I beg to move,
That this House welcomes the recommendations of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s report “Get Britain Cycling”; endorses the target of 10 per cent of all journeys being by bike by 2025, and 25 per cent by 2050; and calls on the Government to show strong political leadership, including an annual Cycling Action Plan and sustained funding for cycling.
It is a great pleasure to move this motion. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to schedule a debate on this subject after the success of our very well-attended debate last year in Westminster Hall, which showed just how many Members of this House care about cycling. We discussed all forms of cycling, from sport to commuting, leisure, utility and all-access cycling. It was clear from that debate that Members agreed that cycling was an energy-efficient form of transport, a healthy way to get around, a cheap means of travelling, and fun as well. No one who was there will forget the tale we heard of romance on a tandem.
Since that debate, the all-party parliamentary cycling group, which I have the great pleasure of co-chairing with the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), has conducted a detailed inquiry to make a series of recommendations on what Government ought to do to get Britain cycling, and we are now debating the resulting report. To produce it, we spoke to a wide range of people.
I am not at all surprised that this debate is so well attended. I want to put on record the representations that I have received from at least one constituent who wants us to focus still more on cycling as part of an improved environment. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that improving the road structure, pathways and so on is important not only because individuals want to take part in cycling but because it is a great attraction and opportunity for tourism in the areas we represent?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. I completely agree that there are huge benefits, some of which I will outline. He is absolutely right that tourism can benefit and that environmental concerns can be addressed. There are lots of benefits in getting Britain cycling.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to stress the benefits, but does he accept, as I hope most in the House would, that there are also associated tragedies? One thinks of Mary Bowers, who is still in a coma, and one thinks of the excellent campaign run by The Times, “Cities fit for cycling”. Does he accept that cycling is not only a marvellous, fit and healthy way to travel but should be protected and that cyclists should be safe?
Of course I agree with the hon. Gentleman. There have been a number of tragedies. Part of what we ought to do is to make sure that it is safe for people to cycle. In fact, it is fairly safe at the moment, but the perception is a problem. I agree that there are far too many tragic incidents such as that of Mary Bowers.
Let me make a bit more progress and then I will give way.
We spoke to a wide range of people—not only cycling organisations, which I thank for their assistance throughout the process, but the police, the freight industry, Living Streets, the president of the Automobile Association, and many others. I thank them all, and particularly those parliamentarians from both Houses who served on the panel, many of whom are here today, and Adam Coffman, who co-ordinated the entire process. There were hundreds of suggestions for recommendations, and those and more analysis can be found in the companion report by Professor Phil Goodwin, together with transcripts of the entire session.
Currently, only about 2% of trips are made by bike—a tiny fraction, well below the levels found in many countries. A huge range of short trips that could easily be walked or cycled are driven. That is why we set a long-term ambition to try to increase that from 2% to 10% by 2025 and to 25% by 2050. That is entirely do-able and still below what the Dutch, for example, manage to achieve.
As the hon. Gentleman highlights, very few people cycle, but in my borough of Hackney we have a far higher percentage—more than 10% of people regularly cycle. Does he agree that that is testament to what can be done with forward thinking, good planning and a political will to achieve a change?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comment and for her work on the report. She is absolutely right that there are exemplars. In my constituency of Cambridge, about a third of trips are now made by bike. We are hoping to increase that to 40% with the money that has been given by the Government through the ambition grant. Some places are showing that they can do this, and the rest of the country can as well.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the Government must provide funding, and they have been doing so, but it is also important for local authorities to be doing more. Let me quote what my constituent Adrian Lawson, the chairman of the Reading Cycling Campaign, said about Reading borough council:
“We identified a lot of simple things that would make it immeasurably better for cyclists. This was over a year ago. Not a single thing has happened.”
Does that not show that we also need local councils to implement measures?
Absolutely; local authorities have a crucial role to play.
If more people were to cycle and walk, we would all benefit. We would be healthier, saving huge amounts of money—billions of pounds—for the NHS. There would be less congestion on the roads, making travel times faster and more reliable for those who are in cars. There would be less pressure on city centre parking, helping people to get to the shops and keep the economy going. The economy would grow. Cycling already contributes about £3 billion to the UK economy, but it is not always seen as significant as that. We all win by promoting cycling and walking.
I applaud the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate and the Members who added their name to the motion. Cycling can be promoted not only in Cambridge but in extremely hilly and mountainous areas such as the constituency of Ogmore, with the right investment by the local authority and the voluntary sector in things such as safe routes to school, which link to safe routes to work, which then link to the Afan Argoed mountain bike track.
Ealing has a very strong reputation as a cycling borough. Schools there are playing their part in training young people using travel plans. Eight schools in Ealing have travel plans that are considered outstanding. Does my hon. Friend agree that using travel plans is an imaginative way for schools to train youngsters in cycling?
Travel plans are critical and the hon. Lady is right to highlight the role of schools, because training in schools makes a big difference. The Government have protected Bikeability funding. I received my own Bikeability training during the summer from Outspoken! Cycle Training in Cambridge. I learned quite a lot from that and it would be good to see other people receive it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who I think now has the distinction of being fashionable. I am glad that page 15 of the report refers to the bridge over the railway tracks in Cambridge, which I funded and was delighted to be part of opening. On the issue of risk, does my hon. Friend agree that comparisons of risk per distance travelled are ludicrous when comparing walking, cycling, driving and flying? We ought to have risk per hour exposed, which would give people a far greater sense of the relative safety of cycling.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and I thank him for his support for Cambridge cycling. Statistics can say all sorts of things. The most dangerous form of travel per trip is a space shuttle, and the safest per passenger mile is also the space shuttle. That shows the extremes.
I am going to make some progress, because a lot of Members wish to speak in this debate.
Our report makes 18 recommendations on five key themes. The first is for sustained investment in cycling in order to improve the infrastructure. The European standard is for funds to the order of £10 per person per year, hopefully rising to £20 per person per year. That is the sort of level the Dutch have sustained and that is what we need to make the difference. It will not happen overnight, but the benefits will substantially outweigh the costs according to almost every single study.
Many of the improvements that would benefit cyclists, such as improvements to road quality, segregated cycle tracks and junction changes, would also benefit pedestrians and other road users. No conflict is necessary in improving the infrastructure.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. I want to draw the House’s attention to the death in my constituency in July of Philippine De Gerin-Ricard, a 20-year-old student who was tragically killed while cycling. In the previous year, two others were killed on the ring road. I fully support the hon. Gentleman’s point about the need for investment to make roads safer, for drivers as well as cyclists. What can be done to reduce the number of minor and major injuries, which have increased by 29% in the past year—a dramatic increase since the period between 2005 and 2009?
No. I want to make progress; otherwise I am afraid others will not have the chance to speak.
We have to make sure that other local and national bodies, such as local authorities and the Highways Agency, allocate proportionate funds to cycling, so that major road schemes such as the A14 in my constituency include appropriate cycle facilities along or across them. Other Departments should also get involved: there are benefits to health, education, sport and business. They should step out of their silos and get involved.
We need to make our roads and cities fit for cyclists. Planners need to give consideration to cyclists and pedestrians right at the start of all developments, whatever they are. We also need new design guidance to provide a modern standard, not merely paint on a pavement, which annoys cyclists and pedestrians alike. Local authorities can get on with the small schemes, as can the Highways Agency, which has agreed to our call for a programme to reduce the barriers its roads can cause to cycling.
No. I am not going to give way for a bit longer.
Road travel is never perfectly safe and there is a lot we can do to make it safer. Infrastructure is key, but we can do other things, too. For example, 20 mph zones, which this Government support, are clearly beneficial, not only for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, but for the perceptions of safety for people who want to cycle or take their children cycling. Some rural lanes could be appropriate for a 40 mph speed limit.
Hon. Members have talked about the number of tragic deaths. Sadly, too many of them have involved cyclists and HGVs. Steps have been taken by the Mineral Products Association, Cemex and others, but we need to push further for better vehicle design and better controls, and encourage HGVs not to use busy roads at peak times. Crossrail has led the way on much of that.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I am sorry, but I want to make some more progress.
Road traffic laws are broken too often and they should be enforced for all road users. When a serious driving offence takes place, especially if it results in death or injury, it must be treated seriously by police, prosecutors and judges. Far too often the sentences proposed are, frankly, trivial.
We also need to encourage people to ride positively. Cycling should be seen as a safe and normal activity for people of all ages and backgrounds, as is the case in the Netherlands.
I want to make more progress, but I will give way later.
Education will help. Bikeability should be available at all schools, and adults should also have the chance to learn to ride. We also need political leadership, and it is good to see the Transport Secretary enter the Chamber at this point. We need not just nice words from senior politicians—although I am pleased that the Prime Minister wanted personally to announce the recent substantial extra funding—but sustained support, including a cross-departmental action plan, with annual progress reports, a national cycling champion, a clear ambition to increase cycling and for Government at all levels to have a lead politician responsible for cycling.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on securing this debate. He will know of my long-term interest, as chairman of the parliamentary advisory council for transport safety, in safety on the roads. Is he worried that at least a third of youngsters who get on a bike do not have any Bikeability training?
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about HGVs. What are we going to do about those whose steering wheels are on the other side of the vehicle, who have terrible blind spots and who cause many terrible accidents?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and for the support that PACTS, along with many other organisations, has given to our report. I think that more training should be made available. It should not be compulsory, but we want to encourage people to feel comfortable. There is a lot more we can do to deal with HGVs.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I have cycled in the UK and in Holland. Does my hon. Friend share my concern about meaningless bits of paint on pavements and trees in the middle of cycle routes, and does he agree that what we really need are segregated cycle paths?
We all benefit from improving the take-up of cycling. To quote the president of the Automobile Association, Edmund King:
“Implementation of the Get Britain Cycling recommendations would bring tangible business and economic benefits by reducing congestion, absenteeism, NHS costs and by producing a more creative and active workforce.”
There speaks the voice of the automobile, and I entirely agree with him.
Despite these benefits, Governments for decades have not sufficiently supported cycling. There has been massive investment in road infrastructure, but little for cycling; cyclists have often had small-scale provision, if any. Individual Ministers have tried, but they have not always received the support they need. I pay great tribute in particular to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), who I believe is the longest ever serving Minister with responsibility for cycling. However, he is not able to deliver as much as he or I would like. He has done things such as announce extra money over the summer for the local sustainable transport fund, but we need more and it needs to be sustained.
Many Ministers face a culture that points the other way—that focuses on car drivers only, to the detriment of others and without realising that fewer cyclists will result in more cars on the roads. I hope that one of the outcomes of our report and this debate will be to provide support for Ministers of all parties who want to make that difference—to turn welcome comments, such as those made by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, into reality.
On 12 August the Prime Minister said that cycling will be at the heart of future road developments. I hope we can make sure, through the impetus of this debate, the “Cities fit for cycling” campaign run by The Times, the excitement of the Olympics and the double Tour de France victory, that that will become a reality.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate to take place. I also thank everybody who took part in the three-month inquiry and British Cycling, the CTC, Sustrans and the other organisations that helped us run it. I thank in particular Chris Boardman MBE—an Olympic gold medallist, world champion, great man and fantastic campaigner for cycling—for everything he does to promote cycling in Britain and for supporting our inquiry. Phil Goodwin and Adam Coffman pulled the report together and organised the inquiry.
I thank News International for sponsoring the inquiry. Its involvement came about as a result of The Times’ brilliant campaign for cycling, which has been a breakthrough for cycling. I pay tribute to the current editor, John Witherow, and his predecessor, James Harding, and to Kaya Burgess, Phil Pank and Phil Webster, who have worked so hard on this campaign. It is brilliant campaigning journalism at its best.
That campaign, as we heard a moment ago, was triggered by the tragic incident in 2011 that injured their colleague, Mary Bowers, so badly that she has still not regained consciousness. The driver who hit her was getting directions over the phone at the time. Mary was in his direct line of sight for at least 10 seconds, but he failed to spot her. He was found guilty of careless driving, fined £2,700 and banned from driving for just eight months. I therefore welcome the review by the Ministry of Justice of the all too often derisory sentences that are handed down to drivers when cyclists are killed or injured. We also need a comprehensive review of the justice system, from beginning to end, to ensure that the police enforce the law properly and that the Crown Prosecution Service prosecutes people on stronger charges.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Our report recommended 20 mph speed limits in urban areas—for which The Times has been campaigning. I pay tribute to the contribution that she made to the inquiry. It would not have been such a success and the report would not have been written in the way that it was if she had not done so much work.
My hon. Friend is completely right. He did a lot of work on this matter when he was the leader of Coventry city council, before he became a Member of Parliament.
I do not want to criticise the Minister for cycling. He is a good man, he fights hard for cycling and he is a keen cyclist himself. However, the Government’s response to our inquiry was disappointing to say the least. The Government have promised that
“cycling will be at the heart of future road development”
and their response stated:
“The Government is committed to turning Britain into a cycling nation to rival our European neighbours.”
If the Minister answers one question in this debate, I want him to tell us how those two promises can be taken seriously when the Netherlands spends £25 per head on cycling while the UK spends just £2 per head, and when the highways budget in the UK is £15 billion, but the funds announced for cycling are just £159 million, with no dedicated funding stream that allows local authorities to plan for more than two years.
Our report makes a series of recommendations to boost cycling from less than 2% of journeys in 2011 to 25% by 2050. I ask the Minister why his Department’s response did not commit the Government to that target. We also want a national cycling champion to lead a drive for 10% of all journeys in Britain to be made by bike by 2025. As I said, the Minister fights hard for cycling and has done a good job of putting it on the agenda to the extent that it is. Although I do not want to criticise him personally, I point to the fact that he is a junior Minister from the junior party in the coalition, so it will always be difficult for him. We need someone with Cabinet-level clout to get different Departments working together.
Okay. I also want to ask the Minister why the Government have not agreed to the appointment of a cycling champion.
Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) cannot be here because two members of his family have health issues. He wanted to call for a more comprehensive cycling strategy. He welcomes the £835,000 grant to improve the cycling safety of the Plain in Oxford, but wanted to point out that that is a tiny fraction of the money that is needed to bring Oxford’s cycle network up to an entirely safe standard.
We think that more of the transport budget should be spent on supporting cycling, with an initial rate of at least £10 per person per year. That would increase as the level of cycling went up. I welcome the recent announcement by the shadow Secretary of State for Transport that she would use a proportion of road spending to build long-term cycling infrastructure. Most of the spending that was mentioned in the Government’s response had already been announced. Why will the Minister’s Department not shift resources in that way?
London has spent five times as much on cycling per person as the rest of the UK in the past 10 years. The benefits of that are clear from the huge growth in cycling in the capital.
I will not take any more interventions, because I want to allow everybody else to speak.
Given the benefits of cycling to the economy and the huge savings it could bring to the NHS, there could be huge benefits in the long run. Cyclists are fitter and healthier than the population as a whole and less of a demand on the NHS, so will the Minister say why the Department of Health, which has a budget of £1 billion, last week committed just £1 million to cycling over the next two years? Making cycling safer in local residential streets would also help. That is why our report calls for lower speed limits in urban areas. The campaign by The Times calls for 20 mph to be the default limit in residential areas that do not have cycle lanes.
The Government need to ensure that cycling provision and safety are considered at the outset of all major developments. That is the central point in British Cycling’s road safety manifesto. I am therefore pleased that the shadow Secretary of State is committed to the introduction of new cycle safety assessments for all new transport schemes. Given that local roads and planning are the responsibility of local councils, it is a shame that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has indulged in populist calls for councils to ignore cycling and to do more to help motorists.
I am a cyclist and a motorist. Most of us are both. In fact, cyclists are more likely to own a car than the general population, so let us have no more of the cheap, populist nonsense that tries to set drivers against cyclists. We should all be working together to improve safety on the roads.
Finally, this debate is just the next stage of our campaign to get Britain cycling. We should use the inquiry and today’s debate to drive cycling up the agenda. It is fantastic that so many MPs are here for this debate on the first day back when there is a one-line Whip. Let us make cycling an election issue, with local cyclists getting candidates to sign pledges and with the parties competing to produce the best manifesto for cycling. Let us continue the campaign to get Britain cycling.
I was fortunate to sit on the “Get Britain Cycling” inquiry earlier this year. There was huge interest in what we were doing. When we started the inquiry, we were the best trending name on Twitter. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) for securing this debate and to Adam Coffman, who put so much work into making it a professional, Select Committee-style inquiry.
In the short time available to me, I will focus on three areas: vision and leadership, which for me is where it starts and ends; the design issue; and the summer of cycling in my constituency. I am extremely proud of the report and believe that it stands up really well. Having read it again in writing these remarks, I think that it will age well. We launched the report in April and the Government responded last week. In the light of everything that has happened since we produced the report, I think that is more relevant now than when we launched it.
On leadership, it is no coincidence that one of the first points in the report is the need for
“vision, ambition and strong political leadership”.
As the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) said, we recommend the appointment of a national cycling champion. I share his regret that that recommendation was not accepted in last week’s Government response. It is all too easy to regard such things as somebody else’s responsibility. The Minister need not look further than City hall, where Andrew Gilligan is the Mayor’s cycling champion, for a good example of how a cycling champion can work.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Does he agree that leadership at a local level is important? I have seen the difference in my borough as the political leaders have started to take this issue much more seriously and to engage much more vigorously with local cycling campaigners. That really makes a difference.
It is funny that my hon. Friend should say that, because my next line states that our report says that every local authority should appoint a lead politician who is responsible for cycling. I want the report to give birth to mini Borises across the country. Bearing in mind that we did not launch the report until April, that is quite a short gestation period.
I find it bizarre that we even needed to say that each local authority should have a lead politician. Winchester had a cycling champion long before the report was produced. This must not be about just giving somebody a new line on their letterhead. The cycling champion must be a councillor who is at the heart of the administration, as they should be at the national level. They must have the necessary political clout and authority to drive things through with their colleagues at cabinet level and with the key officers and the chief executive.
