While yesterday’s budget contained some good news for walkers and cyclists, the £30 billion investment in roads announced by the Chancellor as well as the freeze on fuel duty for the ninth year in a row showed that walking, cycling and the environment still aren’t being given the priority they should by the government.
We were disappointed to hear the Chancellor announce a 40% increase in the Highways England budget, most of it to upgrade major roads and motorways. While the government’s 25-Year Environment Plan, Childhood Obesity Strategy and draft Clean Air Strategy talk about getting more people walking and cycling, it’s our roads that receive the biggest budget boost.
To improve air quality, physical and mental health, we need to make walking the easy choice. This means investing in creating high-quality, well-connected, accessible networks of paths and green spaces. Reversing our reliance on cars will not be easy: it will take leadership, action and investment across national and local government. The Budget falls short on this ambition.
There was also some good news, albeit not on the scale we need. We were pleased to hear that an extra £680 million is earmarked for the Transforming Cities Fund (adding to the existing £1.7 billion pot), helping more local areas invest in sustainable travel. Other walkers and would-be walkers will be relieved that the provision of public toilets also received a boost. A further £650m will be invested in a Future High Street Fund, alongside a package of other measures aimed at regenerating our town centres – an important step towards getting communities moving.
The announcement of the £60m tree planting fund was also welcome, with £10 million for new trees in streets and urban areas, which will help more communities provide green routes for active travel, to shield walkers and cyclists from the worst effects of pollution.
But, the approach to improving walking environments continues to be piecemeal and limited in impact. To realise the environmental, social, health and mental health benefits of walking, we deserve a financial commitment on a scale proportionate to our investment in roads.
You can read the Ramblers’ vision for towns and cities that put pedestrians first in Paving the Way and Moving the Nation, produced in partnership with Cycling UK, British Cycling, Living Streets and Sustrans.