Gov't to create Office for Active Travel to get Brits out of cars

Carlton Reid
Gov't to create Office for Active Travel to get Brits out of cars

Cycling and walking to benefit from creation of new cross-departmental Government body with an initial budget of £1bn.

The Government's response to the Get Britain Cycling report has been less than effusive so far but perhaps ministers are keeping their powder dry for the expected launch of a new cross-departmental body that could be announced in June? BikeBiz has learned that the new organisation may be called OAT, the Office for Active Travel. It will have an initial budget of £1+bn and has won favour with the Treasury because it could start delivering capital projects almost immediately. There are many "shovel ready" projects waiting in the wings from local authorities, and some of these could be quickly given the go-ahead by OAT.

These projects include pedestrian and cycle infrastructure projects. 

OAT would be cross-departmental, not just a responsibility of the Department for Transport. This is a recognition that walking and cycling are much more than just modes of transport. And OAT is politically uncontroversial, likely to get support from Labour, too.

A source close to the OAT plans told BikeBiz: "By working together, cycling and walking organisations and campaigners will be much stronger. The Office for Active Travel would have all-party support. It's a very promising new body."

The Office for Active Travel may be created as part of the financial announcements made during summer's Comprehensive Spending Review.

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Transport for London's £1bn plan for cycling is also hoping for cash from the Comprehensive Spending Review as TfL can so far guarantee only £400m for spending on cycling.

In Wales, the Active Travel Bill will create a world-first: an act to enforce active travel measures in developments.

During a factory visit to cycling component company Hope Technology yesterday, the Prime Minister was pushed to comment on the Get Britain Cycling report and he said:

"There is a huge clamour for cycling - it’s a growth industry - and I will be looking with an enthusiastic eye to see what we can do.

“With more backing from the Government I can see [cycling] quadrupling in the UK."

The Office for Active Travel is likely to co-opt outside experts to sit on its advisory board. From the world of cycling, the obvious examples are Chris Boardman and Bicycle Association executive director Phillip Darnton, both of whom were part of the National Cycling Strategy board, the organisation which later became Cycling England before being abolished in the 'bonfire of the quangos' by the Coalition Government in 2011.

Chris Boardman told BikeBiz earlier this week he would consider becoming the "Cycling Champion", called for in the Get Britain Cycling report. Boardman, an Olympic champion and who has his name on a bicycle brand, would be an excellent banging-heads-together national Cycling Czar but it's unlikely he'd want to sit in on four-hour Cycle Rail committee meetings or other such groups so the 'dream ticket' for cycling would be Boardman as a cycling 'president' and Darnton, an astute diplomat, as the 'cycling vice-president'.

When asked what he was doing about the Get Britain Cycling report, David Cameron said he had meetings planned to discuss the future of cycling in the UK, including one with Sir Chris Hoy. Did the Prime Minister actually mean to say Chris Boardman?

Many organisations - including cycling ones and the Britain On Foot campaign from the Outdoors Industries Association - have been calling for the Government to do more on active travel.

Last year, a large alliance of organisations said "a shift from car-dominated transport policy would benefit public health."

Organisations ranging from Age UK to Weight Concern said:

"We call on ministers, civil servants, local authorities and all involved to make a big shift now: invest heavily in walking and cycling, and recreate an environment where children can play in the street and adults lead an active life."

The organisations, which will now no doubt welcome the creation of the Office for Active Travel, are:

Age UK, Arrhythmia Alliance, Association of Directors of Public Health, British Association for Cardiac Rehabilitation, British Association of Nursing in Cardiovascular Care, British Cardiovascular Society, British Dietetic Association, British Heart Foundation, Health Promotion Research Group, National Centre for Physical Activity and Health, British Hypertension Society, British Nutrition Foundation, Campaign for Better Transport, Cardio and Vascular Coalition, CCPR, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, Child Growth Foundation, CTC, Cycle Campaign Network, Cycling Scotland, Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges, Faculty of Public Health, Healthcare Commission, Heart Care Partnership (UK), Heart of Mersey, Institute of Highway Incorporated Engineers, Liftshare.com, Living Streets, Living Streets Scotland, London Cycling Campaign, Men’s Health Forum, Mental Health Foundation, National Federation of Women’s Institutes, National Heart Forum, National NGO Forum, National Obesity Forum, National Coalition for Active Ageing, Paths for All Partnership, Play England, Ramblers’ Association, Ramblers Scotland, Roadpeace, Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Physicians, Royal Institute of British Architects, Royal Institute of Public Health, Royal Society of Health, Socialist Health Association, South Asian Health Foundation, Spokes, Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, Sustainable Development Commission, Sustrans, Transform Scotland, UK Public Health Association, University of Bristol Dept of Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences, Weight Concern

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