The cycling action plan should not be marked as being in the cycling folder; it should be part of the council’s health, tourism and economic strategy, and an integral part of the council’s strategy should be to make it work. How many MPs in the House have sent a copy of the report, or an e-mail with the link, to their chief executive or leader of their local council? How many know who the cycling champion is for their area and—more importantly—what they do?
I am not trying to be the lead councillor for cycling in my constituency—if I wanted to be a councillor, I could have a far easier life. [Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] I notice the double-hatters looking at me—how to win friends and influence councillors. I am trying to push the issue up the agenda locally, working with the marvellous councillors I have in my constituency. I hope soon to sit down with councillors from Winchester and Hampshire county council, and start putting some lines on maps.
I think my hon. Friend is genuine in his praise for councillors such as the lead member in Swindon, Councillor Keith Williams, who is a triathlete and passionate cyclist. Does my hon. Friend agree that with local leadership such as that which I have described we will improve cycling facilities in towns such as Swindon? Department for Transport funding for improved links between west Swindon and the town centre is an example of how cyclists will find things safer in the long term.
Yes, I agree. What I said about putting lines on maps is an expression I borrowed from Andrew Gilligan, who came to see the all-party cycling group on the eve of launching the Mayor’s cycling strategy for London. One thing he took us through was that putting lines on maps is not easy; land belongs to Transport for London or to the boroughs, and somebody had to try and pull that together. It was the leadership of the Mayor and of Andy—
I will not because time is tight and I know other hon. Members want to get in. The way in which Crossrail for cyclists was chiselled out is impressive and a blueprint of what people should be doing—I know what is being done in Swindon.
In my constituency we have made significant progress, for example with national cycle network route 23. However, somebody needs to grab the bull by the horns—or perhaps grab the highlighter pen—and sit down and put those lines on the maps. Then the leadership can really shine through. Will that happen? Well, ultimately it requires the leader of the council to do that. Councillor Keith Wood, who leads the majority council in my constituency, is interested in cycling and keen on cycling, but, as he knows, I want to see passion and more leadership from him on that issue.
On design and planning, I am a passionate believer in segregated cycle routes, especially on main busy roads. I have seen them in other parts of the continent and they have to make sense, particularly if we are hopeful of getting children to stay cycling, especially after they have got their driving licence. As those who have read it will know, the report recommends a statutory requirement that cyclists’ needs are considered at an early stage of all new development schemes, and I welcome the new national planning policy framework introduced in 2011. It sets out clearly that including facilities for cycling and walking should be part of delivering sustainable development, but as we know, too often at present those things are not included, which in my book is a wasted opportunity. What is set out in the NPF needs to catch up quickly and become the norm.
I will not if the hon. Lady does not mind.
I have one opportunity in my constituency right now where the developer, CALA Homes, has permission for 2,000 houses on the highly controversial—to put it mildly—Barton farm site. The developer was an early recipient of a copy of this report, and my challenge today is this: “Make us proud of your development at Barton farm. Put cycling at the heart of your development, not just in new cycle routes into and through the area, but by linking up with existing cycle connections. You will make a lot of people very pleased with you, after gathering planning permission in the way you did.”
The report also states that local authorities should seek to deliver cycle-friendly improvements across existing roads, including small improvements and segregated routes. Of course they should. I am not a dyed-in-the-lycra person on this—imagine! I am realistic: Winchester’s ancient Saxon streets will not suddenly all have segregated cycle routes, but there are great opportunities in my constituency to do that.
Finally, the Highways Agency should draw up a programme to remove the barriers to cycling. Junction 9 of the M3, which the Minister knows, has received significant Government funding for pinch-point improvements that will be done later this year. We are increasing two lanes to three and bringing traffic closer to cyclists, which seems a missed opportunity. Therefore, my other challenge to the Minister and the Highways Agency is to see whether we can look again at junction 9 of the M3 on the edge of my constituency and come up with something that is a compromise for cyclists and for drivers.
In conclusion, the report is about getting Britain cycling and much good stuff is taking place in my constituency and across the country. The VC Venta cycling club in Winchester has seen its membership rise by 300% since the Olympics, and the Winchester CycleFest this summer, which culminated in the Criterium high-speed cycle race through Winchester on 11 August, was fantastic. “Get Britain Cycling”—yes, we are doing it, but we must scale it up and this report is part of the blueprint for how we do that.
In 2006, four members of the Rhyl cycling club in my constituency were killed in the worst ever cycling accident in British history. They were Tom Harland, aged 14, Maurice Broadbent, aged 61, Dave Horrocks, aged 55, and Wayne Wilkes, aged 42. Two years before that accident young Tom Harland visited the House of Commons and I took him round. His father, John Harland, is a personal friend of mine. The club and families involved were faced with the decision of whether to crumple—both personally and as a club—or whether to thrive. They chose to thrive and I would like to outline some of the successes for cycling in my constituency since 2006, which I think could be replicated around the country.
John Harland got together a group of people, including a chap called Gren Kershaw, who was the ex-head of our local health board, and they had an idea, a vision, for cycling in my constituency, based around Marsh Tracks. In the intervening years, Marsh Tracks has opened, and includes a five-star BMX track with an Olympic starting gate and a £1.2 million floodlit off-road cycleway. It is now being extended with a mountain bike track over a 3 km area. Those are fantastic cycling facilities. The local authority has developed miles and miles of off-road cycleways connecting the towns of Rhyl, Prestatyn, Rhuddlan, St Asaph, Dyserth and Bodelwyddan, and connecting Rhyl college, the local hospital and St Asaph business park—all those key sites are connected off road to the cycleways.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I thank my hon. Friend for his generosity. He is making a powerful speech. Many constituents have asked me to come to this debate to make representations on their behalf, and in particular on behalf of their children. As cyclists, my constituents worry not only for themselves and their safety, but for that of their children, and many of them have asked me to press the Minister on making cycle urban infrastructure development compulsory as part of the legislation on cycling and urban planning. Does my hon. Friend agree?
I think I have lost that minute—[Laughter.] My hon. Friend owes me 15 seconds but I agree with her and will come to the education side of that point in a moment.
We were also successful in getting £4.5 million for a purpose-built cycling bridge over Foryd harbour in my constituency. That will be part of the Sustrans national coastal cycling network around the UK. On 26 September I will meet Network Rail to see whether we can get a disused railway to connect the coastal path to the country paths further inland. They are currently cut across by a railway bridge, and we want to use an adjacent railway bridge to connect the coastal path to the country, so that the coast will be connected to the castles and cathedrals in my constituency.
I recently met Adrian Walls, a cycleways officer from Denbighshire county council, who is developing a mountain bike route in my constituency. He has not finished yet—it will be probably be finished in about six weeks and will be a state-of the-art mountain bike route. However, I do not think that the fantastic facilities I have outlined in my speech are being used sufficiently. The task is getting pupils in our schools and colleges, and workers, to use those facilities—those multi-million pound investments—which I believe are under-utilised in my constituency. How do we make the most of them? I have met council officers and enthusiasts, who have come up with a vision for a centre of cycling excellence in my constituency, which will be tied in to the back-to-work agenda. It will include cycle maintenance, and importing, assembling and selling cycles. That fantastic facility on our doorstep will be used to train local people, including unemployed people from some of the poorest wards in Wales.
Hon. Members have spoken of tying the cycling agenda to the health agenda. Denbighshire has high obesity levels. How do we get general practitioners to write cycling prescriptions? That has been done in other areas, including in London—Brent and Tower Hamlets have done it. People who suffer from diabetes, arthritis and a range of illnesses would benefit tremendously from cycling. If cycling prescriptions are available in Brent and Tower Hamlets—
My hon. Friend is outlining the need for co-operation to achieve an outcome across policy areas, from health and local government to sport and recreation. That will be achieved only if there is a cross-Government message from the top. The message needs to be not only on cycling, but on sport, and on recreational and physical activities across the board.
I am afraid I will not.
People are much more likely to cycle than they are to go to their local baths. The profile of cycling therefore needs to be raised in education, which needs leadership from the top. Departments should talk to Departments, including the Department of Health, the Department for Education and the Department for Transport. We could train young people properly and to cycle safely. One idea we discussed in recent meetings was having a safe area where people can take toddlers as young as two or three years old to teach them how to cycle. In centres such as the one we are developing in Rhyl, we could teach 90-year-olds to regain the confidence to get back on their bikes. We should advocate cradle-to-grave cycling.
A lot has been done in my constituency and a lot more needs to be done. Cycling could transform tourism in many areas. My home town, Rhyl, is a seaside town. The Prime Minister said a few weeks ago that it was neglected—he has visited only once, for 10 minutes, in his whole life. We are having £200 million-worth of investment in my home town, including a £17 million new harbour with a £4.5 million dedicated cycle bridge. The potential of cycling tourism is massive.
The hon. Gentleman is right.
We want cyclists of all abilities and ages, including the people who learned to cycle when they were children but who have lost their confidence. Millions of people will not go back on a bicycle because they have lost that confidence. We have a chance of developing throughout the country facilities such as those in my constituency to give back that confidence.
I reflect on the terrible tragedy we experienced in 2006. It was a bad thing that happened, but good came of it.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) on securing this fantastic debate. He has long been a vocal advocate of cycling, and I pay tribute to his tireless work. I congratulate all members of the all-party group, who have done such a fantastic job. I will not speak for very long—I do not have long, so that is okay and I am sure hon. Members are pleased about that. I shall emphasise the health and economic benefits, which hon. Members have mentioned, and describe my experience of cycling.
I used to cycle a lot when I was less well off and gave up when I could afford a car, but I have cycled into my local town of Eastleigh for shopping and other things. It does not feel that safe. One of my best friends, a physicist by profession, has cycled all over the country. His comments and knowledge are invaluable. The uncertainty principle applies to his cycling, too.
I remember disagreeing with my daughter on whether she should wear a helmet. Helmets are contentious. Some say that wearing a helmet is good and some say it is bad. Whatever one’s views, one must admit that parents, rightly or wrongly, feel their hearts in their mouths when they see their child go out cycling. That is probably one of the constraints on children cycling.
My hon. Friend makes an important point on wearing cycle helmets. Independent studies have shown clearly that wearing cycle helmets saves lives and cuts injuries. Last year, I called on the Department for Transport to issue a definitive and independent report on the benefits and costs of introducing a law requiring children to wear cycle helmets. Would he welcome such a report?
There is a difficulty with wearing cycle helmets. I tried to get my daughter to wear one, and she stopped cycling. I do not know whether I did the right or wrong thing in trying to force her to wear a helmet. I worried a bit less, but she stopped cycling.
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman says his daughter stopped cycling when she was forced to wear a helmet, because that is exactly what happened in Australia. When a law requiring people to wear helmets was introduced there, cycling numbers plummeted. We can make cycling safe by getting more people to do it. The more people cycle, the safer it is. That is how we make cycling safer in Britain.
I am also a father and a brother, so what do you expect?
We are fortunate in the borough of Eastleigh to have more than 44 km—30-odd miles—of dedicated cycling routes. It is difficult to have such routes because of the criss-crossing motorways, railway lines and watercourses. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), my constituency neighbour, has mentioned some of the problems. Part of the Sustrans cycle network 24 is routed directly behind my constituency office in Leigh road—hon. Members will remember that from a certain election. National cycle route 23, which was also mentioned by my hon. Friend, stretches from Reading to the Isle of Wight. National cycle route 2 runs along the coastline all the way to St Austell in Cornwall—my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) has left the Chamber. We are immensely proud to have Dani King, one of our gold medal winners.
With all that, hon. Members might think that cycling in Eastleigh would be on the up. Unfortunately, the number of people cycling to work has continued to stick at around 2%. One would think it would be a lot better, especially when one considers how effective the borough’s environmental and green policies have been under the leadership of Councillor Bloom.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to intervene in this important and popular debate. Does he agree that the link between cyclists and the public transport network is the real issue in getting people to cycle to work, and that we should make it easier to store bikes in places such as railway stations? That would encourage people to link up with public transport.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I have noticed that it is sometimes difficult to get a bicycle on to a train, which is a great shame. Taking a bicycle on a train should be encouraged as much as possible. Perhaps there should be more areas for bicycles on trains and buses, and for locking up bicycles.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
May I keep going?
We need more areas where people can leave their bicycles safely when they go to work.
The report of the all-party group on cycling sets out perfectly why the status quo is maintained. Nearly half of all Britons own or have access to a bike, but we do not use them. Safety is the No. 1 concern. We are still frightened for ourselves and our children, even if not for a rational reason. Extending 20 mph zones, as the report proposes, is therefore extremely important.
As other hon. Members have mentioned, we need to do something about HGVs. We cannot always blame HGVs for not seeing cyclists. We need to ensure better visibility and sensors to minimise the risks to cyclists, and make cyclists realise that they cannot necessarily be seen. That is particularly difficult with children, who do not have the same road sense as grown-ups.
Many of my constituents have told me how dangerous road surfaces are. Trying to swerve around a pothole or street furniture can cause all sorts of problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester mentioned indicative lines that do not tell us anything. When one comes into Winchester—it is outside my constituency, so I apologise—there are some nice pictures of bicycles. One says, “Yes, that’s a lovely picture of a bicycle. What good on earth is that doing?” Segregated bicycle lanes, as has been mentioned, are vital.
I agree entirely that new developments should be cycle-proofed. Cycling should be incorporated into all planning policies. When there is a new development—we are getting one in my constituency—it should be cycle-proofed. I think we would all agree that that will pay for itself. The report states that cycling demonstration towns saw a 27% increase in cycling from 2005 to 2009. The financial benefits were estimated to be nearly £64 million, from a cost of £18 million—a particularly strong piece of evidence. The report also shows that every pound spent on cycling can save the NHS £4—again, economics wins the argument.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s recent announcement to increase funding for cycling, but the lion’s share will go to eight select cities, seven of which already exceed the national average for cycling. In addition, the funding has been earmarked for only two years. The announcement was welcome, but what about the rest of us? My constituents in Eastleigh could do with some dosh. We need a nationwide commitment to increase the per head cycling budget. I think we are looking for £10 per head by 2025 and up to—what is it?—£50. That is vital.
What I have heard today is a remarkable degree of consensus among cycling organisations, cyclists, local authorities and hon. Members about what needs to be done. That is extremely positive. We must ensure that we capitalise on that and that something is done. I fully support the motion and the report’s recommendations, and I thank the group for its hard work.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mike Thornton). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) and the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), the co-chairs of the all-party group, of which I am a member, on the report. It is sponsored by The Times, which I congratulate too. I should declare that The Times is still in Wapping in my constituency, so there is a little bit of self-interest there. Other national newspapers—The Guardian and The Independent—have been trying to catch up and are supporting the campaign. My comments will be made as a Londoner and as a London cyclist, and will not necessarily reflect issues in other parts of the country.
I invited my constituents, through the social media of Twitter, Facebook and the East London Advertiser, to contribute to the debate by raising issues that they thought I might want to mention. I was staggered by the response—more than 50 people e-mailed or tweeted issues that are of importance to them. I am very limited for time and cannot name them all, but I will list some of them. Before doing that, I want to thank the cycle firms in my constituency, in particular Bikeworks, a social entrepreneurial group that does great work and made a running repair to my bike in half an hour last Wednesday morning to get me back on the road, and also Halfords and Evans, which are national organisations that support cycling in Tower Hamlets and in the community.
I will run through the list of issues raised by my constituents: keeping cycle routes clear when there are roadworks and parking problems; cycle superhighways not being up to the necessary standard—my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) raised the incident of the Aldgate East fatality—with just a coat of paint on a road and nothing more; and lower speed limits, an issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North. Cycle training and education in schools was mentioned by several hon. Members. That is critical. I am doing an Industry and Parliament Trust Fellowship on logistics. I spent some time with TNT, which trains its postal delivery people to ride bikes. When they have down time, they partner local schools to train the kids there. If TNT can do it, the question to the Minister is this: is Royal Mail doing it? There must be other companies out there that could contribute, too.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the extra time he has given me; I knew that somebody would respond positively on behalf of Royal Mail.
Questions have been raised about HGVs and the fear factor, a road deaths investigation board and improved statistics on serious injuries and fatalities. The Home Office and the Department for Transport have always resisted a fatalities inquiry board for road traffic fatalities because there are just too many of them, but we have to raise the bar and look more seriously at investigating more thoroughly the fatalities on our roads.
Other issues raised include: congestion charging and road closures to force traffic to surrender more space to cyclists; advanced stop areas; earlier green lights for cyclists; blitz enforcement of transgressors—whether car drivers or cyclists—in advance areas; cycle storage; and mandatory helmets. I know that many people are opposed to making helmets mandatory. I am in favour, but it is not going to happen. The evidence against it coming from Australia and America is somewhat time-limited. If we get our kids using helmets in schools, they will graduate into wearing them.
No one who is favour of cycling should be against encouraging people to wear helmets, but will my hon. Friend accept that the overwhelming evidence—not just in Australia, but from all over the world—is that where cycle helmets have been made compulsory the impact on cycling has been negative, and therefore the overall public health impact has been negative?
I hear what my right hon. Friend says and there is a cultural question here. I am sure we all watched the 100th Tour de France this year. All the way down the decades of historic footage, none of the cyclists was wearing helmets. Every Tour de France rider now wears a helmet. That is professional leadership. They are in the game of minimising and mitigating risk, and they give a lead to all cyclists.
If I have time at the end I will certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I want to get through the points raised by my constituents.
The last two negatives raised related to fatalities and punishment to fit the crime. We all hear tragic stories from constituents about punishments that do not fit the crime. On the conversion of wider pavements, Boris Johnson certainly has done that in London, particularly on the Embankment.
What I find fascinating is the counter-culture that comes through from my cyclist constituents. They complained about bad cycling behaviour and said that the cycle demographic in our country is mainly young, white, aggressive and male. That is why we do not “go Dutch” and why many people are put off cycling: they see a race track and do not want to join it. We need to address that problem, and the only way we are going to do so is through enforcement against those who cross red lights and pedestrian crossings.
