Environment Bill

Written evidence submitted by Cycling UK (EB06)

targets for ROAD TRAFFIC REDUCTION AND access to or enjoyment of the Natural environmEnt


Cycling UK was founded in 1878 and has 68,000 members and supporters. Our central mission is to make cycling a safe, accessible, enjoyable and ‘normal’ activity for people of all ages and abilities. Our interests cover cycling both as a form of day-to-day transport and as a leisure activity, which can deliver health, economic, environmental, safety and quality of life benefits, both for individuals and society.

Cycling UK proposes two amendments to the Environment Bill, both of which relate to target setting:

· The first seeks to introduce at least one target to increase public access to and enjoyment of the natural environment.

· The second seeks to revive and regularise an existing duty for the Secretary of State to write road traffic reduction reports, which can either set targets to reduce road traffic or set out alternative measures, in order to tackle its adverse environmental, economic, health and societal impacts.

Additionally, as a member of the Healthy Air Campaign (HAC), Cycling UK is supporting HAC’s amendments to the Environment Bill which would:

· Commit to meeting WHO air quality standards by 2030 and generally strengthen the target-setting framework;

· Establish a more robust framework for making plans to ensure the targets are achieved;

· Introduce a new ‘clean air duty’ for all public bodies.

A briefing from the Healthy Air Campaign covers these issues more fully.


The case for promoting access to and enjoyment of the countryside

Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan [1] sets out the Government’s ambition to leave our environment in a better state than they found it, and the proposed steps to achieve this aim.

The Plan recognises the benefits of countryside access but notes that:

" The number of people who spend little or no time in natural spaces is too high. Recent data from the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment survey tells us that some 12% of children do not visit the natural environment each year.

" In the most deprived areas of England, people tend to have the poorest health and significantly less green space than wealthier areas.

" In healthcare and school settings, and despite some excellent examples of pioneering practice, the possible benefits of contact with nature to promote good mental health or support early interventions for mental health problems are often overlooked. "

We believe that the Government is sincere in this ambition, and support it wholeheartedly.

A recent peer-reviewed paper [2] , supported by Natural England researchers, found that visiting nature at least once a week was positively associated with general health and household pro-environmental behaviours, and that connection with nature was positive for both physical and mental wellbeing. It concluded that interventions increasing both contact with and connection to nature, are likely to be support synergistic improvements to human and planetary health.

Additionally, the recent Glover Review into protected landscapes showed the clear importance of the countryside to our social structure and wellbeing. The report recommended (proposal 23) that the purposes of ‘National Landscapes’ (including both National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) should be to:

1. Recover, conserve and enhance natural beauty, biodiversity and natural capital, and cultural heritage.

2. Actively connect all parts of society with these special places to support understanding, enjoyment and the nation’s health and wellbeing.

3. Foster the economic and community vitality of their area in support of the first two purposes.

It goes on to recommend that "these strengthened purposes… must be the basis for ambitious targeted actions, with delivery to be driven forward by a new National Landscapes Service."

As such, we believe that the Glover Review creates a clear principle that Government action to improve the natural environment should go hand in hand with enhancing public understanding, engagement and enjoyment of the natural world.

In the long term, it is crucial that children now and in the future appreciate the natural environment and seek to protect it. If the public is to support (and indeed to voluntarily participate in) action to protect and enhance nature, it is vital that they are supported, from a young age, to appreciate and understand the world they live in. Targets to prioritise this aim are vital.

Targets in the Environment Bill

Clause 1 of the Bill relates to target-setting. As currently drafted, its first two subclauses are:

1. Environmental targets

( 1)The Secretary of State may by regulations set long-term targets in respect of any matter which relates to-

the natural environment, or

people s enjoyment of the natural environment.

(2) The Secretary of State must exercise the power in subsection (1) so as to set a long-term target in respect of at least one matter within each priority area.

The priority areas are-

(a) air quality;

(b) water;

(c) biodiversity;

(d) resource efficiency and waste reduction.

The rest of the clause set out how these should be defined, what it meant by a "long-term target’ and make provisions for the setting of regulations relating to the monitoring of targets.

