Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee scrutinises ‘active travel schemes’ like Mini-Holland and finds them grossly wanting

A Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report published on 3 November 2023 is highly critical of the kind of active travel schemes (ATSs) that have been so enthusiastically implemented by LBWF.

The Department of Transport defines active travel as ‘everyday journeys made by walking, wheeling [i.e., using wheelchairs, mobility scooters, prams or pushchairs], or cycling’.

So ATSs ‘can range from creating new infrastructure, such as separate cycle lanes on roads or amending existing road space to create pedestrian zones outside schools, as well as activities such as providing training in cycle safety’. 

The PAC estimates that overall government spending on ATSs totalled £3.3 billion between 2016 and 2021 (approximately £2.3 billion on infrastructure and the rest on other activities such as behaviour change initiatives); and believes roughly the same amount is likely to be committed between now and 2025.

In all of this, local authorities have played a key role, choosing how central government finance is to be used at a local level. 

However, when the PAC turns to whether public money has bought effective change, it is decidedly unimpressed, concluding bluntly: ‘There has been no sustained increase in either walking or cycling since DfT [the Department for Transport] set its objectives in 2017’.

Moreover, the PAC finds that the monitoring of expenditure, too, has been highly unsatisfactory, with the DfT knowing ‘far too little’ about, for example, ‘the quality of the infrastructure that has been built’.

Finally, the PAC is also critical about some of the prioritisation that has occurred. It notes that the focus has been on ‘delivering segregated cycle routes in an attempt to address the safety barrier to people cycling’, rather than ‘integrating active travel with other transport modes such as rail, buses or trams’, and believes this is a mistake.

Elaborating, it quotes expert evidence that ‘the largest increases in rates of active travel participation will come from more people walking and wheeling, rather than cycling’, and that ‘buses and trams can increase the number of walking trips taken’, but also references ‘“countless examples”’ of ‘new bus or tram infrastructure being installed without pavements or crossings to enable people to access them safely on foot, including in new housing developments’.

Of course, anyone living in Waltham Forest who has kept an open mind will not be surprised by these conclusions, but it is nevertheless good to see an authoritative body like the PAC telling it like it is.

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