People complained about cyclists who disregard the rules by wearing earphones; running red lights; crashing pedestrian crossings; not signalling whether they are turning left or right; not warning when they are overtaking; riding on pavements; using mobile phones; speeding on the Thames path; not ringing to alert pedestrians or other cyclists that they are overtaking on tow paths; swearing at pedestrians—some cyclists, like some drivers, think that they are entitled to a free run at the road; not dismounting in foot tunnels; not having lights; not having bells; and not wearing high-visibility clothing. Cyclists are not perfect. We have to give a lead to cyclists to say, “We should show a better example in the way we behave, to ensure that drivers behave in the way we want them to.”
In conclusion, my wife Sheila and I visited Amsterdam and Copenhagen recently. There is less racing, more sensible cycling and a much wider demographic; there is a different culture. We must have that more varied cycling demographic in our country. My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State recently asked two questions of the Government. First, why do we have annual road and rail budgets to 2021, but not one for cycling? Secondly, why do we not have cycle safety assessments, similar to economic and equality impact assessments, for all road schemes?
My final question is about something that is raised in the report—I am not quite clear about the Government’s response—which said that we should have champions.
I am grateful for that intervention. That discussion needs to be had, and I am happy to ensure that we are raising it tonight.
My final question to the Minister is this. The report says that we should have national, regional and city champions. It is not clear from the Government’s response whether he is the national champion or not. If he is not, he should be. When will he recruit his regional and city-wide teams?
First, the good news: if people start cycling in middle age, they will have a fitness level that makes them effectively 10 years younger. Hon. Members should think what that would achieve for everybody in the Chamber. Not only that, but the life expectancy of those people will increase by two years, so the benefits-to-risk ratio is around 20:1. Therefore, whatever else happens in this debate and our discussions about reducing the risks and improving the safety of cyclists, let us not forget the benefit and the joy of cycling, and persuade as many people as possible to get cycling.
If we are to get Britain cycling, we have to consider the persuasive arguments and the benefits. For instance, problems with obesity are currently costing the NHS around £5 billion a year. Even if cycling does not necessarily make people skinny—I am speaking from personal experience—it is better to be fit and a little bit flabby than not fit and a little bit flabby. However, this is not just about the physical health benefits; it is also about mental health benefits and the effects that have been shown on brain ageing among people who manage to keep fit. The health economic assessment tool, or HEAT, which is adopted by the World Health Organisation, shows a £4 benefit for every £1 spent. Will the Minister say in his response whether such an assessment has been made for, say, High Speed 2? I cannot help thinking that we would leave a far happier, more lasting and healthier legacy for Britain if we spent just a fraction of what we are spending on HS2 on this issue—or possibly even on both.
I am listening carefully to what my hon. Friend is saying. What she said about the miracle improvements to one’s health is fascinating. A lot of money will be spent in the conurbations and in London, but does she agree that it is important that rural areas are not neglected in the great drive to get more people cycling? Does she also agree that cyclists are obviously at a big disadvantage on small rural lanes? We need more rural speed limits and more investment in safer highways in rural areas.
I thank my hon. Friend. Rural speed limits are important. In fact, the introduction of networks of 40 mph speed limits on rural roads had a great benefit in Holland. There is a lot of evidence to support their use, but this is about money. I welcome the £10 a head in the eight cities that will benefit and the spending in, for example, the Dartmoor national park in my part of the world, but that is not what the report called for. Our report called for £10 a head nationally and for us to think of the benefits—a real, lasting legacy—that that could achieve.
However, this is also about speed, as my hon. Friend pointed out. Let us look at the benefits we would see if we had 20 mph speed limits in urban areas. Too often, highways departments look at accident data before making decisions about speed limits. However, we all know that parents will not let their children cycle in the first place if they do not feel they are safe, and the perception of safety is strongly linked to the speed at which the traffic is travelling. We should look at speed limits across the board. I recently visited Falcon Park in Torbay, which is a park home development with many elderly residents who cannot walk down the road, let alone cross it, because of high-speed traffic. In any other residential area, the speed limit would have been reduced to 30 mph.
This is not only about 20 mph limits in towns and cities on a network of roads; it is about reducing speed across the board and assessing our priorities. Whom do we prioritise? Are we prioritising vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists, or are we prioritising the motorist and speed? We need to change our priorities completely to achieve that. It does not take a great deal of money to reduce speed limits—everyone recognises that there is a financial imperative—but the issue is not just reducing the speed limit, but enforcing it. We heard shocking evidence in our inquiry about a level of complacency towards enforcement. What discussions have taken place across Departments to ensure that welcome changes in the issuing of fixed penalty notices for careless driving will be extended to penalising people who breach speed limits directly? It is immediate consequences that will drive change.
I am sure that, like me, my hon. Friend is delighted to see the Government Chief Whip in his place. He must be the grandfather of parliamentary cycling. On enforcement, does she agree that although motorists should absolutely do the right thing and obey the rules, it is also incumbent on cyclists to obey rules, and that a small minority of cyclists give most cyclists a bad name on occasion by not obeying the Highway Code?
I certainly agree with that. Indeed, if hon. Members want to see evidence of how cycling makes people look 10 years younger, they only have to look at the Chief Whip. [Laughter.] [Hon. Members: “He’s only 80!] He does not look a day over 80.
Of course segregated cycling routes are the best option, and of course they are expensive, but sometimes they are not as expensive as they look. In many areas we see examples of small groups of individuals being allowed to stand in the way of low-cost options to create off-road routes. We need to get to grips with that.
I am sorry, but if my hon. Friend will forgive me, I have taken two interventions.
In my area, the South Devon Railway, which was given a bridge that was built half with public money, has treated the River Dart as though it were some kind of moat and has prevented the sharing of that bridge. Such situations are simply unacceptable. That bridge must be the only one in Devon that keeps communities apart rather than brings them together. I call on the South Devon Railway and those involved in all such examples around the country to recognise that they have an opportunity to increase the sum of human happiness. In Totnes, the South Devon Railway has an opportunity to create a link that would join up the national cycle network and, in so doing, increase the footfall for its business. I think we all recognise that cycling has enormous benefits beyond health, with economic benefits for communities. I hope that the South Devon Railway will listen to this debate and take a generous step forward by helping us to create that link.
I would like to deal briefly with the issue of cycle helmets, which has been brought up today. I agree with the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) that the trouble with making them compulsory would be a net reduction in cycling. Of course, it is sensible for anyone who has a helmet to wear it, but what would happen to the wonderful Boris bikes scheme in London if we made the wearing of them compulsory? No one would use it. Yes, if people have a helmet, they should wear it, but they should not be put off if they do not. Most important, they should not feel that they need special kit. Cycling is for everyone. The statistics show that it will make us live longer and be happier, so let us remember the joys of cycling. Let us get Britain cycling and find the money to make that happen.
As a previous chairman of the all-party parliamentary cycling group, in what seems like the distant past of the 1997 Parliament, I am delighted by the profile that cycling has gained in the past 16 years. I believe that this is the best-attended debate on cycling that the House has ever had, and I understand that, outside this place, we are witnessing the biggest ever pro-cycling demonstration that this country has ever seen.
I have always cycled. As a youngster, my bike gave me independence and the freedom to roam. I cycled to school, I have always cycled to work and I use my bike daily in Exeter and in London. It is simply the best form of transport. When asked why I am still slim at 53, when I eat so much, I tell people that the answer is simple: my bike. My elderly Dawes Audax is the most important thing in my life, except—I should add, as he is outside with the demonstrators—my husband.
When I first worked in London in 1991, I cycled to work because it was the quickest and most reliable way to get there. It helped to keep me fit and to keep my carbon emissions down, but I felt like a bit of a freak. It was a very unusual thing to do. I remember fighting in this place during the 1997 Parliament for a single cycle route through Kensington Gardens. It was a hard battle, but we won. When I suggested to my local authority in Exeter that it should apply to the then Labour Government to be one of their cycle demonstration towns, I was told, “You won’t get anyone cycling here, it’s too hilly.” Well, Exeter did apply, and we got the extra investment. Between 2006 and 2011, cycling rates in Exeter rose by a fantastic 50%.
I fully accept what my hon. Friend says. There is actually a 20 mph limit through much of Exeter, but the problem is that the Conservative county council and, I have to say, Devon and Cornwall police, do not enforce it. This problem has already been raised by several Members, and it needs to be stressed further. It is vital to have 20 mph limits, but they must be enforced.
Not only has cycling increased by 50% in Exeter, but more than 20% of school children there now cycle to school, whereas hardly any did before. In London, too, the situation has been transformed. Thanks to the congestion charge and other policies initiated by Ken Livingstone, there has also been a cycling revolution here. It warms my heart to see banks of cyclists at all the main junctions at commuting time, particularly young women and even parents with child seats and trailers. However—and this is the hub of the report we are debating today—in spite of the progress that we have made in the past 16 years or so, we are still far behind the best practice of the rest of northern Europe, and without sustained investment and political leadership from the top, we will never catch up.
I am delighted that the Labour party has today launched its Labour for Cycling campaign. I hope that those on my Front Bench will sign up fully to implement the recommendations in our report, but we need the Government to act as well. Without that, we will not see the growth in cycling of recent years sustained; nor will we see a reversal of the worrying recent trend of increased cyclist deaths and injuries on our roads.
I am pleased with some of the things that the Government have announced and done. The recent commitment to supporting cycling in a number of selected towns and cities is welcome, but it is basically a smaller-scale version of Labour’s cycle demonstration towns programme, and instead of happening in a few places, it should be happening everywhere. It would take only a fraction of the annual roads budget to achieve that. I would also like to know why the scheme was available only in places that were already part of the Government’s separate city deal programme. That ruled out cities such as Exeter from applying, which means that now, under this Government, only a quarter of the amount of money is being invested in cycling in Exeter than when Labour was in power.
I deeply regret the abolition of Cycling England, and I believe that the Government do, too. It was the body that drew all the disparate cycling organisations together and it was a vital co-ordinating voice and deliverer of policy. I also think that the Government were fatally mistaken to go soft on road safety, in abandoning Labour’s road death reduction targets and declaring their ridiculous war on speed cameras.
I am encouraged that the noises coming out of the Government more recently on road safety have been more sensible, but I am still concerned that they are not speaking with one voice. If they are serious about cycling, why are they allowing the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to make the ludicrous suggestion that vehicles should enjoy a free-for-all by parking on double yellow lines, without even mentioning the impact that that would have on cyclists, pedestrians and road safety? The Secretary of State went on to say that the only people who were bothered about cycling were the “elite”. I do not know whether his animus towards cycling is a result of some deep Freudian consciousness that he is probably the Cabinet member who would benefit the most from cycling’s health-giving and girth-narrowing magic, but his comments are signally unhelpful and they should not go unchallenged if the Government are really serious about cycling.
Yes, and the hon. Gentleman might even be that person in the future. He is absolutely right. During the hearings, I told the inquiry that when I was a Minister, the only time we really got pedalling on this issue, to excuse the pun, was when the Secretaries of State in the Department of Health, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Home Office and the Department for Transport—all the important Departments —were committed to it and were working together to make things happen. Otherwise, nothing would happen.
That leads me to my final point. Time and again, when our Committee was taking evidence on cycling, our witnesses came back to the importance of long-term, sustained investment and joined-up political leadership. We need more than a Prime Minister who cycles to work for a photo opportunity while his limo drives behind him with his papers. We need a Prime Minister, and the whole Government from him down, who will make it clear that cycling is a priority across Government. It is cheap, and it will save lives, improve health and boost productivity. It will also reduce congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions. This is a no-brainer, and the infinitesimal cost of doing it would be more than recouped in the form of a happier, healthier, safer, greener, cleaner, thinner and more productive nation in a very short time indeed.
First, I should like to congratulate the all-party parliamentary cycling group on its report. I have to acknowledge a slight sense of guilt, as I should be a fully paid-up member of the group. I shall try to rectify that afterwards. I fully support its broad aims and the ambitions of the recommendations set out in the report. It is good to see cycling being debated and very much on the agenda.
Cycling has many virtues. It has health benefits, it is sustainable and environmentally friendly, it has many economic benefits and it is a wonderful social activity. Quite simply, it is an effective means of transport. It is encouraging to see the Government taking a greater interest in cycling, getting involved in the debate and putting some funding into cycling.
I support what my hon. Friend is saying. The Government have put funds into a cycling bridge over the River Thames in my constituency, but the big problem is that the local authority does not join up the cycle networks. It thinks that simply putting white paint on the roads is enough to create safe cycleways, but that is not good enough.
Indeed. We should remember that this is not just about funding coming from the centre; we should not always be looking to central Government to take the lead. Local government also has a critical role to play, as my hon. Friend has just pointed out. Its activities can encourage or discourage cyclists, and the resources that it is willing to provide are important. Local authorities can provide innovation and leadership in their own communities to improve the opportunities for cycling.
Does my hon. Friend support the massive transformation that has happened in my North West Leicestershire constituency, where redundant coal mines have been transformed into part of the new national forest and are criss-crossed by numerous well-used and attractive cycle paths, particularly the Hicks Lodge national forest cycle centre, which allows thousands of families to have traffic-free cycling each year?
It is good to know that these things are happening, and it demonstrates the role for both national and local government in improving cycling.
I would describe myself as an irregular but enthusiastic cyclist with a tendency to go for the long cycles rather than the daily commute. Prior to the general election of 2010, I made a pledge to my local constituents that if I were elected, I would cycle from my constituency to London. After being elected, the very first question I received from a reporter was, “And when do you intend to cycle to London?” I finally carried out that cycle, and this year I took an even longer cycling trip from Land’s End to John O’ Groats. On both those trips, the experience was very good. I got a bit fitter, lost a little weight and found it to be a great social activity, doing it with friends. It is a great way to see the diversity of our own country and, indeed, to raise a little money for charity along the way.
I want to make two serious observations coming out of those two cycle trips. First, there were potholes everywhere, and it would be helpful if local authorities did their best to try to rectify them, because they make it so difficult for cyclists. Secondly, I have mixed views on fellow drivers when cycling along the roads. I shall come on to that later.
I appreciate that many Members will speak about the report, its views and its recommendations, but I want to make two specific observations and suggestions, both of which will, I suspect, be highly controversial. First, cyclists must take responsibility for their own safety. We must ride our bikes sensibly and appropriately. It is vital for cyclists to respect other road users, especially cars and lorries, as well as pedestrians and other cyclists. I also believe that we cyclists should wear a helmet.
On that last point, I would go further. Some have campaigned to make it compulsory for children to wear helmets. I believe that that should be extended to everyone: everyone who uses a bike should use a helmet. If adults are seen to wear helmets, that will encourage children to do so, but I see no reason why that should not be made compulsory in the interests of safety. I appreciate that there are counter-arguments and that some take the view that it would reduce the number of people taking up cycling. I am of the view that safety is important and that, gradually, the opposition to wearing helmets would be overcome as people became used to the idea. We have all got used to wearing safety belts in cars and helmets on motorbikes.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a good idea to encourage training for children in schools to encourage cycle riding and explain how best to be safe on the roads? Even if the children were not to go on to cycle or drive cars themselves, it would still teach about the risks of poor or dangerous cycling while cars are on the road. Would my hon. Friend encourage such teaching in schools?
Absolutely; I completely concur.
My second point, which I think will be seen as equally controversial, is that I am not convinced by the arguments about speed limits, enforcement or the education of drivers. Yes, it may be a laudable aim, but I question whether enough drivers would pay attention to those speed limits in practice, which would be necessary to make cycling a much safer occupation or leisure activity. I fully accept that many drivers are responsible and take care when cyclists are around. They drive appropriately and safely, keeping their distance, slowing down, giving cyclists a wide berth and so forth. On my cycling trips, I noted many car drivers who did precisely that, taking their time and being patient with cyclists. Equally, however, a large number of drivers think cyclists are a nuisance on the road, so they drive too close or too fast and endanger cyclists. From my experience, that is far more common than we would like to think.
I therefore believe that there should be a simple change in the law. In the event of an accident, there should be a presumption in favour of the cyclist over the driver. Clearly, any driver of a car has the right to rebut such a claim and we have to accept that there are irresponsible cyclists who take inappropriate care and attention when they cycle. However, I believe that such a change in the law would mean that car drivers, lorry drivers and other motorists would take far greater care and would make every effort to keep their distance from a cyclist. All of a sudden, cyclists would become road users of whom motorists would have to be very careful and wary, as their insurance claims could be affected and there would be the potential for criminality. Such a presumption is, in fact, accepted in some European countries, and I see no reason why it could not be introduced in this country.
If we want to reduce the number of accidents, we need to alter the approach that many drivers have to cyclists. We have to get to the stage where cycling is seen as safe, and I believe that the only way to do that is to make car drivers far more aware of the dangers of hitting, affecting or coming into contact with cyclists. If we want to make cycling safe and therefore encourage others to start cycling, we have to change the relationship between the driver and the cyclist. With those two simple changes to the law, we could effectively do that; cyclists would be encouraged to cycle safely by wearing a helmet, and they would be given confidence in the fact that drivers would be taking far more care when they pass them on the road.
I congratulate the all-party group once more on its report. It will be interesting to see whether it will take up the two ideas that I have set out.
I am pleased to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw). I thank the all-party parliamentary cycling group for this excellent report and for securing this debate.
I am speaking in this debate not just because many of my constituents have urged me to take part, but because I believe I bring a particular perspective to it as a recent convert to cycling. Hon. Friends have advised me that the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) might have had to inform me in advance that she was going to describe me in the Chamber—as middle-aged, overweight and desperately attempting to get back in shape. That is, indeed, one of the reasons why I took up cycling.
As the report says,
“Britain needs to re-learn how to cycle.”
