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Active Travel England announces plans to deliver 70 miles of new or improved cycling routes as part of £101 million funding boost – but is it enough to get the government’s active travel targets back on track?

The new investment, which comes two months after the government was told it is not “on track” to meet its active travel objectives, will also be used to fund e-cycle loans and enable councils to undertake “proper” consultations on schemes

Just over two months after a scathing select committee report concluded that the government is not on track to meet its own active travel targets by 2025, following a plethora of planning and communication failures, government agency Active Travel England has this weekend announced a fresh funding boost, totalling £101 million, to deliver 70 miles of new or improved cycling and walking infrastructure, improved local public engagement, e-cycle loans, and new active travel routes in National Parks.

After January’s Public Accounts Committee report concluded that the Department for Transport was “holding back” local authorities from delivering on active travel projects, while failing to communicate effectively to the public the benefits of cycling and walking infrastructure, this new investment includes dedicated funding to help councils “undertake proper consultation with local communities”.

As part of the £101 million package, £45.7 million will be issued to local authorities across England (excluding London) as part of the Active Travel Fund 4 Extension funding to deliver around 70 miles of new or improved walking and cycling routes, 154 new crossings, and 47 safer junctions.

Active Travel England says that this investment will particularly benefit people living in deprived or rural areas, with almost half of the latest funding package targeting deprived communities.

> Scathing select committee report finds "not enough" communication of Highway Code changes and Department for Transport "not on track" to meet active travel goals

Authorities in South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Leicester, and Luton and Dunstable will also receive a share of a £2.4 million funding pot to pilot free e-cycle loan schemes in their areas, in the wake of a successful national trial which encouraged residents and businesses to try out a free month-long e-bike loan.

A further £1 million will support the development of walking and cycling routes in England’s National Parks, to which, according to Active Travel England, nine out of ten journeys are made by car.

This funding, the government agency says, will enable authorities to develop plans for “better links between rural towns and villages” for residents and visitors, developing a “pipeline” for future investments focusing on “inclusive routes” that connect schools, employment, and leisure sites with local communities.

Active Travel England also announced a £200,000 expansion of ongoing trials into simple zebra crossings on side roads, designed to improve safety for the 50 per cent of school trips made by walking or cycling in England. First established in Greater Manchester in 2021, the trial found that the markings lead to drivers giving way to vulnerable road users 65 per cent more often than on side roads where there is no marking.

> Conservative MP slammed for “incorrectly” claiming that “bankrupt” council is prioritising £10m cycle lane extension over local services

Announcing this latest wave of funding – the first to reveal specific allocations for local authorities – National Active Travel Commissioner Chris Boardman, said: “This funding is not only going to give millions of people safer and more enjoyable ways to get to school, the shops, and workplaces but it will also help local authorities to work with communities to come up with plans for future projects that will make the most difference, providing excellent value for money.

“We’re not just talking towns and cities. A lot of the funding is going to rural areas and we’re funding National Parks to develop new walking and cycling routes. This money is about innovation, too, and we’re excited to work with the West Midlands and Greater Manchester to trial and assess simpler zebra crossings and technologies to assist visually impaired people.”

Chris Boardman (Active Travel England)

> Chris Boardman urges Rishi Sunak to stick with "fantastic" pro-cycling plans, admits concerns with language of "war on motorists" policies

“We’re committed to ensuring people can travel in the way that works best for them, which is why we’re investing over £100 million for over 100 kilometres of new walking and cycling routes, improved access to our national parks, and e-cycle loan schemes,” Conservative roads minister Guy Opperman said.

“This funding is not just an investment in new infrastructure, but in communities that will benefit from the social mobility and health benefits that improved and new walking and cycling routes will bring.”

David Butterworth, Chief Executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Cycling Lead for England’s National Parks, added: “Credit to Active Travel England for reaching out to National Park Authorities. We are now working together to develop improved guidance to rural local authorities and initiate and deliver some fantastic projects to improve walking and cycling opportunities for millions of people.

“This new funding will make a real difference to the delivery of our ambitions around improving the health and wellbeing of the nation and providing the greater travel opportunities that are needed to reduce our carbon emissions.”

