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This week (29 October 2019) the Government re-committed to providing billions of pounds of funding for roads, but failed to provide proper investment for walking and cycling.

Zak Bond, Living Streets’ Public Affairs and Policy Coordinator, blogs on what the budget means for walking, air pollution, and climate change.

Zak Bond
People walking

With stark news about the effects of air pollution coming seemingly every week, and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report on mitigating climate breakdown only recently off the press, the Government needed to prioritise spending on walking and cycling as part of any announcements on transport funding.

Unfortunately, Phillip Hammond failed to provide adequate funding for active travel in this year’s budget, instead (once more) prioritising money for roads.  

A much higher level of investment in walking and cycling is needed to help tackle climate change, reduce toxic air pollution, and improve the nation’s health.

In advance of this year's budget, Joe Irvin, Living Streets' Chief Executive, argued that walking and cycling should “receive a fair share of the Government’s total transport spend” and that “this should start off at 5% of the transport budget in 2020/21 (around £17 for each person) and should rise to 10% (£34 per person) in 2024/5.” 

Proper investment would ensure that we can create Walking Cities and better walking spaces for all. It would allow us to reimagine our streets as so much more than corridors for traffic; as enjoyable public spaces in which we play out our everyday lives. It would reduce the volume of traffic by encouraging and facilitating active travel and more efficient longer journeys by public transport.  

Instead of this investment, which all members of Walking and Cycling Alliance are calling for, Government is “delivering the largest ever strategic roads investment package” which is “worth £28.8 billion from 2020-25".

The impact of this funding will be increased air pollution, greater levels of greenhouse gases, and continued motor vehicle dominance. 

The UK Government must do more to invest in safe walking routes, cycling infrastructure, and green public transport.

Zak Bond, Living Streets

As in all budgets, there are some things to welcome with caveats.

First, as part of the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) the Government announced that they will allocate £420 million to local authorities in 2018‑19 to repair damaged local roads, and £150 million of NPIF funding to local authorities for “small improvement projects”.  These two pots of (short-term) funding are welcome if they are used for repairs to the footway, not just carriageway maintenance. 

Secondly, the Government also announced a one-year extension to the “Transforming Cities Fund” to cover the 2022-23 spending period. This will provide an extra £240 million to the six metro mayors for transport investment in their areas. In addition, a further £440 million will be made available to a shortlist of city regions for “competitive” funding. With cities some of the most polluted and congested places, it is crucial that these funds go towards facilitating and encouraging active travel. 

Hammond also announced £90 million from the NPIF to the Transforming Cities Fund to create “Future Mobility Zones”. Through this the Government hopes to “trial new transport modes, services, and digital payments and ticketing.” We don’t need funding for “new” transport modes – we need proper funding for active travel and green public transport.   

Third, Hammond announced £675 million for a new Future High Streets Fund to “support local areas to develop and fund plans to make their high streets and town centres fit for the future.” This fund “will invest in town centre infrastructure, including to increase access to high streets and support redevelopment and densification around high streets.” Again, this is positive if it goes towards creating better places for walking.  

These pots of money are welcome, if effectively spent, but they pale into insignificance when contrasted with the £28.8bn fund for Highways England has recommitted to hypothecate from Vehicle Excise Duty.  

In order to tackle air pollution, climate change, and encourage people to walk more, the Government needs to get real with its funding priorities. Of course, it doesn’t bear all the responsibility for improving active travel, but with local government finance being squeezed so heavily central investment is needed to lever action at local level. 

The creation of walking cities and better walking spaces for all is a win-win solution. By tackling motor vehicle dominance and encouraging a move towards active and sustainable travel, we can tackle air pollution, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and make a positive contribution to the climate change challenge. Simultaneously we can ensure that our cities and towns are transformed into places where people enjoy living healthy and active lives. To make this happen, the UK Government must do more to invest in safe walking routes, cycling infrastructure, and green public transport.


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