That is exactly what I have been doing, by cycling on holiday in Holland. I have holidayed with my family in Holland for the last five years, and learned much more about cycling for leisure purposes. That has encouraged me, but before I started cycling again, I must admit that I shared the disregard for cyclists that many people have. It was a wholly inappropriate view, but I admit to having had it. The report makes it clear that we need to change our attitudes towards cyclists, and I am one of those who was guilty of needing to do so before I started cycling again.
I will not rehearse all the arguments about why it is beneficial to cycle in Holland or issues relating to segregation, prioritising cyclists and all the rest of it. Another important point—my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) referred to this—is that many more cyclists in Holland are also drivers, and many more drivers are also cyclists. Much greater priority is therefore given to cyclists.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about Holland. Indeed, I have holidayed there many times, too. Local councils there are very much aware of the need to ensure that new schemes are cycle-friendly. Is he aware that in some areas, including mine, there are problems with community infrastructure funding schemes? These can result in very safe school cycling routes being converted into a dedicated bus route, with no alternative cycle route being put in place. Does he agree that when these community infrastructure funding schemes are put in place, alternative like-for-like cycle-friendly arrangements should be made?
That is an excellent point, and it leads on to my next one. I have been cycling in the United Kingdom, primarily in Rochdale, for just six months now, and I have encountered many good examples of provision for cycling. The Rochdale canal, for example, has a great cycling path, but even that can be seen to be falling into disrepair. The work was done some years ago and needs re-doing. Kingsway business park, a new development, caters very well for cyclists, but not all new schemes have cycling provision designed into them. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the need for that to happen.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case for action of the sort that has already made a real difference in my community. Our Waltham Forest cycling campaign, and work done by the local authority under the leadership of Councillor Clyde Loakes, have given cyclists an insight into what makes for a good system, and as a result they have been able to give feedback to the council. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should learn at a national level from such partnerships between local community cycling groups and councils?
My hon. Friend is right, and I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter that we need to discuss with local authorities, in consultation with cyclists and other road users, how better road layouts and better systems for cyclists can be designed in our towns and cities. That is crucial, because there is still a long way to go, certainly in places such as Rochdale.
Unlike the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), I hold local councillors in high esteem, and I have good things to say about them. There has been much talk in the report and in the Chamber about the need for political leadership on cycling, and that is exactly right. Let me now put on record something that I have never put on record before: a Liberal Democrat councillor in Rochdale has done an excellent job in championing cycling. [Hon. Members: “Withdraw!”] I will not withdraw that remark. Councillor Wera Hobhouse really pushed the boundaries in persuading the local authority to do more for cycling in Rochdale, and that does credit to her. She is still a councillor, but is no longer in a position of power. We need such local champions, as well as national champions. We need political leadership to ensure that cycling is given a fair shout at a local level.
I pay tribute to the all-party parliamentary group, and strongly support the campaign that it has initiated.
One of the objectives of today’s debate is to increase the proportion of journeys that are made by bike, and to persuade people to use their bikes more regularly. That makes me part of the target market. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson), I am not a regular cyclist. I would describe myself as a fair-weather cyclist who cycles infrequently on country lanes for the purpose of exercise or enjoyment.
The debate has already achieved part of its objective, Madam Deputy Speaker. We have a new cyclist on our Benches. However, if we are fully to realise the objectives set out in the motion, people such as me must be encouraged to ride their bikes more.
The inspiration that led me to use my bicycle more came during the recess. A couple of weeks ago, on a Thursday, I read an article in The Times by Dame Kelly Holmes, encouraging Members of Parliament to ride our bikes before participating in the debate. I had intended to drive the six miles or so from my home to the constituency office, but that day I decided to cycle. I should add that the weather was very good during August, and that the sunshine made my decision a great deal easier.
I have a number of observations to make following that experience. Travelling down Dunchurch road in Rugby in a cycle lane, I noticed that other cyclists were still on the road. I asked myself why those guys were still on the road when I was going down the cycle lane, which is half on the footpath. Then I realised that there were “Give way” lines on the side roads, and that I was having to give way to the cars that were coming out of them. Had I been on the road, I would not have had that problem. The other cyclists were making much faster progress than I was. Perhaps the Minister will explain why cars coming out of a side road have priority over the cyclists on a cycle way.
I should certainly like cyclists to be given more encouragement to use cycleways when they are provided.
I encountered another problem on that occasion. I had some constituency duties to fulfil. It was a warm day, and it occurred to me that I ought to carry an extra shirt, so I put one in a rucksack which I carried on my back. I still arrived soaked in sweat, not looking much like a Member of Parliament. I tweeted about the experience and received some useful advice on Twitter, namely that I should put some panniers on my bike so that I need not stick a rucksack on my back which would make my back wet. I now know that if I am to use my bike regularly, I shall need to invest in some panniers.
I also found that, in many instances, the cycleway was in pretty poor condition, with very unclear markings. It had probably been constructed three or four years earlier. Local authorities need to invest in ensuring that the markings on cycleways are clear. On more than one occasion, overgrown trees rendered the cycleway useless and forced me out on to the road.
One or two Members have mentioned vehicles parked in cycleways. Again on more than one occasion, I was forced on to the road by an illegally parked car or van. I agree with what has been said about the need for flexibility on the part of car users who are currently causing difficulties for cyclists.
I took my life in my hands on a slip road on a dual carriageway. There was fast traffic to my right, and as I progressed along to the slip road, to my left, coming up on the inside. Fortunately it was a quiet day, but I should hate to be on that road in different circumstances. Provision should be made for cyclists on slip roads off dual carriageways. I also felt very uncomfortable on roundabouts, which I know have caused concern to the all-party group. I hope that the debate will result in better designed road schemes that make allowances for cyclists.
I have already given way twice, so I shall continue, if I may.
There has been some discussion today about the use of helmets. I made my decision about whether to wear one when I hired a bike in the Lake district. When I told the young gentleman who served me that I should be more than happy not to bother with a helmet, he said “Sir, how many brains have you got?” I know that there is a Member who goes by the nickname “Two Brains”, but it is not me, and I found the sales assistant’s case very persuasive.
If we are to make progress towards achieving the aims of this debate, the targets should be not people making my journey of six miles or so, but people making journeys of up to three miles in towns such as the one that I represent. It is far too easy—indeed, instinctive, for people who need to travel from a suburb such as Hillmorton or Bilton to the centre of Rugby, a journey of no more than a couple of yards, to get into their cars. Those are the people whom the cycling campaign needs to target. We have already heard about the health and cost benefits that accrue to those who decide to cycle, and the benefits to the environment if more people do so more generally.
Planning has also been mentioned. Rugby borough council has launched a green travel plan. During the recess, I visited a business that had been forced by the plan to include a cycle shed in the development that it had built recently, but regrettably there was not a single bike in it. It is clear that the policies need to be “joined up”.
There are, however, some fantastic cycleways in my constituency. Last Thursday, the mayor officially reopened a 173-year-old railway viaduct that had previously been derelict. It had been 60 years since trains last travelled on the route. It was opened by Sustrans, using a grant from the Big Lottery Fund, as a new cycleway linking northern parts of the town to the railway station and town centre. That is a fantastic initiative that supports Rugby’s regeneration strategy, and I am sure that the route will be used by many more cyclists.
We have heard about cyclists sharing their road space with other users, and in particular about the problems created by heavy goods vehicles. One Member asked whether something could be done about them. Their impact on cyclists is taken seriously by the logistics industry and the country. I draw the attention of hon. Members to Cemex, a company in my constituency that ships cement around the country. At last year’s Conservative party conference—I hope it was at other conferences, too—Cemex parked one of its vehicles and allowed people to get into the cab so that they could see exactly the blind spot that lorry drivers suffer from when driving. I hope that more and more logistics companies will do precisely that; another one did it at a fête I attended.
I thank the all-party group for bringing about this debate and I look forward to progress on cycling in the years to come.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) on all their work in the all-party group. I also congratulate my constituent Adam Coffman on all he has done to raise the issue of cycling in our national life. In these debates it is easy to get a sense that people are paying lip service to cycling, but the profound and cultural change we need in this country has not yet happened and now has to arrive. It is important that we recognise that the debate about cycling, certainly here in London, is being held against the backdrop of people having to wrestle with issues of not only quality of life, but the cost of living—petrol prices, transport costs, and rises in bus and tube fares. Transport costs beyond London mean that people want cycling to be a serious option.
For many of the reasons hon. Members have raised, and for some that I will touch on, cycling does not feel like a realistic option. I think that hon. Members want the Government to get behind the vision behind this report to make it one. We need long-term commitments and aims, not simply the short-term and headline-grabbing initiatives we have had in the past. The target of a 10% modal share for cycling by 2025 is good, but that will not happen by itself. Shockingly, just 6% of people in Britain cycle for more than 30 minutes once a week and only 2% use a bike to get to work.
Hon. Members will recall that, sadly, the Labour party lost the election in 2010. It has been said about Ministers, “You know you’re no longer a Minister when you get into the back of a car and it does not start.” I found myself in that situation, but at that point, when I was 30-whatever, I was not a driver. When I hit 40, I decided that I would learn to drive and I could be found driving up Barnet high road trying to do so. On my third attempt, I recently got my driving licence—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.] But I hate driving, and I have not really been back in a car since.
What I like doing is cycling. I, too, took my family to Holland this summer on a cycling holiday. I took a five-year-old and a seven-year-old, and we did about 80 km in 10 days. I do not think I could do that in this country. I certainly do not think I could do it easily in London, because I simply would not feel secure enough about the safety of a five-year-old and a seven-year-old on their bikes on the cycleways. Parents up and down the country want this report to be taken seriously, because they want to see their children cycling.
Nobody has touched on this next point, but I am concerned that the cycling proficiency training, which many hon. Members will recall from when they were younger, seems to be patchy across the country; it varies from school to school, and from local authority to local authority. We have raised this debate about helmets, but we also have to invest in proper cycling proficiency training if we want cycling to increase among young people.
Will the right hon. Gentleman accept from me that one superb way of commencing on the cycling pathway is to have an electric bicycle? I have one and they are a wonderful way of commencing cycling and getting people interested in it. They have not received much attention in this debate until now, but I urge him to plug the advantages and merits of electric bikes.
I wish to take the right hon. Gentleman back to his point about cycling proficiency. Would another point of transition for introducing cycling proficiency be when young people go to university, when they often get back on bikes having not been on them since they were young children? That can lead to dangerous situations and, often, to road deaths.
The hon. Lady makes a good point. Those people are getting on bikes for cost-saving reasons, but they are doing so in towns and cities, where the prioritisation we need on cycling is not there. The resulting deaths and serious injuries should be of great concern.
Nearly half of all car journeys made in London are under 2 miles long. That is an easily bikeable distance, so we have to ask why so many people are not choosing to bike. As the hon. Lady indicated, in London alone more than 500 cyclists were seriously injured in just one year, which is a rise of 22% on the previous year’s figure. It is right that the current Mayor has done much to encourage cycling in London, and he should be congratulated on getting behind cycling. His appointment of a cycling tsar has also been very important, but targets for reducing cycle casualties have been consistently missed. The number of cycling casualties in London has increased every year since 2008, which is only partly explained by the cycling participation rates. Nationally, 122 cyclists were killed on British roads last year. So road accidents are still proportionately involving cycling, despite the incidence of other road accidents falling. That issue has to be addressed and it can be done only if we challenge the culture of cycling and do not have a transport policy that sometimes feels like just a motorists’ policy. We need a policy that is prepared to put both pedestrians and cyclists alongside motorists.
Remarks have been made about the share of investment in cycling. Those remarks need to be taken seriously if we are to get the shift that the Minister has said he wants and that I suspect he will say he wants, as it feels a long way off for those of us who want cycling to get up to where it needs to be. Investment and participation campaigns are crucial, but they will go only so far. Ministers must treat British roads as existing not just for cars, but for cyclists. Much greater priority also needs to be put on safety, which means proper investment in cycling paths, borough to borough, road to road, and new radical solutions that promote cycling.
I welcome this debate, although it is only really the very beginning on this subject. I hope that the House will return to it, but I hope that we will see the step change that we need in this country over the coming months.
It is a pleasure to speak after the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). I applaud this debate and this outstanding report by the all-party group, and I applaud my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin). A number of colleagues who have been here much longer than I have mentioned how well attended this debate is. Since then, about 15 or 20 hon. Members have left the Chamber and will be back later. Despite that, seeing the number of people still in the Chamber, I would guess that it is probably double the number of Members who would have attended only five years ago and probably triple the number who would have attended 10 years ago. That shows the enormous strides that have been made in the cycling debate over the past few years. I support that agenda for a number of key reasons.
The first reason is the business case. In Eastbourne, we have a strong cycling group called Bespoke, which is tremendously enthused and involved in driving the cycling agenda in the town. I support that. Eastbourne is a wonderful seaside town that has bucked the economic trend over the past few years, with unemployment going down, apprenticeships going up and regeneration in the town centre through £70 million of private spend. I am keen to drive that agenda using cycling, because, like many other parts of the UK and along its coastline, Eastbourne is a lovely place for a cycling holiday. The right hon. Member for Tottenham mentioned going to Holland with his family and I went there myself only a few months ago. He is right that the level of cycling and the safety there are astounding, because, obviously, it has been part of the culture for 40 years. We are catching up, but I am convinced that as we drive the cycling agenda in towns such as Eastbourne—getting more families and tourists in as we improve the cycle paths—it will make a substantial difference to their economic turnover.
Nationally, we have gross cycling product of about £2.9 billion and 3.7 million bikes are sold in the UK, a 28% increase on last year. Some 23,000 people are employed directly in cycling in the UK. Cycling offers a major and substantial benefit to UK plc, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. The number of people in the House today and the report demonstrate that the UK is going in the right direction on the cycling agenda in a range of areas, including health, business and carbon emissions. We have a way to go but the starting gun has fired.
I had not ridden a bike for 40 years until about four weeks ago, when Bespoke persuaded me to get on a bicycle for what I was told was a short ride—but it lasted two and a half hours. The hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) said that cycling takes 10 years off a person, and as I had not ridden a bike for 40 years, riding it for two and a half hours certainly took 10 years off my life. I could barely stand afterwards. The good news for hon. Members who, like me, have not cycled for a long time is that it really is like riding a bike. I got on and after a few wobbles I was away.
What are the challenges? We know what they are. The right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) made a strong and valid point about the fact that the previous Government invested a lot of time and money in cycling and they deserve a lot of the credit for pushing the agenda. The difference is that my Government inherited an economic crisis that means that challenging decisions must be taken, but I encourage the coalition to focus on this report, which contains a lot of good recommendations that would not cost a lot of money. I am confident that proper investment in the recommendations put together by the all-party group would offer a substantial economic benefit and help to transform the lives of many people in the UK who, like me, should not wait 40 years to get back on a bike.
There are challenges. That takes us back to the question of Holland versus the UK. Holland has a different infrastructure. The UK is an old country that has not been designed for cycles so I appreciate the challenges faced by any Government. I know that the Minister responsible for this issue, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker)—he is a neighbour of mine—has been passionate about cycling and bikes for as long as I have known him, which is 11 years. There is no stronger champion of cycling in the Government. When he winds up, I look forward to hearing what further initiatives the Government will introduce to keep things moving in the right direction and to build on the momentum that has been established over the past 15 years so that cycling really takes off. There are more people in the Chamber than I have ever seen at a Backbench business debate and that demonstrates not just the strength of feeling in the country but that the time has come for political leadership. I look forward to hearing the Government’s response.
It is a pleasure to take part in the debate and I welcome both it and the all-party group’s report. It is good to see cross-party agreement on such a positive issue, and I hope that when the Minister responds he will give us the assurances we are all looking for.
So far, Ministers and the Department have been full of warm words of support to give the impression that this country is freewheeling towards becoming a cycling nation on a par with, say, Holland. I am afraid that we are not even ambling in that direction; we need sustained action and leadership from Ministers if we want to achieve that in a reasonable time frame.
Many hon. Members have spoken of the benefits of cycling to individuals, to children, to society, to cities and to the environment. At the end of July, Newcastle Gateshead hosted its first sky ride. It was an amazing success, with 7,800 people attending, and shows just how many people in Newcastle and Gateshead want to get on their bikes if they can feel safe doing so. The north-east has some of the lowest cycling levels in the UK, with just 8% of people cycling once a week. We also—this fact is perhaps related—have higher than average levels of obesity and lower levels of physical activity in adults. I pay tribute to the work Newcastle city council is doing and to its commitment to supporting cycling.
In Newcastle, we are lucky to have strong cross-party political leadership on cycling. We have an enthusiastic cycling champion, Councillor Marion Talbot, who chairs our cycling forum, which brings together the many different voices for cycling in our city. There is, however, a lack of such strong political leadership at a national level. The abolition of Cycling England, set up under the previous Labour Government, means that there is now also no dedicated pot of money and, equally, no focal point for cycling. We have ad hoc announcements and re-announcements, and then repackaged re-announcements. When separate pots of money are released seemingly at random for cycling and infrastructure, it makes it difficult for local authorities such as Newcastle to plan cycling development. The abolition of Cycling England means that there is no obvious means for councils to share ideas and the great best practice we have heard about today other than through the mysterious cycle stakeholder forum, which is yet to be mentioned but which has apparently met three times in the three years it has existed—for what purpose, nobody seems to know.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that contribution, but the Local Government Association has many issues on which to share best practice. I agree that it provides an excellent forum for that, but the strength of Cycling England was that it did exactly what its name said—it was about cycling in England. Having lost that organisation, we need something to fulfil that role.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does she agree that we do not see the initiatives and half-policies such as those she is talking about in the Government’s transport policy on trains, buses, cars and roads? That is why we need a proper integrated strategy.
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Comparisons are odious, but sometimes they are essential. Everyone in the Chamber would agree that there is neither the focus on nor the strategy for cycling that exist for other areas of transport. I hope that the Minister will set out how he intends to address the clear lack of leadership.
