The government is facing a legal challenge from a campaign group over its cut to investment in walking and cycling in England, as lawyers acting on behalf of Transport Action Network (TAN) have written to the Department for Transport (DfT) seeking a judicial review into the cuts.
In news first reported by Peter Walker of the Guardian, the claim has been made that the active travel budget cuts bypassed legal processes and risk undermining commitments about air pollution and the climate emergency.
The cuts were slammed "a backward move" by the Walking and Cycling Alliance (WACA) in March when they were announced, an estimate made that two thirds of previously promised funding would be lost, making it "impossible" to meet Net Zero and active travel targets.
As pointed out in Parliament by SNP MP Gavin Newlands a month later, the slash to the active travel budget means that less than £1 per head will be spent in England outside of London versus £50 per head in Scotland.
Now, TAN's lawyers from Leigh Day have sent a pre-action legal letter to transport secretary Mark Harper and raised the same point as Newlands, comparing £1 per head to Scotland's £58 and £23 per head in Wales.
TAN, currently crowdfunding the £40,000 cost of the case, also argues that the DfT's claim that more than £3 billion is being spent on active travel during this parliament includes budgets from other departments that may benefit active travel, but do not provide evidence of how.
Additionally, even if the £3 billion figure is met, TAN notes this is less than the £18 billion required to meet the government's target for half of all urban journeys to be walked or cycled by 2030.
TAN's director Chris Todd said: "Legally binding targets to cut carbon and air pollution rely on big increases in walking and cycling by 2030. But official forecasts predict we'll miss this ambition by a mile. Rather than increasing effort, ministers seem to be deliberately sabotaging these efforts."
He suggested the March cut could be "the Jenga block that makes climate, air quality, levelling up and health plans all come tumbling down".
In the letter, Harper is accused of contravening obligation to cycling and walking strategy, risking failure to meet net zero and air pollution targets, and that active travel is important for equalities obligations.
"We cannot comment on possible legal proceedings," a DfT spokesperson said. "We are committed to delivering active travel infrastructure that enables everyone to build healthier journeys into their daily lives. That is why we are investing over £3bn into active travel – more than any other government."
Speaking at April's annual showcase event for the All Party Parliamentary Group for Cycling & Walking, MP Ruth Cadbury stressed the need for "consistent" cycling funding after the previous month's cuts.
"Debate around active travel can be polarising," she acknowledged. "In reality, I don't think it's controversial at all... the talk of 15-minute cities, that term may have become a bit pejorative but basically it means having the things you need within 15 minutes walk or cycle, including points of public transport.
"For most of us this is popular and it provides tangible benefits for communities — cleaner air, better high streets, easier access to amenities and safer roads — as well as free travel and healthier outcomes for those who walk or cycle."
Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.