[Relevant Document: Third Report from the Transport Select Committee, Session 2014-15, Cycling Safety, HC 286]
Before I call Ian Austin to move the motion, let me clarify that there will be an eight-minute time limit on Back-Bench contributions to this debate, which is heavily subscribed. I ask Mr Austin to take no longer than 15 minutes. I will prompt him, but I am sure it will not be necessary after 15 minutes.
I beg to move,
That this House supports 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, sustained funding for cycling and progress towards meeting the report’s recommendations.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate, providing us with another opportunity to discuss the “Get Britain Cycling” report, produced by the all-party cycling group, which I chair jointly with the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert). The Backbench Business Committee kindly agreed to two debates in the past, both of which saw unprecedented numbers of Members participating. We asked for this debate because we wanted to discuss the Government’s so-called cycling delivery plan—their long-awaited response to our inquiry and the report we published.
I would like to record our thanks to everyone who took part in our three-month inquiry and to all the organisations that supported it, including British Cycling, the CTC, Sustrans and the Bicycle Association among others. I particularly want to thank Chris Boardman, a phenomenal advocate of cycling in Britain, and Phil Goodwin and Adam Coffman who pulled the report together. I also thank News International, now News UK, for sponsoring the inquiry. Its involvement was the result of a campaign by The Times. Those on The Times have done a phenomenal job in promoting cycling in Britain: it is a great tribute to their colleague Mary Bowers, who was severely injured while travelling to work in 2011.
The Committee heard from hundreds of witnesses, and our report contains some important recommendations. A central recommendation is for long-term, dedicated funding of £10 per head per year, rather than limited funding for eight cities for a couple of years. We want 10% of journeys to be made by bike by 2025—the figure was less than 2% in 2011—and we call for lower speed limits in urban areas. We want more effective enforcement of the law, we want children to be taught to ride at school, we want more segregated cycle lanes, and we want cycling to be considered properly as part of the urban planning process. We also call for top-level, committed leadership, because cross-departmental collaboration is essential if we are to improve cycling conditions in Britain.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned enforcement of the law. A matter of concern, certainly in my constituency, is the need for the employers of lorry drivers to recognise their responsibility not to put drivers under pressure to drive for too long, so that they do not risk being unable to concentrate and to avoid cyclists who are also on the road.
I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend has said about lorry safety. Does he share my disappointment that the plan published by the Government today is notably lacking in any commitment to address the issue? Lorries are responsible for a fifth of cycling fatalities in Britain, and there have been fatalities in Bristol recently.
I am disappointed by the plan that was published today, for all sorts of reasons, about which I shall say more shortly, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right to give that example.
A study published today by academics from the universities of Leeds and Cambridge and commissioned by the CTC shows the benefits that investing in cycling would bring. We face an epidemic of illnesses linked to inactivity and obesity, but investment equivalent to £10 per person to boost the proportion of trips made on bikes from 3% to 10% could save the NHS budget nearly £1 billion a year. The wider health benefits could be worth £6 billion by 2025 and £25 billion by 2050. Investment in cycling would prevent heart disease, reduce the number of strokes, and cut diabetes and colon cancer rates. As The Times says in an editorial today,
“Meeting this demand is not to ask for preferential treatment... the requested level would take total funding up to £600 million a year—3 per cent. of the transport budget for 3 per cent. of the trips taken.”
A report entitled “Benefits of Investing in Cycling”, written by Dr Rachel Aldred and commissioned by British Cycling, also shows that such investment would make a massive difference to society. It demonstrates that cycling can have an overwhelmingly positive effect on everyone, whether they cycle or not. The possible benefits range from saving the NHS £17 billion to increasing the mobility of the nation’s poorest families by 25%. Getting more people cycling would enable more people to get the exercise that they need, and would make Britain healthier. Traffic delays in London cost £1.5 billion a year. An increase in cycling would tackle congestion and pollution, and would make our roads safer and our transport system more efficient. It would enable people on low incomes to travel more easily, would make our town and city centres more pleasant places, and would support local economies.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. I know that many more people in my constituency would like to cycle. The biggest barrier is safety. Why does the United Kingdom have so few segregated lanes in comparison with the countries that I visit in mainland Europe?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He has spoken about safety and about funding. Does he agree that we need funding for revenue as well as capital? We need money to go to cycle groups and local councils so that they can invest in safety as well as in cycle lanes.
The hon. Lady is right, and I shall discuss that point at some length in a few minutes.
Promoting cycling would be good for our transport systems as a whole, for local economies, for social inclusion, and for public health. People who think that investing in cycling is somehow anti-motorist, or against the car, should ask themselves why the AA has joined the campaign to boost cycling. It has done so because cycling is an obvious way of reducing congestion, which has been estimated to cost the UK economy £4.3 billion a year. Research from Denmark has shown that a nation makes a 13p profit for every kilometre cycled, but an 8p loss for every kilometre driven.
As I said earlier, this is our third debate on cycling in the last three years. The first was triggered by the campaign run by The Times. More than 70 Members took part in that debate; even more, well over 100, took part in the second. Sadly, I think that fewer will take part today. We asked for this debate so that we can discuss the Government’s response to the recommendations in our report. We had been promised that response for months, but the Government kept delaying its publication amid numerous reports of wrangles and disputes between the various Departments involved. Because it was not clear when it would be published, cycling organisations and the media were unable to promote the debate and encourage their members and supporters to lobby MPs to take part in it. It turns out that the document—1 do not think that it could be credibly described as a delivery plan—was published this morning. As a result, we have been left far too little time to subject it to proper scrutiny, although it is already clear that it is a very disappointing piece of work. We waited a year for this report, but it makes no real commitments at all.
Given the delay, I am not sure that we can say that it was rushed, but it was certainly botched. I do not think that many people will take the report very seriously, and I think that they will be very disappointed by its contents. The Prime Minister promised a cycling revolution, and the report talks of achieving Scandinavian or Dutch levels of cycling, but that is impossible without real commitments to increase funding levels.
The Government have promised that
“cycling will be at the heart of future road developments”,
and say that they are
“committed to turning Britain into a cycling nation to rival our European neighbours."
If the Minister answers just one question in this debate, I hope that he will tell us how those two promises can be taken seriously when the Netherlands spends £25 per head on cycling while the UK spends about £2, and when the highways budget in the UK is £15 billion while the funds announced for cycling are about £150 million, with no dedicated funding stream that allows local authorities to plan for more than two years.
Despite all the promises, today’s report speaks only of an “aspiration” to “explore” the possibility of investment. The Government are spending £64 billion on road building and HS2, but they cannot commit the funds that are needed to boost cycling in Britain. In the Netherlands 27% of journeys are made by bike, and at least £25 per head is spent on cycling. That is followed by Denmark, with 19% of journeys made by bike and spending of at least £20 per head. At the current rate, we shall not reach Dutch levels of cycling until the 23rd century. England languishes towards the lower end of the European league table, with less than £5 per head spent on cycling, and even that is set to decrease.
No budget was set for cycling in the Government’s 2010 spending review. All that we have seen are stop-start injections of cash, and the announcement of competitive bids when the Department for Transport underspends its budget. Such a fragmented approach is no way to “Get Britain Cycling”. Spending on cycling, it has been said, is smoke and mirrors: Ministers have top-sliced Bikeability funding from the local sustainable transport fund, claimed credit for funding allocated by the last Government, and counted Cycling England’s budget in its figures although they abolished it. The LSTF has provided £600 million for sustainable travel, but there is no way to determine how much of that has been spent on specific cycling schemes. The Government claim spending has doubled, but half of all local authorities have been forced to reduce their spending on cycling and over a third have had to cut staff. For a cycling and walking delivery plan to be meaningful, it must contain a commitment to long-term consistent funding.
As we heard a moment ago, there also needs to be a real commitment to consistent revenue funding. A key element of the LSTF has been inclusion of both capital and revenue elements to enable streets and routes to be transformed, alongside programmes to support and encourage people to walk or cycle. Further commitment to both types of funding for active travel is urgently needed, particularly given the scarcity of revenue funding for transport in local authority budgets, but the local growth fund, which replaces the LSTF and which is overseen by local enterprise partnerships, is purely capital funding.
In response to a recent parliamentary question, the Government calculated that the spend on cycling in England is equivalent to £5 per person per year. Of this, 80% is directly or indirectly attributable to dedicated funding from Government, the largest component of which is the LSTF, but with the LSTF coming to an end in 2016, bringing to a close six years of dedicated funding for cycling and walking, there is now no guarantee that money will be spent on cycling and walking, and in fact no budget line for cycling and walking at all.
Analysis of major scheme bids to the local growth fund shows that less than half of local enterprise partnerships have put forward any projects for walking, cycling or public transport, with road building making up three quarters of the bids from some LEPs. Without sustained and substantial committed investment from Government, total spend on cycling and walking will fall sharply after 2015-16, to a fraction of current levels and far below the £10 per head per year target. Commitment is the vital ingredient missing from this plan that has simply an aspiration to explore funding opportunities.
The Government have also failed when it comes to taking cross-departmental action, especially in getting the Department of Health to commit to revenue funding which, as I said earlier, would produce such huge health benefits. There is also no mention whatsoever of the role the Department for Communities and Local Government has to play, which is absolutely unbelievable given that so much of the work to improve facilities and safety for cyclists has to be done by local authorities.
I did offer to put that on the clock for the hon. Gentleman, but he declined that. He started at 12.58, and therefore has under a minute, but he has taken a lot of interventions. If he could take no more than another two minutes, we would be grateful.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker,
My right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) is right about the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. He seems to believe that without the car culture, the high street would die, but when New York city introduced segregated bike lanes recently there were widespread predictions of economic hardship, yet trade rose by 24%, so on that, as on so much else, the Communities Secretary is completely wrong.
I will now draw my remarks to a conclusion in light of your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker.
With just a few months until the election we need a massive effort to make cycling a bigger political issue so we can get the parties committed to increasing the funding for cycling and have lower speed limits in urban areas, better enforcement of the law, children taught to ride at school, more segregated cycle lanes and cycling considered properly as part of the urban planning process.
We need everyone involved in cycling to write to MPs and candidates so we can get Britain cycling and change our country for good.
I congratulate the all-party group on securing this debate, which is the third such debate in this Parliament. I was precluded by ministerial office from contributing to the earlier two, although I attended them, but I am now unconstrained.
I pay tribute to the work of the all-party group on cycling, The Times, British Cycling, Sustrans, Living Streets, CTC and all the other cycling organisations that have helped to propel cycling up the political agenda. A substantial number of cyclists in North West Hampshire have e-mailed to ask me to support the campaign, which I do.
I also pay tribute to the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), who is replying to the debate and who himself travels regularly on two wheels—as, indeed, I do. I commend him for the way in which he has responded to the campaign and engaged with the key stakeholders. Within the Lycra suit of public expenditure constraint, no one could have done more than him. I also commend the progress made by the coalition Government in recent years under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. I am delighted that they are both present. They have both been pedalling hard and I urge them to press even harder on the pedals in the remaining months of the Parliament. For example, we have an autumn statement coming up soon, and it would be helpful if the Chancellor were able to mention cycling in that statement and how it might be supported in the future.
I want to make a brief contribution by putting in perspective this ongoing campaign by MPs to get a better deal for cyclists. On 11 July 1975, nearly 40 years ago and before some contributors to this debate were born, I initiated an Adjournment debate on cycling, along with our former colleague Anthony Steen. The two of us took over the APPG, which had been free-wheeling for many years, in order to raise the profile of cycling. The debate took place at 4 pm on a Friday—that was when we had the Adjournment debate in those days—and I quoted Ernest Marples, who said in 1968:
“there is a great future for the bicycle if you make the conditions right. If you make them wrong there isn’t any future.”
