Published: 7th JUNE 2023

Sustrans says active travel targets are “in tatters” due to persistent underfunding by the Government

We and other members of the Walking and Cycling Alliance welcome the National Audit Office’s report that says Government targets for active travel will not be met due to underfunding.

A person walking across a bridge in Manchester city, with someone walking past them pushing a bicycle.

The Government will fail to reach its own targets for active travel due to underfunding. Photo credit: Chris Foster

A National Audit Office (NAO) report released today has revealed that statutory targets to get more people walking and cycling will not be met, after years of stop-start funding. 

The failure to meet Department for Transport objectives will directly impact future generations and their ability to walk, wheel and cycle safely, leaving a legacy of poor air quality and reduced public health.


Targets are being missed

The damning report examined whether the Department of Transport (DfT) is set up to achieve its objectives by 2025 of 46% of urban journeys being walked, wheeled or cycled.

The report finds these targets are now impossible to be reached despite this being a cornerstone of the Government’s Gear Change vision of 2020. 

It also found that, despite the targets to increase the numbers of people walking and cycling, and the percentage of children aged five to ten walking to school, all activity levels are now lower than when the objectives were set in 2017.


Long-term, ring-fenced investment is needed

We believe the Government is “missing an easy win” through its persistent underfunding of active travel.

We have suggested that commitments laid out in the current Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy are now void.

The report authors highlighted a complex web of short-term funding pots across central government, hampering the ability for local authorities to plan and deliver ambitious projects. 

Xavier Brice, Sustrans CEO, said:

“It’s clear the Government has backpedalled on its promises, and is missing an easy win on the path to achieving Net Zero commitments, with proven benefits for public health. 

“This report reveals that active travel objectives are in tatters, and only serves to highlight that long-term and ring-fenced investment can transform lives, if done well.” 

People cycling in London separate cycling lane

Secure, long-term funding is needed for active travel. Photo credit: photojB

What does this mean for public health and the economy?

Members of the Walking and Cycling Alliance include the campaign groups Living Streets, The Bikeability Trust, British Cycling, Cycling UK, the Ramblers and Sustrans.

Together, we welcome the report, and are today calling for the Government to publish its own evidence for the funding required to achieve its objectives for 2025 and 2030 targets. 

We revealed in our Walking and Cycling Index that active travel contributed £36.5 billion to the UK economy in 2021, from a relatively modest investment from the Government compared to other transport modes. 

Extrapolating from the Index 2021 figures to the UK population found that people walking, wheeling and cycling took 14.6 million cars off the road, saving 2.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year. 

Research by us found that by keeping people active through walking, wheeling and cycling, 138,000 serious long-term health conditions were prevented and more than 29,000 early deaths were avoided in 2021. 

These benefits to public health, the economy and the environment make it clear why secure long-term investment is needed for active travel.


Find out how active travel benefits the UK economy.

See our response to active travel cuts announced in March.

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