We are surprised and concerned to note that the Bill omits to include "public access to and enjoyment of the countryside" as a priority area for target-setting. This appears to be a missed opportunity. Sub-clause 1(1) of the Agriculture Bill (also currently before Parliament) makes provision for the Secretary of State to offer financial assistance to secure the delivery of various public goods, as a condition of providing agricultural subsidies. One of these (subclause 1(1)(b)) is:

"supporting public access to and enjoyment of the countryside, farmland or woodland and better understanding of the environment"

Cycling UK strongly supports this provision. Yet if it is omitted from the ‘priority areas’ for target-setting in the Environment Bill, we fear that post-Brexit agricultural subsidies are likely to be directed instead to other priority areas at the expense of public access to, and enjoyment of, the countryside. This would be a missed opportunity to broaden access to the countryside, providing huge benefits for the physical and mental health of individuals while boosting the rural economy.

We therefore urge that the Bill should be urgently amended, adding "public access to and enjoyment of the natural environment" to the list of priority areas for target-setting under subclause 1(2).

What targets could in practice be set for access to and enjoyment of the countryside

As the Defra 25 Year Environment Plan highlights, the Government already collects data on public engagement with the natural environment. through the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) survey. [3] This could readily be used to set and monitor the public’s access to and engagement with the natural environment, including breakdowns by age-bands (e.g. children or older people) and other demographic groups (e,g, by people of different ethnicities, abilities and deprivation levels), thus reflecting the beneficial impact of improved access to nature in tackling health inequalities. [4]

Additionally or alternatively, targets could also be set for improvements in the physical and legal provision made for access to the countryside.

Cycling UK believes that a highly cost effective way to promote active access to the countryside would be to use agricultural subsidies to secure improvements to existing rights of way and open more high quality, well surfaced, well signed and well maintained multi-user routes, as identified through the Rights of Way Improvement Plan process. This could then be reflected in the Environmental and Land Management (ELM) scheme which is expected to replace Common Agricultural Policy subsidies in the aftermath of Brexit.

Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW), Rights of Way Improvement Plans (RoWIPs) are statutory documents which local highway authorities must develop and periodically update in consultation with local stakeholders. They have the potential to identify and prioritise those improvements to countryside access in the area that would provide the greatest public benefit, varying from resurfacing footpaths and the replacement of stiles with gates through to the creation of new bridleways and cycle paths along disused railway lines, alongside the provision of accessible natural greenspace such public parks and access land.

At present, only 22% of England’s public rights of way network provides access rights for horse riding and cycling. These rights continue to be based on proven historic access rather than either physical suitability or community need. Moreover, the mechanisms for changing status or creating new routes are fundamentally unworkable (research by Cycling UK has shown that most local authorities are creating only one or two entirely new routes per year, and the backlog for processing the recording of existing routes often leads to many years of unnecessary delay).

Routes in and around the urban fringe are particularly important both for public access, and as traffic-free connections to the surrounding countryside and villages. Particular value is attached to linear features such as disused railway lines and riverside routes that often have limited agricultural value. Rewarding farmers for dedicating these routes as permanent rights of way would be unlikely to negatively impact on agricultural operations or productivity.

Cycling UK therefore urges the Bill Committee specifically to press the Secretary of State to set clear targets for the maintenance and enhancement of the rights of way network through the delivery of the Rights of Way Improvement Plan - ensuring that local authorities took a proactive approach to the improvement of countryside access in their areas.

Amendment on Access to and enjoyment of the countryside

In clause 1, insert at the end of subclause (2):

"(e) Public access to and engagement with the natural environment."


The environmental impacts of road traffic

The UK’s over-reliance on road transport has serious adverse impacts, which in turn imposes substantial costs on society. These include:

· Air pollution: air pollution contributes to around 40,000 early deaths annually, with nitrogen dioxide and particulate emissions from road transport being major causal factors.

· Landscapes, biodiversity and water quality: road transport adversely affects biodiversity and habitats (due to a combination of pollutant emissions, water run-off, road danger, noise and the resulting severance of habitats for animals insects etc). The Government’s proposed £28.8bn National Roads Fund risks exacerbating these impacts still further.

