The UK Government announced on the 28th July 2020 the creation of Active Travel England as a new funding body for walking and cycling provision in England. The funding body will act as an inspectorate of the work of highway authorities, as well as a statutory planning consultee for major planning applications in 2021. Further to this, and in order to increase the amount of people walking and cycling, the Government published “Gear Change: A bold vision for cycling walking” to coincide with the new funding body. This strategy has been brought forward in timescale and created increased emphasis as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic to boost walking and cycling, alongside the creation of the emergency active travel fund (as well as other walking and cycling funding) to enable Local Authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts, which is highly welcomed.
The creation of Active Travel England will not only help put ambitions into practice but also begin to inspect and publish annual reports on highway authorities. This will be in the form of grading on performance of active travel measures and identifying any particular failings in respect to walking/cycling infrastructure. The commissioner and inspectorate will in this regard perform a similar role to that of Ofsted in raising standards and challenging failure with poor performance could resulting in less funding for the highway authority.
It is important to note that although Active Travel England will act as a statutory consultee within the planning system to press for adequate walking and cycling provision in all developments over a certain threshold, it is not known what this threshold is yet. It is expected that it will definitely be focused on large developments and ‘garden villages’. Arguably, there is little more that can be done in terms of infrastructure on medium sized developments in rural locations, however, more could be done with projects in urban / semi-urban locations especially if coordinated with Local Authority projects.
How much planning weight can be given to the recommendations of Active Travel England will be interesting to see, with planning rules becoming more of a light touch with further deregulation on the way. However, Active Travel England’s influence on the highway authorities budgets will likely have a more dramatic effect on their statutory consultee role that will have more weight with the planning authorities, therefore, it is expected that there will be an increased demand on highway authorities to provide and/or upgrade appropriate infrastructure in addition to looking at new developments to assist in funding / delivering of localised walking and cycling infrastructure. It will also create a need for a higher standard of Travel Planning to promote and monitor travel behaviour, so expect more Section 106 agreements with tighter monitoring regimes!
If you would like to discuss the above further or would like assistance on Transport Planning services on new developments then please get in touch with us at Richard Jackson Limited and we will be happy to help.