Green industrialist and Ecotricity founder Dale Vince has launched a legal battle against the government’s decision to axe policies to boost walking and cycling in England, which, if successful, could see more Low Traffic Neighbourhoods rolled out across the country.

The green campaigner has applied for a judicial review of the withdrawal of the statutory guidance Network Management to Support Active Travel. The guidance was introduced in 2020, under the Traffic Management Act 2004, to help councils 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..

In what Vince has branded a “culture war virtue signal” the guidance was withdrawn by the government in October last year. Instead, it published a ‘Plan for Drivers’, signalling a reduced focus on Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) policies. 

The move saw the whole of the guidance 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.

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, Vince has taken up the legal claim, supported by Green Britain Campaign. He said 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, Vince said 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

Vince is represented by Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith. He 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  of Cornerstone Barristers and Jessica van der Meer of 2Temple Gardens.

Vince is a major shareholder and chairman of Forest Green Rovers and was appointed UN Ambassador for Climate Change in 2019.