I presented the Minister who was replying, Denis Howell, with a cyclists charter: a bicycle unit in his Department; cycle lanes through the royal parks; more proficiency courses for children; a direction from the Department that, in all new development, provision should be made not just for the cyclist of today, but to encourage the cyclist of tomorrow, by separating his journey from that of the motorist; the identification of cycle priority routes; a 10-second start at traffic lights; and more provision for bicycles on trains, with more covered parking spaces at stations.
Unlike what is going to happen today, the response from the Minister was disappointing. My suggestions were described by the then Minister as “interesting”. This was before the time of “Yes Minister”, but I knew enough about Whitehall to realise that “interesting” meant “absurd.” The very first point he made was that cycling was dangerous, and I am afraid that that coloured the whole response to the debate.
I was told that differential timing at traffic lights would be a costly operation, and the Minister did not know how the motoring public would take to it. Although British Rail was a nationalised industry at the time, the Minister washed his hands of the idea, saying that he hoped I would do better with my campaign than Ministers. On cycle lanes—or traffic lanes, as he called them—I was told it was difficult to provide them in the middle of Birmingham, Manchester or London. On a cycling unit, he said:
“I cannot accede to the request that my Department should set up a separate cycling advisory unit…We already have a traffic advisory unit.”—[Official Report, 11 July 1975; Vol. 895, c. 1026.]
Undeterred by this response, Anthony Steen and I set up a parliamentary bicycle pool, years ahead of Boris. For £5, Members could join and borrow a bicycle for their journey around the capital. We had a good response, particularly for the photo opportunity in New Palace Yard which launched the scheme. Jo Grimond was good enough to join us. Members who had not been on a bike since they did a delivery round took again to two wheels.
It was not an unqualified success. At midday, Members would take out a bicycle and cycle off to their lunch. Owing to the generosity of the hospitality extended by their hosts, on a few occasions they did not return by bicycle, and my fleet had to be retrieved from London’s finest eating establishments. In 1979, when there was a change of Government and I became a Minister, I could not find anyone to run the pool. So, in the first of the Thatcher privatisations, we sold the pool to the Members.
We have some way to go before we reach the status of Holland, which I visited along with the APPG a few years ago. There, a typical cyclist was a mature lady in ordinary clothes bicycling slowly—the exact opposite in every respect of a typical cyclist in London, although that is beginning to change.
I agree with what the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) said about joined-up government and the benefits to other Departments of a regeneration of cycling, including on climate change, obesity and cutting the cost of travel.
I very much agree with what the right hon. Gentleman says about encouraging people who might not see themselves as Lycra cyclists to take part. Although we all want dedicated cycle areas and tracks, lone cyclists can feel very vulnerable along some of those made from back lanes or railway tracks. Does he agree that in the cycle delivery plan we need to examine strategies for increased visibility in those areas, so that young women in particular do not feel afraid of using them?
The hon. Lady makes a good point; better lighting is important not only for the security of the cyclist, but so that they can see what is on the path ahead of them. I am sure the Minister will focus on safety in his reply.
From the modest acorn we planted 40 years ago, today’s all-party group has grown and gone from strength to strength. Today’s debate is better informed and better supported; only three Back-Bench speeches were made back then. I commend the campaign and the support it has received from all sides, and I can think of no better Minister to respond than my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the former pairing Whip.
Before the right hon. Gentleman finishes, I wanted to thank him, on behalf of the group and all Members here, and to recognise the enormous contribution he has made in Parliament to cycling throughout his time as an MP. He has achieved a huge amount, his work has been an inspiration to the rest of us and we are very grateful for it.
I am honoured and humbled to follow the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young). The bicycle has been my main form of transport for at least the past 20 years, as it has his. It has been the only form of transport I have owned for that period. Having cycled as a child, it was logical for me to use the bike as my main form of transport, given the growing congestion in our towns and cities. The revelatory experience for me—the eureka moment—came in the mid-90s, when I was sent by “The World This Weekend” to my old primary school in Norfolk. I cannot remember what the news piece was about—whether it was about stranger danger, the safety of roads or even growing obesity—but I arrived at my old primary school to find that the bike sheds had gone. That was a shocking experience for me. Not only had the sheds gone, but in place of children coming and going by biking or walking at the beginning and end of the school day, there was traffic congestion, belching fumes, noise and chaos outside the school gates. From that moment on, I have not felt as passionate about many issues, across all public policy, as I do about this one.
Things do not have to be like they were at that school. I am glad to say that in Exeter we have bike sheds again at our primary and secondary schools. Thanks to the investment we received as part of the previous Labour Government’s cycling demonstration town scheme, we have had a massive increase in the number of children cycling and walking to school—one of the biggest increases anywhere in the country—and a huge increase of 40% in cycling levels overall. I ask those who still do not believe that we can replicate Danish and Dutch cycling levels because ours is a hilly country to come to Exeter, one of the hilliest cities in the country. We have done it. We know how it can be done, although we have a lot more to do.
The problem is that under successive Governments—I do not want this to be a party political debate—the approach taken to cycling has been a piecemeal hotch-potch; we have had a bit of funding here, a bit of targeted funding there and a grant that has to be applied for. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, progress has been bedevilled by the fact that there has not been sustained, real investment and sustained political leadership from the top.
I hesitate to interrupt my right hon. Friend, who is making an excellent speech. I recently visited a Bikeability scheme at a local primary school in Bristol, where children are being trained and encouraged to feel safe on the roads. Does he share my concern that we are not putting enough money into Bikeability schemes and that doing so would be a huge step towards encouraging more people to cycle?
Yes, I do share that concern. I agree with my hon. Friend, who has put her finger on another important element—education, getting people cycling early and giving people the confidence to cycle. I am fortunate that in my constituency we still have a local authority that is committed to Bikeability, but, again, the service around the country is patchy because there is no sustained funding. Heaven knows, we all know what funding pressures local government is under at the moment.
My right hon. Friend’s city has very good cycling facilities and routes, and needs to be commended for that. Does he accept that there is a slight problem, in that primary school children can be excited about cycling and encouraged to enjoy it—some primary schools do good work on that—but in secondary schools cycling becomes impossible because of bad facilities or longer journeys, or simply because it is “uncool”? We lose a lot of cyclists in the crucial teenage years and they do not come back, so somehow or other we have to do a lot more to get young teenagers and teenagers in general to keep on cycling.
I am sure my hon. Friend is right in what he says, although it has not been my experience in Exeter. Helped by the fantastic success of our professional cycling teams in the Olympics, cycling is now very cool and there has been a big upsurge in cycling among teenagers in my constituency. However, that is mainly because there are safe routes to the schools and facilities for people to lock their bikes and store their stuff when they get there. I am sorry to say that that is not common across the country.
It was in that context, after all the years of hard work by people such as the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire, that the all-party group, supported by The Times, decided to carry out its investigation and report in 2013. We spent days listening to evidence from experts across the field on how to get to the sort of cycling levels enjoyed in most of our neighbouring and similar continental countries. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, this is not rocket science; it comes down to sustainable commitments for funding and sustainable, persistent cross-departmental Government leadership.
What do we get today? A year late, we get a report that has been rushed out in time for this debate. I wanted to try to be kind about the report, which I had time to read before coming into the Chamber, but I cannot help agreeing with CTC, which has described it as “not a delivery plan” but a “derisory plan”. Once again, it is a hotch-potch of aspiration, which puts a lot of the responsibility on hard-pressed local authorities, on local enterprise partnerships—we have already heard that the record of LEPs is feeble at best, and they are also under a lot of pressure—and on business. That is deeply depressing and dispiriting, following all the debates we have had in this House, and the growing support among Members from all parts of this House and among the public for meaningful action to be taken on cycling. Seeing the report was one of the most depressing moments I have had in this House during this Parliament.
Surely we do not need to remind the Government of cycling’s benefits for health, the environment, and tackling congestion and pollution. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) reminded us about the health benefits alone. If we met the targets that our report set for 2025 of 10% of journeys by bike, up from a derisory 2% in England at the moment, we would save £8 billion in health expenditure. If we reached continental levels of 25% of journeys made by cycling by 2050, which was our other target, we would save £25 billion for the health service.
Those are just the health benefits; they do not even take into account the additional benefits of tackling congestion and emissions. I do not understand what is wrong with the economists in the Department for Transport and the Treasury who do not recognise the logic of that. The Secretary of State, who I am pleased to see in his place, is a reasonable man. He was extolling the fantastic rail renaissance that we enjoyed in England in recent years. We could be having exactly the same renaissance in cycling if only there were the political will and a tiny bit of investment. All it would need is a fraction of the Department’s budget that is going on roads or on HS2 to be earmarked for cycling, and we could achieve that £10 per head per year figure, which would begin to deliver the cycling revolution we all want.
Let me be perfectly frank: whatever one thinks of this Government report, the timing of its publication—in the last few months before a general election—probably means that the political parties’ manifestos for next May and who then forms the Government will matter much more. I want to make it clear, including to my own Front-Bench team, that there are a lot of cyclists out there and we should not underestimate the power of the cycling vote. Many towns and cities, from Brighton and Hove to Norwich, Cambridge, Oxford, my own city of Exeter and Bristol, will have hard-fought contests in marginal seats at the next election.
The right hon. Gentleman is very kind to give way, especially as he has just mentioned Brighton and Hove. It gives me the opportunity to say that in Brighton and Hove we have the fastest growing cycle-to-work scheme outside London. Does he agree that what we need in today’s plan is far more focus on cycle-friendly design standards or guidance? We should be sharing such standards, and yet there is nothing in the plan to do or promote that. Therefore, current guidelines are very jumbled up, inconsistent and contradictory.
May I draw the right hon. Gentleman’s attention to page 8 of the plan in which it talks about sharing best practice? It says that we will
“create a single point of information about the best practice for creating and designing cycle-friendly streets.”
That is in the plan and we are determined to ensure that best practice is shared among local authorities, which have ownership of the roads.
That was not the view of the cycling organisations this morning in their initial response to the plan.
Let me finish with this message to my Front Benchers and political parties across the spectrum. There are millions of cyclists out there, and they are waiting for real and meaningful action on cycling to deliver safe cities and a healthy environment, tackle obesity, increase happiness and boost the economy. It is a no-brainer for very little money. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) will take that message back to the shadow Secretary of State, who I know is a committed cyclist, and to his shadow Treasury colleagues.
I congratulate the all-party parliamentary group on securing today’s debate and the Minister on his cycling delivery plan, which he has published today.
The hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) struck rather a sour note to start this debate. I think the House will want to applaud the Minister for his new report. He makes it clear that he wants to double the level of cycling by 2025. His aspiration, in difficult financial times, is for funding for cycling to be the equivalent of £10 per person per year. That is a key recommendation from the all-party report.
It is absolutely right that we have this debate. From my work around the Olympic legacy, I know that the London 2012 Olympics inspired a generation to think about sport, and nowhere is that more true than in the case of cycling. The extraordinary achievements of individuals such as Sarah Storey and David Stone at the London 2012 Paralympics demonstrated that cycling can be one of the most inclusive of sports, too.
The Olympics, Paralympics and Tour de France have all done their bit in driving up pedal traffic by almost a quarter. An extra 400,000 people cycling every week since we won the Olympic bid is an extraordinary part of the Olympic legacy. That has been achieved despite the pressures on budgets, which Opposition Members sometimes fail to acknowledge.
We are asking not for more money to be spent on transport but for a small part of the existing transport budget to be spent on cycling. The right hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that the report contains aspirations, but without any financial commitment attached to them, they are just an ambition, not a commitment. That is the point that we are trying to make.
