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New Conservative government could scrap Active Travel England, Boris Johnson’s transport advisor warns

Andrew Gilligan told a fringe event at the Tory conference that he fears Liz Truss could water down the government’s commitment to cycling and walking

Less than a week after a transport minister reaffirmed the new Conservative government’s commitment to active travel, Boris Johnson’s transport advisor Andrew Gilligan has warned that funding for cycling and walking schemes could be cut under Liz Truss – and even implied that Active Travel England, the government body launched in January and charged with driving up standards, may not “survive” the new “radical” administration.

Gilligan, dubbed the ‘penny-farthing Cummings’ by some in the media thanks to his role as cycling commissioner during Boris Johnson’s stint as the Mayor of London and later as Downing Street’s transport advisor under the former Prime Minister, was speaking at a fringe event at the Tory party conference in Birmingham earlier this week, Forbes’ transport writer Carlton Reid reports.

Describing the Johnson government’s “well thought through policy” regarding active travel, Gilligan – one of the key protagonists behind the creation of Active Travel England earlier this year – told the meeting: “We had a pretty substantial investment in buses and bikes. All the evidence shows that is the only thing that actually gets people out of their cars and onto buses and bikes.”

> Government appoints capital's fomer cycling czar Andrew Gilligan to Transport for London's board

However, active travel campaigners fear that the budget for the new government agency, headed by Chris Boardman, will be in the firing line as Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng makes a series of expected cuts to state spending later this month, in an attempt to balance the books following this week’s U-turn on scrapping the 45 percent tax rate for the highest earners.

“I really do hope it survives the arrival of a new government,” Gilligan said when asked about Active Travel England’s future. “But I'm hearing slightly worrying things that it might not.”

> Active travel to be “first choice for our daily journeys,” says minister

Last week Lucy Frazer, the MP for South East Cambridgeshire and a Department for Transport minister, reaffirmed the government’s commitment to cycling and walking in the first such announcement since Liz Truss became Prime Minister and appointed Anne-Marie Trevelyan as Secretary of State for Transport, with Baroness Vere of Norbiton taking on the responsibility for active travel.

“As set out in the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, we want public transport and walking and cycling to be the natural first choice for our daily journeys,” Frazer said, in response to a written question from Labour MP Rachael Maskell.

“This shift has the potential to save significant amounts of carbon, improve air quality, and reduce noise and congestion – improving health and wellbeing for all. We are undertaking pilot projects which will explore new ways for how we can use our cars differently and less often.”

She continued: “For example, we have provided £92 million to fund local authorities in Solent Transport, Nottingham and Derby, West Midlands, and the West of England to become Future Transport Zones and pilot a range of innovative mode shift efforts, such as mobility as a service apps, or paying ‘mobility credits’ to people in return for giving up their cars.”

> Boris Johnson resignation: A blow for active travel?

Frazer reiterated the Truss government’s backing for active travel at Monday’s Policy Exchange meeting.

When asked by Chair Josh Buckland, a senior fellow at Policy Exchange, whether “cycling is still alive and kicking now that Boris Johnson’s administration has gone?”, the Tory MP replied: “Absolutely, yes. We set up Active Travel England [and we are] committed to its £2 billion in terms of active travel.”

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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