How will you double cycling without doubling investment?

Where's the new money for active travel?
The Government’s target is to double cycling by 2025, but it’s accepted the current investment is nowhere near enough to achieve that. Cycling UK Head of Campaigns Duncan Dollimore asks where’s the new money for active travel, or does the Government believe that blind faith and optimism is a substitute for funding?

Since last November, over 5,000 people have written to their MP in support of our campaign for more money for cycling and walking in England. That led many MPs to ask parliamentary questions about investment in active travel, and over 160 wrote to the former Transport Minister Jesse Norman MP about the need for ring-fenced funding to enable local authorities to implement the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs) that many of them are preparing.

Now, investing in active travel, LCWIPs, and the UK Government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) clearly aren’t at the top of the news agenda or, despite our view that it should be, anywhere near the top of the Government’s list of priorities.That’s why we’ve been lobbying MPs for several months while constituents' emails have been landing in their inbox, to try and move this issue up their agenda and help secure a parliamentary debate specifically focussed on Government support for active travel and LCWIPs.

Huge thanks go to Conservative MP Robert Courts MP and Labour MP Stephen Morgan for applying for and leading the debate, but the bad news is that the response from new Transport Minister Michael Ellis MP (Jesse Norman’s replacement), was a major disappointment for Cycling UK and our supporters. The Minister said nothing about any new money and was either unable or unwilling to answer the fundamental question: how does the Government hope to deliver its CWIS target to double cycle use by 2025 without increasing investment? 

Don’t let the bad news stop you reading further, though - campaigning to increase investment in active travel was always going to involve a series of battles towards a long-term goal. And there is some good news: more MPs, and a wider range of them, are starting to make a noise about this issue, accepting that it’s not just about cycling and walking, but about place, communities, the high street and public health.

We still need your help to move this up the agenda for more MPs.

And why are we only talking about funding in England, and actually just England outside London?

Well, decisions on funding for cycling and walking in the UK are a devolved matter, and therefore outside England the responsibility of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments.

In England, transport is funded differently in London, so Transport for London (TfL) makes the decision about the level of active travel spend. So it’s only English local authorities outside London who’ve been invited by the Department for Transport (DfT) to prepare LCWIPs, and the aim of this campaign is to get the DfT to allocate more money for active travel so that local authorities can actually build infrastructure which enables people to cycle and walk more, not just come up with an LCWIP that sits on a shelf.

What exactly are LCWIPs?

They’re plans which local authorities have been encouraged to produce to map potential improvements for walking and cycling in their area. They’re supposed to identify both priority schemes and key corridors for investment.

But there’s no guarantee of funding to build any of the infrastructure identified in their plans. This means that some local authorities aren’t producing plans, others aren’t being ambitious with their plans and, for those that are ambitious, there’s still a real risk that the plan just gathers dust for want of funding.

Who's said what and when?

We shouldn’t really have to convince either Michael Ellis or his boss, the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling MP, that more funding is needed. Ellis’s predecessor Jesse Norman MP has already admitted that it is, and Grayling publicly backed the work that Jesse Norman was doing. Let’s have a quick run through who’s said what and when:

  • 21.04.2017 – Government published the CWIS, which included a target to double levels of cycling by 2025.
  • 21.11.2018 – Government response to the CWIS safety review published, including an admission (para 5.20) that current policies would only deliver around a third of the gap to the 2025 cycling target.
  • 01.05.2019 – Jesse Norman gave evidence to the Transport Select Committee (TSC) (starts 10.15) and admitted that meeting the Government’s cycling targets would require “major further intervention”. Subsequently, when asked about the current annual spend on cycling and walking, he said “we’re going to need to significantly, dramatically – potentially double or more that rate of intervention if we’re going to hit that (the targets)”, adding that he wanted to double the level of funding and that the Government ought to be committing itself to that.
  • 02.05.19 – Chris Grayling replied to oral questions in Parliament, during which he referred to work Jesse Norman was doing to promote walking and cycling, adding that there “was of course, much more to do”.
  • 09.07.19 – Responding at the end of Tuesday’s debate to cross-party calls for increased investment in active travel and ring-fenced funding to enable local authorities to implement ambitious LCWIPs, Jesse Norman’s replacement as Transport  Minister, Michael Ellis, repeated the Government’s CWIS targets for increasing cycling  -  but didn’t say how they hoped to achieve them.

To condense that to one short paragraph: the Government set a target to double cycling by 2025, which they are still saying they want to achieve. They’ve conceded both in a consultation response and in Jesse Norman’s evidence to the TSC that they won’t get anywhere near this through current investment and intervention. But despite Chris Grayling backing Jesse’s work after he said the Government ought to double the level of funding, there’s still no sign of any new money.

Blunt questions

My question for Michael Ellis is simple: how is the Government going to achieve its cycling targets without substantially increasing the level of investment?

Unless he believes that confidence can overcome everything, and that somehow just doing the same thing can yield a different result if only we remain positive, then the answer is obvious: it can’t.

My question for Chris Grayling therefore is also a simple one: will you now accept the evidence, and what your former Minister Jesse Norman told you, and back your new Minister by giving him the funding needed to at least have a fighting chance of turning the Government’s CWIS into reality, rather than an aspiration?

That’s my question, but what we need is more MPs asking similarly blunt questions, and that’s where we still need your help. We can keep on lobbying MPs and banging on DfT’s door, but MPs need to know that this is important to their constituents, and Ministers need to know that this is important to MPs, including MPs from their own party.

But my MP isn’t interested in cycling or active travel, I hear you say 

That might be the case today, but there’s lots of things MPs aren’t particularly interested in until it becomes clear that it matters to enough of their constituents to be something they’d better start taking an interest in.

And that’s why we still need you to write to the new Transport Minister and your MP to ask how the Government targets for funding for cycling and walking. 

It doesn’t matter if you’ve done this before, because we’ve changed the template letters to reflect this week’s debate, and you’ll be asking your MP to write directly to Chris Grayling, with the blunt question I’ve already set out.

Of course, the news is full of other politics, so why is this important now?

Well, whatever else happens in politics, there’s going to have to be a government spending review. We’re expecting a formal announcement imminently. That means that Ministers will shortly be setting out their demands to the Treasury, outlining what slice of the cake their department needs, and how that will be allocated within their department.

That means we need officials and Ministers in the DfT to be arguing for more money for active travel, so we need you to get your MP to tell them why that’s important and ask them why they won’t do it.

Take action now

If, like me, you want to see the Government start to seriously invest in cycling and walking, please take action now and write to the new Transport Minister.

It’ll only take two minutes of your time, but it could help transform where you live, shop, walk, cycle and work.

Now is the time.