The hon. Gentleman needs to study the Minister’s report a little more closely. A consultation paper will shortly be published on the £976 million a year highways maintenance fund, to ensure that a fair share goes to cycling and walking, which is exactly what he is talking about. I appreciate that he has not had much time to read the report, but I urge him to look at the detail, because he will be pleased with the content.
I agree that cycling infrastructure is important. It is an important way of communicating to people that cycling is a safe option. I will address that later in my comments.
I can think of no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than on my bike with my son on the lanes and off-road cycle routes around Basingstoke. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and I both know, Hampshire is blessed with 750 miles of off-road cycle routes and urban cycle paths. Cyclists are getting everywhere. This year, for the first time, St John Ambulance is using cycle responders at festivals across Hampshire. In Basingstoke, our local police effectively use mountain bikes for town centre patrols and to help police work around parks and other public areas.
I should like to make a little more progress, as I fear that I might run out of time.
As a result of more people cycling, the figures show a decline in the risk of having an accident when cycling. But the absolute number of accidents and tragic fatalities remains a real concern for anyone who cycles regularly, or who has a friend or family member who has been in a cycling accident. There is still so much more to be done to make cycling safer and a real option for more people.
I wish to focus on two areas of the all-party group’s report, namely road design and education, which are key to achieving the Minister’s ambitions. We need to design cycling into our everyday lives. Like many successful towns, Basingstoke faces the big problem of road congestion. I thank the Minister and his Department, especially the Secretary of State, for the investments that they have made recently in our local roads in Basingstoke. More than £30 million has been spent on improving the roundabouts for which Basingstoke is so famous. I must say though that that investment should have been put in place a decade and a half ago when the Labour party set high housing targets for Basingstoke. That money is there not to allow cars to move around more easily, but to reduce traffic congestion. Encouraging more people to cycle and indeed to walk is part of achieving that strategy.
The Prime Minister himself has made it clear that all new big road developments will incorporate the needs of cyclists, which was underlined in the Government’s delivery plan today. Like many other communities, we have a persuasive group of cycling campaigners. In particular, I pay tribute to my constituent Ms Heather Rainbow for her tenacity and campaigning zeal. For any campaign to work, we need practical changes in the roads. Nationally, two-thirds of non-cyclists think it is just too dangerous to cycle on roads; indeed almost half of all cyclists think that too. Changing road design will help change that attitude and encourage more people to cycle. We cannot allow new road designs simply to reflect the current pattern of use.
If my right hon. Friend will forgive me, I will make a little more progress.
The all-party report is right that the needs of cyclists and pedestrians must be considered at an early stage of all new development schemes. It is of course for local authorities to lead the way on local road design—it is not for central Government to micro-manage. Under the national planning guidelines, local authorities have to consider how bikes and bike use can be designed into new road works from the start, which is very much in line with the all-party report.
There is one area in which the Minister can help. The Highways Agency is part of his Department and responsible for some of the most important road redesign schemes. In my constituency, the Highways Agency has already started work on a £10 million upgrade of the Black Dam roundabout to ease congestion. The new design is the result of considerable consultation with local residents, but because the pre-existing road layout made cycling difficult, few cyclists regularly choose to use that junction.
I hope the Minister agrees that if we are to change habits we need organisations such as the Highways Agency to be not only reactive to current travel patterns, but proactive in promoting cycling. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that when he makes his contribution later.
Let me turn now to education, which, along with road design, is absolutely critical and part of the all-party group’s report. Edmund King is president of the AA, which, I am proud to say, has made its home in Basingstoke. In the 1990s, he and I first worked together on the successful road safety campaign “Children should be seen and not hurt”. He is right to describe cycle training as a “skill for life”. It is interesting to note that only one in four AA members who regularly cycle has received such skills training. As adults, we often do not feel confident enough to get on our bikes. It is that sort of training that can be vital. I pay tribute to Breeze in my constituency, which is helping more women into cycling, and to Hampshire county council, which funds two hours of free cycle skills training for all Hampshire residents.
Many of us will fondly remember cycling to school, of course after taking our cycling proficiency test, today’s equivalent of which is the Bikeability programme. That modern-day version of cycling proficiency is made available to all Hampshire schools through the Hampshire schools cycling partnership. I hope that more local authorities will develop such a partnership to encourage more children to understand the pleasures of cycling from a young age.
One of my earliest memories of cycling is not a good one. My grandmother cycled to work every day. She was a fit and energetic woman, but one day she was hit by a car. Of course she was not wearing a helmet—few people did in the early ’70s—and she had severe concussion and her injuries stayed with her. That dreadful incident has meant that I have always worn a cycle helmet and ensured that my children understand the importance of doing so.
For a number of years, I have worked closely with an organisation called Headway in Basingstoke. It was founded in 1982 by an inspirational lady, Evelyn Vincent, and her mother. Headway supports head injury victims, and the individuals with head trauma whom I have met make a compelling case for the wearing of cycle helmets. Headway, as a campaigning organisation, has succeeded in making the case for cycle helmets to be a legal requirement for children in Jersey. Other countries have done the same, and I would make the case that the Government should have a clear plan to keep the evidence around wearing cycle helmets under close review. There is clear evidence from the Transport Research Laboratory and the Australian Government that, along with road design and education, the wearing of cycle helmets can make a real contribution to road safety. It makes common sense, too, and although some say that it deters people from taking up cycling, I have seen no evidence that makes that case specifically for children. We all have a duty to ensure that cycling is safer, so the Government should keep the matter under careful review in the coming months and years.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), who made powerful points about not only her constituency, but general cycling matters. As I look around the Chamber, it is apparent that we are talking to the converted. I think that I have seen almost every Member in the Chamber riding their bike into Parliament, so I do not think that there will be a lot of controversy in the debate. Those watching our proceedings—many from the cycling community may well be—might be a bit disappointed that this is one-way traffic, but we need to be able to argue the case for cycling, so perhaps that is not a bad thing.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate to take place and 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, on their work. They and the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), who has also signed the motion, have shown great leadership on promoting cycling, and the cross-party group is ably supported by Adam Coffman. Many Members are in the Chamber to support the debate. I also welcome support from right across the media, especially from The Times. There was a great fact sheet by Kaya Burgess in this morning’s drop-in briefing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North mentioned Mary Bowers, who was knocked down in my constituency. Sadly, she still has not recovered, and I know that the whole House will want to wish her and her family well.
I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman says about The Times and Mary Bowers. He might be amused to know that The Daily Telegraph recently published a list of the seven most absurd Liberal Democrat policies, one of which was supporting funding for cycling, so there is clearly some way to go.
As a buyer as well as a reader of The Daily Telegraph, I am disappointed to hear that, although perhaps not entirely surprised, as there have to be some differences among people. Despite the hon. Gentleman’s qualification of what I said about media support, there is now generally a much more welcoming attitude in the country to cycling, and I hope that the debate will help to nurture people’s interest.
The hon. Gentleman has never seen me arrive at the Palace of Westminster on a bicycle, although I shall try to repair that. I agree with him about the support that is given, but does he accept that the trouble in a constituency such as mine, which has three small to medium-sized towns, is that there simply is not the money to provide the facilities for bicyclists that should be in place, because it all tends to go to the big towns? We need to devise a formula that will enable that to be fixed.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point about the key issue of funding, which I think has cropped up in every speech that we have heard. When I said that I thought that I had seen almost everyone in the Chamber on a bike, I did not want to point to the right hon. Gentleman that he was the one exception who occurred to me. However, I am encouraged that he has not given up on this, so in the six months between now and the general election, perhaps we can encourage him to join us on two wheels. I am sure that the all-party group would welcome that.
The delivery plan is disappointing. The all-party group’s report was well received by the Department for Transport. It is a shame that the Secretary of State has just left the Chamber, but the fact that he has listened to part of our debate demonstrates his interest in the matter. We know that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), and the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), are great champions of cycling and no criticism is levelled directly at the Department, although I shall return to the big question of funding later in my speech. However, given that the Prime Minister promised us a cycling revolution and that the Department for Transport is clearly supportive of cycling, as has been the case for almost 20 years, the fact that there is no commitment on funding, which the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) mentioned, is hugely disappointing. While the Minister and the shadow Minister are great champions, we need a nominated person to give leadership from the front. The all-party group’s report was well received by the Transport Committee and all the main cycling groups, but I am sure that the Minister acknowledges that the responses of CTC, Sustrans and British Cycling to this morning’s Government report are not so welcoming.
Safety and the perception of it are key to getting more people involved in cycling, but before I speak about that, I want to spend a couple of minutes on parochial matters by talking about London. There have been huge changes in London, with an explosion in the number of people cycling, Boris bikes and cycle super-highways. It is welcome that Transport for London is consulting on upgrading the cycle super-highways because some of them are pretty basic, being no more than a lick of paint in the road.
Does the hon. Gentleman welcome TfL’s recent call for a London-wide ban on heavy goods vehicles that drive without side guards and mirrors? Does he agree that that recommendation should apply nationwide, not just to London, and that the Government should take it up?
The hon. Gentleman makes a strong point. TfL has led on promoting cycling in many ways, and anything that enhances cyclists’ safety must be welcomed.
I received an e-mail this morning from Owen Pearson of Tower Hamlets Wheelers. He said that his local cycle campaign supports
“the proposals put forward by Transport for London to upgrade Cycle Superhighway 2 between Aldgate and Bow”,
which is a dangerous stretch of road. The e-mail acknowledged the local concerns of the council and others, especially with regard to Whitechapel market, but said that the group believed that
“with adjustments to the TfL plan these issues can be overcome.”
I have some concerns about what I call the Mayor’s plans, although they are probably primarily the tsar’s plans—Andrew Gilligan’s plans—especially with regard to the stretch from Tower Hill to Westminster. The key criteria for cycle lanes is to get people out of cars and to improve the environment by reducing congestion. However, the proportion of cars on that stretch of road is already less than 9%, and many of those 9% are private hire vehicles or minicabs. There are few people to be taken out of cars as the vast majority of the traffic on that main artery through London is made up of public transport, taxis, coaches and commercial traffic, such as white vans delivering to businesses and HGVs. TfL plans to prevent 80% of that traffic using the road. I do not know where it will go. For the 20% that will be allowed to use it, there will be a 16-minute delay. That simply does not seem workable, and it will give the cycling community a bad reputation, because it is just bad planning.
My understanding is that the Mayor’s plans will be subject to an extensive consultation, which would be very welcome, as would publication of all the background data, including environmental impact assessments, the economic assessment, alternative routes and alternative designs.
There is also a problem with the waiting times for pedestrians, because in some areas they will have to wait up to two minutes before getting a green light, and in London people will simply not wait that long to cross the road. Also, having to cross three lanes of traffic and four lanes of cyclists, with a fast lane for the Lycra brigade—we know that they take no prisoners—will be pretty difficult. Another observation about the plan that the Department for Transport published this morning is that its title makes no mention of walking, which is a big element of the promotion, so there are questions to be answered about the route from Tower Hill to Westminster.
We all want to see cycling become mainstream. As a cyclist myself, I know that we are not above criticism. The tiny minority who cycle without lights at night, ignore pedestrian crossings, ride on pavements or cruise through red lights greatly annoy the rest of us, because they give us a bad reputation and irritate the rest of the public. The Transport Committee heard in evidence that when the Metropolitan police blitzed London’s roads earlier this year, following the spate of five deaths in November 2013, they issued 14,000 fixed penalty notices for transgressions at major junctions in London—10,000 to vehicle drivers and 4,000 to cyclists. That demonstrates that there are drivers and cyclists who break the law.
