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Cycling: Lincolnshire

Volume 615: debated on Wednesday 12 October 2016

I beg to move,

That this House has considered cycling in Lincolnshire.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. We used to have adjacent offices, and I know that my office could sometimes be noisy, so I hope you will forgive me for that. I am pleased to see that the debate does not appear to have attracted much attention, at least among Opposition Members, but there we are.

For those who are not lucky enough to have spent time in Lincolnshire, I have to say—it is important that this is recorded for posterity in the journals of the House—that it is a beautiful place, with big skies and verdant countryside, and it is just made for cycling. As someone who gets out on their bike a fair bit, I can vouch for the fun and good exercise that is to be had as a casual cyclist, as well as the opportunity to get out into the nature, clear the head and appreciate the loveliness of our surroundings.

Many of my constituents use their bikes more practically and a considerable amount more than I do. Although many of us in the country use our cars to travel long distances from place to place, particularly given the sporadic public transport in many parts of rural Britain, I believe firmly that we need to cycle more and that cycling should be encouraged. Even a short trip saves money on fuel, which is a big expense for those who make their lives in rural Britain, and if we take advantage of cycle paths and cut-throughs, cycling is sometimes quicker than taking the car anyway. Everyone who cycles instead of using their car is of course doing their bit for the environment by saving the emissions that would have otherwise have resulted from their trip.

I sought this debate not just to pontificate on the benefits of cycling, of which my hon. Friend the Minister is no doubt well aware, but to draw attention to the good work that has been done in Lincolnshire, which I believe serves as a good example to help other areas, and to gain the Minister’s assurance that the Government will continue to do what they can to help what we do in Lincolnshire be rolled out as best practice across the country.

Lincolnshire County Council’s vision is to get more Lincolnshire residents cycling more frequently, and to get visitors to the county to use their bikes. The county council is aware that encouraging people to cycle is about a lot more than getting bums on cycle seats; it is about creating a safe environment for people to enjoy cycling and providing the facilities that will enable them to do so. I am glad that LCC recognises that cycling can boost our local economy and contribute to sustainable economic growth through the expansion of tourism, and thereby help local business. Cycling also contributes to everyone’s quality of life by reducing traffic congestion on arterial routes and in city centres, which can be a real problem for residents and visitors alike, particularly in North Hykeham, and reduces both greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. LCC also knows, as we all do, that more cycling means more physical activity, which improves both mental health and physical wellbeing and reduces the strain on our national health service.

If we are to get more people out cycling, we must ensure that roads are safe to travel on. Many people are discouraged from using their bikes or permitting their children to use their bikes by the fear of road accidents. I have received in my postbag several examples of keen cyclists who have had near misses and other safety problems while out and about. I pay tribute to Lincolnshire Road Safety Partnership, which does valuable work, particularly with the schools in my constituency. It is vital that cyclists know the rules of the road and how to cycle safely, for the sake of both them and other road users and pedestrians. I therefore warmly welcome the delivery of 8,000 cycle training places each year in Lincolnshire schools, as well as adult cycle training through the Bikeability scheme. I would be grateful if the Minister would comment on the Government’s plans to support such programmes not just in Lincolnshire but across the country, to improve cycling proficiency. I suspect that we all remember doing the cycling proficiency certificate when we were at primary school—I certainly do—and that is incredibly important.

Lincolnshire has taken advantage of various sources of funding to improve opportunities for cycling in the county. For example, the Greater Lincolnshire local enterprise partnership has funded schemes such as Go Skegness. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) is in his place, and that scheme is about an all-modes approach to travel in his area.

In the case of my constituency, I particularly want to praise Access LN6, which is now called Access Lincoln and was set up with a grant from the Government’s local sustainable transport fund. Since its inception in 2012, that initiative has encouraged businesses, residents and communities in North Hykeham, South Hykeham and Lincoln to travel sustainably, and it is a testament to the benefits of working to encourage people to think about how they travel as well as providing the necessary infrastructure and information for them to make a change. Infrastructure improvements have been delivered, providing lasting facilities such as the major new cycle path developments on Whisby Road, Station Road and Mill Lane, and the number of cyclists continues to increase. In fact, LCC tells me that the number of cyclists in the area has doubled, which I think we can all agree is wonderful news.

More holistically, Access Lincoln works to embed sustainable travel in the ethos of our local businesses by reviewing individual travel plans and working with networks such as Lincoln Business Improvement Group, Lincolnshire chamber of commerce and Grow LN6. The county council provides support through sustainable travel officers, who work directly with businesses to enable their staff to travel to work sustainably and encourage them to think about using public transport—and of course to think about cycling. That is a valuable part of encouraging people to get out of their cars and think about their travel choices, which we all want to see. I would like to see it spread to other parts of the country. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.

