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Cycling and walking czars urge PM to re-affirm support for Gear Change

Deniz Huseyin
17 October 2023
‘We believe the most effective plan for drivers will be to get right behind the Government’s own Gear Change plan’ active travel commissioners tell PM
‘We believe the most effective plan for drivers will be to get right behind the Government’s own Gear Change plan’ active travel commissioners tell PM


England’s walking and cycling commissioners have called on prime minister Rishi Sunak to recognise the myriad benefits of cycling and walking, including reducing pressure on the road network. The commissioners have sent Sunak a joint letter in reaction to the Government’s policy paper, A Plan for Drivers, which was launched at the Conservative Party conference earlier this month.

As well as expressing support for the interests and rights of car users, A Plan for Drivers sets out detailed new approaches on a range of subjects, including local traffic management, parking and moving traffic enforcement.

But, according to the commissioners, the “most effective plan for drivers would be to get behind the Government’s own Gear Change plan”.

The Gear Change strategy, which was launched in 2020 by the then prime minister Boris Johnson, had set out the actions required at all levels of government, grouped under four themes: better streets for cycling and people; cycling and walking at the heart of decision-making; empowering and encouraging local authorities; enabling people to cycle and protecting them when they do.

The strategy led to the setting up of executive agency Active Travel England and the appointment of Chris Boardman as active travel commissioner.

In their letter, the commissioners urge Sunak to launch the long-awaited pavement parking strategy and also to properly consider the mobility needs of young people.

“There are some very real challenges in local transport and a key one is ensuring the existing road network does not suffer huge congestion, bringing disbenefits to communities and to the economy,” say the four commissioners Adam Tranter at West Midlands; Ed Clancy OBE at South Yorkshire; Dame Sarah Storey at Greater Manchester; and Simon O’Brien at Liverpool City Region.

“The politics of our respective mayors may differ but the fact that Gear Change has been welcomed and united transport experts shows that it is the kind of long-term policy thinking that we need.

“Every extra person enabled to walk, cycle or take public transport for their journeys frees up limited road space for those who really need to drive.”

The length of the UK road network has increased by just 2% over the last 17 years, the commissioners point out. Roads projects are difficult because of local objections, lower benefit: cost ratios and environmental concerns, they state. “In towns and cities, we cannot knock down buildings or cut down trees to make more space for growing car ownership. Put simply, we need to be more efficient with the roads we already have.”

They tell the prime minister he is right to say that many people rely on their cars but add, “this shouldn’t be confused with their aspirations; time and time again, representative polling reminds us that people do indeed want the freedom of choice when it comes to transport.”

Freedom of choice for mobility in our areas is best provided through high-quality active travel and reliable public transport networks, say the commissioners.

The commissioners offer the example of 20mph limits, which “help support safe walking and cycling to school”.

“Most children do not live right next to their school and so it is important not to vilify the concept of wider 20mph areas. They - and the wider community - need to be safe at the beginning, during and at the end of their journeys. Publishing the Government’s proposed plans for tackling pavement parking, alongside the new Plan for Drivers guidance, would also help protect children walking to school and help increase safety for people driving through improved visibility.”

The Plan for Drivers highlights the importance of local consent, the commissioners note. “We ask that this is clearly defined in the guidance. Decisions on local transport are taken locally by democratically elected representatives.”

While consultation can “bring out strong voices on either side”, active travel schemes are shown to be typically broadly popular in surveys, they point out. “No local scheme will ever secure unanimity in the same way no local politician will ever secure 100% of the vote. We would hope guidance reflects this reality.”

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