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Damning National Audit Office report says £2bn has failed to shift the needle on active travel

The Department for Transport (DfT) is likely to miss the targets it has set itself for boosting walking and cycling
The finding comes from a damning National Audit Office (NAO) report
The report looked into how the DfT has spent more than £2bn in efforts to develop England's active travel infrastructure since 2016
The NAO suggested that patchy delivery and lack of appetite at local level were hampering active travel delivery
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The UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) is likely to miss the targets it has set itself for boosting walking and cycling.

The finding comes from a damning National Audit Office (NAO) report, which looked into how the DfT has spent more than £2bn in efforts to develop England's active travel infrastructure since 2016.

As part of the investment, it established Active Travel England to address longstanding issues relating to the standard of infrastructure and to support improvements in the capability of local authorities.

However, according to the NAO, the £2bn investment – which is expected to deliver around £6.6bn of active travel interventions between 2016 and 2025 – will not meet DfT's own four objectives and targets.

These objectives, set in 2016, are:

• Increasing the percentage of short journeys in towns and cities that are walked or cycled from 41 per cent in 2018-19 to 46 per cent in 2025

• Increasing walking activity to 365 stages per person per year in 2025

• Doubling cycling from 0.8 billion stages in 2013 to 1.6 billion in 2025

• Increasing the percentage of children aged 5-10 walking to school from 49 per cent in 2014 to 55 per cent in 2025

In its report, NAO says: "Although active travel schemes have the potential to deliver important benefits, in practice DfT has known too little about what has been achieved and has not been able to influence the local delivery of schemes consistently.

"This has led to patchy delivery of active travel schemes and it’s unlikely that DfT’s objectives for increased active travel by 2025 will be achieved."

The NAO also suggested that local authorities have little appetite in driving active travel projects.

"DfT does not yet know if the schemes delivered by local authorities to date have been of good enough quality and does not have a plan in place to track the benefits of its active travel investment," the NAO writes in its report.

"More than half (56 per cent) of local authorities – who play a significant role in delivering interventions – have low capability and ambition to deliver active travel projects, which has affected the quality of active travel interventions delivered with government funding to date."

There is, however, praise for Active Travel England.

"Active Travel England has the potential to be a catalyst for increasing walking, wheeling and cycling," the report reads.

"It has made good early progress and is well-placed to address many of the issues that can lead to poor quality active travel schemes.

"Maintaining this early momentum from the set-up of Active Travel England will be important to securing the benefits for transport, health and the environment and achieving value for money from government’s investment in active travel."

The NAO's finding echo those of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Speaking to HCM recently, Dr Fiona Bull, head of the WHO Physical Activity Unit, said walking and cycling are not receiving the support they need: "We need all ministries of transport to appreciate their contribution to increasing physical activity through walking and cycling," said Bull. "They are the responsible government portfolio sector for this.

"We must also address data gaps," she said. "Data will inform, guide and allow us to measure progress, yet there are some key indicator gaps that mean we don’t even know what progress we’re making – or not making. For example, we don’t know what provision and access there is to walking and cycling infrastructure, either, so we can’t track that or guide progress... and if we say we’re going to ... increase walking and cycling infrastructure, the budgets within those government portfolios must match the policy directions. At the moment, we have a mismatch in many countries."

To read the full National Audit Office report, click here.


As part of the World Congress of Architecture in Copenhagen, Buro Happold will be hosting the one-hour walk and talk event through the city centre of Copenhagen to explore the challenges and solutions for active mobility planning.

Buro Happold’s global lead for active mobility, Sidsel Birk Hjuler will be hosting the side event on why it is so important to create more liveable places by making active mobility an integral part of our projects for cities and regions, in Europe and around the world.

Join the walk at Lille Langebro on July 4, from 5.30-6.30pm after securing your free ticket here.

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The UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) is likely to miss the targets it has set itself for boosting walking and cycling.

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