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Rishi Sunak urged by Walking and Cycling Alliance to reverse proposed cuts to “essential” active travel funding

“In one move, this government has effectively devastated the legacy of successive Conservative administrations and their work to get Britain cycling,” says Cycling UK

The Walking and Cycling Alliance (WACA) has today penned an open letter to Rishi Sunak, urging the prime minister to reverse the controversial decision to slash the budget for active travel schemes in England – a move the group claims will set back cycling’s growth in the country by more than a decade.

The letter, which also criticised the timing of the cuts and argued that they would “effectively devastate” the “modest” active travel legacy created by recent Conservative governments, was signed by WACA, a coalition of cycling and walking organisations including Cycling UK, Sustrans, British Cycling, and Living Streets, as well as 146 other groups from the bike and environmental world (such as Brompton, Asthma + Lung UK, and the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change), and was published as a full page advert in The Times today.

It follows last week’s news that, ahead of today’s Spring Budget announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, government funding for cycle lanes, infrastructure, and other active travel schemes in England outside London would be drastically cut.

The cuts, which were included in an update to parliament by Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper alongside more headline grabbing announcements concerning delays to the HS2 high speed rail project and the planned Lower Thames Crossing, will see funding for active travel schemes effectively reduced by 75 percent from £200 million a year to just £50 million, Cycling UK says.

“We remain committed to supporting all forms of transport and have invested over £850 million in active travel between 2020/21 and 2022/23,” Harper announced last week.

“Despite the need to deliver efficiency in all areas of our budget, we will still commit to spend at least a further £100 million 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.”

> “A backward move” – Government slashes active travel budget for England

The drastic reduction announced by Harper now means that less than 0.25 percent of capital funding for infrastructure projects will be spent on active travel – despite cycling and walking making up two percent of all journeys.

In their letter today, WACA and the 146 other groups and businesses called on Rishi Sunak to reverse the proposed cuts.

“We were disappointed to see vital active travel budgets wiped away in England, at the exact time when they are most essential to the UK’s economic, social and environmental prospects,” the letter says.

“We believe these cuts are a backward move for the economy, the climate, and health. This cut will counteract the tremendous progress we’ve seen in recent years, driven in part by the commitments to cycling made in the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto, the active travel funding you announced as Chancellor, your ongoing commitment to Net Zero, and the commitment to cycling you made in the 2022 Conservative leadership race.

“These cuts will also leave England lagging far behind other UK nations and London, where per capita investment is many times higher, at a time when we need to be raising the bar everywhere.”

Extolling the health, environmental, and economic benefits of active travel schemes, the letter continued: “More than ever, people want and need support to walk, wheel or cycle. These cuts will impact those that would have benefited most and limit choice to travel healthily, cheaply, and emissions-free.

“Over a third of people on low incomes and a similar proportion of disabled people do not have access to a car. For many that do, it is becoming prohibitively expensive to run. In the current economic climate, this funding is more important than ever to help everyone walk, wheel or cycle to access the things they need.

“In light of the clear need to support active travel at this critical time, we urge you to commit to maintain the funding set out in CWIS2 back in July 2022. Furthermore, we seek your reassurance that revenue funding levels will remain at the levels promised.”

> Government’s second cycling and walking investment strategy outlines almost £4bn funding for active travel – and aims to double the number of cycling trips by 2025

Following the letter’s publication, Cycling UK’s chief executive Sarah Mitchell described the funding cuts as “disastrous” and claimed that they will “set back the growth of cycling and walking in England for another decade at least”.

“In one move, this government has effectively devastated the legacy of successive Conservative administrations and their work to get Britain cycling,” Mitchell said.

“At a time when people are faced with a cost of living crisis where they are questioning their transport choices, making cycling and walking easier is a cost effective area for government investment.

"We know that protected spaces for cycling can help save lives. Cycle lanes are cheap to build, and the consequent uptake in health and wellbeing benefits are well documented, as are the impact on reducing emissions when we have people drive less and cycle more for shorter journeys.

“Government should be providing more for active travel not cutting it. This funding decision is disastrous, and will set back the growth of cycling and walking in England for another decade at least.”

Ryan joined as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.

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