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Government knew it wasn't investing enough in cycling, according to new document

Investment strategy modelling suggests the Department for Transport was aware it needed to up spending to hit active travel targets, the document also showing that the investment would have represented "high" value for money...

At the end of a week when the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) warned that "the UK is travelling in the wrong direction" after official figures showed a 7.3 per cent decline in cycling miles travelled and a 2.2 per cent rise in car journeys between 2022 and 2023, a newly available document shows that the Department for Transport knew it was not investing enough in active travel to hit its targets.

The 'Insights from investment modelling' has been made available on the government website, the report initially produced in 2019 aims to understand how much additional investment would be needed to achieve the initial 'Cycling and walking investment strategy' targets for 2025.

The document explains that the modelling suggests "some £5-8 billion of further investment across the economy (not solely using funds from central Government) is required to reach the cycling aim of 1.6 billion cycle stages". 

In the summer of 2022, the Department for Transport said it would invest £3.78bn in active travel schemes until 2025 as part of its refreshed cycling and walking investment strategy. In March of the following year, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt slashed the budget for active travel schemes, a widely criticised move that the Walking & Cycling Alliance called a "backwards step" and one that would make it "impossible" to hit Net Zero and active travel targets.

> Cycling and walking targets "in tatters": Damning report finds government almost certain to fail on active travel objectives in England

Transport Action Network (TAN) is challenging the cuts in the High Court, and hours before Mr Justice Jay's decision to permit the challenge, lawyers acting for the department were forced to disclose slides which highlighted how the cuts would "devastate" sustainable travel in most of England's local transport authorities outside of London.

And the latest document to be revealed, the aforementioned 'Insights from investment modelling', also shows that the Department for Transport was aware that "Benefit cost ratio (BCRs) for the cycling central scenarios are in the range 2.0 to 3.1, implying high value for money".

"Packages of interventions in areas with a high intrinsic cycling potential have BCRs over 5. Value for money of investment in walking to school is expected to be at least High," the government was told.

The report also states that the investment required could be lower, in the region of £3.4 billion and £5.4 billion, if "cycling investment is combined with strong traffic restraint", such as parking restrictions.

"In two 'higher cost' scenarios in which all investment is in infrastructure (without accompanying revenue investment in behaviour change interventions to maximise take-up of new infrastructure) the additional investment to reach 1.6 billion stages is more than £10 billion," it continued.

Cyclists in London male and female in cycle lane - copyright Simon MacMichael

The government's attitude to active travel investment has been criticised at length in recent times, the IPPR last month slamming the "shocking lack of progress", while Cycling UK has also warned of "chronic underfunding".

In September, the cycling charity blamed the "depressing" decrease in cycling traffic on the government's cuts to the active travel budget.

The ongoing legal challenge has also led to papers being obtained which revealed how "a crackpot conspiracy theory" that misrepresented the urban planning concept of the 15-minute city led to the government slashing funding for active travel and pledge to review measures aimed at curbing the use of private motor vehicles.

Instead, much of the government's messaging has been around ending the so-called war on motorists, Rishi Sunak unveiling a 'Plan for Motorists' at the Conservative Party conference last autumn, an approach which is expected to reemerge during the run up to the general election on July 4.

Six of the UK's leading active travel groups, including the CEOs of Cycling UK, British Cycling, Bikeability Trust, Living Streets, Ramblers, and Sustrans, reacted to the 'Plan for Motorists' by warning that the Prime Minister would deny citizens "their choice, health, and freedom".

Dan is the road.cc news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined road.cc in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

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14 comments

Avatar
GrumboNumber5 | 2 weeks ago
1 like

You could swap "cycling" out of that headline and replace it with pretty much anything and it would probably be accurate

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eburtthebike | 2 weeks ago
5 likes

I look forward to this being thoroughly analysed and discussed ignored in the election campaign.

Investing in active travel is the best value the government could get, but nobody will mention it.

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HarrogateSpa replied to eburtthebike | 2 weeks ago
0 likes

I agree it won't be front and centre of anyone's campaign, but it will have to feature in the parties' manifestos.

