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

The Public Accounts Committee, which examines the value for money of government projects, concluded the "Department for Transport is not on track to meet its objectives to increase rates of active travel by 2025"...

The Department for Transport is not on track to meet its active travel targets by 2025, has not ensured active travel schemes are sufficiently joined-up with wider transport infrastructure, has failed to communicate effectively with the public to help tackle perceptions that active travel is unsafe or to encourage more people to take part, and is holding back local authorities from delivering on projects due to "considerable uncertainty" in funding. Those are the scathing conclusions of a select committee that has published a report into the government's work on active travel.

The Public Accounts Committee examines the value for money of government projects, holding officials to account for the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of public spending. In its 'Seventy-fifth report of Session 2022-23' the select committee evaluated the Department for Transport's work on active travel.

While impressed with the "good early progress" of Active Travel England, the report lists numerous criticisms of the Department for Transport, notably that it is "not on track to meet its objectives to increase rates of active travel by 2025".

> Cycling charity accuses Conservatives of "ill-fated attempt to win" votes with pro-motoring policies "undermining" active travel success

Furthermore, the Public Accounts Committee raised concerns with the department's communications with the public around active travel and the Highway Code, 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 suggests before pointing out as an "urgent priority" the DfT should set out a clear plan for its Bikeability programme.

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

Alongside its conclusions, the Public Accounts Committee makes recommendations for the DfT moving forward, the government department "agreeing" with nine of the 11 made.

And while the DfT agreed that it should "set out to the committee how it will lead a proactive and coordinated approach with other stakeholders to: better promote the benefits of active travel; identify and address safety concerns; and encourage more people to participate in active travel", the department did not accept it should review its objectives for active travel in England, setting out what it expects to achieve with the funding now available for active travel to 2025.

The DfT also disagreed that it, alongside the Treasury, should "set in the next six months how and when local authorities will be provided with greater certainty about the funding available for active travel to enable them to invest and deliver long-term, ambitious active travel interventions."

Other recommendations, all the rest of which were agreed upon by the DfT, included:

  • DfT should review what ATE [Active Travel England] has achieved in its first 12 months in operation and whether it has adequate funding and support to deliver its active travel objectives and maintain momentum as it continues to develop. This should include reviewing the available capacity within its different functions and if this is sufficient for it to have an impact.  
  • DfT should include in its Treasury minute response how it plans to improve the monitoring of progress against its objectives. This should include better measures that can track progress on cycling rates where there has been local investment. 
  • DfT and ATE should, by April 2024, develop a clear and consistent approach for ensuring greater integration of active travel infrastructure with the public transport network. 

The report's findings will not come as a surprise to many, bodies such as Cycling UK vocally calling for a long-term public awareness campaign to help produce a "mindset shift" on British roads at the time of the Highway Code changes' implementation in January 2022.

Since then numerous surveys have found the public's knowledge and awareness of the new rules to be concerningly poor, one survey from September suggesting that one in four UK drivers still did not know the correct rule on cyclist priority.

> The Highway Code for cyclists — all the rules you need to know for riding on the road explained

And while the report notes that the percentage of road users reporting to know either a little or a lot about the Highway Code changes increased from 36 per cent in January 2022 to 58 per cent in August 2022, with 83 per cent of road users having heard of the changes by August 2022, the select committee still concluded that "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".

Last week we reported that a "crackpot conspiracy theory" that misrepresented the urban planning concept of 15-minute cities led to the government slashing funding for active travel and its pledge to review measures aimed at curbing the use of private motor vehicles.

The Public Accounts Committee report is the latest blow to the government deaprtment. In October, the High Court granted a legal challenge to the government's cycling funding cuts, as ministers were forced to concede they were aware of the "devastating" impact of the decision to slash the active travel budget by around 75 per cent.

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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12 comments

Avatar
brooksby | 4 months ago
4 likes

Quote:

The Department for Transport is not on track to meet its active travel targets by 2025

Yeah, but in their defence that's mainly because (1) they don't want to and (2) 'higher-ups' in Govt have led them to believe that that's absolutely fine*

 

*Motorway junctions and high speed rail networks to build, dontcha know?

Avatar
Steve K replied to brooksby | 4 months ago
3 likes

brooksby wrote:

high speed rail networks to build, dontcha know?

Or not.

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mattw | 4 months ago
0 likes

I can't find a link to the report in the article.

Is there one, please?

(Great to see this covered in detail.)

Avatar
HarrogateSpa replied to mattw | 4 months ago
2 likes

Here is the press release from 3rd Nov 2023, which has a link to the full report.

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HarrogateSpa | 4 months ago
2 likes
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chrisonabike replied to HarrogateSpa | 4 months ago
4 likes

Thanks for going through this!

Alas - I think we're in to "hostile environment" times (or at least official overt indifference) for active travel  Currently I don't hold out hope that any forthcoming change in the government will make much difference, given it seems increasingly being advertised as more of a change of colour than direction.

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HarrogateSpa replied to chrisonabike | 4 months ago
2 likes

I don't suppose a Labour govt will give us everything we want, but it has got to be an improvement.

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brooksby replied to HarrogateSpa | 4 months ago
2 likes

I'm not convinced.  Seems to me that Labour are quietly backing down from almost everything that distinguishes them from the Conservatives.

There'd be fewer millionnaires in the Cabinet, though…

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hawkinspeter replied to brooksby | 4 months ago
0 likes

brooksby wrote:

I'm not convinced.  Seems to me that Labour are quietly backing down from almost everything that distinguishes them from the Conservatives.

There'd be fewer millionnaires in the Cabinet, though…

Tory-lite

Avatar
ROOTminus1 | 4 months ago
7 likes

Yet another select committee finds government policy to be inconsistent, incoherent, ineffectual, poorly communicated, mismanaged, reactionary, a waste of public funds, and undeliverable within the promised timescale?

Colour me surprised [/s]

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to ROOTminus1 | 4 months ago
4 likes

ROOTminus1 wrote:

Yet another select committee finds government policy to be inconsistent, incoherent, ineffectual, poorly communicated, mismanaged, reactionary, a waste of public funds, and undeliverable within the promised timescale? Colour me surprised [/s]

They can't fix everything all at once and they're very busy with enabling people in the UK to buy and sell pints of wine. Anyhow, at least this committee has a chair appointed, unlike the Climate Change Committee: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2024/jan/14/sunak-dodging-scrutiny-by-failing-to-appoint-chair-of-climate-change-committee

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 4 months ago
8 likes

That's not fair, they've shown that they're incredibly responsive to e.g. ITV dramas, springing into urgent legislating after barely a decade.

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