The report notes that successfully increasing cycling in many towns requires not just leadership and political will but investment. The report notes the relative underfunding per head for British cycling, which many hon. Members have spoken about today, but the Department for Transport’s response to the report was disappointing, as it did not deal with long-term funding. On most other issues, the buck was passed to local authorities and there was no commitment to appoint a national cycling champion. That is not the leadership that we need. I welcome the fact that Newcastle was awarded £5.7 million from the cycle city ambition fund, which was on top of £1.3 million from the cycle safety fund, but those amounts are relatively small compared with those received by European cities.
As several hon. Members have said, it is not just the amount of funding that is important. Whatever the spending per head, Government investment must be continued, steady and sustained if councils such as Newcastle are to plan to achieve their goals and all the associated benefits we have heard about. While much of the legwork in getting Britain cycling does and should fall to councils, there is plenty that the Government can do to support them. Newcastle is working hard to make the city’s road cycle-friendly and installing better cycling infrastructure. It is one of the leading local authorities on 20 mph zones, with the majority of residential areas and much of the city centre now covered by that limit.
The Department’s response to the report rightly says that things such as planning cycling routes and speed limits are local matters, but what about putting in place national standards for cycle infrastructure design or educating more people with design skills? What about reviewing sentencing guidelines for careless and reckless drivers?
Investment is important, although having a long-term pot is almost as important as the amount that goes into it. Above all, however, Transport Ministers and their colleagues across Whitehall must step up and show national leadership if we are to meet the goals set out in the report.
Order. Some 19 speakers still wish to participate in the debate, so I shall reduce the time limit to five minutes in the hope that we will be able to get everyone in. By all means make interventions, as they help the debate, but if a Member has already made a speech, perhaps they will bear in mind the fact that others are waiting to do so.
I am delighted to speak in this important debate. As a fairly recent convert to cycling, I have personal experience of its many benefits, although I am also conscious of its dangers, especially for those who, like me, are new to the sport. The Evans household has become an enthusiastic cycling family with new bikes for the children and not-so-new bikes for mum and dad. I was interested to hear the debate about helmets because I insist that we all wear helmets although, for some reason, when I put my helmet on, the children point and laugh—I have no idea why.
There is a fantastic grass-roots movement in my constituency to encourage residents to get on their bikes. I give credit to the Northwich Guardian’s Pedal Power campaign for drawing my constituents’ attention to the importance of cycling. Its cycling ambassadors, with profiles ranging from teenage pro bikers to blind nonagenarians, show my constituents that a bike is for everyone at any stage of their lives. I welcome the all-party cycling group’s “Get Britain Cycling” report and its target of one in 10 journeys being by bike by 2025. Road safety is also important to me, and I shall be presenting the Drug Driving (Assessment of Drug Misuse) Bill—my private Member’s Bill—to the House for its Second Reading on 18 October.
The benefits of cycling are clear, with better health being the obvious starting point, as a regular cyclist in mid-adulthood has the fitness levels of someone 10 years younger. We have heard many comments suggesting that we all want to be 10 years younger.
When we consider Britain’s transport system, it is clear that there must be a better way. Most of us find ourselves sitting in long traffic jams when we make the quick run down the road to the shops to pick up some milk and a loaf of bread. Some 66% of all trips made in Britain are less than five miles. However, if one factors in the process of getting to the destination and then hunting down a parking space, that seems daft, given that one could reasonably often nip down to the shops on a bike. There are also economic arguments in favour of cycling because regular cyclists are associated with lower health costs, while the cost of congestion goes down and productivity increases.
What is stopping people cycling? The main reason is safety. The Department’s “British Social Attitudes Survey 2012: public attitudes towards transport” showed that 48% of cyclists, who were defined as someone who had cycled in the past year, agreed that it was too dangerous for them to cycle on the roads, whereas the figure for non-cyclists was 65%. It is also worth noting that there is a significant gender divide regarding cycling safety because 60% of women said that it was too dangerous compared with 53% of men. I am therefore proud to be involved in Northwich Breeze rides, which are designed specifically to introduce more women in the area to cycling and to improve their confidence in safety.
What can be done to improve safety? There are basic steps that everyone should take when getting on a bike. Putting on a helmet and ensuring that reflectors and proper lights are fitted are all ways of making someone safer and more visible. It is only logical that local authorities should take simple and automatic steps to improve—
Next year’s Tour de France will come to my constituency on two consecutive days. It will go through villages such as Addingham and Stanbury, and green parts of my wonderful constituency. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a great opportunity to support the points that he is making, as well as to make wider points about health and fitness and to promote businesses in the community?
I agree with my hon. Friend and thank him for that wonderful intervention. I hope that those people on the Tour have their passports ready to go into Yorkshire and, importantly, to come out of it.
I welcome the Government’s cycle safety fund to redesign junctions. However, while they are encouraging sensible planning, there is no single, consistent and enforceable design standard for bicycles regarding new development. As an aspect of planning, surely that should be as obvious as putting on a helmet before getting on a bike. As is the case for many hon. Members, house builders are building thousands of new homes in my constituency, but their designs suggest that little thought has been given to making roads accessible via a bike. Given that the county of Cheshire is relatively flat, perhaps its councils could be a beacon to show all authorities how cycling can be a pleasure for all.
We should examine speeds in residential areas for the benefit of not only cyclists, but pedestrians. The Department for Transport has made it easier for councils to impose 20 mph areas, which is a great step forward for locally focused safety, but now is the time to consider whether there should be a default limit of 20 mph for residential areas, with councils given the discretion to change that. Such a measure could reduce the number of road incidents.
Heavy goods vehicles pose a major risk to cyclists. Nearly half of all cycle fatalities in the capital are due to HGVs, although those vehicles make up only 5% of the overall traffic. Better awareness of cyclists, restrictions during peak traffic times and more international co-operation on HGV design would clearly be important steps, so I welcome the Department’s ongoing work in that area.
The Government have made significant investment in cycling, with £148 million invested by 2015, but it has been clear from listening to hon. Members’ speeches that cohesive thinking and cross-departmental work will encourage cycling even more. I welcome the excellent work of the all-party cycling group and I hope that the debate demonstrates how, with a proactive attitude, we can ensure that cycling becomes an important part of British life.
The House has a fairly rigid dress code, and I think I inadvertently broke it earlier today because, for the first time in my career, I wore a pair of cycle clips in the Chamber. That was not because I was trying to celebrate the debate, but because I had rushed here from one of my two bicycle visits today so that I would be in time to ask my question during Defence questions—[Interruption.] I got no answer, but that is the nature of parliamentary questions. I make the point because I have been cycling to Parliament and to meetings near Parliament for more than 20 years. As other Members have observed, in that period there has been a huge growth in the number of people who cycle—not just the number of people working in the Palace of Westminster but the number of people in general on the roads of London. That increase has not just happened—it occurred as a result of public policy and public spending. That is the first thing that I would say to the Minister: we need an increase in Government spending to promote cycling and make the roads safer for cycling, but it needs to be long-term and predictable funding, which is why I particularly welcome the proposal that there should be spending by his Department on cycling measures at the rate of £10 per capita.
There are environmental and health benefits from cycling. It is a convenient and time-saving way to travel short distances. No one has mentioned the fact that it is a cheap way of travelling. For MPs, there is one more advantage. I sometimes use a car in my constituency, and when I do, no one notices me driving round. However, when I am cycling round my constituency people notice me all the time. They point, they probably laugh, but at least they see that I am in my constituency—that is a tip for Members on both sides of the House.
Between 2008 and 2010, York received £3.68 million as one of the 12 cycling cities designated by Cycling England. It had a number of goals, including increasing the use of cycling by 25% from 10%—a relatively high level—at the beginning of the period to 12.5%. In fact, it increased the use of cycling by twice the target—by 50%—to 15%. Interestingly, in York, as many women cycle as men, and that is a goal that we ought to try to roll out nationally.
Under the scheme, we pledged to increase commuter cycling by 10% from 12% at the beginning of the period to 13.2%. Although there was no national survey of the number of people who commute to work by cycle, looking at the big employers in York, the increase in that period ranged from 17% to 35%. Achieving an increase depends on whether employers provide incentives such as safe cycle parking, cycle workshops where people can repair punctures for instance, and cycle loan schemes. The House could do a lot more for the people who work here, and I hope that that is something the all-party group will press for.
I welcome the proposal in the report for a goal of increasing cycle use to 10% by 2025, but we need different goals for different local authorities. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), who introduced the debate, has in his city a cycling participation level far above 10%, and so does my own city. We will not achieve 10% national usage unless we set challenging goals for those local authorities that are in the lead.
Finally, greater efforts should be made to employ trained personnel in local authorities to supervise the safety of transport schemes, and for institutes such as the—
Who knew, ladies and gentlemen, that this debate was sponsored by the Dutch tourism board? Many of us seem to have taken a Dutch cycling holiday. I am here to stand up for cycling in Northumberland, which features everything from Hadrian’s cycleway and the coast-to-coast tour to the delights of Kielder and the castles cycle route.
I congratulate wholeheartedly the cross-party group, which has done a fantastic job—this is probably one of the finest Back-Bench debates that we have ever had. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and other members of the all-party parliamentary group have done a brilliant job and produced a fantastic report. I need to declare the fact that I cycle to work in London. I can cycle from Fulham, where I live, to King’s Cross, pretty much all on a cycleway. It is much quicker than going by car. In Northumberland, I live near Stamfordham, where we see more bicycles than cars travelling around and about. There is no question but that the Northumberland economy depends to a large degree on cycling tourism and the economic benefit that it brings. I therefore support the motion wholeheartedly, but while cities such as Newcastle have benefited from over £5 million, the benefit to some rural areas, whether Northumberland or other counties, is significantly less. We need equality of funding across all parts of the country so that we may all benefit, rather than simply the towns that have been allocated money thus far.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I welcome the report to get Britain cycling. He is right about rural areas. Does he agree that we need innovative solutions to help to provide opportunities to make it easier to cycle in rural areas, such as the two tunnels greenway in Bath, from which many of my constituents benefit, and the canal towpaths that run through my constituency? Otherwise, hedge-lined country roads between towns can be quite intimidating.
I endorse that entirely. Indeed, when I asked my constituents for their comments, one of them, Ted Liddle, wrote on behalf of the mountain biking club:
“Other than a few parking stands, in Tynedale there has been no cycling investment”
in the past 10 to 12 years.
There are exceptions, but if we do not have innovative ways forward and local cycling champions we will struggle. I endorse earlier comments about the fact that we need individual Borises or cycling champions in some shape or form who champion cycling in their counties and regions. It is easy, given that Yorkshire has the benefit of the Tour de France next year, to make the case. Everyone in the north welcomes that.
My hon. Friend has discussed the need for cycle routes in rural areas. We do not have the luxury of going along the embankment to create the Boris highway. We have to make sure that we have cycle routes such as old railway lines and so on that can be used successfully. We are working on precisely that on the Seaton to Colyford route. However, I very much welcome the debate so that we can have cycling in rural areas.
The mind boggles: to know is to fear.
Those of us who are students of the film industry will hark back to the comment, “If you build it, they will come.” That is the case in relation to cycling. It is easy for too many civil servants, Ministers of all types, local authorities, county and parish councils to think that investment in cycling is not worth the money, the effort, the criticism by drivers and pedestrians and the sheer difficulty of persuading people to get out of their beloved vehicles. However, if we build the type of facilities that we all require in our local areas, cycling improves. We need only look at the success of places such as Seville, as eloquently set out in the report, where between 2007 and 2010, cycling went up from 6,000 journeys to 60,000 journeys. We need only look at the changes in New York or Holland, sponsored as we are by the Dutch tourism board, where 27% of journeys are by bike, compared with 2% in this country. That is patently the result of investment, support and local champions.
I suggest we look at the health benefits. Many have outlined the fact that we have an obesity crisis, and a great deal more work needs to be done on that. We should look at the benefits in terms of the cost of living, and we need to consider both the climate change and the tourism and economic benefits. I emphasise the need for local champions—not just the local larger champion of a county, but individual parish and county councillors who could make a difference locally. If we can start doing that and start working with health and wellbeing boards and the like, there is great potential to turn the topic from a fringe issue that we passionately debate to a mainstream way of life and way of travelling to work.
It is pleasure to be able to speak in this debate. A few minutes ago my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) made the point that if we are to increase cycle percentages, the starting point will vary from place to place. Some places already have a very high percentage, but others have a much lower percentage. I am pleased to say that Edinburgh has a good record of encouraging cycling over the years. In our case 10% of journeys to work are now undertaken by bike, whereas 10 years ago the figure was only 3%, so we have seen a 300% increase, which shows what can be done when there is consistent political commitment and a spending commitment from the local authority, which has certainly been the case in Edinburgh.
My hon. Friend highlights the increase in cycling in Edinburgh. Will he join me in paying tribute to Spokes, the Edinburgh cycling charity, which has done so much to help that increase, and also the volunteers who organised Pedal on Parliament 1 and 2? There were 4,000 cyclists at the Scottish Parliament just a few months ago, and I completed the second one myself, on a tandem.
Indeed. I saw that with my own eyes, and I took part on a more conventional bike in that Pedal on Parliament. The point that my hon. Friend makes is a good one. One reason we have seen an increase in Edinburgh in the percentage of journeys undertaken by bike has been the political commitment over many years—political commitment in which, I am pleased to say, the Labour party over the decades has taken the lead, and which, to be fair, is now widely shared across the political parties in Edinburgh, just as it is in the Chamber today.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) pointed out—and I should mention that we were joined by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) in Pedal on Parliament this year—we have also had a very effective grass-roots campaign, first in the form of Spokes, the Lothian cycle campaign, of which I have been a member for many years. That campaign has consistently and in a well-informed way put pressure on local government and central Government to deliver both cycle spending and the integration of policies in wider planning and transport activity, to give cycling a higher profile. We have also seen the very successful Pedal on Parliament initiative, which started in 2012 with a couple of thousand people lobbying the Scottish Parliament at the end of a cycle ride, and which in May this year ended up with 4,000 people in a very impressive lobby of the Scottish Parliament.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the significant things at that event was the reaction of those who were there to a spokesperson from the Scottish Government who gave only warm words—compared to the local council, which has committed 5% of its transport budget, to rise by 1% each year to 9%—because cyclists know that words are not good enough?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend points to the commitment of Edinburgh council not just to maintain a 5% level of all transport spend, both revenue and capital, on cycling but to increase it year on year by 1%, which is a major commitment. In a briefing to some of us earlier, Chris Boardman said that it was the first city in the UK to make that commitment. That contrasts with the poor record of the SNP Scottish Government in supporting cycling. It is interesting that the success of the Pedal on Parliament campaign in Edinburgh has had the effect of shaming the Scottish Government into putting more money into cycling. That is a tribute to such campaigning work, which is so important at the grass roots.
I do not want to make jibes at other political parties in what has otherwise been a non-partisan debate, even if those parties are not represented in the Chamber today. In Edinburgh we have now seen a cross-party consensus on cycling policies. Although it is true that our Labour colleagues on the council made a commitment to increase the spending on cycling year on year, it is being done now with the support of the minority party in the Edinburgh council coalition, the Scottish National party. So let us hope that the SNP at Scottish Government level will follow the example of its colleagues on Edinburgh council.
As has been mentioned a few times in the debate, some of those who organised the Pedal on Parliament campaign to lobby the Scottish Parliament had personal experience of death and serious injury to cyclists on our roads. The increase in deaths and serious injuries to cyclists in England over the past five years has been replicated in Scotland. We have seen a similar increase over the past five years. Let us not forget that as well as being in every case a personal tragedy for the families and friends of those involved, every cycling death or serious injury has the effect of discouraging people who might otherwise come back to cycling, because they do not realise the wider relative or absolute safety of cycling compared with most forms of transport.
There are many reasons why it is vital to have targets to bring down the toll of death and serious injury to cyclists on our roads, and I have no doubt that if the measures proposed in the “Get Britain Cycling” report were implemented, they would dramatically reduce the number of cyclists killed and injured on our roads.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that of particular importance is the need to address the role of HGVs in cyclists’ deaths? I believe that around half such deaths in London are caused by HGVs. It is surely time, as part of the programme, to push for a much more energetic uptake of the technology measures that would make HGVs much safer and much less dangerous to cyclists—sensors, mirrors, side bars and so on. That surely should be a priority.
Absolutely. I know that in some of the e-mails and letters that I have had from constituents in the run-up to this debate, a number of cases have been highlighted where people or their relatives have been the victims of HGVs in that way. That must be dealt with as a priority. It can be done quite easily now with current technology and I hope that the Minister will give some indication in his response as to how these changes can be introduced. They are UK-wide measures and therefore relevant to all of us in the Chamber, from whichever part of the UK we come.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in the debate and very pleased that the Backbench Business Committee could find the time for it. It follows a very successful and over-subscribed debate in Westminster Hall last year and perhaps illustrates the point that very over-subscribed debates in Westminster Hall can transfer to the main Chamber and attract even more speakers, as today’s debate has done.
I speak as an occasional cyclist daughter of a serious veteran road-racing cyclist father. I want to talk today about London in particular and some of the measures that have been adopted here.
I will first say a bit about why cycling is so important in my constituency. There was an enormous reaction last year in Battersea to The Times’ “Cities Fit for Cycling” campaign. The average age of people who live in Wandsworth is 32, so that is probably also typical of my constituency. Many people cycle to work and for pleasure, and from quite a wide demographic range, although I agree about the need to widen it, which will set up a virtuous circle. As an occasional cyclist, I know that it can be very off-putting to go into a cycling shop with an old bike and hear three young men in Lycra leaning against the counter saying, “Poor old girl”—I am never quite sure whether they are talking about me or the bike. I encourage all cycling shops to remember that they will do better if they are open for business to everybody, including those who might not be such serious cyclists.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Electric bikes have had a few honourable mentions in the debate so far, although I am not an expert.
