An Audience with Active Travel England 

On the evening of 20th November, Simon and I attended the monthly meeting of the Nottingham cycle campaign group, Pedals. The organisers had laid on a speaker in the form of Adrian Hill, the regional manager for the East Midlands for Active Travel England (ATE). 

Adrian’s background is in transportation including working in buses in both the regulated and deregulated sectors across the country. He has worked for Nottingham City Council during the era when the workplace parking levy was introduced, and more recently in NHS transport management and logistics. Based predominantly in Nottingham, Adrian is now working as a civil servant for ATE. 

In no particular order (other than the order in which I could recall what was discussed) the following is a brief overview of what we learnt about ATE and their work in the East Midlands region.

Planning 

One of ATE’s roles is (as of June 2023) a statutory consultee on major planning applications that include 150 dwellings or more, building(s) of 7,500m2 internal floor space or more and sites where the overall development area is 5ha or more. 

Housing developments are in the planning system for a long time before foundations are even laid, so it will be slow to see positive change for active travel provision. But Adrian is seeing features such as permeability and high-connectivity active travel infrastructure being introduced with a recent masterplan for 1000s of homes in the south/southeast side Nottingham. One developer has employed Phil Jones Associates (who were one of the lead authors of LTN 1/20 Cycle Infrastructure Design) to produce their access strategy – and one doesn’t employ such an organisation if they’re not serious about including active travel measures in their development.

He said that developers are approaching him for exemplar housing developments in the UK that would provide a template for new proposals.

Capability Ratings  

Each local transport authority is tasked with self assessing their capabilities for active travel planning and delivery. There are two councils on his patch with scores of 3 (scores can range from 0 to 4), Nottingham and Leicester. Derby scored 1 as reported DCG reported here. He hinted that a measure of ATE’s success would be to see councils’ scores increase. 

2022 scoring with the yellow islands of Nottingham and Leicester

When asked how ATE could “nudge” seemingly unwilling councils to have more ambitious active travel plans, he said that councils would be driven by the desire to improve their scores and he strongly believed that no council had zero desire to implement active travel schemes. 

Whether that is a real driver for change is yet to be realised, but Adrian was seeing positive signs in the year ATE has been operating. 

Neutrality 

When asked what advice ATE could give campaigners his response was that it was not their role to be advising groups. As a civil servant he is staunchly neutral but said that ATE would not act as an arbiter between, say, campaign groups and local authorities. 

He acknowledged that councils have to balance the needs and wants of drivers and bus users, not just cyclists and pedestrians. He said it wasn’t up to a central government agency to determine what active travel measures local councils should adopt on their patch. It’s down to councils and the elected representatives to promote and roll out such schemes. Implementing bold schemes still need strong political will and it wasn’t for ATE to push councils into rolling out designs that fulfil every aspect of LTN 1/20 guidance, as many cycle campaigners would wish. 

Government Policy 

Adrian was quizzed about the Prime Minister’s and Transport Secretary’s remarks regarding the cutting of funding for Low Traffic Neighbourhoods but was adamant that government policy had not changed and remains in line with Gear Change.

Away from the headline-grabbing quotes of being “pro car”, active travel was still very much part of the conversation with the Transport Secretary.

Friend or Foe?

I came out of the meeting much better informed of what ATE are about but I felt a little deflated about how the organisation could benefit active travel campaign groups.

Their position as a statutory consultee on planning is welcome, but where funding sources are not from the DfT’s Active Travel Fund (as is the case with the Transforming Cities Funding shared between Nottingham and Derby) then ATE has little influence on the quality of the proposed cycling and walking schemes. Campaign groups such as ours can’t call on ATE to hold local authorities account on poor quality cycling schemes.

East Mids. Devolution Deal

In the meeting, the upcoming regional mayoral elections were discussed which will bring together the local authorities of Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire with responsibility for creating an area-wide combined authority.

From an active travel perspective, the Mayoral Combined County Authority (MCCA) will be responsible for preparation of Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan and the East Midlands MCCA will work with Active Travel England on any future walking and cycling schemes to ensure schemes are delivered to high standards, including compliance with LTN 1/20.

Opportunities to form an East Midlands Active Travel forum could lead to cycling, walking and wheeling campaign groups to work together to form coherent cross-border active travel provision where good ideas are shared.

Pedals

We’re grateful to Pedals for letting us attend their group meeting at short notice – Check them out and see what they’re doing for cycling provision in Nottingham.

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