I want to highlight the continuing success of Hirebike, a casual bike rental scheme in Lincoln. Bikes similar those that are available down here in London and are frequently known as “Boris bikes,” for reasons we all know, are available to rent across the city. Our scheme was launched in 2013 and bikes are now available at 19 docking stations in Lincoln and North Hykeham, with more expansion to come as a result of Department for Transport funding, for which I am extremely grateful to the Minister. Such schemes are invaluable in promoting casual cycling, offer a sustainable way for people to get around, and employ local people. What is the Department doing to encourage and support similar schemes not just in Lincoln and London but across the entire United Kingdom?

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that as we go forward with redeveloping Skegness railway station, that would be an ideal site for a bike hire scheme of the sort that he talks about? We could develop an integrated transport hub that would allow the many hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit Skegness each year to travel around sustainably and safely and see even more of our lovely county.

Of course I agree, but my hon. Friend should push his ambitions a little further. He does not just need one docking station by Skegness station, he needs them all over Skegness. If the Minister is amenable to that proposal and will fund my hon. Friend to get some bikes in Skegness, I would quite like some in Sleaford and some other places in my constituency, and I would like more docking stations in North Hykeham, please.

I know that the Government take cycling seriously, and I am encouraged by the fact that spending on cycling across England has trebled from £2 a head to £6 a head since the Conservative party came to office in 2010. I welcome the commitment to a cycling and walking investment strategy and the announcement in last autumn’s spending review of £300 million of investment all the way out to 2020. The Government’s role is to create the right policy and funding environment to deliver change, and I would be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that his Department will continue to provide such support. I very much hope that other local authorities will show the same initiative as Lincolnshire, because only in that way will the benefits of cycling—the mental health improvements, the physical health improvements, the reductions in carbon emissions and the way it just makes us a better nation—be realised. I hope that is the message that the Minister will take away from the debate.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson, I think for the first time in this Chamber. I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) on securing the debate. Cycling has sometimes been most closely associated in the media with more populated urban areas such as Greater London. That is a mistake. My area has fallen very much in love with cycling over the past few years, for all the positive reasons that he has articulated. If other parts of the country are like my area, cycling is booming, which is great news.

I would like to reinforce and support the arguments that my hon. and learned Friend made for cycling. It brings benefits in tourism and brings customers to businesses, not just in Lincolnshire but all over the country. Cycling is a great way to tackle the nation’s inactivity levels and improve economic growth. Above all, it is a sustainable and enjoyable way to travel and reduce travel costs.

The Government have an ambition to put cycling at the heart of our nation. We want to become a cycling nation. Our objective is to double cycling rates. Our vision is of streets and public places that support cycling and a road network where infrastructure for cycling is always considered when local and national routes are maintained, upgraded or built.

I am sure Lincolnshire is a wonderful county for cycling, partly because, as someone who is nearby but not too nearby, my perception is that it is relatively flat. For those of us who perhaps are not the fittest—people like me—that is quite a help.

I am sorry, but I cannot let that go. I live in a village called Thorpe on the Hill, and it is called that for a reason. I also have something called “the cliff” that runs down the middle of my village. I would not want people to think that we do not have big skies and big, open areas in which they can cycle in Lincolnshire, but if they are also interested in a bit of exercise I can certainly point them to some hills, including Harmston hill, which I have to say completely kills me.

I suspect my hon. and learned Friend’s fitness levels are way ahead of mine. He makes a valuable point. He has mentioned in both his opening remarks and his intervention the Lincolnshire landscape, and particularly the big skies that one experiences. I have certainly noticed that on all my visits to Lincolnshire.

Last year, the Government awarded half a million pounds for sustainable travel in Lincolnshire through the sustainable travel transition year fund. We also made similar awards to North Lincolnshire Council and North East Lincolnshire Council. Improvements such as the Canwick Road scheme were made possible by a contribution of more £1.5 million in funding from the DFT, which was put towards the £5 million overall cost of the project. Such developments ease congestion as well as providing improved facilities for pedestrians and cyclists.

In addition, Access Lincoln, Lincolnshire County Council’s framework for sustainable travel, will build on the success of Access LN6 by continuing to encourage people to walk, cycle, use public transport and car-share, as well as supporting key infrastructure projects in the city of Lincoln. Through our cycle rail grant, the Government have provided £360,000 for an innovative new cycle hub at Lincoln station. The hub will provide more than 200 new secure cycle parking spaces, making it easier and more convenient for people to cycle to the station. My hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) said he wishes to see that extended into his area. I can only agree with him on the merits of such schemes, and I wish him every success. I know he is already discussing that with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). Where we have seen schemes developed, they have been successful, and I would like to see that success extended across the country.

With funding from the Department contributing to the success, Lincolnshire has made improvements to its infrastructure and made people’s experience of cycling more enjoyable. However, despite those good examples there is much more we will have to do if we are going to make this a cycling nation.