However, what we need is enforcement. CTC makes the point that the reduction in the number of traffic officers in all constabularies across the country is moving in the wrong direction. As I mentioned earlier, cyclists are the most vulnerable. The Transport Committee’s third report of the Session, entitled “Cycling Safety”, makes recommendations for improving safety for cyclists.
Right hon. and hon. Members have made the case well for cycling and cycling safety. The Minister is very much pro-cycling. It is even more disappointing, therefore, that we have not heard a commitment on funding. The Prime Minister promised a cycling revolution and the Department for Transport is promising to support cycling, so No. 11 is the roadblock. Somehow we have to get underneath No. 11, turn the Chancellor around and then use the autumn statement and the Budget to commit to that funding. All parties can use their manifestos next year to commit funding for cycling, because without funding it simply will not happen.
I begin by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to schedule this debate. It is the third such debate we have had, so it is now becoming an annual tradition. I understand that means it must now happen every year for ever, and I look forward to that. It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who speaks persuasively, as ever, on this matter. It is also a pleasure to swap roles with the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), with whom I have worked on cycling for over four years now, along with all the other members of the all-party group. I pay particular tribute, as other Members have done, to Adam Coffman for his work promoting the benefits of cycling for transport, leisure and sport. I am delighted that our “Get Britain Cycling” report has been welcomed so widely, having been formally supported by the House last year and in the speeches we have heard today.
On Monday morning the traffic in Cambridge was atrocious. It was far worse than usual because it was raining and some of the people who normally cycle to work—although, far from all of them—decided to drive instead. The system simply could not cope with the added demand. Imagine what would happen if our current rate of cycling—in Cambridge, up to a third of trips for work or education are by bike—went down. We would have far worse congestion every single day. Imagine what would happen if we could boost the amount of cycling or walking. We would see greater benefits for those who drive.
When we talk about the benefits of cycling, we are talking about benefits not only for those of us who cycle, but everyone else. As James May from “Top Gear” has said:
“The benefits to driving if people ride bicycles is that there is more space for driving. I would say that the roads belong to everybody”.
I do not know what Jeremy Clarkson’s response to that was, but I know that the president of the Automobile Association, Edmund King, has said that cycling investment
“would bring tangible business and economic benefits by reducing congestion, absenteeism, NHS costs and by producing a more creative and active work force”.
It is true that there are benefits for cyclists, and of course many people cycle, walk, drive and take trains and buses at different times, but cycling is also a reliable, cheap and fun way to get around. It keeps us healthier and is far easier to fit into a day than a trip to the gym.
There are also wider benefits, such as the environmental and economic benefits. John Allan, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, has told us that getting more people cycling would help
“both the health of the high street as well as the nation”.
There are also huge financial benefits, such as £128 million a year in reduced absenteeism, and a 20% increase in cycling levels could save a few hundred million pounds in reduced congestion and a slightly smaller amount of about £100 million through lower pollution levels.
There are massive benefits for health. Getting people cycling or walking has huge benefits for our NHS. If we get more people engaged in active transport, obesity levels go down, life expectancy goes up and pressures on the NHS go down. The recent study from Lovelace and Woodcock—the hon. Member for Dudley North referred to this—in Leeds and Cambridge respectively, estimated that if we achieved our “Get Britain Cycling” targets, we would save around 80,000 disability-adjusted life years per year in 2025, and about 300,000 per year by 2050. That is a huge factor. That is 30,000 years from reduced heart disease alone, and more from reduced strokes, diabetes and cancer. Let us not forget mental health, because cycling also reduces depression. That is how we get to figures that equate to somewhere between £2 billion and £6 billion a year in benefits by 2025. If we get to the Dutch or Danish level, that will equate to a benefit to the NHS of around £17 billion a year.
There is therefore a really strong case for investing in cycling. That is why we called for an investment of £10 per person per year, rising to £20. It seems a pretty easy case: invest half a billion pounds a year in England and get between £2 billion and £6 billion a year in health costs, plus billions in other benefits. That is why we have business support. John Cridland, director general of the CBI, has called for a
“major effort to expand a dedicated cycle network”.
It is not just a handful of people speaking about this. It seems obvious. The case has been made by so many organisations. I pay tribute to The Times for its “Cities fit for cycling” and its support for our inquiry and report. I also pay particular tribute to Chris Boardman, an excellent national cycling champion.
Why has it not happened? There has been some extra investment in this Parliament, which is welcome, even though it is in the form of specific pockets of money, rather than the sustained investment that is needed. The local sustainable transport fund has been helpful as far as it goes. However, our key call is for sustained investment. That is what we were looking for in the cycling delivery plan published this morning.
Oxford, like Cambridge, is a very congested city. It is filled with cycling enthusiasts and many community groups that campaign for change in that area. Indeed, over 4,000 people signed the petition for the cycling route along the B4044. Does the hon. Gentleman share their concern that this is about not only the absolute amount of money available for investment, but ensuring that the money is accessible to community groups and local councils when they need it?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight that point, and indeed that cycle route, which I have been to see—I know how much it is needed, because it is not a very nice road otherwise. The money has to be available for community groups; it cannot simply be driven from the top down.
There are good things in the plan. There are some encouraging words and good proposals—solid stuff that responds to our recommendations. The Government’s ambition to double cycling by 2025 is welcome, although it does not go as far as we would like it to, or as Parliament has voted for. I welcome the Government’s statement of its commitment to giving people a realistic choice to cycle, which is an important principle.
However, the report does not provide the money needed to actually make a difference. It states:
“The government’s aspiration is that—working with local government, and businesses—we can together explore how we can achieve a minimum funding equivalent to £10 per person each year by 2020-21—and sooner if possible.”
That mentioned our starting figure of £10, but I am afraid that it is still pretty thin. It is an aspiration to explore funding, not even to ensure funding. We are not asking for much. The Department for Transport’s 2014-15 budget, counting revenue and capital together, comes to a total of £21.5 billion. Of course, much of that is accounted for, for example in schemes such as Crossrail, but £500 million is not a huge fraction of that and could make a huge difference to transport, health and the wider economy. It is a few per cent., or roughly on a par with the proportion of people who currently cycle, which is already too low. There is huge rail investment from this Government, which I welcome as the right thing to do, with billions of pounds properly invested, not just an aspiration to explore. There is £28 billion in road schemes—again, invested, not an aspiration to explore.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that some continental cities such as Basle and Copenhagen have very good interchange facilities between cyclists and railway stations; in Britain, the situation is awful to poor. Does he think that any plan has to include a serious plan about proper, secure cycle parking and more efficient use of cycle parking space at stations?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. In Cambridge we are beginning work on a 3,000-place cycle park at the station because it is such an important thing to do, and the Government have supported that financially.
Why are the Government not taking the obvious steps? Is it because of the “war on the motorist” concern exemplified by the Communities and Local Government Secretary? That would not make sense, because drivers benefit when people cycle. That is why the president of the AA and so many other people have supported our recommendations.
I am running out of time, so I am afraid I will not.
Is it because of people trying to stir up conflict between cyclists and pedestrians? Again, surely not, because pedestrians benefit from provisions that help cyclists. That is why Living Streets, the pedestrians charity, has also supported our recommendations. The 20 mph zones, which have been supported by the Government, are beneficial for cyclists and for pedestrians. What is bad for pedestrians, and bad for cyclists, is poor road layouts and ill-though-through cheap solutions such as dual-use facilities which simply create conflict. Proper segregated facilities such as those we are implementing in Cambridge help pedestrians and cyclists.
So why is this planning missing out so much on funding? Let me be optimistic. The plan is a draft with the aim of securing views over the next four weeks. Perhaps the Minister has a rabbit up his sleeve so that when the plan comes out in its final state—this autumn, apparently, though it feels like we are in autumn already—it will have a proper funding commitment. Perhaps that is his plan. Or perhaps the Chancellor got so excited by the compelling case for cycling that he has hogged all the money so as to be able to announce it in the autumn statement. I certainly hope for that, and we have been trying to press him to do it. Otherwise, I cannot understand why the Government are not acting.
Let me give the Minister some other ideas, since the plan is a draft. Will he agree to adopt the “Making Space for Cycling” guide for developments and street renewals, which has detailed proposals on how to make those work? Will he look at ideas to expand the very successful Cycle to Work scheme to cover cycling to education so that students are able to get bikes through, for example, a VAT exemption? Will he look at approaches such as the New York trial system that we are now pioneering in Cambridgeshire, whereby people can very quickly try things on the ground to get them to work? Will he meet the members and officers of the all-party cycling group to go through the plan in detail so that we make sure that the draft is improved before it comes out?
This is the last opportunity for significant change before the general election. When we have next year’s annual debate—assuming that the Backbench Business Committee or a new House business committee is willing—it will be in a new Parliament, so what the parties commit to in the election will matter. My party, the Liberal Democrats, formally voted to adopt the “Get Britain Cycling” recommendations last year, and it is already written into our pre-manifesto. I am very pleased that that has happened. We have yet to see the same commitments from the other parties, despite the fact that there are people on both sides of the House who would like it to happen. I hope that all parties will write “Get Britain Cycling” into their manifesto commitments, because in that way we can be sure that whoever forms the next Government will continue and improve the efforts that have been made so far, implement the “Get Britain Cycling” recommendations, and make our streets better for people, whether they are cycling, walking, driving, or just living their lives.
As well as being active in the all-party group on cycling, I represent one of the boroughs with the best records on cycling in the country, with the highest percentage of people cycling to work of any London borough. A total of 14.6% of Hackney residents cycle to work, whereas the London average is 7%. The previous census showed that Hackney is the only place in the UK where more people commute by bike than by car, and 12.8% commute by car. The increase in cycling in Hackney over the years has been considerable. Between 1991 and 2001, cycling in Hackney grew by 70%, faster than anywhere else in the country—although it is probably fair to mention that we are working from a lower base than places such as Cambridge, Oxford or York.
The problem is that my constituency is quite a long way from London. Does the hon. Lady agree that it would be really good if people were encouraged to take their bicycles on the train, or if there were facilities on the train, even during the rush hour, so that they could do the combination of cycle-train-cycle-work, and the reverse?
I completely agree. I am tempted to go on a diversionary rant about how badly trains are designed for cyclists. One of the things that has burgeoned in Hackney is use of the Brompton bike. I am advertising a brand, but it is a very good brand. It is a British-made bike that has been one of the ways in which people get around the challenges of cycling. As I am now on this sideways rant, let me also say that there are the wrong types of limitations. I look to the Minister on this. Transport for London does good work on this and in other areas, but there are minimum limits on what it needs to do at stations. The same applies to National Rail. Stations do not meet the needs of cyclists who want to leave their bike at the station at either end. Trains and parking at stations are important issues, but if I talked about those it would divert me from my speech.
In 2001, the cycling rate in Hackney was much lower, with nearly 7% of working residents commuting by bike—not just cycling but commuting. The growth between 2001 and 2011 was incredible. One of the things we identified in the “Get Britain Cycling” report was the importance of political leadership in ensuring that cycling is promoted. I point both Front Benchers towards the example of Hackney. I pay tribute to our mayor, Jules Pipe, to the current cabinet member for this area, Councillor Feryal Demirci, and to her predecessor, Vincent Stops, who remains a champion of cycling. All the councillors in Hackney put bike first in their thinking. As the all-party group, we had an opportunity to cycle around Hackney with some of the council’s planning officers and Councillor Demirci to see for ourselves how they “think bike” at every stage. They do not just “think bike” but “think pedestrian” on things such as accessible streets. It is often little measures such as taking away the barriers at junctions and improving signposting on quieter side routes that have made a difference regarding the exponential growth in the number of people who cycle in Hackney.
