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Conservative Manifesto Sets Out Nightmarish High-Traffic, High-Carbon Vision of Future

Conservative manifesto 2024
Conservative manifesto 2024

The Conservative manifesto for the 2024 General Election sets out a nightmarish vision of a high-traffic, high-carbon future.

In what is in effect a Summary section, titled ‘Bold actions to deliver a secure future for our country and for your family’, there is no mention at all of active travel.

There is, however, quite a lot about prioritising drivers.

‘Backing Drivers’

The Summary section includes this bullet point:

‘Back drivers by stopping road pricing, reversing the London Mayor’s ULEZ expansion and applying local referendums to new 20mph and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.’

summary section of conservative manifesto 2024 (p4)

The manifesto expands on the ‘backing drivers’ theme later, in a feature box on p57.

'Backing drivers' feature box from p57 of Conservative manifesto
‘Backing drivers’ feature box from p57 of Conservative manifesto

The feature box deals with road pricing, ULEZ expansion, and LTNs and 20mph zones. I would comment:

  • ruling out road pricing raises the question of how government will replace revenues from fuel as more and more cars are electric. Also, if motoring gets significantly cheaper, traffic volumes are likely to increase – which is undesirable for many reasons
  • the Conservatives’ London Mayoral candidate argued against ULEZ expansion in the May 2024 Mayoral election. She lost. National government should not interfere in this local issue, especially when local people have recently had an opportunity to express their views
  • the manifesto (p74) also infringes on the Welsh government’s decision-making powers by seeking to force motorway expansion on Wales, and to override the Wales’s 20mph policy
  • LTNs and 20mph zones make local areas safer for walking and cycling, and more pleasant to live in. Any direction from government should encourage implementation, rather than attempting to prevent it. Rat-running through residential areas is not desirable

On the ‘backing drivers’ theme, the manifesto also highlights (p57) the government’s freezing of fuel duty and its Plan for Drivers.

There is no mention of modal shift, nor of reducing vehicle miles travelled. Car miles have to be reduced by around 20% by 2030 if we are to meet our targets for decarbonisation of transport. Presumably under a Conservative government we would not meet those targets.

Active Travel in the Conservative Manifesto

There is no transport chapter in the Conservative manifesto, so you have to trawl the document to find a mention of active travel.

In fact, it’s in the Communities chapter, and it’s a three-sentence paragraph. The first sentence is relatively positive, the second is a caveat, and the third is a form of attack on cycling. This is what the paragraph says.

‘We will work with Active Travel England to make it safer for people to walk or cycle, including projects like ensuring safe walking routes to schools and measures to protect pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users.

Where new schemes are introduced, we will ensure they have local support first.

While we back responsible cyclists, we will bring penalties for the rare instances where dangerous cyclists kill or injure into line with those for other road users’.

communities section of conservative manifesto 2024 (p58)

Even the first sentence isn’t wholly positive, in that it talks about safe walking routes to school but doesn’t mention safe cycling routes to school.

Still, the Conservatives address some of the big issues in the Communities section: they want to continue to make industry pay to remove chewing gum from the streets (p56).

Further items mentioned under the Communities heading include:

  • extending the £2 bus fare cap for the whole of the next Parliament and
  • giving councils the power to ban pavement parking provided they ensure businesses and residents are not adversely affected

Pavement parking just needs to be banned. Not everyone will be happy about it, and if you insist on unanimity, nothing will change.

Also, many councils are not well-resourced or proactive, and if it’s left to them it won’t happen either.

Redirecting Money After Cancellation of Northern Leg of HS2

The Summary section refers to £36 billion saved by the cancellation of the northern leg of HS2 being redirected, primarily to roads. There are more details on this in the Economy section of the manifesto, in an Investing in Infrastructure sub-section.

It’s not clear how much of the £36 billion is a commitment to future spending, and how much is a re-announcement of funding already committed.

Still, we can apply the maxim ‘don’t tell me what your priorities are, tell me what you’re spending your money on and I’ll tell you what your priorities are’.

How much money is specifically dedicated to active travel, according to the manifesto? None.

Among the sums mentioned are:

  • £4.7 billion to smaller cities, towns and rural areas of the North and Midlands
  • £8.3 billion to fill potholes and resurface roads (definitely a re-announcement of money already spent, not a future commitment)
  • £8.55 billion to city regions
  • money for Northern Powerhouse Rail and rail connectivity in the Midlands
  • £1 billion for new bus routes in the North and Midlands
  • reopen Beeching lines and stations (no specific sum; eye-wateringly expensive and probably not going to happen)

One of the details here is instructive. The manifesto says in relation to city regions:

‘We will scrap rules that stop Mayors investing in strategic roads’.

economy section of conservative manifesto 2024 (p8)

Strategic roads are already funded through National Highways, who have a generous budget. There is no reason for Mayoral funds to be spent on them too.

We can’t expand motorways and dual carriageways and meet our emissions targets.


The manifesto says:

‘We will support the growth and decarbonisation of our aviation sector’.

economy section of conservative manifesto 2024 (p8)

This is Alice-in-Wonderland stuff, and bad for the integrity of British politics. It isn’t possible to expand aviation and cut emissions at the same time, and it’s wrong to mislead voters into thinking we can.

Elsewhere (p50), the manifesto says there will be no frequent flier levy.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto is much better and more realistic than the Conservative manifesto on aviation.

Net Zero

The manifesto says that the Conservatives are committed to delivering net zero by 2050, but via ‘an affordable and pragmatic transition’.

This translates as achieving net zero by not actually taking the steps needed to reach net zero – which won’t work.

It also means ‘never forcing people to rip out their existing boiler’ – something which no one is proposing.

Among the awful ideas in the manifesto is the threat to hold annual licensing rounds for North Sea oil and gas production.

Among the daft ideas in the manifesto is forcing the Climate Change Committee to consider costs to households in its future climate advice. The CCC already considers costs, but fundamentally it is the job of the government not the CCC to decide which is the best path to take – based on the CCC’s advice about the emissions cuts we need to make.

An emphasis on techno-fixes (carbon capture and storage and small modular nuclear reactors) is unlikely to be productive.

Not all of the net zero chapter is awful. For example, there is a commitment to treble wind capacity.

Overall, the Conservatives’ net zero strategy is heavily caveated and unlikely to enable the UK to meet its binding climate targets. It seems to be aimed at the same people who think that chewing gum on pavements is the most important transport issue we need to resolve.

Housing Development

There is a chapter on housing, and this would have been the place for the Conservatives to mention prioritising walking and cycling infrastructure at new developments.

The housing development chapter says nothing about that, unfortunately.


Conservative politicians have stopped talking about Brexit because there has been no upside to it and a considerable downside. Surprisingly, though, it gets quite a few mentions in the manifesto.

Mr Sunak’s Foreword to the manifesto boasts that the Conservatives ‘got Brexit done’.

The Summary section talks about seizing ‘the benefits of Brexit’ with trade deals and cutting red tape for business.

Again, this dishonesty brings politics into disrepute. Brexit has generated a huge amount of red tape, and made it far harder for businesses to trade with our neighbours and friends in the EU. Many smaller enterprises have given up on exporting to Europe.

There is more of this disingenuous propaganda in the Economy section.

‘Thanks for Brexit, we have taken back control of our laws and freed British businesses from unnecessary burdens’.

economy section of conservative manifesto (p11)

In reality, administrative burdens for businesses have increased hugely.

Will this be the election when reality comes back to bite the Conservatives?

Conservative Manifesto Sets Out Nightmarish High-Traffic, High-Carbon Vision of Future

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