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Unpacking the UK's second cycling and walking investment strategy

15 July 2022

The second cycling and walking investment strategy (CWIS2) boosts active travel, but funding gaps and political uncertainty pose delivery challenges.

Unpacking the UK's second cycling and walking investment strategy
CWIS2 sets more ambitious walking objectives. Image credit: Sorapong C/Shutterstock

The Department for Transport (DfT) has published their second cycling and walking investment strategy (CWIS2).

This follow-up report to CWIS1 (published in 2017) outlines the government’s ambition to make cycling and walking the natural choices for shorter journeys, or as part of a longer journey, by 2040.

CWIS2 will cover the period between 2022 and 2025.

The updated CWIS2, required by the Infrastructure Act of 2015, was originally due in 2021. It was delayed due to COVID-19 and its associated impact on the multi-year spending review.

Active travel can help meet UK government priorities

A modal shift to active travel enabled by CWIS2 will play a critical role in meeting several UK government priorities, notably decarbonisation, reducing road congestion and improving air quality and health.

The government previously positioned active travel as central to levelling up. In a cost of living crisis with rising fuel prices, active travel is an affordable and sustainable solution to expensive and carbon intensive transport.

The updated CWIS2, required by the Infrastructure Act of 2015, was originally due in 2021, but was delayed due to COVID-19 and its associated impact on the multi-year spending review.

In our 2021 ICE insights paper, we examined what CWIS2 should contain, including its scope, funding and political coordination.

Political uncertainty and ongoing cabinet reshuffles have taken focus away from the release of CWIS2.

However, the strategy gives us an important overview of what’s next for active travel and the gaps that still need to be filled to create a more sustainable future.

A longer-term picture for all types of active travel

Our 2021 insight paper called for a greater focus on walking.

This is realised in CWIS2, with more ambitious walking objectives than the 300 stages per person per year set out in CWIS1.

Stages are journeys that involve walking or cycling, including shorter journeys where this may not be the main form of transport (for example, cycling to a railway station to catch the train to work).

The increased ambition reflects the higher overall levels of walking seen in recent years other than during the pandemic.

Sustainable funding needed

We also outlined the need for sustainable funding pots for active travel schemes to be guaranteed across multiple years.

This funding would be similar to funding granted to National Highways for investment in the major roads network through the Road Investment Strategy.

DfT commits to funding reform in CWIS2, citing the example of the strengthening of long-term funding through programmes like the new City Region Sustainable Transport Settlements (CRSTS) for eight mayoral combined authorities.

A more forward-looking perspective is also evidenced through the strategy’s support for development of Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs), planned to cover a 10-year period.

However, more detail will be published later in 2022 in updated guidance on the development and delivery of local transport plans aligning with LCWIPs.

What’s missing?

The longer-term thinking within CWIS2 fails to extend to low-speed roads.

Our paper pointed out the opportunity for the strategy to provide support for low-speed roads and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods to create child-friendly streets. This opportunity was missed.

One of the four key revised objectives of CWIS2 is an increase in the percentage of children aged 5 to 10 who usually walk to school from 49% in 2014 to 55% in 2025. However, there’s a lack of detail around how safer low-speed roads could enable this.

Stakeholder engagement needs more work

CWIS2 steers clear of a bigger picture, ambitious system change in highways that could refresh and prevent silo thinking within the government.

There’s also more work to do around stakeholder engagement.

While stakeholder engagement has informed the development of the strategy, there’s not enough focus on how to tell the story of the benefits of increasing walking and cycling for individuals.

Likewise, there’s a need to provide clearer communication around what the continuation of the ‘active travel renaissance’ referred to in CWIS2 could mean for the wider community.

The impact of funding during a cost of living crisis

Many councils have warned of the heavy impact of funding cuts as inflation costs rise. The Local Government Association estimated that inflation alone will add £800 million in extra cost pressures on budgets in 2022-23.

Previously under-resourced councils will also struggle to free up capacity to focus on active travel.

In our previous 2021 insight paper, we highlighted estimates from Sustrans that meeting the targets in CWIS1 would require around £8.2 billion in investment. However, the government has pledged only £2 billion for walking and cycling between 2020 and 2025.

This figure has stayed the same despite the revised increasingly ambitious four key objectives adapted from CWIS1 in CWIS2.

The financial resources to deliver the strategy therefore will be stretched very thinly, and this places a greater challenge on delivery.

What needs to happen next

ICE will continue to engage with the Department for Transport and interested parliamentarians to ensure that the government’s vision of a “world-class cycling and walking network in England by 2040” can be realised.

In case you missed it

ICE's 2021 insight paper analysing CWIS1 and exploring what should be covered in CWIS2.

  • Laura Cunliffe-Hall, interim lead policy manager at ICE