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"Hope is not a strategy": Cycling UK slams government's funding reductions holding back cycling and walking progress

A damning criticism of the active travel policies comes after a government report claimed "disappointingly slow progress" meaning the 2025 targets will not be met...

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.

> "Depressing" decrease in cycling traffic due to government's "flawed" decision to slash active travel budget, says Cycling UK

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."

> Rishi Sunak’s watered-down net zero policies could “destroy any hopes of a cycle friendly future,” says Cycling UK

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 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.

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Bungle_52 | 4 months ago

While I admire what Cycling UK are doing for cyclists with regard to infrastructure I can't help feeling that they ought to be campaigning to get the police to take cyclists video reports more seriously and more consistently. We have seen good news from WMP and Northamptonshire recently with fines and points for close passing which up until recently would have been NFA for almost all forces. The cost would be zero and could even be a money generator with a change in the law which again would be zero cost.

Cycling infrastructure is a great way to get people in to cycling but as soon as they go on the road they are put off by poor driving. This is what needs to be tackled and with an army of volunteers willing to provide the police with the evidence they need it would be possible. Cyclists wouldn't be the only ones to benefit, all vulnerable road users would find using roads and pavements a more pleasant experience if drivers were more considerate.

Obviously behaviour change takes time but if you don't make a start you will never get it done.

chrisonabike replied to Bungle_52 | 4 months ago

I'd love to see the police do a bit more (or anything, in Scotland).

I am not convinced this gets any more people cycling though. People aren't not cycling because they're worried about motorist impunity. And the streets are statistically pretty safe for cyclists. But of course humans don't care about that. People are not cycling because no one else does and they know from walking that it *doesn't feel safe* or pleasant to have cars whizzing by.

Who are the army of people who're gonna "inform on" a majority (people in cars?) Or is this an army of Cycling Mikeys you're proposing?

I suspect the behaviour change mostly comes from social expectations. Expecting people to police *themselves* towards change is hard to imagine. Drink driving campaign the nearest analogy?

I'd like to think your idea could be self funding but that seems a stretch. Or something from the nightmares of some current drivers ("speed camera cash cows").

Again, we can do several things and we will need multiple changes to break out of our current vicious circle. However I'm not aware that policing was a big part of how the Dutch and the Danish got lots of people cycling. Although of course there may be more social pressure on rulebreakers there?

matthewn5 | 4 months ago
1 like
BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP | 4 months ago

Surely they could spare some of that extra 350m a week? 

oceandweller | 4 months ago

"Hope is not a strategy" - quite right. It's not. It's a manufacturer of very good cycling equipment, based in Barnoldswick, Lancashire. & a village in Derbyshire. Or an outstandingly good rock climb near Llyn Idwal in North Wales. Or loads of things & ideas & names & all sorts.

It can, sometimes, even be a tactical device.

Which is, I suspect, the case this time...

eburtthebike | 4 months ago

This government has a long history of saying great things and getting lots of praise for them, then a few months later, ditching them, so this really shouldn't have come as a surprise.  What might be surprising is how blatant they are, but, given that they've got away with it every time, maybe not that surprising.

The real problem is the inability of the electorate to be able to hold their elected representatives to account, or even to get them to answer their questions.  I understand that it would not necessarily be a good thing to drag your MP over the coals for every little change from their stated aims, but when they so consistently fail to do what they said they would, then we should have some recourse, and even if we couldn't sack them, we should be able to censure them for lying.

brooksby replied to eburtthebike | 4 months ago
eburtthebike wrote:

This government has a long history of saying great things and getting lots of praise for them, then a few months later, ditching them, so this really shouldn't have come as a surprise. 

And unfortunately, the Opposition isn't much better.  How many U-turns is it, so far?

eburtthebike replied to brooksby | 4 months ago
brooksby wrote:

And unfortunately, the Opposition isn't much better.  How many U-turns is it, so far?

You mean Maggies?

brooksby | 4 months ago

Cycling UK misses the point.

The current Govt stated their 'objectives to increase rates of active travel' because they thought that sounded good at the point they said it.

But that was AGES ago now: the news cycle has moved on and the Govt now wants to fight in the War on Motorists (you can guess on which side).

chrisonabike replied to brooksby | 4 months ago

Perhaps - but I think / hope for some years now it's been possible to detect an understanding by many politicians that we need to talk about cars.  Or rather - driving a bit less, facilitating active travel a bit more.  Obviously this is way down their agenda - but seems to be there.

So reminding whoever is the government of what they said more than five minutes back and their performance over time isn't missing the point, despite the rapid cycles of headline politics.

In the UK (cycle) campaigning stamina is a requirement.  (Even for the "tyre extinguishers" end of things - or the capitalist way of change e.g. via flogging e-bikes...) However much we'd like it right here, right now the reality is "slowly, slowly".  I hope we're starting to see a change but perhaps it's just not possible to turn the tanker around quickly?

That's a whole other debate though (and we shouldn't be aiming for "what do we want?  Gradual change!  When do we want it?  In due course!")

* I believe Cycling UK started (in the 19th C!) as "The Bicycle Touring Club" and was then "The Cyclists' Touring Club" / CTC for over a century.

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