Hackney also promotes free cycle training for adults and children, which, even with the tight financial situation, has made a difference. Let me speak up for middle-aged women everywhere who cycle slowly in their ordinary clothes—or, as I famously said in the summer, “pootle”. I certainly pootle. I should stress, given the Twitter-storm that ensued afterwards, that I am not speaking for every woman. I pootle slowly in my ordinary clothes. I am well aware that many women wish to go fast in Lycra, but that is not for me; I do not quite have the figure for it, for a start. A lot of cyclists do not want to go fast, hammering down the streets. Hackney works to try to signpost people down quiet side roads that suit them. That is very important, because aggressive cyclists can be as off-putting to people as bad traffic, noise and pollution. [Interruption.] I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) wanted to intervene, but he was simply praising the approach that Hackney has taken.
Cyclists in Hackney have always been a very active and vocal group. Hackney council has worked very closely with the Hackney cycling campaign, which has 1,000 members. We have the largest membership of a cycling campaign in any London borough. The borough has not rested there—it has looked at why people do not cycle. These are messages that we could be learning nationally. This does not all cost a great deal of money. People who do not cycle tend to be poor and living in places where they cannot store bikes, so the council has promoted storage, with a private company providing bike lockers on estates where former pram sheds have been removed.
As I said, training is free. There is buddying-up with a cyclist for those who want to go on a particular route. As a middle-aged woman who cycles slowly in my ordinary clothes, going out with a professional trainer and good regular cyclist has been revelatory. One has to do it only once to remember what to do and take the road more confidently. I cycled all my life until I moved back to London, and then felt a bit scared about it. When I got back in the saddle, that help made me feel confident. I urge the timid people out there to take up these opportunities.
Hackney has set a lead in doing this because of its political leadership, and the Minister has that opportunity, but the lead also needs to come from elsewhere. We have called for a cycling champion. We need somebody—a cycling tsar, or whatever we want to call them—who “talks bike” and gives a high profile to the issue so that Ministers in other Departments have to think about it too. It is not just a matter for the Department for Transport; it is also for the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health.
The leader of Ealing council—I am sure he will not mind my saying this—has spoken very passionately about how he had a health warning a few years ago. He needed to lose weight and had other health problems. He got on his bike, and that alone solved his health problems and made the difference. He is now passionate about making his London borough as good as Hackney, in time.
Planning has to be built in from day one. Whenever I speak about cycling, people often write to me to say, “It’s terrible that you’re not talking about segregation every step of the way.” Segregation certainly has an important part to play; as other Members have said, it would be very difficult to cycle along some roads without segregation. Realistically, however, it is not possible in a city such as London to have segregated cycle paths everywhere, all at once, overnight. We are not asking the Minister for that, because it is clear that he would rule it out on financial grounds alone. Hackney’s approach has been to find little ways that make a difference, such as placing a bollard here or there to make it easier for pedestrians, buggies and cyclists to get through. We have to look at this in the round.
I want to touch briefly on the Mayor of London’s transport policy, particularly the cycle super-highway along the very busy Whitechapel road neighbouring my constituency. One proposal is to carve through the pavement in order to narrow it to 2.5 metres, which is about the same size as an average side street, and require pedestrians to cross the cycle super-highway to get to the bus stop. That is bonkers. We have to make sure that, in the attempt to improve cycling, cyclists are not pitted against pedestrians.
I am ambivalent about the question of whether cycle super-highways are the answer. I think there is merit to them in some places, but one of the key things is how they will join up, which is a wider national issue. Good things could be happening in two separate boroughs, but if a bit in the middle does not work very well—there could be a dangerous gap or junction or a narrow busy road—that will put people off. We need political leadership from a champion in Whitehall who will bang heads together if there is such a problem. It does not have to involve money; a Minister could influence the situation by putting pressure on local government when it does not deliver.
Hackney has benefited from reducing and slowing traffic through measures such as humps, parking zones, improving junctions—which remains the biggest challenge in any city, particularly London—and, as I mentioned earlier, assigning quieter routes off main roads. In fact, it is possible to cycle around the backstreets of Hackney and rarely meet a moving car. That is what gives me the confidence to cycle slowly in my own little way.
Hackney’s approach has been incremental and consistent. That is what has really made the difference. It has not been a stop-start process. The census figures indicate that Hackney has been doing it solidly for the decade the mayor of Hackney has been leader. He has shown determination to put cyclists first.
I am using Hackney as a proxy for what could happen nationally. With the right attitude and by using the money that both local and central Government already provide for cycling, a lot can be done. The little more money that we would ultimately like to see—that is our aspiration—would speed things up and make sure that the gaps were filled. More can be achieved even without that money, but it is ultimately down to the Minister to make sure that that vision for cycling across the country is championed and that local government is pushed into making sure that it thinks bike every step of the way.
I wanted to speak in this debate not only because, as a member of the all-party group on cycling, I sat on the report panel, but because I am a cyclist myself.
Cycling is booming in the Colne and Holme valleys and Lindley in my parliamentary constituency, not least because of the amazing spectacle that was the Tour de France in Yorkshire; it also went through Cambridge, of course. On a sunny Sunday in July, the world’s eyes were on Chris Froome and the peloton as they whizzed down into Huddersfield from Ainley Top and glided through the Holme valley before tackling the gruelling climb up Holme Moss. It was at the foot of that climb that my family watched the race outside my mum and dad’s house.
The tour legacy is clear to see. My local Kirklees council calculates that £10 has been generated in economic benefits for every £1 invested, but it is the cycling legacy I want to focus on. Holmfirth cycling club was set up shortly before the tour. It now has 259 members, a third of whom are women. It is the fastest growing club in the UK and it signed up more junior members than any other club during the Tour de France.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Cycling is a great way to see our beautiful countryside and to keep fit, so perhaps it provides a bit of alternative training for those rugby players.
Holmfirth cycling club offers weekly mountain bike rides and midweek rides, and once a month there is a long weekend ride. There are also training sessions for young riders and adult cyclo-cross training.
Streetbikes in Lockwood, led by the inspirational Gill Greaves, works with schools and community groups, teaching adults and children how to cycle. It also fixes unwanted bikes and donates them back into the community. Its projects are growing week on week. Some 50 people regularly turn up to “rock up and ride” events, and 80 people attended a mixed ability session last Thursday.
Holmfirth cycling club is affiliated to British Cycling, so someone who joins British Cycling will be covered by all the insurances it provides. It is very good value—I think it costs about £20 for a year, which is not a huge amount for a whole year of cycling activities. Streetbikes is a local charity that refurbishes bikes donated by local companies and people and then gives them for free to people on low incomes in our community. It is a great scheme. At the Streetbikes cycling festival in August, 40 free recycled and refurbished bikes were given away and Streetbikes offered repairs and advice to riders.
There are 11 cycling organisations across Kirklees, including Streetbikes and other community groups. They offer various disciplines, such as BMX and mountain biking, track cycling, cyclo-cross, time trials and many more.
My part of the world is now looking forward to the Tour of Yorkshire on 1 to 3 May 2015. The routes will be announced in early 2015, but we hope they will grace my patch once again. The event is being organised by Welcome to Yorkshire and the Amaury Sport Organisation, the organisers of the Tour de France, and it will be backed by British Cycling. There will be three full stages over the three days, a women’s race and a mass participation event. That has inspired cyclists of all ages and abilities to get out on their bikes. The legacy continues. I congratulate Huddersfield New College student Gabz Cullaigh on being selected to represent GB in the junior road race squad at the recent world championships.
It is because of that enthusiasm for cycling that I back the recommendations of the “Get Britain Cycling” report and urge further action, not only by the Government, but by local councils and communities. On the specific recommendations, we need to redesign our roads and streets. Anyone who has, like me, tackled the chipping-laden road from Lockwood to Honley, where I live, will know of the urgent need for a proper cycle lane. I love cycling on the Meltham greenway, which is on a disused railway line, and we need more of such shared space. The needs of cyclists and pedestrians must be considered during planning applications.
Cycling needs to be safe; it can be dangerous and speed is often the culprit. We need to extend 20 mph speed limits in towns and villages, and consider limits on rural lanes. Good HGV cab design, giving drivers better sightlines, is an absolute must.
I have already mentioned Streetbikes. Let us give it funding for training and education at all primary and secondary schools in my area, and for other free training. Cycling is a healthy activity and it is good for our environment. Good progress is already being made. As of last autumn, 94% of primary schools and a fifth of secondary schools in Yorkshire had Bikeablity training sessions. Let us make more progress.
Gary Verity has become an inspirational figure in Yorkshire after his superb leadership in bidding for and running the successful Tour de France in Yorkshire. Let us have a national cycling champion and ask local councils to appoint a lead figure so that we know who to go to. They do not necessarily have to be a politician, but they should be someone who is responsible locally for all local cycling.
Let us spend at least £10 per head of the population on funding for cycling. On that note, I acknowledge that the Department for Transport has made significant investments in cycling, spending almost double the amount spent in the last five years of the previous Administration. Nearly all the projects being funded by the Department’s £600 million local sustainable transport fund now contain a cycling element. The Bikeability cycle training grant provides further funding of up to £40 per child training place, with training for a minimum of 600,000 children. I particularly welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement that funding will be extended into 2015-16. During the lifetime of this Parliament, £374 million of Government funds have already been committed directly towards cycling, but I want there to be more.
My hon. Friend is talking about the Government’s investment in cycling. Does he agree that potholes are of great concern to cyclists? Although it is good that the Government have put a lot of funds into improving our roads, including £200 million in the last Budget, we always need more funding to reduce the number of potholes and make cycling safer?
Yes. My hon. Friend makes a great point about potholes, which are the scourge of cyclists. One of the benefits of the Tour de France coming through my neck of the woods was the beautiful black tarmac carpet leading up into the hills. Constituents regularly asked me, “What is the exact route of the Tour de France, Mr McCartney?” and I just told them to follow the new tarmac. Filling in potholes is certainly important. My Kirklees council got more than £1.2 million from the local potholes fund, and I know how much that was appreciated.
Finally, on a very serious note, I want to end by passing on my best wishes to my constituent John Radford and his family. On 29 July last year, John, an extremely fit and active husband, father and grandfather, returned from taking part in a 1,400 km cycle event, but two days later he was hit by a car in New Mill and suffered severe head injuries, which left him in a coma. He has been discharged from Leeds general infirmary into a specialist neurological respite centre in York. He is now very severely disabled. John is confined to a wheelchair and totally dependent on others, and will remain so for the rest of his life. The family, whom I have got to know very well indeed, are now looking for a home with specialist nursing care for him. A court case is scheduled to begin at Leeds Crown court on Monday 20 October. In honour of John Radford, I say, “Let’s get Britain cycling.”
I, too, was a member of the panel of the all-party group on cycling that drew up “Get Britain Cycling”. Like other members of the panel, I am delighted at how its recommendations have stimulated debate, thought and ideas throughout the country.
I should advise the House that I am also a member of the Lothian cycle campaign, Spokes, which has now been campaigning for cycling improvements throughout the Lothians for 37 years, which is one year longer than even the London Cycling Campaign. It is a very effective organisation.
That is a good starting point for my speech, because I remember about 30 years ago that Spokes made a modest suggestion to the City of Edinburgh council, not for a network of cycle lanes but for just a cycle lane. The reaction of the then Conservative leader of the council—we have not had many of them for 30 years—was to make the famous retort:
“Spokes can get lost and take its commie friends with it.”
As the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young) has pointed out, that kind of reaction was by no means unique to members of his party; it existed in my party as well.
