investment, and coherence and stability of funding is crucial should these schemes be given a chance to succeed. Our enquiry found these sadly lacking."
Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.