On 27 March we published the first draft cycling and walking investment strategy for public consultation. We had a fantastic response to it, with about 3,600 responses received, and more than 400 individuals attended engagement workshops around the country, highlighting the terrific appetite for cycling and walking. The draft strategy sets out our plans for creating a cycling and walking nation, with an ambition up to 2040 for making cycling and walking the natural choice for short journeys or as part of a longer journey. It includes a target to double cycling and a number of objectives to increase cycling and walking and reduce the rates of cyclists killed or seriously injured, and it explains the financial resources available in the spending period to support the delivery of the objectives.

The draft strategy also set out the actions to be taken to achieve our objectives under three broad themes: better safety, better streets and better mobility. I emphasise the key point that we cannot achieve those objectives alone. Our ambition will be delivered only if we work with local government, businesses, charities and the public. We want to support local delivery partners to do what they do best: identify and deliver individual, tailored cycling and walking interventions that are right for their areas. I think that was a key point made by my hon. and learned Friend about the progress made in Lincolnshire and that is exactly how we see progress being made across the country.

The Government have a role to play. We will take a lead on issues that require a national approach such as setting the framework and sharing knowledge and good practice. We will publish the final cycling and walking investment strategy once all considerations have been taken into account.

We have to look at funding as a part of this issue, because obviously that is important to help to facilitate change. We have made good progress. In 2010, for every person in England, just £2 was spent supporting cycling. That has gone up to £6 per person each year across England, and it is more than £10 per person in London and our eight cycling ambition cities, which include Birmingham.

The Minister champions the fact that London is getting £10 a head and the rest of the country is getting £6 a head. I have to say that, not just in relation to cycling but in relation to everything, those of us who make our lives in rural Britain feel that we are constantly short-changed, because the money goes into the urban centres and not into our communities. I want his agreement that it is just not fair that the good folk of Lincolnshire will get £6 a head in this Parliament whereas the no doubt equally good folk of London, Birmingham and all these other places will get £10. It is not on, and it has to stop.

It is a question not of reducing funding in other areas but of improving the funding position right across the country. I share my hon. and learned Friend’s argument about how transport has been weighted towards the south-east—I represent a constituency further north than his own. The idea that transport issues exist only in the south of England is obviously nonsense that has to be corrected. That of course is one of the objectives of the Government’s spending programme, whether in High Speed 2, the road investment strategy or the control period 5 delivery plan—all such things are about injecting capacity. We have to address the significant regional imbalance.

That is not to say that I do not recognise that London has specific challenges because of its scale. It clearly has, but it is not unique in having transport challenges and those of rural areas are frequently overlooked. My hon. and learned Friend makes a valuable point and I agree with his underlying argument.

I think we have seen good progress with the cycling ambition cities, but I do not want progress to be only in small parts of our country. The spending review in 2015 included £580 million for a new access fund for sustainable transport, with £80 million of revenue funding and £500 million of capital as part of the local growth fund. That will build on the legacy of the local sustainable transport fund and its success in supporting sustainable travel to work as well as supporting the cycling and walking investment strategy. Following a competitive bidding process, we hope to be able to announce the winners of the current access fund applications later this year, by Christmas.

More than £200 million has been allocated to the cycling ambition cities, which are making progress with the delivery of cycling networks, including Dutch-style segregated cycle lanes in Cambridge, new strategic routes in Greater Manchester and a cycle superhighway in the north-east. That group meet regularly to share their experiences and learning, and I want to capture some of those and make all of that information available so that we can help to share good practice. Part of our role in Government is to pull together what good practice looks like, and encourage those with local responsibility. That is already happening in, for example, the shared space initiative; it is all about supporting local authorities in their work.

My hon. and learned Friend emphasised safety, which is obviously critical. There are still far too many people losing their lives or being seriously injured on the roads. As the Minister for road safety I am acutely aware that every life lost is a family shattered. We will do all that we can to improve the safety performance of our roads. To put things in context, ours are among the safest roads in the world. Last year was the second best year for road safety in our history, in terms of lives lost. Obviously, we want to build on that and go further, and that certainly includes cycling. I remember learning awareness and the law of the road, and how to use a bike, when I was quite small, at primary school. Bikeability is the Government’s national training programme, designed to give people the skills and confidence to cycle safely and competently on today’s modern roads. It has delivered approximately 1.9 million training places across the country since it began in 2007. We have secured a financial settlement for the next few years. My hon. and learned Friend asked for a commitment that it will continue and I am able to give him that. The funding has been secured; we have £50 million in the spending review and we expect to train a further 1 million children over the next four years.

