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General Election Active Travel Hustings: What are the parties promising for walking and cycling?

Joseph Delves
4 Dec 2019

Representatives from the four main UK-wide parties went on stage at the Active Travel Hustings. We popped down to hear what they had to say

With yet another General Election called at short notice, and with plenty of other issues to argue about, active travel might have slipped down the list of priorities. Aiming to make sure some of the issues still get a hearing, the Active Travel Hustings brought together representatives of the main UK-wide political parties to each put forward their case.

Hosted at Brompton’s West London factory, Conservative Chris Heaton-Harris - Minister for Cycling and Walking, Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon - Deputy Chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee, Caroline Russell - the Green’s National Spokesperson for Transport, and Labour MP Ruth Margaret Cadbury were all in attendance.

With the election around the corner, there were no new announcements and no one went off-script. Still, it represented a good chance to recap each party’s policies with regards to walking and cycling.

Manifesto pledges

Conservatives

Heaton-Harris said he thought the evening would see much agreement, with general cross-party acceptance of the benefits of active travel. In making his pitch he pointed out that both Boris Johnson and current transport adviser to the Prime Minister, Andrew Gilligan, are avid cyclists.

Claiming that under another Tory government bikeability schemes would be made available to all children, he said a £2 billion pothole-filling programme would also benefit cyclists.

Placing emphasis on communities being able to design their own safe infrastructure, he promised £70 million per year to make this happen, although this represents a fall in funding from around £7 to just over £1 per person per year.

Labour

Highlighting the cost to local neighbourhoods of congestion and pollution, as well as the broader environmental impact, Cadbury said cycling and walking needed to be made easier for everyday trips.

To do this, Labour’s Healthy Streets programme would aim to double active travel journeys. With a focus on redesigning streets, this would include bikeability training for all, subsidies for electric bicycles and access to bikes for those that can’t afford them.

The headline figure was the promise to spend £50 per person on active travel, the most of any party.

Lib Dems

The Lib Dems are aiming to increase funding for active travel fivefold until it accounts for 10% of the entire transport budget. Pidgeon mentioned the need to reform planning so as to make active travel infrastructure easier to deliver.

Alongside moves to reduce collisions, she highlighted the need for a new Clean Air Act and said the Lib Dems would expand the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone seen in London to 10 other UK cities.

Greens

The Greens say they’ll aim for half of trips to be by bike or on foot. Russell said the Green manifesto was a full response to the climate emergency. Key among its transport policies is the idea of bringing in road pricing, which would see people charged for motorised vehicle use.

The Greens also promised to stop building new roads and instead invest in high-quality active travel infrastructure. The Department for Transport would be charged with responding to the climate emergency, along with making active transport a priority.

Funding

Of course, nothing will get done without the money to fund it. The parties’ goals with regards to funding for active travel broadly reflect their more general economic outlooks.

Having offered figures that represent a spending fall from £7 per head to a little over £1, the Conservative Heaton-Harris said he hopes this could increase again in the future. With no concrete pledge to raise or maintain funding, he described the lack of budget and austerity more generally as the result of a failure of the previous Labour government’s economic policy - a classic Tory soundbite.

For Labour, Cadbury said her party would raise funding to £50 per person, the highest of the four parties. This would be part-funded by £4.7 billion raised from Vehicle Excise Duty, with the cost being offset by benefits including less dependence on the NHS as active travel improves people’s health.

The Lib Dems promised to raise spending to 10% of the entire transport budget, likely around £34 per head. Pidgeon believes some of the proposed spending could be funded using part of the £50 billion bonus the Lib Dems claim cancelling Brexit will deliver.

Promising around £42 per person as part of their Green New Deal, the Greens would be happy to borrow heavily to invest in infrastructure. Russell was particularly emphatic that borrowing would have to rise to fund such projects, but said she believed this was necessary to create jobs and tackle the climate emergency.

You can find a video of the entire debate with a more in-depth discussion here:

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