Yesterday, the Chancellor outlined the government’s spending plans for the next financial year, confirming recent media reports that extra funding will be made available for Brexit preparations, schools, hospitals and policing.
What we didn’t know in advance was whether the Chancellor would boost spending on walking and the environment to meet government commitments to get more people walking and cycling, connect more people to nature and reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The answer, it seems, is - partly. The Chancellor outlined some additional spending on walking and the environment, but our view is that the level of funding is too low to achieve the radical changes needed.
We support the Chancellor’s view that a ‘healthy environment is a pre-condition for a healthy society’ and welcome his commitment to increase resources for Defra. However, there is no suggestion that any of this funding would be available for increasing engagement with nature – a central objective of the Government’s own 25 Year Environment Plan. This is particularly disappointing given research published yesterday by Natural England showed that there are several areas in the country where only half of the population get outdoors once a week.
There was also a recognition by the Chancellor that we need to invest in greener transport. Increased spending for buses and trains was mentioned specifically, but not walking and cycling - the very greenest forms of transport. It is unclear whether more funding will be available to meet the ambitions in the DfT’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy. Alongside our partners in the Walking and Cycling Alliance, we are calling on government to boost DfT spending on active travel to 5% of overall transport spending, increasing to 10% from 2025.
The Chancellor spoke of a ‘decade of renewal’ and pledged to rebuild the UK’s infrastructure. As the government’s new plans for infrastructure develop over the coming months and years, we will be urging them to make it a requirement that any new infrastructure or development prioritises people and the environment, rather than cars. Any investments we make now to create greener, more walking friendly places will create lasting benefits, including improved public health, reduced social isolation, cleaner air, stronger local economies and will mitigate the effects of climate change.
Read the blog written by Gemma Cantelo, Ramblers’ head of policy and advocacy, on what we need to see from the new government.