For all the post-election uncertainty there is one thing that we can all agree on – urban congestion, poor air quality and our obesity crisis need tackling now.
So the UK has voted and the one thing that can be said with certainty is that we are in a more uncertain position than when the election was first called. As the dates of the Queen's Speech move, and the start of Brexit talks look less fixed there are some fundamentals that have not changed.
We face a physical inactivity epidemic, an obesity crisis, record congestion on our roads, and poor air quality. The impact of these falls disproportionately on the least well-off in our society but they impact all of us through rising healthcare costs and lower productivity. More cars and more roads are not the answer. Vehicles with cleaner engines will still congest and do nothing to tackle obesity. These issues need to be tackled at source.
The good news is that we have an efficient and effective solution that can be rolled out now. Making it easier for families and communities to walk and cycle short journeys will improve health, and boost the economic vitality of our towns and cities. At Sustrans we are calling on the new UK Government to do three things to make this solution possible.
First, to recommit to increasing levels of walking and cycling through the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) and to back it up with proper funding and action.
How? Well, our second ask is for a rebalancing of road budgets to stop the marginalising of local transport and give people real choice in how they travel. Current plans up to 2020 see more than £1.1 million per mile being invested in maintaining national roads, which make up just 3% of all roads. This level of investment contrasts starkly with the £27,000 per mile investment available to maintain local roads that make up 97% of England's road network.
Third, the new UK Government must also urgently improve the quality of the air that we breathe through an ambitious new Clean Air Act which yes, tackles diesel, but more importantly accelerates the shift to zero emission transport by incorporating actions that see a shift to cycling and walking; actions that will also tackle inactivity and congestion.
But what about devolution? Why are we calling on central government for action, if responsibility – if not always power and budgets – are being increasingly devolved? In England newly elected Metro Mayors are saying the right things, together with Local Authorities they now need to use the power and money that they do have to deliver on this change, and they need to use their influence to ask Government to prioritise investment in walking and cycling and local public transport.
Brexit will consume time and energy over the next two years. But this is not about the next two years, or the next five years, it is about the next 50 years. Action and investment now will not only see a rapid return in reduced congestion and improved health, it will also create a more liveable country for the future – for those who turned out in record numbers to vote last week and their children.