In London, cycling is set to double over the next 10 years. However, as was pointed out earlier, cities such as London were not designed for cycling; it is a very old city. We must therefore take every opportunity offered by redevelopment to make it more suitable for cycling. We are certainly seeing some innovative thinking in my borough, as I mentioned earlier.
I am afraid not, as so many Members have prepared speeches and want to get in.
Wandsworth has come a long way. One of the pleasures of the summer was going to a meeting of the Wandsworth Living Streets campaign and seeing the genuine engagement between it and Councillor Russell King, the cabinet member who covers strategic transport issues. I certainly see that as a positive movement since I first came to Battersea in 2006.
In last year’s debate I talked about the need to champion engineering solutions, something we have always been good at in Britain. Again, my council is working with Transport for London to bring forward plans for Dutch-style roundabouts, one of which is planned for my constituency. Elsewhere in London we are seeing other plans for engineering solutions, such as bike boxes and signal control junctions with advanced stop lines. ASLs help motorists and cyclists by providing an area for cyclists to wait in front of traffic when the lights are red, making them more easily visible to motorists and giving them the space to move off when the lights turn green. We are also seeing plans to introduce Dutch-style segregated sections of cycle superhighway to increase safety—we have heard a lot about Holland in this debate and paid tribute to its great cycling efforts—which will see one of the longest continuous segregated sections through the heart of London and on to Canary Wharf and Barking. It will be very interesting to see how that develops and whether it could be replicated in other cities.
The Mayor of London is looking to spend significant sums of money on cycling. The need for leadership has been mentioned, and Members on both sides have been generous in paying tribute to him for his leadership on cycling. London’s cycling budget will double to almost £400 million over the next three years, roughly two and a half times what was previously planned. He is investing almost £1 billion in London cycling over the next 10 years as part of the “Vision for Cycling” published in March. That will mean spending £145 million a year on cycling by 2015, which equates to roughly £18 per head, which is similar to the amount spent in Germany and almost on a par with the debate’s favourite country: the Netherlands. It is good to see both Dutch-style engineering coming to London’s roads and Dutch levels of spending per head on cycling.
With regard to enforcement, one of the debates we are having locally is whether 20 mph zones can be enforced. We are at least seeing TfL, the Met police and the City of London police stepping up the enforcement of safety zones for cyclists and clamping down on people who jump red lights. I hope that we will return to this topic and have regular cycling debates. I hope that in a future debate we can look at some of the other issues that affect cycling, such as planning and residential developments with safe cycle storage, which is a problem in flats. In particular, there are high levels of cycle theft. I have constituents who have lost five, six, seven or even eight bikes in a few short years. I hope we can visit those topics in future.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) on their leadership and drive on this issue. This has been a refreshing debate. I am delighted to continue my support for safety for cyclists, inspired, as were many other Members of the House, by The Times’ “Cities fit for cycling” campaign. Cycling has many advantages: increasing health, providing a fitter population and work force; saving energy; reducing the degradation of road surfaces; reducing congestion and air quality; and, last but not least, it is also jolly good fun.
It is great to speak today on what could be the cusp of a big change in Britain to transform life and the experience of roads for future generations—to get Britain cycling not just in individual pockets of the country and to have a holistic vision. I congratulate the all-party cycling group on its excellent report, which advocates the dream of having 10% of all journeys made by bike by 2025. I am glad that it does not mince its words on the need for leadership to start with politicians because we, as politicians, have to think long term in supporting cyclists with a shared commitment across Whitehall, councils, schools, employers, and public transport providers.
I pay tribute to Hounslow Cycling, particularly to Tim Harris and Brian Smith, who have been strong advocates and campaigners for improved facilities for cyclists. Their excellent strapline is “Looking for a mini-Holland in Hounslow”. Together with Hounslow council they have an exciting longer-term vision for safer cycling, but they have raised some issues that I would like to share with the House. First, there is funding. The Government’s response to “Get Britain Cycling” does not provide any assurance of funding for cycling infrastructure in future. It is a shame that when Ministers recently set out annual budgets for road and rail investment for the next eight years they failed to do so for cycling infrastructure.
Secondly, 20-mph speed limits should be adopted on residential roads as standard. Hounslow Cycling makes the very effective point that we should not have to fight campaigns in each neighbourhood to get safe speed limits and good-quality cycle lanes and design standards governing how roads are built. This should not be done for cyclists; it needs to be done with cyclists, whose input at the design stage can have a real impact on the quality of the result. We know that 20-mph speed limits can make a big difference. In 2009 the British Medical Journal published a review of road casualties in London between 1986 and 2006 having found that 20-mph zones reduced casualties by over 40%.
Thirdly, it is important to have a national cycling champion—a proposal that has not been accepted so far. Perhaps the Minister might want to say whether that is still the case. Fourthly, we must ensure that where we have rules they are effectively enforced. Some of the behavioural changes that we need, such as cyclists not going through red lights, must be looked at in the interests of their safety as well as that of others.
Cycling has the potential to be a huge British success story. We can see many more Olympic gold medallists coming through if we encourage good behaviours, start them young, and make sure that everyone feels they can cycle in future.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) on securing this debate through the Backbench Business Committee. I thank him for inviting me to serve on the panel. I suspect that I ended up doing so for one simple reason—that I am a reluctant cyclist. Although I occasionally cycle, the reason I am reluctant is that I do not think it is a particularly safe activity. I fully support The Times’ “Cities fit for cycling” campaign following the case of Mary Bowers, who is still in a coma. I also fully support the implementation of the targets that the Government need to make sure that there is strong political leadership at local and national level and that cycling is safe.
Over the recess I spoke to a number of people in my Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport constituency. Anne-Marie Clark, who rides with the Plymouth Yogis, suggested that the Government should make it compulsory for people to wear helmets. She was appalled that hirers of Boris bikes are not offered helmets. The Mayor of London may want to look at that. She also highlighted Plymouth’s notorious potholes, and I am delighted that the Government and the council are working together to fix them. Anyone who lives in my constituency who wants to have a photograph taken with me and Pothole Pete alongside a pothole is welcome to contact me in order to arrange it.
The chairman of Plymouth’s cycling campaign, Stuart Mee, said that one of the biggest impediments to getting on two wheels is the traffic. He said that all too often cycle routes stop at junctions and do not take cyclists to where they want to go. In Plymouth some routes end abruptly at difficult junctions. He added that cycling can make Plymouth healthier. Several cyclists who watched me do a little bit of cycling through the streets of Plymouth during the sky ride picked up on my comments during the last cycling debate, when I made it clear that if cycling were made safer and I took it up I could put into effect the title of Tom Vernon’s wonderful, well-known radio programme, “Fat Man on a Bicycle”.
Regular health activities can save a lot of money. It is interesting to note that a child born in Devonport—a really deprived community—is expected to live 14 years less than a child from the city suburbs in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter).
All parties on Plymouth county council are supportive of this report. It is interesting that the cabinet member for transport on my patch told me recently that over the past four years there has been a 30% increase in cycling. The Sustrans Connect2 project has done an enormous amount to try to connect the west of the city to the city centre. It would be helpful to have a conversation with a Minister from the Department for Work and Pensions in order to make sure that it can provide bicycles to those who cannot get to employment opportunities on the other side of the city.
Finally, I want cycle manufacturers to produce cheaper and more basic cycles. I want to buy one, but I do not want to pay £1,000 for it. I want one a bit like the one Paul Newman rode in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”; I may then notice rain drops falling on my head.
I join colleagues in congratulating the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and others, not only on securing this debate, but on the excellent work in producing the “Get Britain Cycling” report done by the all-party group on cycling.
I represent a city that has hills, which can make cycling a bit of a challenge, certainly for those of us who are recreational cyclists. Even in Sheffield, however, cycling rates have doubled over the past eight to 10 years, but we have a long way to go compared with—for a change, I will not mention Holland—hilly Helsingborg in Sweden: 26% of daily commutes into its city centre are made on a bike, compared with less than 1% in Sheffield.
Having said I would not mention the Netherlands, I will do so briefly, although I hesitate to do so. I spent a few days in Tilberg, a fairly ordinary city in central Netherlands, last year. I was struck by the fascinating consequence of the impact of a planning approach that gives as much focus to the needs of bikes as to those of cars. It provides a contrast to the picture of British cycling painted earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). In Tilberg I saw a town in which elderly couples, families and young people all saw bikes as the preferred form of transport for commuting, shopping or an evening out. It was a transformational experience.
As the “Get Britain Cycling” report highlights, we need to do a number of things to transform the situation in the UK, of which, clearly, one is funding. That means not simply providing more funding, but making sure that the billions we spend on our roads have funds earmarked within them for cycling and meeting the needs of cyclists. That will be an important step towards achievements similar to those of the Dutch.
When I invited comments from my constituents on today’s debate, I got a huge response. There were a number of common themes. They pressed for more segregated cycle lanes and for more available and consistent cycle lanes that are not used for parking for large parts of the day and that do not disappear on the approach to difficult junctions or hazardous roundabouts. They argued for road infrastructure to be better designed and for speed bumps that do not have gaps at the side. They argued against routes that follow illogical directions. They pushed for the maintenance of cycle routes with regard not only to their quality, but to their visibility to cyclists and motorists. They argued not only for safe routes to schools, public buildings and places of work, but for more secure places for people to leave their cycles when they get there.
I would like a response from the Minister on one specific point when he winds up: the role of cycling within an integrated approach to transport. I am pleased that south Yorkshire has received funding from the Government for a tram-train pilot, which will see the introduction of a continental model with vehicles that run on both tram and rail tracks. That is a significant development for us and a potential model for the rest of the country. It is important that we get it right. Part of that is ensuring that cyclists are able to take their bikes on to the tram-trains so that both modes of transport can be used on a journey. I have raised that issue with the South Yorkshire passenger transport executive because decisions need to be taken now at the stage of system design. The Department is also a key stakeholder, so I ask the Minister to join me by confirming in his closing remarks that he will seek to ensure that bikes can be carried on to tram-trains in that important pilot.
There is clearly strong cross-party support for the report and I hope that this debate secures a transformation in the UK.
We have learned some fascinating things today, notably that the Emperor Hadrian created his great wall not to keep the Picts out of England, as many of us thought, but to provide the Northumberland tourism board with a cycleway.
I join the wave of enthusiasm for this debate and its two sponsors, the hon. Members for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and for Dudley North (Ian Austin), but I will risk sounding a curmudgeonly note by giving their report, “Get Britain Cycling”, only two cheers rather than three. The reason for that is the report’s specific recommendations. First, I would like the title to be “Let Britain Cycle”, rather than the more prescriptive “Get Britain Cycling”.
I am not mad about more Government action plans and annual reports—they are not best sellers on the whole. I am not convinced that appointing cycling tsars in central and local government and in devolved authorities “responsible for cycling” will add to the numbers who get on their bikes. Can we all not be responsible for our own cycling and, like the best missionaries, let our happiness encourage others to get on their bikes, without having tsars?
The report recommends national targets. Just as I do not want to see Gloucestershire Royal hospital bristling with targets and performance indicators but bereft of compassion, so I do not want to see cycling targets without the fun. Besides, most of the statistics are extremely dodgy. How, for example, does the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) know that as many women as men cycle in York? Who compiles the statistics? To quote British Cycling,
“Better measures of cycle use at a local level have been introduced recently…but these only give an indication of self-reported cycle use, not distance travelled or numbers of trips.”
I therefore believe that the statistical measurements and targets that are suggested by the all-party group at best are optimistic and at worst delude us that we can measure cycling precisely.
Instead, I would like today to be a celebration of cycling by all of us who have enjoyed cycling. Before the end of this Parliament, I will celebrate 50 years of cycling by going back to my first commercial journey, which I made to pick peas four miles from home. There was a wonderful steep hill—more fun going down than up—very few cars and that great sense of freedom and fun that one gets from being on a bike. That is my focus for this debate: freedom and fun, not traffic jams and road rage, from which so many other travellers seem to suffer.
I believe the Government have been given a bit of a hard time this evening about their expenditure, because it seems to me that £128 million in five years is good news. I am particularly pleased with the local sustainable transport fund, which for a few hundred thousand pounds will make a huge difference in Gloucester—my constituency—with improved routes, signs, cycle racks and even a cycle hub. I look forward to road testing those new routes in a few weeks with an excellent representative from our county council, our local bike action group chairman, Toby, and BBC Radio Gloucestershire presenter, Mark Cummings. We will also look at some of the problem areas, and if the all-party group or the Minister know of a good solution to roundabouts, please let me know the best practice.
Our time has been sharply curtailed, so in conclusion: yes, cycling makes life better for all, but I urge the all-party group not to become obsessed with statistics and to focus more on cycling being fun for all. Let the Government expand their programme for the big cities to the small cities. That will be good value for money and great news for places such as Gloucester.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this debate on a topic that is important to me and a great many of my constituents, and in the curtailed time available I will say something about the need to make cycling a mainstream transport option and address the future funding of cycling.
Cyclists in my constituency have made it clear that they feel cycling, which they are passionate about, has not been taken seriously enough by policy makers. However, I think they will genuinely appreciate the turnout and commitment shown in this debate, which is a sign that the report has already had some impact. When my constituents contacted me they cited simple mistakes and missed opportunities in public policy and planning that have held back cycling and prevented the growth of its popularity. It is difficult to disagree with that sentiment, as the “Get Britain Cycling” report highlighted. Such neglect has prevented cycling from becoming as popular as it might have been, and that is often used as justification for the lack of attention cycling policy receives. As we have heard, cycling undoubtedly brings significant health and environmental benefits, but without political leadership at national and local level it is hard to see how it can move from being a mere afterthought to an acknowledged major means of transportation.
Having listened to the whole debate, I believe it is important to acknowledge that things are not as good as they need to be. A lot of Members have highlighted great practice in their areas, but if we give the impression that we are satisfied with the status quo, that would be wrong. To get things right, the Government, local authorities and transport bodies must ensure that the needs of cyclists are properly taken into account. For the benefit of any of my constituents reading this speech, I acknowledge that my local authority has not always met expectations in that regard, but I will say, if I can, how we are trying to correct that.
The “Get Britain Cycling” report offers a number of practical solutions to address those problems. One is the cross-departmental cycling action plan. That sounds as if it comes straight from “Yes Minister”, but the goal of ensuring that cycling is embodied at top levels of strategic planning and the political agenda is the right one. Taking things a step further, local and central Government have appointed lead politicians for cycling, which again must be a good thing. For example, if we look at the commitment shown to cycling in London on a cross-party basis over many years, we see what can be achieved with a strong strategic plan coupled with the political will to make it successful. Across my constituency and the Greater Manchester area, I am pleased to say that action is being taken to help get Britain cycling.
As I said, I recognise that in the past people have come to me with legitimate complaints because they felt we have not taken advantage of our position as a Greater Manchester borough that sits between Manchester city centre and the Peak District national park, and we have not used cycling fully enough to address that area’s poor public health. Now, however, Transport for Greater Manchester, in partnership with constituent local authorities, is implementing a bold strategy that combines central Government funds with local money to make significant changes. As well as looking at investment in the road network to make cycle-friendly changes to roads and junctions, it is trying to provide facilities specifically for the use of cyclists who wish to ditch their car and cycle to work. Tameside council has taken the lead in that, trying to build a cycling hub in the centre of the borough of Ashton-under-Lyne. Once open, it will give commuting cyclists the chance to lock up their bike, get changed and have a shower before heading to work.
Such ideas lead to the major issue at the heart of this debate which is how we fund and allocate money to transport projects, and the role of cycling within that. To make things happen there must obviously be a strong commitment from the Government. I welcome the money that has been announced, although there are concerns about the loss of Cycling England. If we are to catch up with our European neighbours—we have heard a lot about Holland today—we must clearly move towards that £10 per head target, as the APPG report recommends.
I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and the all-party group on securing this important debate, which has provoked a great deal of interest from my constituents. I have had a large number of e-mails, although it is worth noting that only one of them came from a woman. My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) and the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) commented on the cycling gender gap. It is interesting to note—this comes from the Breeze website—that more than three times as many men as women participate in cycling.
In Hampshire, the Bikeability scheme is run by Mountbatten school in Romsey. It gave evidence to the all-party group and has contributed to the “Get Britain Cycling” report, which is an excellent report containing brilliant ideas. Annually, the Hampshire schools cycling partnership delivers in excess of 12,000 cycle courses throughout Hampshire, Portsmouth and Southampton, in more than 300 schools. There is a commitment within the partnership to make cycle training available to all, and to make both bikes and helmets available to those who do not have them. There is a belief that cycling is an essential life skill, and that every young person should receive a safe grounding in cycling skills and road use.
Test Valley borough has, for the past 16 years, run the Test valley tour, an off-road cycling event that encourages participants from serious cyclists down to the weekend pedaller to enjoy the Hampshire countryside. This weekend, as part of the borough’s Olympic legacy project, a new BMX track is being opened in Valley park. There is not only a competition-standard track, but a learner track, to ensure that all levels of cyclist can get involved. It is important to remember that cycling is about not just mountain and road bikes; people can participate in a broad range of cycling. It is not just about getting from A to B, which much of the debate has focused on; cycling can be fun for its own sake.
It would be wrong to suggest that all is rosy in Hampshire. The experience of off-road cycleways and of the conflict with road junctions is the same as we have heard from many hon. Members. Test Valley works hard to ensure that there is a network of off-road cycle routes, but the one that always comes to my attention is the route running alongside the A3057. Often, we see cyclists on the road rather than the cycleway, which frustrates motorists. However, when I drill down with cyclists as to what the problem is, they tell me not only that we need capital investment to provide cycleways, but that cycleways need maintaining. They say that the small stones they find if the cycleways are not swept can be lethal to the thin tyres of road bikes. Indeed, the tarmac surface of the road is often better for serious athletes wishing to train and get up to good speeds.
