Skip to main content

Walking and Cycling

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 16 October 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they are taking with local authorities to encourage walking and cycling in urban areas.

My Lords, local authorities have prime responsibility for this, but the Government are supporting them through the £577 million local transport plan settlements. We have funded more than 3,200 schools to encourage safe walking, and are funding projects to promote cycling, including cycle training for an extra 500,000 children. We strongly support the Mayor of London’s plan to introduce an equivalent of the Paris Vélib bike rental scheme and are ourselves funding Bristol to do the same.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that most helpful Answer and I am delighted to hear that the Government, with local authorities, are encouraging walking and cycling in urban areas, especially in light of last year’s Foresight report, which emphasised that tackling two objectives of government policy, namely obesity and climate change, will involve encouraging people to walk and cycle more. The Minister will of course be aware that last year’s report from the Commission for Integrated Transport showed that Britain has a long way to go. We are bottom of the European league table for walking and fourth from the bottom for cycling. We have a lot of catching up to do.

What does the Minister intend to do about local authorities such as Oxfordshire County Council which are removing cycle lanes and footpaths to make more space for cars and buses? Does the noble Lord agree that this is contrary to government policy, and what does he intend to do about it?

My Lords, I am at one with HG Wells, who said:

“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race”.

I take that to be a view which the noble Lord shares, and I hope that it is one which Oxfordshire County Council will take close to heart. I cannot comment on its particular plans, but I can tell the noble Lord that my department is never wanting in the advice that it gives to local authorities. We are just about to send them an 86-page document, Cycle Infrastructure Design, which advises on how they can give proper priority to cycling in their areas. Its opening paragraph states:

“Encouraging more people to cycle is increasingly being seen as a vital part of any local authority plan to tackle congestion, improve air quality, promote physical activity and improve accessibility … by bringing together relevant advice in a single document, this guide will make it easier for local authorities to decide what special provision … is required to encourage more people to cycle”.

A huge amount of good advice is given. I will give a copy to the noble Lord, so that he can pass it on to Oxfordshire County Council.

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us how many successful prosecutions have been brought against cyclists who have jumped red lights?

My Lords, while it must be right that we encourage people to go to our national parks to enjoy their leisure, it is equally—probably more—important that they take their leisure by cycling and walking within our urban areas. Is the Minister aware of the pioneering work by the Northwest Regional Development Agency? We have planted many forests, in conjunction with the Forestry Commission, all of which encourages access on foot and on bikes. Is he aware that, for example, in recent years 2 million trees have been planted in the borough of Knowsley, 2 million in the borough of Warrington, 1 million in the borough of Wigan, 1 million in Ellesmere Port and 1 million in St Helens? The agency is truly transforming the lives of the citizens in their area. Will he try to spread the message from the north-west development agency?

My Lords, my noble friend does outstanding work in his role in connection with forests and trees. Indeed, I imagine that every one of those trees was planted with his personal authorisation and consent. He highlights a very positive story.

With regard to cycling, what strikes me most forcefully is that, on the one hand, there is a very high level of cycle ownership. The latest survey for 2007 shows that 42 per cent of individuals aged over five own a bicycle and that 18 per cent of those are over 60. The big problem is that they do not feel safe taking the bicycles on to roads. Therefore, the biggest single obstacle to cycling—that is, people owning a bicycle—we have already overcome; the big challenge for us is to see that children and adults alike feel confident in riding their bicycles on the streets and taking them out into those superb national parks and other areas of rural beauty and extremely healthful living that my noble friend highlighted.

My Lords, I accept that Oxfordshire County Council, among others, is not taking the Government’s advice—and advice is easy to give. However, where the Government have leverage, for example, in relation to the number of secure parking spaces for bicycles at railway stations and they can specify these in the franchises. Will the Minister consider whether, in future, sufficient emphasis is given to that?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right that having adequate bicycle parking facilities at stations is crucial, and it is part of the Government’s policy. The Strategic Rail Authority’s policy document on cycling published in 2004 aspired to see 95 per cent of rail journeys originate from stations with adequate cycle parking facilities by 2009. Many train operating companies have improved cycle parking facilities at stations and have increased the number of spaces, and my department is paying for cycle parking stands, shelters and some CCTV at more than 100 stations in a project which was completed in 2006. Therefore, we are alive to the need to improve the facilities in the way that the noble Lord has described.

My Lords, a lot has been said about cycling but not as much has been said about walking, although all the evidence shows that the amount of walking that people do is declining. I know what keeps me walking: it is my dog. Perhaps the Government should consider encouraging more people to keep dogs.

Perhaps or perhaps not, my Lords; there are pros and cons. Of course, it is absolutely vital that people feel safe when they are walking but Her Majesty’s Government have not seen it as a priority to teach people how to walk, so we give more emphasis to policy promoting cycling. If I were to publish a walking strategy document, it might be thought to be the ultimate example of the nanny state.

My Lords, those of us who walk daily in Battersea Park are threatened by bicyclists cycling down a pedestrian area which is segregated for children and dogs and for deaf people like me who cannot hear them coming. The park police have some difficulty in bringing these people to a magistrates’ court, but they could give on-the-spot fines. Will the Minister see what he can do to make that possible?