Greater Manchester's Transport Commissioner takes his vision nationwide - but who will replace him?

Chris Boardman will stand down as Transport Commissioner for Greater Manchester to take on a new role as head of Active Travel England.

The former Olympic champion has promised to prioritise pedestrians and cyclists as interim head of the brand new executive agency, created by the government to carry out its plans to revolutionise travel. 

This will be a legacy we will be proud to leave for our children and for future generations. It’s time to make it a reality – it’s time for a quiet revolution

Active Travel England (ATE) will be headquartered in York from this summer, and preliminary work is already underway. The body will scrutinise individual councils’ plans for active travel, supporting them to enable people to walk or cycle in safety, and repealing funding where plans have not been fully delivered. 

Boardman, who has taken on the role of interim commissioner on a temporary, pro bono basis, has been charged with setting up the organisation and overseeing the administration of a £2 billion budget.

Active Travel England will be responsible for “driving up the standards of cycling and walking infrastructure and managing the national active travel budget, awarding funding for projects that meet the new national standards set out in 2020. It will inspect finished schemes and ask for funds to be returned for any that have not been completed as promised or have not started or finished by the stipulated times.” 

Active Travel England will also begin to inspect, and publish reports on, highway authorities for their performance on active travel, and identify particularly dangerous failings in their highways for cyclists and pedestrians.   

Boardman was originally appointed Cycling and Walking Commissioner for Greater Manchester, creating a 1,800-mile cycling and walking network plan. He then became Transport Commissioner, responsible for the delivery of a fully integrated, London-style transport network. This included ambitious plans for the Greater Manchester city region to become the first in the country to deliver a fully carbon-neutral transport network as well as launching a new bike hire scheme

The New Manchester Bee Network Travel Options Which Were Paraded Outside Of The Tory Conference In Manchester
The Bee Network gang all back together for one more job Image: Confidentials

Boardman's legacy

Commenting on his new role, Chris Boardman said: “The positive effects of high levels of cycling and walking are clearly visible in pockets around the country where people have been given easy and safe alternatives to driving. Perhaps most important of all, though, it makes for better places to live while helping both the NHS and our mission to decarbonise. 

“The time has come to build on those pockets of best practice and enable the whole nation to travel easily and safely around their neighbourhoods without feeling compelled to rely on cars. I’m honoured to be asked to lead on this and help deliver the ambitious vision laid out in the government’s Gear Change strategy and other local transport policies. 

“This will be a legacy we will be proud to leave for our children and for future generations. It’s time to make it a reality – it’s time for a quiet revolution." 

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said: “Whilst I am obviously sad to lose Chris as our Transport Commissioner, I am absolutely thrilled that he now has an opportunity to do what he has done for Greater Manchester on a national scale. We didn’t want him to go and, given that we are in the January transfer window, I look forward to agreeing the transfer fee with the Transport Secretary!

“Over the last four years, Chris has spearheaded our ambitious plans to build the UK’s largest cycling and walking network. His forensic attention to detail and his can-do attitude has put Greater Manchester in a strong position as we move towards the delivery of the Bee Network - a fully-integrated, London-style public transport network. Chris has done a brilliant job for Greater Manchester and I’d like to thank him on behalf of everyone here. His influence will be felt here for decades to come. I am sure he will be equally successful in his new role and he goes into it with our very best wishes.”

However, while Greater Manchester has been ahead of many city regions with its investment in active travel, many commentators felt there was still much to do, with a lack of joined-up action between the councils that make up GM undermining progress made.

A Manchester Bee Network Bike Which Will Form Part Of The Carbon Neutral Vision For Greater Manchester Transport
The Bee Network bikes were launched by Chris Boardman and Andy Burnham last year Image: Confidentials

Pressure group Walk Ride GM said: “WRGM thanks Boardman for his agenda-setting four-year term as first walking and cycling commissioner, and then taking over the whole transport brief, during which time the ambition and vision in GM has been transformed.  

“But we now urge Burnham to seize this opportunity to fix the disconnect between the paper strategies and the reality on the ground, where most of GM’s 10 councils seem to be struggling to implement meaningful change. 

"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.”

Speculation has already begun on who will replace Chris Boardman as Transport Commissioner. Local councillor Eve Holt, who regularly campaigns on active travel issues, has been suggested.

A list of active travel schemes completed or underway is available from the TfGM website.

Read now: Should Greater Manchester's public transport be free?

Read again: The A56 cycling lane: 'a scheme that satisfies no one'

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