There is also conflict with the many junctions on the road way. I am thinking in particular of Heron lane in Timsbury, where the markings are not clear. Road users seeking to access the A3057 often meet speeding cyclists on the cycleway who believe they have priority, when in fact the motorist has priority. There are many near misses, which provokes anxiety for motorist and cyclist alike.
I am not suggesting that better signage is a panacea. In rural areas, opting for red or—dare I say it?—blue tarmac is incongruous, and does not fit well with the countryside. It is important that we look for tailor-made solutions and that we are innovative in junction improvements. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
I should conclude with one suggestion from a cyclist, who said that we need a similar legislative framework to that of Italy—hon. Members will be pleased that he identified Italy rather than the Netherlands. In Italy, the presumption is that the liability for any accident is with the motorist and not with the cyclist.
One of our great Olympians, Laura Trott, said at the weekend that:
“It’s not always the car’s fault…Cyclists need to help themselves”.
Of course, she is right.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. I commend the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) for introducing it on behalf of the all-party group on cycling.
I confess that I am not an avid cyclist, but I freely acknowledge the health, social and economic benefits of cycling. In fact, cycling can become not only an economic tool in town centres, but a regeneration tool. It can help to reduce congestion and pollution in town centres. Those factors have already been acknowledged in the report. The health, economic and social benefits of cycling are, as the report highlights, well documented and range from reducing air pollution in our cities to promoting spending in small businesses along commuter cycling routes and improving, through exercise, the general health of our population.
There is a growing attitudinal change among the public, who are ahead of us in many ways in understanding the benefits of cycling and in recognising that this issue must not be framed as a debate of cyclist versus the car driver. This attitudinal change is sadly yet to happen within Government. The Department for Transport’s response to the report demonstrates that when it states:
“Cycle spending that makes a tangible contribution to other Government departments, such as Health, Education, Sport and Business, should be funded from those budgets, not just the DfT.”
While that statement is undoubtedly true, by presenting it as a bold opening statement it is clear that the Department is perhaps trying to pass the buck. Perhaps the Minister, in his closing remarks, will assuage my fears and prove that that is not the case.
If we are to make gains in preventive health for our population and make cycling safer, it is imperative that the Government’s attitude changes and a pro-cycling, cross-departmental approach is developed. I used to be a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, where one of my colleagues is currently bringing forward a private Member’s Bill to introduce more 20 mph speed limits. I am conscious of what the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) said—that they are successful only if they can be enforced—but there is no doubt that people want to see them happen, particularly in housing estates.
The money committed by the Government to cycling projects was dedicated to the financing of specific worthwhile projects. Reference has been made in the debate to the fact that there needs to be a more equitable spread of that money, so that the benefits of cycling can be seen. Only a few weeks ago, as part of the world police and fire games, my constituency hosted mountain bike trials that require considerable skill and involve a high level of risk, but they have much investment in training.
Hopefully, this debate will highlight the issue of cycling and encourage the Government.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) on introducing the debate, and all members of the all-party cycling group on their excellent report, “Get Britain Cycling”. I support the report’s recommendations, in particular for an annual cycling action plan and for sustained funding for cycling.
Liberal Democrats have long recognised the positive benefits of cycling. It assists in tackling road congestion, reducing air pollution and supporting our economy. Not only is it a fast, cheap and green mode of transport, it promotes a healthier lifestyle too. It is a sobering fact that only 2% of journeys in the UK are made by bicycle. Our European neighbours put us to shame in this regard. It is also important to note that approximately half of all journeys made by car are only a few miles. Surely we can encourage people to make some of those journeys by bike. I am pleased that targets are included in the motion, and I hope that the Government adopt them.
In 2010, the gross contribution of cycling to the UK economy was almost £3 billion. According to calculations, if we encourage more people to cycle we could save the UK economy a few hundred million pounds through reduced road congestion and about £70 million to £80 million through less pollution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), the Minister for cycling, has been a champion of cycling for many years. I am pleased that he has continued that attitude in government and done a good job supporting cycling. For example, last March the Department for Transport published its door-to-door strategy, which set out how the Government are encouraging people to combine different methods of transport in their journeys and increase the number of journeys made by bicycle. In April, my hon. Friend the Minister for cycling announced £40 million of funding, which is being used at 78 locations to make roads and junctions safer for cyclists. All those schemes are due to be completed within 12 months.
In August, the coalition Government announced a dramatic boost for cycling funding. The Prime Minister showed the Government’s commitment by making the announcement himself, which represents the biggest ever single cash injection for cycling. The Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for more people to be able to ride out with confidence on our nation’s roads. This Government are a good supporter of cycling. However, we cannot afford to be complacent on this issue. The all-party group’s report offers us the chance to support cycling and ensure that the Government continue to work hard to promote the needs and safety of cyclists, alongside those of other road users. I wholeheartedly support today’s motion. I hope the Government will build on the good work they have already done by taking forward the report’s recommendations.
We have already heard this evening about the health and environmental benefits of cycling, through the reduction in pollution, congestion and pressure on city parking, and about the economic benefits from a cheap form of transport. In recent years we have seen some fantastic recreational facilities provided, such as the coastal path in my constituency and a fantastic cycle path that goes from Llanelli up to Tumble along a disused railway that has a very gradual gradient.
However, this evening we are not just talking about recreational facilities; we are talking about how to get people cycling much more in their everyday lives, and not just on holiday. It needs to be practical and safe for people to go by bike wherever they need to go—whether to work or to the shops, the doctor’s, the leisure centre or the cinema, and so forth. That means making routes everywhere safer and more pleasant for cyclists. We need proper investment—at least £10 a head, as the report suggests—to ensure the infrastructure. We need the political will to prioritise spending on cycling. We need joined-up thinking across Departments. We need thinking at the initial stages of planning for any infrastructure, but we also need to look at retrospective measures.
There have been some adaptations in our cities, but there is a lot more to do. Some of our out-of-town shopping centres, for example, are a disgrace when it comes to providing for pedestrians and cyclists. There is a lot of work to be done there. We need to think imaginatively about some of our rural roads. How do we get better visibility? How do we warn that there are cyclists about? How do we make some well-used stretches of rural roads, on which people want to get from one facility to another, practical on a bicycle? We have heard about encouraging children and young people through training programmes in schools, but we also need training programmes for young adults—possibly at university—and for adults when they start work. We talk about encouraging people to cycle, particularly young children and school pupils, but we also need to be aware that designated cycle areas, such as along canals or old railway tracks, might not be suitable if they are not well lit and visible. Those areas need to be in the public domain and within easy contact of a lot of people; otherwise they will not be suitable for use by children going to school.
There are all sorts of ways to encourage people, whether though special events, such as “Get your bike out” days, or giving them opportunities to have their bikes looked at, maintained and working again, and getting back into the habit of going by bike. We also need to sort out the issues with other forms of transport. Although there has been a lot of progress, there are still times when people cannot take their bikes on trains and awkward incidents when there seems to be no joined-up thinking.
I would like quickly to mention the Welsh Government’s Active Travel (Wales) Bill, which will go through stage three of the legislative procedure on 1 October. The Bill aims to encourage non-recreational active travel routes for walking and cycling, which are used by people for work, school or shopping. The Bill would require local authorities in Wales to produce and distribute comprehensive maps showing all the active travel routes in their areas and, most importantly, to make continuous improvements to the range and quality of active travel routes. They will be expected to make year-on-year improvements, either by expanding the number of facilities or by upgrading existing ones.
On that note, I would like to ask the Minister, who has now heard the tremendous cross-party support for increased investment in cycling, whether he will try to convince his colleagues across Government that this is the right way forward, and that we want better investment as well as clear, directional thinking and the real political will to put cycling right at the heart of Government.
I congratulate the Government on providing the extra money to support the development of new, safe cycle routes that are separated from traffic. Many people are saying that there should be more money. Yes, we can always spend more money, but the Government have shown great leadership by making this money available. I was especially pleased that some of it has been directed towards national parks, including the Peak District national park to the north of my constituency. Many people spend their leisure time there, yet it is still very dangerous for families to cycle along many of the area’s roads.
My constituency lies across the Derwent Valley Mills world heritage site, the cradle of the industrial revolution which kick-started modern economies, the development of technology and, ultimately, globalisation. However, it is still not possible for a family to cycle safely across the heritage site from one historic site to the next. Part of the heritage site falls within the national park, but the part in my constituency and in Derby, to the south, does not. I would like to ask the Minister to provide some funding to enable the extension of the proposed cycleways down through the world heritage site, via the historic mills at Belper, Milford and Darley Abbey, to the Silk Mill museum in Derby, which many people do not realise was the world’s first multi-storey factory.
The tourism business that could be generated by attracting people throughout the world to share the interpretation of the world’s industrial heritage should not be underestimated. Once the new velodrome in Derby South has been completed and opened, even more cyclists will be attracted to the area. Germany, Austria and Italy have already harnessed the potential of attracting cycle tourists to increase their tourism income, which has the benefit of being spent mostly in local villages and towns, either in the small-scale catering industry or on buying regional products, thereby supporting local growth in jobs and the economy. We are trying to do that in Belper, particularly through the sale of local food and local products. Furthermore, Transition Derby is trying to stop people using their cars one day a week, which is not too much to ask people to do.
Those are not the only benefits that could come from extending the cycleway to the south. The added value of providing a safe cycleway from the Derwent valley into Derby is that it would also serve the needs of numerous commuters living in the towns and villages in the valley, especially Belper, Milford, Duffield, Little Eaton, Allestree and Darley Abbey. It would provide a safe, healthy, carbon-free alternative mode of transport that would reduce congestion and pollution. The benefits of such expenditure to leisure users and city communities is self-evident, and I therefore ask the Minister to consider adding to the current proposals for cycleways in national parks and to fund an extension of the cycle route from Matlock—he will be familiar with Matlock, as it is in the constituency of the Secretary of State—down to Derby through the Derwent Valley Mills world heritage site.
I warmly welcome the recommendations in the “Get Britain Cycling” report, and I want to add my congratulations to the all-party parliamentary cycling group on the work that it has done on it. The benefits of increasing cycling to public health, air quality, congestion, the local economy and people’s overall quality of life are huge and undisputed, and the report provides a comprehensive set of steps towards achieving a bold vision.
A cycling revolution is not just about incremental growth in a few areas of the country. As the report sets out, we should be aiming for
“a dramatic increase in the number and diversity of people who cycle, because they see it as a safe and normal activity.”
So, although the warm words about cycling and the extra funding are important, I have been disappointed by the Government’s rather half-hearted and complacent responses to so many of the other recommendations. It has been striking to hear the breadth of support from all parts of the House for more priority to be given to cycling, and I hope that the Minister will now take another look at the merits of being more proactive in making the cycling revolution a reality.
Sitting here this afternoon, I was impressed to hear so many local examples of good practice, and I would like to add a few of my own from Brighton and Hove. Brighton and Hove is a very cycle-friendly city, so let me highlight a few of its fantastic local initiatives. These powerfully illustrate some of the tremendous benefits that could be unlocked by acting on the report and through meaningful political leadership at national level, too.
For example, Brighton and Hove Albion football club is constantly encouraging, promoting and facilitating cycling to the stadium, which is about five miles from the city centre. “Bike train” rides are organised by experienced volunteers to help cyclists to take up a good amount of road space and benefit from safety in numbers. All that helps cut air pollution, so it is not just those on the bikes who are reaping the health benefits. I have taken part in bike train rides on a number of occasions and have experienced how incredibly helpful such schemes are, particularly for getting less confident people on a bike and ensuring that they enjoy the experience by making it feel normal and safe.
Secondly, there is to be an exciting new cycling hub at Brighton railway station, which was approved in July by the city council. This will increase the number of bike spaces by 420 to a total of 670, and provide shower and changing facilities, a bike shop, a café, a cycle repair outlet and bike hire—with these all in one place right at the station, which is great for new and experienced cyclists alike.
Thirdly, we recently introduced a new 1.8 km cycle lane that separates bikes from motorised traffic along Old Shoreham road. People feel much safer, cycle journeys have rocketed by 30%, and it has been praised by many. Such “Copenhagen-style” improvements are crucial for cyclists to feel safe, especially those who are new to cycling or less confident.
In response to requests from residents, the city council is now consulting on a second phase of a programme to introduce 20 mph speed limits. Again, this is not just about cyclists, but about improving the street environment for all road users, including car drivers, by reducing the number and severity of collisions and casualties, improving traffic flows and making the city a safer and better place to live in. A default speed limit of 20 mph is a key recommendation of the report, which I think Ministers should not dismiss so quickly. Changing speed limits is not expensive, and if we are serious about “cycle proofing” all roads, adequate long-term funding is needed for schemes such as new cycle lanes.
Finally, let me say a few words about the great environmental gains—both for local air quality and cutting carbon pollution—that would follow from the UK becoming a true cycling nation. I end by emphasising that there are also very good economic and social reasons, which would alone provide ample grounds for full implementation of all the report’s recommendations. For example, according to a Sustrans report last year, 1.5 million people are in transport poverty. These people are unable to get to jobs, shops, health care or school because they cannot drive or run a car, while public transport is inaccessible and they cannot use bikes either. More investment in bikes would help them tremendously.
As one of the panel members of the all-party parliamentary cycling group’s report “Get Britain Cycling”, I am delighted to take part in today’s debate. I am delighted, too, because I am undertaking the parliamentary sports fellowship with British Cycling for the coming year.
I fully support the report’s aims, especially the target to have 10% of all journeys made by bike by 2025 and 25% by the year 2050. The motion also calls for the Government to show strong political leadership, including an annual cycling action plan and sustained funding for cycling. I would particularly like to welcome the latest Government action, which includes making it easier for councils to install cycle facilities, cycle proofing of road infrastructure and stumping up £148 million of new funding between now and 2015.
In fact, along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary State for Transport, I was at the headquarters of the Peak District national park over the summer, hearing about its ambitious plans to improve and encourage cycling there. As part of that national park is in my constituency, I was delighted to hear that cycling in the park is being given a £7.5 million boost to enhance the cycle trail network. This will put an estimated 3.5 million people within reach of the Peak District national park cycle network, either by bike or following just a short train ride.
Cycling has gone ballistic in my part of West Yorkshire. My personal passion began with a series of country-wide charity bike rides with Huddersfield Town football club. The “Keep it Up” campaign has raised just short of £1 million for the Yorkshire air ambulance, as hundreds of Huddersfield Town fans have been sponsored to cycle to and from opposing teams’ football grounds. Well done to all of them!
The grand départ will go through my constituency on Sunday 6 July next year. A huge number of cyclists are already out on the route, B and Bs are booked up, and cycling-related festivals and events are being planned. The Government are backing the Tour de France in Yorkshire with £10 million of funding. However, there will not be just one day of the Tour in Yorkshire, because there is now a legacy project called “Get Yorkshire Cycling”—a 10-year strategy which will unlock potential in the fields of health, the economy, the environment, transport, tourism and community engagement.
As well as investment, cycling safety is paramount, and has been foremost in the minds of many people in my constituency this summer. John Radford of Meltham is a popular cycling champion, but he is now fighting for his life following a collision with a car. He suffered severe head injuries and had to be airlifted to Leeds general infirmary, where he remains critically ill. John is chairman of Huddersfield and District cyclists touring club, and has been working tirelessly to promote cycling locally and nationally.
Cycling is a community. Last month I joined 200 of John’s friends to take part in a six-mile ride to show our support and help to raise cash for the Yorkshire air ambulance, which flew him to hospital. The ride was organised by Councillor Martyn Bolt, the mayor of Kirklees. I know that all Members will want to send their best wishes to John and his family.
I will not, because I have only 30 seconds left.
British Cycling is continuing to work with Ministers and the likes of Sustrans and the CTC to push for change. This is not just about safety. Cycling needs to sit at the heart of transport policy, and as it becomes more and more popular, we need to make it safer as well. We need better collaboration between Government departments. Mr. Speaker, let’s “Get Britain Cycling”.
Some of my constituents who urged me to take part in the debate may have been surprised when I wrote back to say that, although I would put in for it, I could not guarantee that I would be able to speak, or able to speak for long. I think that, in general, the British public underestimate the extent and seriousness of the House’s interest in cycling. Debates on the subject have been greatly over-subscribed, at least during the time for which I have been a Member of Parliament, and I think that that is a huge step forward.
It is a pity that a debate which has been so well supported will not receive much publicity. It will not, I suspect, feature on the front pages of many newspapers, despite our best endeavours. That is probably because it is too consensual. The British public, or perhaps the media, are sometimes a bit odd in that respect. We are always being urged to be more consensual, but when we are more consensual, we tend to be ignored, and what we say is not considered very important. I hope that at least some attention will be paid to this debate, because—as was pointed out by the hon. Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and for Gloucester (Richard Graham)—it is important for us to mention not just the problems but the fun and enjoyment of cycling.
It is also important for people to realise that Members of Parliament are human beings who “get” cycling. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) said that we might not look like MPs if we turned up sweating from cycling, but MPs are people as well. When I was first a councillor and cycled around my ward all the time, my constituents initially thought that I was a touch eccentric, but as they got to know me, they realised that that was actually a very sensible thing to do. Cycling gets us to where we want to be very quickly and efficiently, especially in cities. Sadly, in rural areas cycle use is falling rather than rising, and that is clearly an issue that we should think about.
When I was a young trainee solicitor, I was asked to deliver an offer. Housing offers had to be delivered by a deadline of noon, and this was before the days of fax and e-mail: they had to be delivered physically. When my boss said that the offer must be delivered by 12 o’clock, I said “I will just go and get my bike”, but he threw me the car keys and insisted that I take the car. Of course, taking the bike would have been much more efficient. Once you get the car to the destination, assuming that was in time, there would be nowhere to park it, and in parking it five minutes’ walk away, absolutely nothing has been gained. People have to understand that.
