Active travel group calls for major reforms on transport as Chris Boardman leaves Greater Manchester role

Walk Ride GM says Mr Boardman needs to be replaced urgently as key projects on getting people travelling on foot or on two wheels are well off track

An active travel group says Chris Boardman’s departure from his Greater Manchester role as walking and cycling commissioner needs to be a spur for major reforms to transport policy in the city-region.

Olympic gold medallist Mr Boardman departed his local post to become interim commissioner of the Government’s new walking and cycling body Active Travel England.

Walk Ride GM thanked Mr Boardman for everything he had done in four years in Greater Manchester and acknowledged the ambition and vision for transport in the area had been transformed.

But the group warned Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham that he has to act urgently to ensure the walking and cycling parts of key projects such as developing the Bee Network are a success.

Transport bosses have defended the city-region’s record on the issue, outlining the steps that have been made and saying the city-region is committed to making active travel the most popular choice for commuting, doing the school run and going to the shops.

Why has Chris Boardman left his role in Greater Manchester?

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Mr Boardman was a high-profile addition to the Greater Manchester decision-making teams, working first as walking and cycling commissioner and then taking on a more wide-ranging transport brief.

However, he is now leaving to helm the Government’s new active travel body which is intended to drive up standards of cycling and walking infrastructure across the country and award funding to projects that improve both health and air quality.

Chris Boardman with Andy Burnham Credit: TFGM

Mr Boardman said it was time to take the pockets of best practice that exist around England and enable the benefits of them to be shared widely.

Mr Burnham said he was sad to see Mr Boardman depart but was thrilled that he will be bringing his skills to a national role.

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What are Walk Ride GM’s views on Mr Boardman’s departure?

Walk Ride GM said Mr Boardman’s work has been “agenda-setting” but warned there is now a need for mayor Andy Burnham to get a grip on walking and cycling policy across the city-region.

The group says there is a disconnection between the strategies for projects like ambitious walking and cycling infrastructure scheme the Bee Network and what is happening on the ground.

It said the scheme, which is supposed to deliver 1,800 miles of walking and cycling routes by 2028, is “considerably off track” and pointed out that only £70m of the £160m in the Mayor’s Challenge Fund has been spent.

A Bee Network bus and two bicycles. Photo: TfGM

Walk Ride GM acknowledged there had been progress in 2021 but overall said councils were not doing enough on the Bee Network and Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) is struggling to bring about change.

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It called on Mr Burnham to appoint a new Transport Commissioner with sufficient seniority and experience to tackle the problems urgently.

It also said decision-making and funding arrangements need reform, suggesting Mr Burnham could make himself chair of the TfGM board and his Transport Commissioner a chief officer and new relationships with councils were needed to ensure local authorities supporting walking and cycling while supporting cultural change inside town halls.

Walk Ride GM says the new commissioner must work on areas such as road safety, the enforcement of motoring-related offences and take up the powers which would drive through regional transport plans if there is continued resistance at council level.

What did Walk Ride GM say?

A Walk Ride GM spokesperson said: “Mr Burnham needs to make it clear that we cannot build a viable, coherent Bee Network that delivers on leaders’ transport promises on cleaner air and safer streets, without reallocating road space and increasing enforcement – and that means taking space away from vehicles and slowing them down, in order to make safe walking and cycling routes.

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“2021 was meant to be the ‘year of delivery’ – with 100km of the Bee Network promised. But instead it’s become the year of delay as schemes have not come through on time or in line with the Bee Network design standards.

“In London, the mayor chairs the Transport for London board, and his walking and cycling commissioner is one of the 10 chief officers – in Greater Manchester Andy Burnham seems happy to make promises and sit back at arm’s length, leaving it to sweet talk and chance whether any of it is actually implemented.

“Manchester is the region’s economic hub and aims to be a world-class city in part by attracting and better serving young people – who increasingly want clean, green places to live and work where walking and cycling are the easiest way to get around.

‘But it’s being left behind by cities such as Barcelona and Paris – and now even closer to home by cities such as Birmingham – who are creating safer streets for people, and reducing the dominance of cars.

‘’The City Centre Transport strategy sets out a vision for Manchester to be a walking city which we fully support – but not until 2040 which is way too far off.

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“And while there has been a bit of good work in the Northern Quarter, and some temporary measures on a tiny stretch of Deansgate, other than that we see very little to improve the life of pedestrians or those in wheelchairs or with buggies, and lots of new things that make it worse.

‘’We believe there are some good people working hard and there are the odd bright spots –but these are incremental changes set against a picture of continued vehicle dominance in the face of an agreed carbon budget that is also massively off track.”

What has Transport for Greater Manchester said?

Richard Nickson, programme director for cycling and walking at TfGM, said: “Our ambition is to revolutionise travel across GM, making active travel the number one choice for travelling to work, to school and to the shops.

“To achieve this we have put together the most ambitious vision of any UK city region to create a comprehensive, safe, fully joined up cycling and walking network.

“The GM Mayor established the £160m Mayor’s Cycling and Walking Challenge Fund to kick-start the delivery and, since it was established in 2018, we have seen around £110 million worth of cycling and walking schemes approved through the fund.

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“Furthermore, in the last three years we’ve delivered the first parts of the network on the ground, leading the way in creating new solutions for delivering safe cycling infrastructure, including the first fully protected Dutch-style junctions in the UK. We’ve delivered over 88km worth of cycling and walking network in 2021 alone.”

“Alongside the significant investment in cycling and walking infrastructure, GM’s new cycle hire scheme launched to the public in November 2021 with over 180 bikes now available along Oxford Road, at the University of Salford and MediaCityUK.

“The full scheme is due to launch in summer 2022 which will see 1,500 bikes, including 300 e-bikes, become available for hire from stations across Manchester, Salford and Trafford providing thousands of people with access to an affordable, reliable and convenient cycle hire service.

“And this is only the beginning. We have a £1.5 billion vision to create 1,800 miles of routes and crossings connecting every neighbourhood, school, high street and public transport hub in the city-region.”