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Dale Vince launches legal challenge to government axe of active travel policy guidance

Dale Vince has launched a legal battle against the government’s decision to axe policies to boost walking and cycling in England.

Posted on 10 January 2024

The green campaigner and founder of Ecotricity has applied for a judicial review of the withdrawal of statutory guidance ‘Network Management to Support Active Travel’.

The formal guidance to councils was introduced in 2020, under the Traffic Management Act 2004, to protect health and cut pollution during the Covid 19 pandemic. It was updated in 2022 to build on and embed increases in walking and cycling to meet climate and air quality targets.

It was brought in alongside the government’s ‘Gear Change’ document, which laid out a plan to deliver a lasting increase in cycling and walking in England.

Throughout 2021 and 2022, the guidance was updated to further embed permanent responsibility to support active travel, helping to interlock several statutory obligations including active travel, addressing the climate impact of transport and improving air quality.

In what Dale Vince has branded a “culture war virtue signal” the guidance was withdrawn late last year (2 October 2023). Instead, the Government published a ‘Plan for Drivers’, signalling a reduced focus on Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) policies. The whole of the guidance was scrapped, despite there only being one bullet point making reference to LTNs, with the majority of the guidance addressing other active travel measures like school streets, cycle lanes and pedestrian zones.

Dale Vince said:

“The Government is waging another crazed culture war, this time against safer, healthier streets. Walking and cycling are a cost-effective way of reducing air pollution and the health impact that has, it also helps tackle the climate crisis so why cut it? This just doesn’t make any sense, other than as another culture war virtue signal.

“The Conservatives are repeating the same cynical ploy they used to effectively ban onshore windmills. This time they have people’s health and our air quality in their sights. So that’s why the Green Britain Campaign is throwing its weight behind this judicial review, we’ll fight this all the way.”

Represented by law firm Leigh Day, Transport Action Network initially threatened the judicial review challenge to the withdrawal of the statutory guidance with a pre-action protocol letter to the Secretary of State for Transport.

Now, Mr Vince has taken up the legal claim, supported by Green Britain Campaign.

Mr Vince says the decision ‘goes against everything I believe in’ and undermines the fight against Climate Change. His legal team will argue that it is clear from multiple contemporaneous documents that the main reason for axing the Statutory Guidance was to address LTNs and influence local authority schemes by proxy, neither of which were legitimate purposes under the Traffic Management Act 2004 duty. 

As a result, its withdrawal has left local authorities with no guidance to help them meet the objectives that still stand in Gear Change, the Cycling Walking Investment Strategy 2 and the Transport Decarbonisation Plan. 

Citing his work on clean air, Mr Vince says the government still has no clear plan on how it will meet existing 2030 ceiling limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) annual mean concentrations, nor 2028 targets for particulates. 

His grounds for judicial review are: 

  • The decision to axe the guidance frustrated the statutory purpose to secure the efficient movement of traffic 
  • There was another illegitimate reason for axing the guidance
  • The decision to withdraw the guidance pre-empted a review into LTNs
  • The decision was irrational 
  • There was no public consultation before the decision to withdraw the statutory guidance was taken

Mr Vince is represented by Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith, who said: 

“All modes of transport that use the road network, including walking and cycling, should be protected under the legislation, yet this decision – so our client argues – goes against that statutory purpose. Our client is a strong advocate for improved air quality, but the withdrawal of the guidance, and the support for cleaner modes of travel that previously brought, risks undermining statutory air quality targets and carbon budgets. We hope the Court agrees that these issues warrant full scrutiny at a hearing.”Leigh Day has instructed Estelle Dehon KC (Cornerstone Barristers) and Jessica van der Meer (2 Temple Gardens).

Rowan Smith
Climate change Environment Human rights Judicial review Planning Wildlife

Rowan Smith

Rowan Smith is a senior associate solicitor in the human rights department.

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