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Walking and Cycling

Volume 768: debated on Tuesday 9 February 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to invest in promotion of walking and cycling.

My Lords, the Government have made clear their intention to make this country a cycling nation and are committed to producing a cycling and walking investment strategy setting out our objectives, activities and funding available for cycling and walking in England in the long term. The strategy will be published in the summer and will include details of how the £300 million committed in the recent spending review will be invested to support both cycling and walking.

My Lords, from April 2016 the Government have reduced the revenue funding for local authority cycling and walking safety training from £78 million a year to £20 million a year. That will inevitably lead to a reduction in the number of trainers available for schoolchildren and adults. Given that the Department of Health is having to put together a strategy to combat the epidemic of obesity in adolescents, does the Minister not believe that this is a false economy?

Over the past five years the spending on cycling per person in England has actually gone from £2 per person to £6 per person. If we look at the priority cities, £10 is being spent on each individual. The noble Baroness talked about safety. The Government are investing a further £50 million in the excellent Bikeability scheme, which ensures that our next generation of cyclists are avid cyclists but also learn the importance of safety in cycling.

My Lords, in the recently published new strategy for sport, the Minister for Sport said that the DCMS is not the only department that should be concerned about supporting the health of the nation; 10 other government departments were mentioned in that strategy but, interestingly, not the Department for Transport. I wonder if my noble friend the Minister could—not get on his bike but get involved and speak to all those various departments to see if there can be joined-up government to help such an important facet of our nation’s health.

My noble friend makes a very important point and I shall certainly follow that up. But I assure her that health is one of the key priorities for the DfT.

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that the Forestry Commission provides not only many trees for this country and much timber but thousands upon thousands of miles of forests for the citizens of this country to walk and cycle in, and that there has been a repositioning of the forests much more into the urban areas? For example, when I was chairman, we planted more than 4 million trees in south Lancashire alone. Will the Minister give us an assurance that the Forestry Commission will be considered for some money out of the £300 million pot that is expected in the summer?

I cannot give a specific commitment on how that £300 million will be allocated; that has yet to be decided. If, however, the Forestry Commission would like to make to make a representation I would be delighted to meet with it to discuss its plans further.

My Lords, now that a good deal of Victoria Embankment has been given up for a cycling track, can anything be done to oblige cyclists to use that rather than take up the diminished space on the roads?

Most cyclists also recognise the importance of safety, and the purpose of cycle lanes is exactly that: to provide a safe and secure cycling environment. I am sure that any cyclist will take up the new facilities with great enthusiasm.

My Lords, the Minister referred to safety training for children, but they also need safe walking and cycling routes to schools, because that is a key way of encouraging them not just to walk or to cycle but to scoot to school. Do the Government intend to introduce safe routes for walking and cycling to all schools, rather than having them just as a desirable optional extra?

We already see very good examples of our local authorities and schools adopting excellent schemes. As a father of three children, I can assure noble Lords that local schools are very diligent in supporting both walking and cycling; that practice is widespread across the country.

May I make a minority point? Counties such as Lincolnshire have many disused railways, which provide a real opportunity for creating tracks to be shared by walkers, cyclists and riders on horseback. There is, however, a problem with the tarmac that is being put down: it is splendid for bicycles, okay for walkers but very, very bad for riders on horseback. Will the Minister, therefore, encourage the use of a material other than tarmac for these shared tracks?

As a resident of Wimbledon, I see many examples of shared facilities, and they are a good thing. I assure the House that I am very familiar with the shared use of tracks for bicycles, walking and, indeed, horses. However, my noble friend makes an important point and I will take it back for consideration.

The Government have said that they will reduce the number of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities each year. What is the Government’s minimum target figure for the reduction of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities each year, and how much are they planning to spend each year on cycling safety as opposed to general road safety?

Any responsible government will have the aim of ultimately reducing the deaths of cyclists to zero. Any cyclist’s death is one too many. The number of deaths currently stands at 113; the number of serious injuries, however, is far higher. The noble Lord makes an important point about the education of cyclists, and therefore—as I have already said—the Government support schemes such as Bikeability very strongly.

Does the Minister remember that a year ago I was in training for Walk4Jack, in support of my desperately injured neighbour Jack, who had tragically broken his neck in a rugby accident? I hope that he remembers it, because he gave me a nice cheque for it. Indeed, almost 200 Members of this House supported Walk4Jack. Is it an appropriate moment for me to inform the House that, partly because of the support available here, Jack is now putting the threads of his life back together: still tragically injured but going back to work? Does the Minister agree that this is a wonderful example of the benefits of walking—which include my loss of a stone and a half—and also of the depths of generosity of this House, for which I am grateful from the bottom of my heart?

My Lords, when my noble friend started speaking I thought that he might be reminding me—I was racking my brains as to whether I had paid the cheque. I am glad for the accuracy of Hansard, which proves that to be the case. I join him—as I am sure all Members will—in welcoming the rapid recovery of his friend. Sometimes this House comes under great scrutiny, and at times criticism, but it is an excellent example of the best of British, and I too want to put on record the immense generosity of this House in supporting such schemes.