We'll be able to read the manifestos and get a good impression of who is most ambitious on active travel.

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eburtthebike replied to HarrogateSpa | 2 weeks ago
2 likes
HarrogateSpa wrote:

I agree it won't be front and centre of anyone's campaign, but it will have to feature in the parties' manifestos.

You think so?  I disagree, but I hope you're right.

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kingleo | 2 weeks ago
16 likes

This country has mostly been designed around using a car, this mode of living has to stop - it's very destructive and not sustainable.

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Clem Fandango | 2 weeks ago
6 likes

You don't say?

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Pub bike | 2 weeks ago
13 likes

Great work by Transport Action Network (TAN).  The idea that active travel can possibly be something this government was supporting is a nonsense when you see what their plan for drivers meant - preventing local authorities from enforcing speed limits and LTNs by blocking access to DVLA data.

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morgoth985 | 3 weeks ago
15 likes

There seem to be an awful lot of instances of the government being "forced to disclose" something by the courts, and then only after a lot of expensive legal resistance funded with public money. I thought democracy meant the government was supposed to work for the people based on open information and argument for the public good.  Surely I haven't been hopelessly naive!

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brooksby replied to morgoth985 | 3 weeks ago
5 likes

I couldn't possibly say.

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john_smith replied to morgoth985 | 3 weeks ago
9 likes

You were naive only insofar as you equated the Mr Sunak's rabble with a government.

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chrisonabike replied to morgoth985 | 2 weeks ago
5 likes

I don't think "democracy" has moved that far from its origins (when "the people" who were ruling didn't include e.g. the poorer / landless, foreigners, slaves or even women...)

Isn't the point to limit the tyranny of those in power and (hopefully) provide a balance of stability and change by a) making them compete against each other and b) providing for a periodic renewal, judged by the populace?

In return for "playing along" the rulers still get a substantial range of perks, plus the reassurance that "who rides the tiger can dismount" in this case.

In the modern UK formulation there are lots of other feedback loops of course (the State is pretty big) but I'm not sure any of that "work for the people" stuff is the main part of it.  Hopefully some of that emerges as a secondary product...

Along the lines of that Churchill quote:

Winson Churchill wrote:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…

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hawkinspeter replied to morgoth985 | 2 weeks ago
7 likes
morgoth985 wrote:

There seem to be an awful lot of instances of the government being "forced to disclose" something by the courts, and then only after a lot of expensive legal resistance funded with public money. I thought democracy meant the government was supposed to work for the people based on open information and argument for the public good.  Surely I haven't been hopelessly naive!

They're the party of the motorist, not the party of the people

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massive4x4 replied to morgoth985 | 2 weeks ago
0 likes
morgoth985 wrote:

There seem to be an awful lot of instances of the government being "forced to disclose" something by the courts, and then only after a lot of expensive legal resistance funded with public money. I thought democracy meant the government was supposed to work for the people based on open information and argument for the public good.  Surely I haven't been hopelessly naive!

With all things involving government it's normally worth reversing the situation applying the policy or action to something that you like or a person you love.

Constructive ambiguity and framing policy in an oblique manner is also part of getting things done that you might like.

Full transparency of intentions and direction of travel often has the effect of turning what would be passive acceptance into outright opposition.

A good example of it would be legalising homosexuality that wasn't done by advocacy for people's rights but by equating it to adultery, unsavoury but not illegal. See overton window.

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Rendel Harris replied to massive4x4 | 2 weeks ago
2 likes
massive4x4 wrote:

A good example of it would be legalising homosexuality that wasn't done by advocacy for people's rights but by equating it to adultery, unsavoury but not illegal.

That's not the case at all, the primary driver for the legalisation of homosexuality in the UK was the Wolfenden report which stated: "homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence [because] homosexuality cannot legitimately be regarded as a disease, because in many cases it is the only symptom and is compatible with full mental health in other respects."

Quite willing to stand corrected but I have never heard the reason you advance mentioned anywhere.

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