Even in a city such as mine, where generally, as I indicated in an intervention, a lot of money is being spent on cycling and there is a lot of support for it, the proposal for how to deal with Princes street once the trams arrive and start working was, disappointingly, to have an only one-way cycle route, along that prime street of the city. One argument for that was that the alternative route, which would have had a two-way cycle route, was on one of the big national cycle routes and people would want to go through it. I greatly admire people who do long-distance cycling, but I am not one of them; for many of us we are talking about a daily event, and people want to go from A to B easily. Perhaps Edinburgh council is listening, along with other councils, because they have to make it easy for us to get to where we want to be, as that will encourage a lot of people to get cycling.
I did not learn the joys of cycling in Holland or even in Hexham; I learned them in the constituency of the Minister when I was a young teenager. However, I have gained a far greater appreciation of cycling since becoming the Member of Parliament for Macclesfield. At the elite level, we are fortunate to have the national cycling centre in Manchester, and Team GB were often seen training on the junction between the Cheshire plain and the Peak district, where we in Macclesfield are so fortunate to live. We saw them cycling up the Cat and Fiddle road and clearly setting the standard on how to take elite sport forward.
My area is also privileged to have Dame Sarah Storey, our most decorated Paralympian of all time, who lives in Disley. It is only fitting, but I am delighted that Disley parish council is unveiling a commissioned sculpture in her memory in a few weeks’ time and celebrating her tremendous accomplishments with an amazing cycling day in the village. We are also fortunate enough to have an incredible cycling club, Macclesfield Wheelers, which sets an incredibly high standard with its legendary cycling trials between Macclesfield and Congleton. It is also setting a really high standard as advocates for its pastime and passion, and the club has certainly helped me to gain a greater understanding of what needs to happen to take cycling forward.
What most encourages me is the number of people taking to cycling on their own initiative, whether it is getting out into the Peak district—many MPs have spoken about that—enjoying Macclesfield forest, getting out on the Middlewood way with their families or just taking the bike to go to the shops. The public in Britain get cycling. They understand its benefits, and not only because of the Olympics and the Tour de France, with the great successes of Sir Bradley Wiggins; they are seeing the health and well-being benefits of cycling.
One thing that has perhaps been omitted from the report is the issue of safety helmets for children under the age of 15. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that their use should be compulsory for people of that age in order to prevent accidents, because that is when the greatest number of accidents takes place?
That subject has been well debated today. There are pros and cons, but the overwhelming suggestion from people here is that if we make helmets compulsory, fewer people will cycle. We are trying to say, “Let’s get people cycling.” This is not about having a health and safety-fest; it is about encouraging people to get out cycling and seeing the health and well-being benefits, which are profound. They are also lifelong, unlike those associated with football, rugby or some of the other sports we are keen to support.
The other thing we should note is that cycling also gives a real boost to the local economy, particularly in rural areas. Cycling is vital as it provides revenues for countless B and Bs, guest houses, cafés, pubs and, let us not forget, local cycling shops, which seem to be springing up in many villages. Given those important benefits to tourism, I am delighted to join my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) and colleagues from elsewhere in highlighting what the Peak District national park is doing to get more people cycling through its cycling festival, which I believe is taking place next weekend. I have also been out cycling with the Secretary of State for Transport on the Monsal trail. That just shows that he is absolutely committed to, and understands the importance of, cycling.
As co-chair of the all-party group on mountaineering, I am passionate about campaigning to get people out and active outdoors. Normally, this is about getting them out and active on two feet, through the “Britain on Foot” campaign, but I recognise today that it is vital to get people active on two wheels as well. It is fantastic to see the degree of participation in this debate.
I am delighted that the Government are taking action in this area. Many have talked about the important funding for cycling ambition grants, which will have profound benefits for cities such as Manchester and national parks such as the Peak District. I am pleased that more steps are being taken to encourage the setting up of 20 mph speed limit zones and to make it easier for them to be established. However, I was talking to Macclesfield Wheelers and its chairman, Peter McGuckian, earlier today, and there is more that needs to be done. We must improve signage to ensure that people feel safer on the roads when they are out cycling. He also talked about the importance of setting up more advanced stop positions, which are vital for cyclists. He also asked me to urge that motor-related offences against cyclists should be taken much more seriously than they have been in the past.
Let me conclude by focusing on the potential for cycling. My mother is Danish, so I understood the importance of cycling from an early age. For many people it is not just a sport, an outdoor activity or a mode of transport—it is part of people’s lives. There is real potential to make this a way of life that will benefit countless people.
This has been a excellent debate with positive contributes from 33 colleagues on both sides of the House. The clear message is that Parliament wants to see greater support for cycling, not just from the Government but from all parties. That is the call to which I want to respond on behalf of the Opposition this evening.
First, let me pay tribute to the all-party group on cycling. The “Get Britain Cycling” report is excellent, well-argued and persuasive and has had a considerable influence as we have reconsidered our approach to cycling as party of Labour’s policy review. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) on securing and opening the debate on behalf of the all-party group, but I also particularly want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin). He also made an excellent contribution to the debate, of course. Less visible, but absolutely vital, is the energy with which he has sought to persuade my colleagues and I that we must make a much greater commitment to cycling and that we must go significantly further than the important progress that we started to make in government.
Finally, let me mention my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). He not only made a customarily informed and passionate contribution today, but has been a powerful advocate for both cycling and improving safety on our roads for many years—advocacy that, coming from a respected Transport Minister, delivered real policies that saved lives. I am very sorry to have lost his expertise as a Member of our Front-Bench team. However, I know that he will continue to make a considerable contribution on this and many other issues in the future, albeit from the Back Benches.
I am clear that supporting cycling is a hugely cost-effective way of improving our personal and national quality of life. When nearly a quarter of all car journeys are for less than a mile, making cycling a more attractive option has great potential to cut congestion and boost the economy. With families facing a cost of living crisis, making more journeys by bike is a good way to reduce the impact of rising fuel costs on the household budget, and as a cost and time-effective way of staying fit, to which many Members have attested this evening, cycling has real health benefits. Of course, it also benefits the environment, helping us to cut emissions and reduce transport’s contribution to climate change, which remains significant.
The message is being heard, with 20% more people cycling than a decade ago, yet if one goes to the Netherlands—as I also have as part of our policy review—it is apparent how much further we still have to go. In Holland, a third of all trips to and from rail stations are by bike compared with 2% here. I have seen for myself the fantastic facilities for cyclists at stations in Holland, where there are not just bike spaces but undercover staffed storage with people on hand to repair and maintain bikes while owners are at work. It is a matter of investment—10 times more is spent per head of population on cycling in Holland than in the UK—but it is also about attitude and commitment. I am sorry to say that we have not seen the commitment from the Government that we need to see to increase cycling and to make it safer to cycle.
Immediately on taking office, Transport Ministers abolished Cycling England and, more importantly, its £60 million annual budget and the cycling city and towns programme that we established. Since then, policy after policy has set back the progress that we were making. Targets to cut deaths and serious injuries on our roads were abolished, even though they brought focus to efforts to improve safety. The THINK! road safety campaigns have been degraded, road traffic police numbers have fallen and support for speed cameras has been axed, which has made enforcement much more difficult. Longer HGVs have been given the green light, despite the Department for Transport’s analysis of consequential increased road casualties.
This summer we heard the long-awaited promise that axed funding for cycling would be restored, but headlines about the figure of £148 million turned out to be spin. The reality is an average of just £38 million a year until 2016, with the rest to be found by local authorities, which is a third less than the previous Government’s investment. With only one tenth of the population benefiting, that is simply too little, too late, after three wasted years.
It is clear that we need a step change in the Government’s commitment to cycling. There should be a long-term commitment that is supported by all parties and that will last across Parliaments. I shall briefly set out clear proposals for what should form the basis of that new commitment and I hope that the Minister will respond positively to each of them so that we can begin to forge the cross-party consensus that cycling needs and deserves.
First, we must end the stop-start approach to supporting cycling, which means that we need long-term funding of the infrastructure needed for dedicated separate safe cycling routes. Ministers recently set out annual budgets for rail and road investment up to 2020-21, but they failed to do so for cycling infrastructure, which means that while there is a £28 billion commitment for roads, we have only a one-off £114 million from central Government for cycling, and that is spread across three years. It is time for a serious rethink of priorities within the roads budget with a proportion reallocated to deliver a long-term funding settlement for cycling infrastructure.
The priority for investment to support cycling must be dedicated, separated infrastructure to create safe routes. The focus has too often been on painting a thin section at the side of the road a different colour. Genuinely separated cycle routes are vital not only to improve safety but, as we have heard from many hon. Members, to build confidence and to encourage those who are not used to cycling to make the switch to two wheels. It is also important that a commitment to new infrastructure does not become an excuse not to improve the safety of cyclists on roads where there is no separation. The priority should be redesigning dangerous junctions where almost two thirds of cyclist deaths and serious injuries due to collisions take place. We need a much greater use of traffic light phasing to give cyclists a head start.
Secondly, we need to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past, so I propose a cycle safety assessment before new transport schemes are given the green light. In the same way in which Departments have to carry out regulatory impact assessments and equality impact assessments, there should be an obligation to cycle-proof new policies and projects. We need new enforceable design standards and measures to ensure compliance.
Thirdly, we need national targets to cut deaths and serious injuries to be restored, but they should sit alongside a new target to increase levels of cycling. The number of cyclist deaths is tragically at a five-year high. Of course, targets alone are not the only answer, but they help to focus minds and efforts, so Ministers are wrong to reject them. However, it is vital to ensure that targets do not perversely lead to local authorities and others seeing the way to cut deaths and injuries as discouraging cycling. In fact, cycling becomes safer when more cyclists are on the road, so we should learn from the success that has been achieved in European countries that have set clear goals to increase levels of cycling alongside the policies necessary to achieve that.
Fourthly, we should learn from Wales and extend to England its active travel legislation, which sets out clear duties on local authorities to support cycling. Local authorities are central to devising, prioritising and delivering measures to support cycling, so it is important that additional support from central Government is matched by clear obligations. To assist councils, we should provide them with a best-practice toolkit to boost cycling numbers that is based on what we learned from the cycling city and towns programme and evidence from abroad. Councils should be supported to deliver 20 mph zones, which should increasingly become an effective default in most residential areas.
Fifthly, we must ensure that children and young people have every opportunity to cycle and to do so safely. The Government should not have ended long-term funding certainty for the Bikeability scheme, nor axed the requirement for school travel plans. Those decisions can and should be reversed. Sixthly, we need to make it easier for cycling to become part of the journey to work, even when the commute is too far to do by bike alone. Employers can play an important role in providing access to showers, changing facilities and lockers. However, our public transport providers need to step up and do much more too. Instead of the Government’s approach, which has been to propose a weakening of franchise obligations, we should toughen up the requirement to provide station facilities and on-train space for bikes in rail contracts.
Seventhly, we need to ensure that justice is done and seen to be done in cases where collisions lead to the death of cyclists and serious injuries. I welcome the recent commitment from Ministers to initiate a review of sentencing guidelines. It is vital that this is a comprehensive review of the justice system and how it protects vulnerable road users, and it should be concluded without delay in this Parliament. We are certainly willing to work with Government to implement sensible changes that may be proposed.
Finally, we need tough new rules and requirements on heavy goods vehicles that are involved in about a fifth of all cycling fatalities, despite the fact that HGVs make up just 6% of road traffic—there is clearly an issue there. We should look at the case for taking HGVs out of our cities at the busiest times, as has happened elsewhere in Europe, including in Paris and Dublin. As a minimum, we should require safety measures on all HGVs, including sensors, audible truck-turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars, as well as better training and awareness. I have previously suggested to Ministers that the £23 million that is expected to be raised annually from the new HGV road-charging scheme could be used to support the road haulage industry to achieve that. I hope that that idea will be taken seriously and considered by Ministers, along with all those clear proposals. Taken together, I believe that that would be a significant improvement in the Government’s current approach, and it is something that all parties could support across the House.
Cycling has the potential to be a huge British success story, but it needs a new approach and a shared commitment across Government, councils, schools, employers and public transport providers. Most of all, it needs Ministers to cut the spin and instead give cycling infrastructure greater priority within the existing transport investment plans that they have set out. It is time to end the stop-start approach that is getting in the way of progress and agree a cross-party, long-term commitment to cycling.
I welcome the fact that the debate has taken place. It follows the very successful debate in Westminster Hall, which was also engendered by the all-party group on cycling. I pay particular tribute to my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), and the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), for their leadership of that group, and, indeed, to all members of that group for a very good report. I welcome the fact that this has been a well-attended debate, and that the contributions from Members from all parts of the House have, almost without exception, been positive and constructive. I am particularly pleased to hear the news of individual MPs taking up cycling. That is now on the record in Hansard, and doubtless their constituents will hold them to that commitment.
The Government wants more people to cycle more often, more safely. We are determined to drive that forward. We have a good record to date, but I want to make it clear that we want to go even further. I believe that we have the most pro-cycling Government that the country has ever had, and we are determined to go even further.
Cycling is good for the environment, good for individual health, and good for the economy. It is good for the environment, because it cuts carbon emissions, noise and air pollution. It is good for individual health, and I am delighted both that the former Health Minister, the hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), has attended the debate, and by the contribution that the Department of Health has made towards to cycling efforts in government, including the financial contribution that it has made to some of our projects. NHS reforms provide an opportunity at local level for the public health function to be discharged in conjunction with the transport function in a way that simply was not possible before.
Cycling is also good for the economy. Last week, I was in Cambridge, where 47% of adults cycle at least once a week. I congratulate the three councils there: Conservative Cambridgeshire county council, South Cambridgeshire district council, and my Lib Dem colleagues on Cambridge city council, who are working together to promote cycling. The lesson there is that whereas the population of Cambridge has risen from 105,000 to 125,000 in a decade, car travel is flat because the councils have incentivised cycling. If the three councils together had not done that, there would be gridlock in Cambridge as a consequence. So the lesson is that those who want to help the local economy will help the local cyclist. Those who advocate anti-cycling policies damage the local economy.
It is worth pointing out that a 20% increase in cycling levels from 2010 to 2015 could save the economy £207 million in reduced traffic congestion and £71 million in reduced pollution levels. Members on both sides of the House who have drawn attention to the economic value of cycling are absolutely right to do so.
My hon. Friend knows that there will be a huge boost to tourism in Yorkshire from the Tour de France next year. I did not get the chance during the debate to mention that in Otley, which is part of the route, and the birthplace of Lizzie Armitstead who won the first medal in the London 2012 Olympics, we also have a lot of work going on at grass-roots level. My constituent Joseph Cullen is working very hard to get ordinary people cycling. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is as important to get ordinary people cycling as it is to train Olympians of the future?
The Minister said a moment ago that this is the most pro-cycling Government ever. What is his response to the disgraceful comments of the Communities Secretary that cycling was an obsession of the elite and that he wanted to make a free-for-all for motorists to park on double yellow lines?
I think the Communities Secretary is capable of answering for himself.
I want to mention the funding arrangements which this Government has put in place. If people believed some of the earlier comments, including from the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), they would think that this Government had not been funding cycling. That is quite untrue. In fact, we are funding cycling more than the Labour Government did. Between 2005 and 2010 the previous Administration spent £140 million—£200 million with match funding—on cycling. Under this Administration, £278 million—£375 million with match funding—will be spent in our five-year period. That is almost double what the Labour Government spent in the previous five years. When Opposition Members complain that there is not enough funding, a little more humility would not go amiss.
I entirely agree with the comments made by hon. Members that it is important not to neglect rural areas. That is why the Government has committed £600 million to the local sustainable transport fund, which equates to £1 billion with match funding. That local sustainable transport fund has funded 96 projects, 94 of which have cycling elements. A further £100 million capital and £78 million revenue funding has been allocated for the LSTF in 2015-16. We have seen £44 million committed throughout this Parliament to support cycle training for schoolchildren. I might say to the shadow Secretary of State that the first thing we did on cycling as a coalition Government was to commit to Bikeability funding throughout the whole Parliament to give the certainty which she says she wants.
In addition to all that, £159 million has been announced since the beginning of 2012—£94 million to increase cycling in eight cities and four national parks, £20 million to deliver safer junctions outside London, £15 million to enable cycle parking at rail stations, £15 million to provide more safe cycling links between communities and £15 million for junction safety in London. In times of plenty, the allocation to cycling measures was £200 million. In times of hardship, we have had £370 million from this coalition Government.
I am concerned that much of the money spent on cycling measures under the previous Government and the present one is spent badly because the planners and engineers who design road systems do not understand cycling well enough. Will the Minister meet the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Royal Town Planning Institute and others to try to create a professional qualification for cycling planners, and then to insist that local authorities use such people in designing their systems?
The local sustainable transport fund schemes—there are 94—were all subject to expert analysis, including by those from local authorities and others who know about cycling, but if the hon. Gentleman thinks that it would be helpful for him and me to meet particular people, I would be happy to do so. He should phone my office and we will sort it out.
I also want to mention a key recommendation that, to my surprise, was not touched on much in the all-party group’s report: cycle-proofing—although the shadow Secretary of State referred to it in her comments. The “Action for roads” Command Paper, published in July this year, made it plain that we want to cycle-proof our road network and minimise situations where major roads are a barrier to walkers and communities. All new roads and improvement schemes on the strategic road network will be designed with cyclists, as well as motorists, in mind. There is almost £5 million for 14 schemes identified in the strategic road network where the Government will fund significant improvements to remove barriers to cycling, with a further £15 million for such improvements in 2015-16. Officials are currently planning a conference on cycle-proofing roads later this year, which will involve council chiefs, directors of highways and planning, representatives from local economic partnerships and national parks and so on to ensure that we have the expertise and can work out how best to cycle-proof our roads, streets and communities.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on getting that point into the debate twice. I do not have a specific answer, but I will write to him subsequently. Indeed, if there are any other specific comments that Members have made that I cannot respond to, I will try to do so in writing subsequently.