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Active Travel to be Devolved to Mayors and Councils under Labour

Labour manifesto 2024
Labour manifesto 2024

The Labour Party manifesto for the 2024 General Election is quite detailed and impressive on many subjects, but active travel is only mentioned twice.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that a future Labour government would fail people who want to get around on foot or on bikes, but other than a few clues we are left to guess what they might do.

There is no Transport chapter, but transport is in the Economy chapter.

The transport section of the Economy chapter says:

‘Cars remain by far the most popular form of transport.

Labour will maintain and renew our road network, to ensure it serves drivers, cyclists and other road users, remains safe, and tackles congestion’.

transport section of the economy chapter

You can read into that what you wish.

There is one specific proposal that might suggest a direction of travel. Labour want to defer the building of an A27 Arundel bypass, and spend the money on fixing potholes instead.

If a future Labour government concentrates on maintaining the existing road network rather than expanding it, that will be good news.

References to Active Travel in the Manifesto

The reference to ‘cyclists’ quoted above is one of only two mentions of active travel in the manifesto (as far as I can see). The other is in the context of handing powers to Mayors (see Devolution to the Regions below).

The amount of funding for active travel is not specified in the manifesto.

Infrastructure Strategy

There are clues in the manifesto as to the structure within which any active travel projects might be delivered.

Labour intends to develop a 10-year infrastructure strategy, aligned with its industrial strategy and regional development priorities. The strategy will guide investment plans.

There is to be a new National Infrastructure and Service Transformation Authority to set strategic infrastructure priorities and oversee the design, scope and delivery of projects.

I speculate that the Authority is more likely to be dealing with large rail projects than with active travel – but there is no reason in principle why it could not oversee major upgrades to the National Cycle Network.

Planning Reforms

The manifesto proposes changing the planning regime for ‘new roads, railways, reservoirs, and other nationally significant infrastructure’.

This is to be done with new national policy statements and updated national planning policy.

There is no mention here of greenhouse gas emissions, and whether building new roads is compatible with the UK’s binding climate obligations.

Devolution to the Regions

The manifesto says:

‘The country remains too centralised, with the economic potential of too many regions and communities ignored’.

economy chapter of the labour manifesto

Elsewhere, the manifesto promises that Labour will transfer power out of Westminster and into communities. Devolution settlements will be deepened, with flexible integrated settlements for Combined Authorities that manage public money well. Devolution will be expanded to more areas.

Councils are to be given multi-year funding settlements, and wasteful competitive bidding ended. It will be interesting to see if that applies to the Active Travel Fund.

This idea of devolution to the regions applies to transport. This passage has the second reference to active travel:

‘Labour will give Mayors the power to create unified and integrated transport systems, allowing for more seamless journeys, and to promote active travel networks.

Labour will also develop a long-term strategy for transport, ensuring transport infrastructure can be delivered efficiently and on time’.

transport section of the economy chapter

It seems we are relying on Mayors for active travel projects, which may well be sensible. The manifesto gives no idea of the level of funding that will be available.

Trains and Buses

Train companies are to be brought into public ownership as contracts expire, and Great British Railways is to deliver a unified system.

There will be new powers for local leaders to franchise bus services.

Missed Opportunities

There are several other chapters where active travel is highly relevant and could have been mentioned, but isn’t.

For example, Take Back Our Streets deals with anti-social behaviour and crime, but makes no mention of dangerous driving and road violence.

The Health chapter makes promises about the NHS, but fails to mention the preventative contribution that building activity into our daily lives can make.

The planning and housing section of the Economy chapter could have specified that new developments must have first-class active travel networks, but it doesn’t.

Five Missions and Six First Steps

Labour’s manifesto is based on five missions and six first steps.

The missions are:

  1. Kickstart economic growth
  2. Make Britain a clean energy superpower
  3. Take back our streets
  4. Break down barriers to opportunity
  5. Build an NHS fit for the future

The first steps are shown in the image below.

Labour's six first steps
Labour’s six first steps

Overall Impression

My overall impression is that there isn’t enough information in Labour’s manifesto to know how good they will be on active travel.

Devolving matters to Mayors and councils is probably sensible (and is largely the case already). Then the key issues are the guidance given to the regional and local authorities and the level of funding – neither of which is specified by the manifesto.

So we can read whatever we want into the proposals, or cross our fingers and hope for the best.

Active Travel to be Devolved to Mayors and Councils under Labour

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