It is a reflection of how things have changed, that—with the possible exception of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, whose remit does not run to Scotland—politicians of all colours are now vying to be cycling-friendly, which is good and reflects public pressure, concern and interest. That is also one reason why we have had real progress in many parts of the country.
In Edinburgh, for example, the council agreed in 2012 to allocate 5% of its transport budget to cycling and to increase that 1% year on year. In spite of tight budgetary restraints, the council has done that. In this financial year, it is now spending 7% of its transport budget on cycling, which is possibly the highest anywhere in the UK.
Despite the fact that there has been progress, everyone taking part in this debate knows that we have a long way to go throughout the UK to reach the levels of spending committed to cycling that we ought and need to have. In discussing the report, we have heard many concerns about the UK’s delivery plan announcing where the UK is going.
I am afraid that the situation in Scotland is not markedly different. Until recently, the Scottish Government had been reducing spending on cycling. A few years ago, the excellent Pedal on Parliament campaign was established, and thousands of people rallied outside the Scottish Parliament to demand a change of Government policy. It has had an effect in that, certainly for a couple of years, spending on cycling in Scotland, which had gone down, went up and it exceeded the UK level until this year. I understand from cycling organisations, however, that the current Scottish Government budget has reduced the level of spending on cycling. That illustrates how campaigns need to continue and persist if there is to be the kind of step change on cycling policy that we need.
In support of the “Get Britain Cycling” campaign, does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need to ensure that there is somewhere useful for people to leave their cycles when they go on public transport or on shopping expeditions, and that we should encourage such infrastructure across our towns and cities?
Absolutely. That brings me to my next point. The experience in Scotland and of the UK indicates how pressure for action needs to be continued at all levels of government. I want to highlight some specific areas where that should be done, and the first is indeed the need for joined-up policies in the field of transport.
One of my hon. Friends has already made the point about cycle-rail linkages. In Scotland, the new ScotRail franchise has been reallocated to the private sector by the Scottish Government, although some of us are not too keen about that. The winning franchisor is Abellio, a Dutch company, which has promised to bring to Scotland the type of rail-bike linkages that exist in the Netherlands. We will certainly hold it to account on that promise.
When the Department allocates the franchise for the east coast main line—again, some of us wish it was not going to be allocated to the private sector, but that is obviously the Government’s intention—will the Minister ensure that one of the criteria is to look very seriously at the degree to which the bike-rail interface is implemented by whichever operator is eventually chosen?
I am afraid that one specific place that is not a good example of a rail-bike interchange is Waverley station in Edinburgh, which is one of the country’s busiest stations. It is run by Network Rail which, for various reasons which may or may not be acceptable, has chosen to remove all vehicle access from the station. In so doing, it has removed access not just for motorised vehicles, but for bikes. People with bikes therefore have to fight their way along what is effectively a pedestrian ramp to get into the station. That is a classic example of how things are being done for cyclists on the trains going into the station and on the roads above the station, but, to put it mildly, there is not the kind of interface between cyclists and rail that there should be at that busy station. The Minister may be aware of that case. I certainly hope that he will look into it to try to resolve the difficulties that many people from my constituency and beyond have raised with me.
One way in which we can support cycling is to ensure that it is given an adequate place and its rightful place in the priorities for big capital spending. The national infrastructure plan, which was adopted in the last couple of years, contains major commitments to new road building. Except in the margins, there is no such commitment for cycling or pedestrians. That should be looked at. That plan presents an opportunity to give cycling the boost that it needs.
I agree with everything the hon. Gentleman has just said. However, does he not think that there is a slight risk in over-compartmentalising the funding? In all surveys of cyclists, there is an overwhelming consensus that the No. 1 priority is to deal with potholes and road surfaces to improve safety. However, that would never be regarded as cycling funding. Some 1,000 people responded to my most recent detailed survey on cycling and almost every one of them rated that as the No. 1 concern. Again, it would not form part of the local cycling budget per se, but it is very much in the interests of cycling that those more humdrum projects are done.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. All of us, as cyclists, know the experience of suddenly coming across a pothole, particularly one that we did not realise was there. However, I do not think that the two issues are separate. There must be road maintenance, but if there were major projects in the national infrastructure plan to bring forward cycling schemes at various places in the country that were—iconic is the wrong word—beacons, that would be a good way of spending the money. That idea also has the benefit that such projects could be brought forward much more quickly than new roads or road expansion, and could provide the infrastructure boost that is the whole point of the national infrastructure plan.
We have all heard how cycling is good for us as individuals, for public health, for the economy, for reducing carbon emissions, for tackling climate change and for the environment. For all those reasons, it is something that needs support. The support that it is given by government at all levels is improving, by and large, but much more needs to be done. I hope that this debate has underlined that need throughout the country.
I congratulate the all-party parliamentary cycling group on securing this debate. However, given that it is an all-party group, I think that some Opposition Members have been rather churlish in not representing all the parties, but instead making a lot of party political points and having a go at the Minister when he has not even spoken. They could have resisted that urge and made this an all-party Back-Bench business debate in which everybody could speak and be positive about cycling.
As a non-cyclist, I have been contacted by a lot of local members of various cycling organisations and long-standing cyclists who want me to do something about the problem of cycling right up the A6. Families and elderly people cannot cycle on it because it is very dangerous. Even the keenest cyclists are nervous about going on that very busy main road. I contacted all of them to set up a meeting and we established a group to look at how we could get cyclists off the road. There is some off-road cycling in Derby along defunct train lines, but one has to drive to them. That is fine for leisure cycling, but not for commuting. It is also not good for families with young children who want to go out for an hour or so on a Saturday afternoon, because they have to get in a car to get there. It would be better if they could get on to a route near the A6 from their own homes. That route would go through the Derwent Valley Mills world heritage site, so it would bring in tourism as well.
The Derwent Valley cycleway group has been working for a year with Derbyshire county council and Derby city council to identify a route that could be realised. The route is almost in place. The landowners are mostly supportive. There is one who is not too keen because he is concerned about the livestock in his fields, but that can be overcome. The group is very passionate. It celebrated its first anniversary last week and we had a meeting to see where we had got to. I want to praise the amount of work that all its members have done voluntarily to help the local authorities come up with a scheme that can be funded.
Derby city council has £2 million to spend on cycle routes over the next five years, which is great. We only want it to fund a small portion of the route from the Silk Mill in Derby city, which comes from one of the earliest parts of the industrial revolution, up through Belper, with its Arkwright mills from the start of the industrial revolution. The route would go right up to Matlock and beyond. At the moment, I am concerned with my constituency, but it would carry on into the constituency of the Secretary of State for Transport.
As many people know, Derbyshire is a hugely hilly county. It is hard work cycling in Derbyshire, which is great for keen cyclists, but not for families who are trying to get their children cycling. The group has therefore looked at bringing the cycle path alongside the river all the way up, which would take it close to all the old mills that used water power during the industrial revolution.
The scheme is a very practical one. What is needed now is for the funding to come forward. I am therefore pleased that the report suggests funding of £10 per head. I am also pleased to note that the Government would like to get to that amount as soon as possible.
If we could get the cycle route going, it would contribute not only to people’s health, but to their education, because they would see a world heritage site. It is pretty impressive to see the enormous Arkwright mills in Belper and further north. It would make a big difference by educating young people in particular about where the industrial revolution started. Healthwise, the route would help many people to get the exercise that they do not normally get. I have even promised that I might take to a bicycle if we get the route going, because I might be able to go along that fairly flat route. Although I used to cycle a lot as a child, I have lost confidence and wobble all over the place, so I would not dare to cycle on a road.
Many groups in the area cycle for sport. They cycle quite long distances at speed. This would be a great route for them. They tend to go out early in the morning, whereas leisure cyclists tend to go out a bit later, so they should not clash unduly.
Businesses would welcome the route. This relates to the third recommendation of the report. Many people who live in Belper in my constituency work in Derby—quite a lot of people also work in Belper, and I would like there to be more employment in Belper—and they would like to cycle into Derby, but there is no safe route. It is important that we provide safe routes for people to cycle to work. Again, the people going to work, who will be professional, Lycra-type cyclists, are more likely to travel early in the morning and come back in the evening, whereas leisure cyclists, such as older people and families, would go at times when the route is less congested.
The report is very welcome. The fact that the Backbench Business Committee has granted this debate shows that everybody in the Chamber and the Government takes the issue seriously. I commend the report to the Minister, and ask for more off-road cycle routes that could be combined with routes for walkers and horses. We do not have enough bridlepaths in this country, and the two can go side by side—there is no reason for that to be dangerous as long as people are courteous and accept that there will be other users on the route. If we could have a multi-use cycle route, bridlepath and walking route, we would get far more people out and about, working hard to get fit, and we would introduce more tourism to the area. That would bring money to the area, which will always be welcome, and I would like more of that to be developed. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that, and perhaps come up with a strategy for how we in Derbyshire can progress that scheme—with funding at some point—so that we can have a better route for millions of people to come and enjoy our world heritage sites.
I begin with a tribute and a confession. The tribute is to the Minister. He has been exceptionally patient and lived up to every syllable of his surname in the way he has considered the problems that we in the New Forest have had recently with a particular aspect of cycling—namely the mass cycling events or sportives—and I wish to say a few words about that in my contribution to the debate. The confession is that the last time I cycled regularly was in Oxford in 1975. That was the year that I discovered the joys of motorised two-wheel transport and bought my first motor scooter, as it was then, powered at 50 cc. To this day, I am proud to say that I still use two wheels, but they are now powered by 750 cc, so I get all the exhilaration without having to invest the effort. My admiration, therefore, is unbounded for those who do invest effort in cycling. Not only is cycling part and parcel of an excellent life and health scheme, it is also part and parcel—indeed, it is integral—to the public profile of the New Forest.
I do not know about you, Madam Deputy Speaker, but when I think of the lovely New Forest I immediately think of activities such as horse riding, walking, rambling, bird watching, camping and, yes, cycling. It is therefore sad that in recent months, a major problem has arisen in relation to cycling in the New Forest. It is not, however, an insoluble problem, and I hope that with Good-will—in both senses of the word—we will soon be able to solve it.
The problem is this. We have had mass cycling events in the New Forest for many years, and they caused no difficulties whatsoever when the numbers concerned were in the order of 500 or 600 participants—that is quite a lot when thinking about rural roads. We all know that specific laws and regulations deal with competitive cycling on the public highways, but the loophole arises in mass cycling events in the New Forest—or sportives as they are known—because people are competing not against each other but against themselves. They are seeking at all times to better the speed and time with which they complete quite lengthy cycle rides in the New Forest, and that brings obvious dangers and disadvantages to other road users and to the livestock of the New Forest. It may come as a surprise to hon. Members to know that in the New Forest, ponies, donkeys and cattle have the right of way on public roads, and motorists and cyclists do not. Therefore unless these major events are regulated—hopefully with a very light touch—there are obvious dangers of clashes, accidents and the generation of ill-feeling. It is about that generation of ill-feeling that I wish to inform the House.
In my hand I have the front page of the 23 August edition of the Lymington Times, and the main story is headlined, “Anti-cycling concern leads NPA”—New Forest national park authority—“to scrap Forest ‘Boris-bikes’”. A scheme would have brought docking stations for about 250 extra bikes into the New Forest, and funding was available with the blessing of the Government. However, such is the antipathy and poisoning of the well, caused by the clashes over those mass cycling events—some of which have had up to 3,000 participants and been spread over two days—that in the end the NPA decided not to take up the money for that purpose. It has had to come up with alternative cycling-related schemes that do not actually have the benefit of bringing more cyclists on to the road.