· Climate: transport is now the UK’s economic sector which emits the greatest proportion of greenhouse gas emissions (33%), most of which comes from road transport. These are still rising: this is a key reason why the UK is not on course to meet its 4th and 5th carbon budgets. Electrification of our vehicle fleet is not the whole answer - depending on the speed of conversion to electric, a 20%-60% reduction in car mileage would still be needed by 2030 to meet net zero targets. [5]

Road traffic also imposes other costs on society: including congestion (this is estimated to cost the UK £8bn annually), physical inactivity (which costs the UK £7.4bn annually; road danger (n.b. this disproportionately affects children, older people, people with disabilities, and those on incomes); and the detrimental effect of traffic on the quality of the built environment.

The Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Act 1998

In essence, the Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Act 1998 (hereafter the RTRA 1998) requires the Secretary of State either to write a report which:

· EITHER sets targets for road traffic reduction in England, Wales and Scotland;

· OR, if he considers that alternative targets or measures are more appropriate, explains his reasons for proposing those alternative targets or measures, along with an impact assessment of his proposals.

When doing so, the Secretary of State must take account of greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, health, traffic congestion, land and biodiversity, road danger and societal impacts, as well as "the mobility needs of persons with disabilities" and "the need for an adequate provision of taxi services in rural and non-rural areas."

Alongside the RTRA 1998, there is also an earlier Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997 , which empowers the Secretary of State to issue guidance to local authorities on road traffic reduction, and mandates local authorities to issue reports setting out their own local targets for reducing road traffic, or the rate of growth of road traffic, in their areas – or to state (with reasons) why they consider it inappropriate to do so.

The RTRA 1998’s major weakness is that is only requires the Secretary of State to fulfil his duties under the Act "At such times as he deems appropriate". It therefore fails to stipulate a minimum frequency for the Secretary of State to fulfil these duties.

The Secretary of State initially complied with the RTRA 1998 by issuing a report in 2000 entitled ’Tackling congestion and pollution’. In essence, it argued that there was no need to reduce road traffic, and that attention would instead be focused on its two main side-effects. Congestion would be tackled with some targeted ‘pinch-point’ road improvements, while pollution could be addressed by working with the motor industry to promote cleaner vehicle technology.

That was the first Road Traffic Reduction Act report – there has never been a second one. Twenty years later, the limitations of this approach have become all too apparent.

Hence Cycling UK proposes an amendment to the RTRA 1998, to be made by way of the Environment Bill, which would require the Secretary of State, and the Welsh and Scottish Ministers, to set out new Road Traffic Reduction Act reports within 6 months of the relevant provisions of the Environment Bill coming into effect, and thereafter at intervals of no longer than two years following the publication of the previous one.

This would in practice require the Secretary of State, and the Welsh and Scottish Ministers, to consider the full range of policy measures that might reduce road traffic and its adverse impacts. Specifically it would involve considering the proportions of overall transport spending allocated towards walking, cycling, public transport, the electrification of vehicles and measures to reduce the need to travel e.g. ‘shared mobility’ solutions, as well as the role of land-use planning policies.

The 1997 Act would then empower those national authorities to issue guidance to local traffic authorities on the preparation of, and consultation on, reports on local road traffic in their areas. Those local authorities would then be under a duty to issue reports in compliance with their duties under the 1997 Act, and thus to take action in support of the aims of the relevant national traffic reduction guidance, bringing coherence to national and local policy efforts to tackle the full range of impacts listed on the previous page of this briefing.

Amendment on Road traffic reduction

New Clause [N.B. this would be inserted in Part 1 Chapter 1, after clauses 1 and 2]

Environmental targets: road traffic reduction

2A The Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Act 1998 is amended as follows:

For the title of section 1 ("Meaning of ‘road traffic’") substitute "Interpretation".

In section 2 subsection (5)--

Delete "at such times as he deems appropriate" with "at intervals of not more than two years".

2B The Secretary of State shall comply with the requirements of subsections 2(1) and 2(2) of the Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Act as amended by section 2A within 6 months of this Chapter coming into effect.

N.B. An alternative would be simply to amend subclause 1(2) of the Bill as drafted, to include "levels of road traffic" as an additional ‘priority area’ for which the Secretary of State is required to set at least one target. However this would then omit the Road Traffic Reduction Act’s duties for the Secretary of State to take account of wider issues when setting road traffic reduction targets.

March 2020


Prepared 11th March 2020