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Cycling and Walking: Local Authority Support

Volume 680: debated on Thursday 17 September 2020

What support his Department is providing to local authorities to maintain and increase levels of cycling and walking. (906210)

What support his Department is providing to local authorities to maintain and increase levels of cycling and walking. (906223)

The Government are investing £2 billion in active travel over the next five years. That is the biggest ever boost for cycling and walking and, as we heard in the previous question, it is welcomed widely across the House.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I miss you all too.

Thanks to the Government’s active travel grants, Medway Council has managed to upgrade many of its cycling and walking routes, which is superb news for those at the Chatham end of my constituency. However, at the other end, part of the Aylesford towpath collapsed into the River Medway earlier this year and is now closed to the 6,000-plus users per month. Despite Kent County Council’s incredible efforts to find funds to repair the towpath, it still faces a significant shortfall. Could the Minister offer any guidance towards emergency central Government funding pots that would enable the reopening of that incredibly popular path for cyclists and walkers?

First, may I echo your words, Mr Speaker, and say how good it is to see my hon. Friend? She is one of the few MPs I follow on Instagram, from which I know what a keen cyclist she is—and, indeed, what she looks like in Lycra.

The Government allocated the first tranche of active travel funds to councils earlier in the summer; a bigger second tranche will follow shortly. I am quite sure that my hon. Friend will be able to persuade her county council to make the appropriate investment in Aylesford towpath, and I would be very happy to work with her to try to help that happen.

During the summer, I enjoyed a socially distanced walk with the regional Canal and River Trust team along the canal towpath between Marsden and Slaithwaite in my constituency. I support its bid for £45 million of funding from the Department as part of the commitment of £2 billion for cycling and walking to get people out on the canal towpath. Does the Minister agree that supporting such regional bids is a big part of encouraging more cycling and walking in our regions, and that it is a vital part of our levelling up the country and improving the health of our constituents?

I happily agree with my hon. Friend; he is absolutely right. The canal towpath network across the country, a huge chunk of which runs through my constituency, is a wonderful place for walking and cycling. He is right to identify that we have committed a £2 billion package to active travel. We have started to get money out the door, and I very much hope that we will see schemes such as the one he mentions benefit from it so that we can all enjoy the countryside—and, indeed, other cycle routes through our cities and towns—more in the future.