Who else does the hon. Gentleman think should be prevented from coming to the New Forest: the people who want to walk around the New Forest or to run along its roads, or is it just cyclists that he thinks should be regulated off the roads of the New Forest?
I am very sorry that I have been making my message come across so obscurely. No one is talking about anyone being regulated off the roads. On the contrary, we want them to be regulated on the roads. That is precisely the demand the communities in the New Forest are making, because the New Forest is a living, working forest. It is not a theme park.
Let me answer the hon. Gentleman’s first intervention before I let him have a second.
With good will and with co-operation and arrangements that relate to three things this problem could be solved. The sensible arrangements are: that the local authority should have the power to determine the frequency of these events; that it should have the right to limit the total numbers participating in the events; and that the participants should wear some form of identification, probably numbering, so that where there are mass events and incidents occur—let us be frank about this, sometimes incidents of an aggressive nature do occur—then there can be no question about misidentification.
I wonder if I can bring the hon. Gentleman back to the very exciting New Forest cycle hire scheme. As I understand it, more of the responses to the public consultation from people living within the forest were in favour of the scheme than against it. Does he agree that it is a rather perverse decision from the authority to listen to the public, hear that they support it and then decide that they cannot go ahead with it?
The hon. Gentleman illustrates the point I am making. I do not want to second-guess the decision of the national park authority for the simple reason that I did not involve myself in that debate and I only read about it afterwards. Frankly, I do not have enough information to make a judgment on whether I sympathise or not. However, what I certainly think—I hope he would agree—is that it is really unfortunate that the attitude towards cycling in general by the representatives of the national park and the community in the New Forest has been so damaged by this dispute over mass cycling events that cycling is getting a bad name.
To conclude, I simply say that we look to the Minister to try to have some reserve regulatory powers in place, hopefully seldom having to be relied upon, to ensure that where there is a danger of a clash—as has happened on one occasion, between the New Forest drift, when the ponies have to be moved across the forest, and a mass cycling event—and where there is a question mark over perhaps two major cycling events being scheduled for the same day, or where there is too much bunching of events one after another rather than being spread at reasonable intervals, just as there is light-touch regulation for racing events on the public highway, we believe there should be some powers in reserve so that cycling can regain its popular reputation. In this way, the New Forest and cycling will once again be bracketed together harmoniously, rather than as a source of dissonance and friction.
It is a pleasure to respond to the debate, which is a credit to all the right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken. No fewer than 11 Members have made speeches, more if one takes interventions into account. It is a credit in particular to the officers of the all-party group on cycling: my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), who introduced the debate, and the hon. Members for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and for Winchester (Steve Brine).
It is also right to mention the cycling and active travel organisations that support the all-party group. They have played a big role in making today’s debate happen. Between them they have a great deal of power, because we were told by Ministers more than a year ago—this has been mentioned already—that there would be a cycling delivery plan. More than a year ago, we were told the Government were working on that. We have been asking the Government for a year, “Where is it?” It has been a bit like waiting for Godot, but, amazingly, one Back-Bench debate and suddenly, hey presto, the delivery plan appears—or, as some have called it, the derisory plan.
As this debate has made clear, there are huge benefits to cycling. In particular, it improves people’s health—physical inactivity costs the NHS between £1 billion and £1.8 billion every year—and protects the environment by tackling air pollution and congestion in our towns and cities. As hon. Members have said, therefore, this affects all road users, whether motorists or lorry drivers, cyclists, bus passengers, pedestrians or motorcyclists, and many of us are all or some of those things at different times; we are all road users, and our roads must work for everyone. Getting Britain cycling is not simply a two-wheeled agenda. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) pointed out, the voice of the motorist, the AA, supports the report as well.
If I remember correctly, last year the Minister promised a walking and cycling plan to promote active travel as a whole, but as far as I can tell, we have here a delivery plan—if it is a delivery plan—for cycling only. Why is that?
As the report shows, just 2% of journeys are made by bike, while nearly two thirds are made by car, over half of them shorter than five miles. We lag behind other countries—Germany, Demark and Holland have all been mentioned—that have set impressive targets for cycling. For that reason, the “Get Britain Cycling” report was clear that we needed vision, ambition and strong political leadership, as my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) also pointed out. But what progress have we seen? The Government’s delivery plan today starts with a section entitled, “Vision, Leadership and Ambition”. Given that the Minister wants to show those things, I would like to ask him about how the plan measures up to that.
The plan puts much emphasis on new partnerships being created between the Government and local authorities to support cycling, and says that they want local authorities to register and expand cycling in their areas. However, unless I have missed something, the incentives on local authorities in the delivery plan are vague at best. What about those areas that do not sign up? Where is the national vision, leadership and ambition there? How will the Minister encourage areas to get onboard that are just starting to dip their toes in the water? How will he share best practice there? In that respect, the point made by the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) was very pertinent.
The Minister talks about the Department’s active travel consortium and an extended local sustainable transport fund knowledge-sharing network being responsible for sharing best practice, but how will that work? Has he learned from past mistakes, because the Government’s record on this is not good. Ministers scrapped Cycling England, which co-ordinated action on cycling, and the replacement cycling stakeholder forum and the so-called high-level cycling group have met just a few times in a year. What confidence can organisations involved in the active travel consortium have that they will have the clout and reach to promote active travel and ensure that better travel infrastructure for cycling is delivered?
I accept that the Minister is serious in his personal support for cycling, but where is the buy-in from other Departments, particularly from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who suggested that cycling was the preserve of the elite? He is not alone in that view. In my own town, Birmingham, a prominent Conservative councillor is on the record saying that cycling is discriminatory against women, particularly women from ethnic minorities. Fortunately, most people in Birmingham do not share that view.
It is good to see a review of how the planning system can support walking and cycling, but I understand that DCLG will imminently be publishing new guidance on transport planning. Will this be another silo, separate from the Minister’s, or will the two relate, and if so, how?
The lesson from when we were in government was that this only works when the Secretaries of State in every Department with an interest in the matter work together. This is a classic area of cross-departmental cost-benefit. At the moment, the problem is that everything is done in silos. Individual Departments are not putting their heads together to work out how much cycling benefits all of us, and that is why nothing is happening.
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Why does the Minister himself not take a look at best practice elsewhere? Why not learn some of the lessons that will be unfolding from the active travel legislation in Wales, which will require all corners of government to co-ordinate and get buy-in to promote active travel?
Another message that has been impressed upon us today, time and again, is the need for a clear funding stream. Funding streams need to be predicable and continuous. Today’s delivery plan seems to contain a lot of the right words, but if we look a little more closely, it is not clear exactly what those commitments are. We have heard a lot of talk, including in the delivery plan, about aspirations and wider funding opportunities, but I am still not clear what those are. Forgive me, but I think we need rather more than that from a Government whose use of smoke and mirrors on this issue has been second to none.
This is a Government who claim to have doubled spending on cycling, but when we look closely, we see that they funded Bikeability by top-slicing £63 million from the local sustainable transport fund, which was itself meant in large part to promote cycling. Then the Government claimed they were increasing funding for cycling with the money they gained by scrapping Cycling England. The Government cannot have it both ways. The double counting has to end. All this comes at a time when Ministers have slashed local authority funding by a third and when our research has shown that half of councils have had to cut spending on walking and cycling since 2010.
How about a bit of a change of approach? Instead of centralising power and localising blame, why not do what we have suggested and devolve £30 billion of funding to strong, accountable combined local authorities to get such schemes going? If the Government have set out £28 billion for our roads until 2021, with funding certainty for road and rail, why not get a bit of certainty in funding for cycling? How about heeding what my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) set out in our recent party conference, when she called for action on education, engineering and enforcement?
On engineering, I hope that all references to cycle proofing in the Minister’s delivery plan will take on board Labour’s call for new cycle safety assessments, to ensure that all transport projects are assessed for their impact on vulnerable road users and active travel. However, the proof of that pudding will be in the eating. We need all engineers and planners to include cycling at the design stage, not as an afterthought.
What about enforcement? Nearly half of cyclists say that it is too dangerous to cycle on the roads safely at the moment—we all listened to what the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) said about the tragic case of John Radford. We have called for the restoration of national targets to cut road deaths and serious injuries. I want to know why Ministers continue to resist that. Why do they have to be the ones dragging their feet on HGV safety in the UK and the European Union, rather than taking on board our suggestion of an HGV cycle safety charter, with industry regulation to ensure that HGVs are fitted with minimum safety features to protect cyclists? How will hiking HGV speed limits on single carriageway roads—despite the Department’s own impact assessment saying it will increase deaths—contribute to what we are talking about today?
The shadow Minister is making some interesting points. He has heard a lot of calls from his Back Benchers to support the “Get Britain Cycling” recommendations and commit money. Will he say now that the Labour party will include “Get Britain Cycling” in its manifesto and will he commit to spending £10 a year per person in the next Parliament if the Labour party is in government?
What I can say to the hon. Gentleman, if he was following my drift, is that we have been absolutely clear that in order for the objectives in the “Get Britain Cycling” report to be taken forward, money has to be available and it has to be predictable and continuous. He will also know that it will be for the shadow Chancellor, just as much as it is for the Chancellor, to commit precise amounts. However, what I can give the hon. Gentleman a commitment to is continuous and predictable funding—something that simply is not in the cycling delivery plan.
I may be being a bit dim, but although I completely accept that Chancellors and shadow Chancellors set overall budgets, surely as a ministerial team with a departmental budget—my criticism of the Government is that they have not done this—it is perfectly within the powers of my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friend to earmark a small proportion of the Department’s budget to reach the target. He does not require the permission of our right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor.
The issue of providing clear, predictable and continuous funding is exactly that; it is about providing funding through a funding stream for cycling. A number of prominent people within the cycling community have put it to me that the issue of predictability and clarity is more important than whether we are talking about £8, £9, £10, £11 or £12. That is the point, and it explains what we are going to bring forward.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I want to make some progress, as there is a time limit.
The final thing we need to do is to ensure that the Government take the importance of education and promotion much more seriously—something that the report understands and emphasises in calling for a
“a dramatic increase in the number and diversity of people who cycle”.
For children, this means long-term support for bikeability. For women, who still make up only a quarter of Britain’s cyclists, cycle safety is a big concern. Cycling is also important for all of us who want to make our communities safer, greener and happier places in the future.
I hope that today’s delivery plan heralds a change of thinking by the Government, but I reckon we will need a lot more action to secure the kind of change we need. I suspect that it will take more than a delivery plan; it will take a change of Government.
I thank the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) for securing the debate and my hon. and special Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) for fundamentally undermining Labour’s pledges on spending. Given that the shadow Chancellor holds their purse strings, Labour Members are unable to make any commitments whatever on this matter.
I am pleased to see in the House such great enthusiasm for cycling, as I, too, am passionate about cycling. Indeed, I was a member of the all-party group until my promotion prevented me from continuing to be so. It was the first time I saw a Brompton bike being unfolded at an all-party group meeting that prompted me to buy one of those wonderful machines, which are made in the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) said he was preaching to the converted. I plead guilty; I am one of the converted and nobody needs to persuade me of the benefits of cycling both for individuals and for our country as a whole.
Today’s debate is timely. Just this morning, as promised by the Prime Minister in August last year, we published our draft 10-year strategy for cycling in England, entitled the cycling delivery plan. I point out that walking features in it, too, and that one of our targets relates to walking to school. The delivery plan reflects the views of a high-level stakeholder group on cycling, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their input.
The delivery plan is a 10-year one for England and deals with how central Government, local government, business, the third sector and the public can all work together to help grow cycling in different parts of England. I ask the hon. Member for Dudley North to read it because there is such a lot in it. His speech suggested that the glass was half empty, so let me tell him it is more than half full. I hope he will take heart from some of the important announcements and commitments we make.
I am pleased that we have moved on from the time when my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young) gave his speech on his rather revolutionary ideas. I am pleased that many of these ideas are not only mainstream, but in the plan.
We have already seen the start of a cycling revolution in London, and we want to replicate this trend elsewhere, so that the nation as a whole can reap the benefits of cycling. We all know that the benefits of cycling are many and wide reaching: it helps reduce congestion on our roads, as we have heard; it helps cut pollution in our environments; and it can help individuals to become fitter and healthier. Regular cycling can help lose weight, reduce stress and boost health. I can let the House into a little secret: when I entered the European Parliament, I quickly put on 2 stone and lost it only after I bought a new bicycle. I seem to be a testament to that particular health benefit.
Regular cycling is also good for the economy. Cycling supports businesses through producing more motivated and productive staff who miss fewer days due to sickness and absence. Increased cycling and walking will save the NHS billions in the cost of treating diabetes, heart disease and mental ill health, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge pointed out in his speech. Cycling in inner-city areas reduces congestion and often proves to be the quickest, most reliable way of travelling for short- to-medium distance trips. Indeed, that is how I travel here each day. Last but not least, increased cycling gives rise to a local, creative, innovative and sustainable industry consisting mostly of small and medium-sized enterprises.
In view of all those benefits, it is no wonder that the Government are serious about cycling, and that they have provided twice as much funding for it as the last Administration. Given that £374 million—or £622 million if we include match funding—is being committed between 2011 and 2015, investment in cycling is currently about £5 per person, up from the £2 at which it stood when we came to office.
Among the key recommendations in the APPG’s report “Get Britain Cycling” was a call for sustained investment to bring us into line with other European countries. It is clear that the Government are moving in the right direction. We recognise that we need to explore how local government can go further than that £5 per person, which is why our cycling delivery plan states:
“The Government’s aspiration is that—working with local government, and businesses, we can together explore how we can achieve a minimum funding packet equivalent to £10 per person each year by 2020-21—and sooner if possible.”
This is the first time that the Government have included that £10 figure in a document, and I have to say that, having let the genie out of the bottle, I intend to do nothing to try to put it back.
I congratulate the Government on what they have done. However, in my constituency, I recently saw four cyclists travelling two abreast on a stretch of the highway that ran parallel to a dedicated cycle path. Does my hon. Friend think that when cyclists take such action without justification they should be deemed to be committing an offence?
I have seen that happen on the A64 in my own area. In many cases, it may be because the maintenance of the cycle path is not good. Indeed, in some places cyclists are encouraged to cross the main carriageway because there is a cycle path on only one side of it. I would, however, urge all road users to abide by the rules of the road, and to respect others who are using it. Speaking as one who is a motorist and has been a lorry driver, a cyclist, a horseless carriage driver, a steam engine driver—you name it, I have driven it—I think it important for us all to treat each other with respect on the road.
While the Highways Agency network will be dealing with our commitment to cycle-proof new road schemes, local highway authorities, local councils, or the Mayor of London and some of the other mayors around the country deliver on other schemes. We have a good track record of giving money, whether through cycling ambition grants for our cities or through local sustainable transport schemes, nearly all of which include a cycling element. We have seen local authorities deliver that, which is great. Councillor Martyn Bolt in Kirklees, for instance, is a real champion of cycling. I think that every local authority needs a cycling champion to ensure that its priorities are the priorities of the cyclist.
If we are fortunate enough to be elected in May, it will be important for us to be aware of the content of the existing budgets and spending commitments so that we can work out our own ideas. Do the Government consider the £10 target to be an aspiration or a commitment?
The word that we use is “aspiration”, but our mention of the £10 figure has put it on record that the Government intend to work towards that aspiration. Many schemes, however—one example is the cycle to work scheme—depend on company subscriptions. We depend on local authorities’ making cycling a priority, and we are keen to ensure that such decisions are made locally. We also work with rail operating companies, which often make decisions on matters such as parking at stations. We feel that our target is genuinely achievable if we work with local government and other organisations, including businesses, and I am very proud that we have put that on record.
I congratulate the Minister on the £10 aspiration, which I think is important. In Worcester, we see a great deal of investment in cycling and sustainable transport. We have a new bridge across the river, and a good riverside loop that can be used for cycling. The next stage, potentially, will be a high walk, which is being promoted by our university. It would raise the river crossing above the level that is affected by floods, for the benefit of both cyclists and disabled people. That could be a real breakthrough in terms of sustainable transport in Worcester. I do not ask the Minister to make any commitment immediately, but may I ask him to examine the proposal very carefully when it is submitted?
That is precisely the type of scheme we are seeing delivered up and down the country. Indeed, the money we are investing in our eight cycle cities and TfL funding in London is already in excess of the £10 per head as recommended in “Get Britain Cycling”. The investment in cycling will be even more long term and successful with the local government commitment to working with central Government and others to achieve this, and the infrastructure we build now will be there for generations to come. In many cases we are looking at a cumulative effect of investment. It is not money that is out of the door today and gone tomorrow; this money will be reaping benefits for many years to come.
But funding alone will not achieve the revolution in cycling the Prime Minister has in mind or the Deputy Prime Minister’s commitment to double the levels of cycling by 2020. Encouraging behaviour change is an important aspect of our plans. Cycling needs to become second nature, as it is for the people in the Netherlands, Denmark and elsewhere. A revolution in cycling can be achieved only if cycling is considered a natural choice for shorter journeys by all.
The delivery plan has been developed with just that in mind, and with the appreciation that a real step-change in cycling cannot be achieved overnight or with funding alone. The delivery plan is a road map for the future, setting out the direction of travel for the next 10 years. It is a clear commitment from Government leaders to do more for cyclists as well as pedestrians, and sets out clear ambitions for the next 10 years.
Our ambition is to work with local government and businesses to explore how we can achieve a minimum funding package equivalent to £10 per person each year by 2020-21, and sooner if possible, and that is a focus of our engagement on the delivery plan over the next four weeks. We want to see the number of journeys by bike double in 10 years, and we want to see a significant increase in the number of children walking or cycling to school. Our target is to reach 55% of five to 10-year-olds usually walking to school.
The delivery plan includes specific actions to achieve these aims. It includes plans for infrastructure development and tackling safety and perceptions of safety—the latter being the biggest barrier preventing people from taking to their bikes—and, most importantly, the delivery plan calls on local government to step up to the plate and to build on our successes achieved so far.
We are aware that in parts of the world that have achieved step-changes in cycling levels a common theme is often very strong leadership at the local level. That is why central to our plans is our call on local authorities, who are responsible for implementing local transport schemes and public health, to put an increased emphasis on cycling and walking.
Specifically, the delivery plan includes a call for expressions of interest from local authorities interested in forming a partnership with Government to increase walking and cycling. In return, the Government commit to targeted support for local authorities, with incentives including priority access to funding, access to support tools and sector expertise.
It is through these partnership efforts that we hope to achieve a doubling in levels of cycling across England and help local government achieve the £10 per person aspiration in more places. Government have paved the way and are halfway there already, and it is now down to local government to make that further shift to help double cycling levels 10 years from now.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) talked about champions for cycling. Those champions should be in our local councils and our officers in local councils who can deliver those types of schemes and attract funding such as the cycling ambition grant funding, which was £94 million.
Of course, investment and local and national leadership commitment is key, but it is not enough to persuade people to get on their bikes. Tackling safety and perceptions of safety is key, because we know that there is a misconception that cycling is unsafe, particularly among those who do not cycle. While 67% of non-cyclists say it is too dangerous for them to cycle on the road, the proportion drops to less than half for those who do cycle. Cycling is not unsafe and fatalities are very rare. In fact earlier this year it was reported that the number of deaths at the seaside due to drowning or accidents was much higher, at 167, than the 109 deaths in cycling accidents on Britain’s roads in 2013. No one suggests it is too dangerous to go to the coast for the day.
Tackling safety for cyclists and potential cyclists is a must, and we want to persuade people to make use of the infrastructure we are building. This is why, through the delivery plan, we have developed a programme of work to address cycle safety issues with a view both to reducing the rate of those killed or seriously injured on the roads and to publicly addressing the perception that cycling is not safe. We have already allocated £35 million to deliver safer junctions. For instance, outside London the funding has enabled improvements in 80 locations and the delivery plan builds on that. It includes specific actions on safety and perceptions of safety. It sets out our cycle safety policy, including on heavy goods vehicle safety, driver and cyclist training and tackling perceptions on safety through cycle training and awareness campaigns. That includes supporting Bikeability, increasing awareness of cycle training for children and adults and utilising local road design to establish safe routes to and around schools.
We are also doing a tremendous amount of work on cycling infrastructure to make people feel safer on their bikes. We need good infrastructure and planning to get the levels of cycling we have committed to, and the plan includes work to address that. It includes plans on cycle- proofing and pedestrian-proofing policy. Indeed, cycle-proofing was a key part of the Prime Minister’s announcement last August, and the document details progress on this policy area. That includes work to improve training for highways professionals; sharing best practice and information about design of cycle-proofed streets and roads; and, in the long term, commitments towards further reviews of standards and guidance, including a six-month review on how the planning system supports cycling and walking provision.
Our plans build on the work we have done on cycle rail parking. Another major contributory factor for reaching our target of doubling cycling is our £30 million funding for cycle facilities at railway stations. I recently was in Woking to look at a new cycle parking facility there, which was already full, despite having been opened for only a matter of days. We have provided 13,500 spaces at stations and we need to do more, as the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) said. In addition, we are also making progress with new, innovative measures for cyclists at junctions. We are working with highway authorities to trial low-level mini-signals for cyclists, to give more targeted information to cyclists and the possibility of a head start; filter signals for cyclists as an alternative way of providing a head start at traffic lights, and different roundabout designs to reduce the speed of vehicles and provide a safer route for cyclists.
On railway stations, will the Minister examine the question I raised about Edinburgh Waverley and perhaps come back to me on it later? I know it relates to Scotland but there is wider interest in it. It is an important point affecting passengers throughout the UK.
I noted the points the hon. Gentleman made about Edinburgh Waverley and the fact that vehicles, including cycles, have been removed.
In conclusion, I hope I have demonstrated today that cycling policy has been a real focus for this Government. Our efforts have clearly paved the way, but it is now down to our partners in local government, supported by central Government, to deliver the cycling revolution the country wants. The delivery plan brings together everything that central and local government, and delivery partners, are doing and need to do to increase cycling. It addresses many of the recommendations in “Get Britain Cycling”. It affirms the national leadership commitment in central Government and calls on local government leadership to take things to new heights.
I will be brief, Mr Deputy Speaker. I just want to thank the Backbench Business Committee for letting us have this debate. I thank all the Members who took part. I believe that more than 25 Members have either spoken or made contributions to it.
I want to be fair to the Minister. I have never questioned his personal commitment to cycling. He is a long-standing member of our group, and I know that he is deeply committed to improving cycling in Britain and works hard for that. However, I do not think his views are shared by all of his colleagues. I am sorry if the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller) thought that I was churlish, but my criticisms of the document published today are pretty mild in comparison with what cycling organisations and people who take an interest in cycling outside this House have had to say about it. What this debate and the response to that document show is the huge amount of work that everybody who is committed to cycling in Britain has to do over the next six months so that we can get both the major parties committed to real improvements in cycling at the next election. That would mean that that whoever is in government next year could make a real contribution to getting people cycling.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House supports 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, sustained funding for cycling and progress towards meeting the report’s recommendations.