Importantly, my hon. and learned Friend highlighted the good work being done in Lincolnshire, especially in relation to routes to school. We want to encourage children to be able to ride to school; but before that can happen, addressing parents’ natural concerns is fundamental. That is not, of course, a single initiative. We want to encourage cycling right across the transport mix. Highways England, which is responsible for the nation’s strategic roads, launched its cycling strategy in January. It outlined plans to provide a safer, integrated, more accessible strategic road network for cyclists and other vulnerable road users. It will invest £100 million in 200 cycling schemes between now and 2021.

The issue is not only funding, although that is obviously important. My Department is committed to ensuring that good cycling infrastructure is in place across the country. London has been mentioned, and there has been good progress there; but it is not just a London issue. We want to share the lessons across the country so that everyone benefits from the experience. The cycle proofing working group, which does not have the catchiest title in Government, was set up in 2013, and consists of experts from across the sector, who share knowledge, conduct research, promote good practice, and advise on cycle proofing standards to help support those with responsibility for designing and building infrastructure on a local basis. The Department has recently published case studies designed to help local authorities with the design and delivery of cycling provision.

We fully support devolution and decentralisation. It has of course been a running theme throughout this Government: the idea that local areas best know their needs and problems, and their solutions, seems self-evident to almost all Conservatives, but it has not necessarily been a feature of Government policy over the years. We are providing more capital for local infrastructure than ever before, particularly through the local growth fund. If anyone thinks that that is bad news for walking and cycling, they should reconsider. Forward-thinking local enterprise partnerships such as Greater Lincolnshire know perfectly well the value and the economic benefits that cycling can bring. We know that, because they have allocated more than £270 million to cycling infrastructure projects over the next five years.

Some of the benefits of that investment are beginning to be seen in Lincolnshire. The Go Skegness scheme has been mentioned. That project has started on site, and will transform public transport and cycling accessibility in and around Skegness. There has been a 77% increase in the number of cyclists on the Station Road cycle way, which is a key route in North Hykeham; that is fantastic. My hon. and learned Friend mentioned the Hirebike casual rental scheme in Lincoln; bikes are available to rent across the city. It was launched only three years ago in 2013, and 100 bikes are now available to rent. My hon. and learned Friend mentioned the imminent expansion and the ways in which the Department seeks to support it. The extension includes electric bikes, an interesting part of the marketplace that has made much more progress in other European countries than in the UK. I think they are likely to be a feature of the marketplace in time ahead; it may be an encouragement to participation in cycling for softies such as me.

I am trying to convey an impression of the many different ways in which the Government are committed to cycling. It is not our role to dictate what local areas spend their money on; they know themselves better than Government could, and our role is to support them by undertaking research, providing information and advice, and encouraging and promoting their work. We have been getting the message out, and it is clearly working and getting through. In future we shall go further with devolution deals, which will, I think, include more consolidated local funding pots. We will go further in supporting local bodies to create high quality local plans for cycling and walking.

We are very ambitious about making good progress with cycling, for health, environmental and transport reasons. There are not many things in this world that are fun, good for the environment, and good for us too; but cycling is one of those things. Our cycling and walking investment strategy is the first phase of a longer term process of transformational change to make this truly a cycling nation. It has been great to hear about the progress made locally in Lincolnshire, in my hon. and learned Friend’s constituency and others. He asked specifically for an undertaking that the Government will continue to support cycling, and I give him that: yes, they will. They will continue to support it financially, through publicity and the sharing of good practice. We view cycling and walking as being at the heart of our transport mix. I hope that the progress made in Lincolnshire will extend across the country, because it is exactly what we need.

I am extraordinarily grateful to my hon. Friend, not only for his constructive response but for his assurances on my specific queries. I am immensely pleased to hear those assurances, as, I am sure, are my hon. Friends the Members for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) and for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins). I know from discussions with the latter that she knows the importance of cycling in her constituency, not only for the reasons covered in the debate but also in relation to regeneration.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for securing this important debate. He will know that the Louth canal was, in its heyday, the powerhouse of the midlands engine—even bigger than Grimsby’s port, in its time. Does he welcome, as I do, the work of East Lindsey District Council, the Louth Navigation Trust and Sustrans to reopen the route along the canal for cycling, walking and other joyous pursuits?

Yes, of course I agree with my hon. Friend fully about that. I am looking forward to cycling the route and, indeed, dragging her along with me, when it opens in due course. I am afraid that the price of being permitted to make her point in the debate will be that she will have to join me.

We have had an extraordinarily useful debate. Those who read it in Hansard will be left in no doubt about the beauty of Lincolnshire, and the fact that it may be the best county in the United Kingdom in which to engage in cycling pursuits. I can promise those who come that not only will they get a good bike ride; they will get fabulous lunches in some of the wonderful pubs and other places of Sleaford and North Hykeham—and, I am sure, Boston and Skegness and Louth and Horncastle. I am grateful to the Minister and to everyone who contributed to the debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.