> Government falsely claimed it blocked low-traffic schemes, documents suggest

In January, a scathing report from the Public Accounts Committee, which examines the value for money of government projects, concluded that the Department for Transport is “not on track to meet its objectives to increase rates of active travel by 2025”, despite the “early good progress” of Active Travel England.

Furthermore, the Public Accounts Committee raised concerns with the department’s communications with the public around active travel and the Highway Code, with the report concluding that the “DfT’s communications to the public have not been enough to help tackle perceptions that active travel is unsafe or to encourage more people to take part”.

The DfT’s failure to ensure active travel schemes are sufficiently joined-up with wider transport infrastructure, for example enabling people to walk safely to bus stops or take their bike on the bus or train, was also criticised, as was the department having “not done enough to understand the impact and benefits of the £2.3 billion of taxpayers’ money it has spent on active travel”.

“Local authorities are being held back from delivering successful active travel interventions by the considerable uncertainty in the funding available for schemes,” the report said.

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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11 comments

Avatar
Owd Big 'Ead | 2 months ago
2 likes

70 miles?

Is that it?

Utterley useless.

Then again what should we expect from the lying spivs in Westminster?

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the little onion | 2 months ago
2 likes

The plot in my area (West Yorkshire) is going to be spent on resurfacing canal tow paths. So wasted, in other words.

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BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP | 2 months ago
2 likes

70 miles. Wow. That's amazing. What a brilliant improvement. And across the WHOLE of England. Simply breathtaking amounts of infrastructure. Well done UK government. You've got my vote. 

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chrisonabike replied to BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP | 2 months ago
0 likes

Not to worry, they're no doubt building a far greater length of trunk roads ("strategic transport") / filling in the potholes with that HS2 money they didn't already spend buying up land they may well sell off at a loss.

But they can say without crossing their fingers "we literally spent millions encouraging cycling across the UK - we built it but they didn't come!"

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HarrogateSpa | 2 months ago
3 likes

I'm not 100% sure about this, but I read somewhere that ATF4 extension was money allocated under ATF4 but not fully taken up by local authorities.

If that is the case, it may not be new active travel money at all.

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Pub bike replied to HarrogateSpa | 2 months ago
7 likes

"Announcing this latest wave of funding"

And even so in the larger scheme of road funding it is akin to a very slight ripple of funding rather than anything remotely resembling a wave.  This government has no intention of making it easier to cycle especially if there is even the very slightest risk that it might inconvenience hard working motorists.  We are not fooled.

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eburtthebike | 2 months ago
9 likes

£101 million: pathetic.  They need to double that today, and every year for the forseeable future, not dribs and drabs that won't make the step change that is needed.  They probably only did it because they're being taken to court for cutting ATE funding by 75%.

This government throws money away (latest is £156,000 to fly another foreign secretary to Rwanda) on schemes which have arguably no beneficial effect, but Active Travel is fantastic value, so should be funded appropriately.

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hawkinspeter replied to eburtthebike | 2 months ago
1 like

eburtthebike wrote:

£101 million: pathetic.  They need to double that today, and every year for the forseeable future, not dribs and drabs that won't make the step change that is needed.  They probably only did it because they're being taken to court for cutting ATE funding by 75%.

This government throws money away (latest is £156,000 to fly another foreign secretary to Rwanda) on schemes which have arguably no beneficial effect, but Active Travel is fantastic value, so should be funded appropriately.

Agreed. Sunak could probably find that amount stuck down the back of his sofa

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HoarseMann | 2 months ago
4 likes

It's going to be an uphill battle with some parish councils. They don't want the investment if there's a bit of whinging on social media about slowing down traffic and removing parking spaces:

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mattw replied to HoarseMann | 2 months ago
1 like

Parish Councils are consultees not decision makers.

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HoarseMann replied to mattw | 2 months ago
1 like

I really hope this is the case. They dismissed the quite detailed and surprisingly good plans (wide cycle lanes, priority at junctions, protected from traffic etc.), based on Facebook moans about slowing traffic down and a couple of people (probably given a heads-up) spoke at the meeting as it might make it harder to park outside their house.

One change was to alter the current arrangement of 'nose in' parking bays (which mean you have to reverse blind out into a busy A-road), with much safer parallel bays. There have been numerous collisions due to these parking bays, but nope, gotta have somewhere to dump the car that doesnt involve walking too far from home. 

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