General Election 2024: what do the main parties say about cycling?

Two people cycle past a polling station sign on a redmac cycle lane in Cambridge

With the General Election looming, all the main political parties have published their manifestos. We’ve taken a look at what they’re offering on all things active travel, which we hope, in conjunction with our election survey to local parliamentary candidates, will be a useful resource to inform members ahead of the election.

The first manifesto out was from the Liberal Democrats. Whilst the tone in the transport section is very positive in terms of support for sustainable travel, the actual commitments on cycling are quite slim. The party has committed to “Transform how people travel by creating new cycling and walking networks with a new nationwide active travel strategy” as well as devolving more of the roads budget to local councils to spend on local priorities including cycleways. However, there is no specific financial commitment to increasing investment in cycling infrastructure.

We will…give more of the roads budget to local councils to maintain existing roads, pavements and cycleways, including repairing potholes.”

Next up, the Conservatives. The party commits to working with Active Travel England to make it easier 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”. However, they also continue to produce divisive rhetoric around transport with plans for a “Backing Drivers Bill” which would reverse London’s ULEZ extension, ban “top-down” low traffic neighbourhoods and “blanket” 20-mile-per-hour limits, and force councils to hold referendums ahead of bringing those schemes in.

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.“

The Green Party are the only party to set out a spending commitment for active travel in their manifesto, committing to £2.5bn annual investment in cycleways and footpaths. The party would also adopt Active Travel England’s ambitious goal that 50% of trips in England’s towns and cities be walked, wheeled or cycled by 2030. On planning, the Greens are the most positive about low traffic neighbourhoods and place making, committing to “reimagining how we use streets in residential areas to reduce traffic and open them up for community use.”

Green MPs will also campaign to ensure that everybody lives within 15 minutes’ walking distance of a nature-rich greenspace. We will ensure car-free access to the National Parks with new cycling, walking, wheeling and bus links.”

The Reform UK party says that its contract is “not just another party manifesto”. In it, it pledges to end the scandal of our crumbling transport and utilities infrastructure, although the transport part of this seems to only include road and rail. There are no mentions of walking or cycling, but they do promise to “legislate to ban ULEZ Clean Air Zones and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods”. That would be an interesting goal to implement as the latter have been an established part of UK street design since at least the 1960s. Analysed by length, 70% of Cambridge’s streets are part of low-traffic neighbourhoods and include some sort of restriction of through-traffic.

Net Zero has sent energy costs soaring. It is making us poorer and colder, damaging British industry and forcing drivers off the road.”

Given the opinion polls, perhaps the most hotly anticipated manifesto is that of the Labour party. The references to active travel are slim in what is quite a lengthy document, which is disappointing. There are no detailed commitments, although the party does say it will “give mayors the power to create unified and integrated transport systems, allowing for more seamless journeys, and to promote active travel networks.” In the planning section there is also a commitment to “ensure we are building more high-quality, well-designed, and sustainable homes and creating places that increase climate resilience and promote nature recovery.” Whilst not making specific reference to supporting cycling provision, it is clear that taking that vision seriously could result in increased support for the integration of active travel into new communities.

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

Overall it is disappointing that the parties have not demonstrated in their manifestos that they really understand the true potential of increased cycling rates, not just for our environment but for our physical and mental health. As national charity Cycling UK point out in their General Election Manifesto, investing in cycling is “one of the cheapest and most effective health interventions a government can make”. And of course, if saving millions on the health budget doesn’t persuade, the climate case is clear – we need to bring transport emissions down significantly this decade to stand a chance of meeting our climate targets. Getting more people out of their cars and walking, wheeling and cycling is critical. The manifestos give us some warm words – and some worrying rhetoric – but little in the way of specific commitments to drive the cycling revolution we need to see.

Further reading:

There are a variety of other summaries of the cycling, transport and environmental policies mentioned in the manifestos. These include: