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Cycling and Walking

Volume 656: debated on Thursday 21 March 2019

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I am delighted to announce that we are making available from today £21 million in new funding to support the national cycle network. I have agreed with Sustrans that it will work with High Speed 2 and Highways England to integrate routes wherever possible and to use the money we have provided to leverage further investment from other sources.

I warmly welcome the extra funding from the Minister. Two weeks ago, the Select Committee on Transport took its active travel inquiry up to Manchester, where we met Chris Boardman, the walking and cycling commissioner. He told us that they are unable to introduce certain safety measures in Manchester, such as mini pedestrian crossings, due to being discouraged by the Department for Transport because those are not recognised interventions. How can the Department do more to devolve safety improvements to local authorities, so that we can eradicate some of the less safe areas of our streets?

That is such an important question. We are working closely across all parts of the Department for Transport to think about improving road safety. I have huge respect for the work that Chris Boardman is doing in Manchester. I have met him on several occasions, as well as Brian Deegan, his chief designer, and we have specifically discussed that issue. There is a tension between national standards and local innovation. We are keen to ensure that both are met in the right way. I will certainly take this up again, because it is an important issue, and we want to see more innovation, particularly in support of road safety.

Cycling and walking are good for the environment and they reduce congestion, support the public health agenda and are great fun. Chris Boardman is doing an excellent job in Greater Manchester, and I am about to appoint an active travel commissioner for South Yorkshire. Will the Minister meet my new active travel commissioner and me to discuss how we can work together to encourage more people to cycle and walk?

It is absolutely right to celebrate what is being done in Manchester. It is also important to celebrate what is being done elsewhere in the country. If Sheffield is taking a lead, that is fantastic. Great work is also being done in Birmingham by the Mayor there, who has just appointed his own west midlands cycling champion, which we welcome.

Many millions of pounds have rightly been spent on providing cycle highways and cycle routes, but there is no requirement for cyclists to use them. Should it not become an offence for a cyclist not to use these highways where they are provided?

The answer to that, I think pretty clearly, is no. The roadway is for all users. Cycling infrastructure is used to try to preserve and protect cyclists. If that had the effect of forcing people into cycle lanes, it might have all kinds of road safety consequences that we would like to avoid.

While I am a big fan of cycling, I am a bigger fan of walking, particularly for my disabled constituents, who tell me that they are really fed up with cyclists on pavements. We do need improvements to cycle lanes, to be sure, but what can the Minister tell us about improving safety for pedestrians, particularly disabled pedestrians?

I think the hon. Lady is absolutely right, and I very much salute her support for disabled people. She can have a word with the Secretary of State and, on her side, the shadow Secretary of State on the issue of disabilities. Walking is a very important part of the same issue. We are in the process of working very hard on a pavement parking review—it is coming towards the end of its work—and we are also working on the question of micro-mobility and how we regulate that. Both those issues are going to bear very closely on the question of how we think about enforcement against cyclists and other users of pavements who make life difficult for walkers.

With the disappointing news in the last couple of days that Oxfordshire County Council has had to remove the B4044 cycle path from its housing infrastructure fund bid, first, will the Minister comment on what he is doing to work across Departments, particularly with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, to provide cycling as a way of helping with new housing; and, secondly, will he commit to working with me and Oxfordshire County Council to provide the B4044 bid as a stand-alone bid, so that we can get the cycle path we need?

I am happy to look at that. I met Oxford City Council, including its cycling champion and the leader of the council, just recently on these issues. Let me make one other point, which is that the advent of e-bikes—the Department is supporting them, and further news about them has been given this week—will also open up further housing opportunities around the country in a way that can only be good both for housing and for future personal health.

I apologise to the Minister, because as a consequence of his looking at the hon. Gentleman who questioned him, I did not hear him, but I think he floated the concept of an e-bike. Did he say e-bike?

Well, I look forward to further illumination in due course. I am not familiar with this nostrum, but I have a feeling that I am soon going to be. I must say that it sounds very exciting.

At the weekend, I had the pleasure of walking the new South Loch Ness trail with a group of friends, one of whom is getting married, and we managed to get lost only once, which was pretty good given that there was a blizzard. That trail was only made possible thanks to funding from the European agriculture fund for rural development, so what steps are the Government taking to make sure that that kind of funding continues to exist for investment in rural infrastructure that promotes health and wellbeing after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union?

I do not know the particular circumstances of the route the hon. Gentleman is talking about, but I am sure he will join me in welcoming today’s news of the work on the national cycle network, which is precisely designed to target the kinds of cyclists and walkers he is describing.

Mr Speaker, on the issue of e-bikes—there is a somewhat “Not the Nine O’clock News” quality about this—an e-bike, m’Lud, is an electronically or electrically powered velocipede, either a pedal bike or a moped, which are differently regulated by the Department in each case.

I am genuinely grateful to the Minister. One learns something new every day, and I am now better informed.

Well, the hon. Gentleman says that we have not learned anything new for months, but I have learned something today—that little titbit from the Minister—and I am deeply obliged to the hon. Gentleman.

I am delighted that the Minister is encouraging more walking. May I urge him, as a Herefordshire MP, to spend some of his Easter holiday on the Long Mynd in the Shropshire hills, an area of outstanding natural beauty, so that he can promote walking to citizens while enjoying our beautiful Shropshire countryside?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I have actually walked Long Mynd on several occasions, and I have also paraglided from the top of Long Mynd. I very much encourage him to contemplate that as a perfectly splendid additional mode of transport enabled by walking.

Based on what the Minister had to say about walking, cycling, e-bikes and all the rest, when will the Government get rid of their ministerial cars and have e-bikes instead?

I welcome that question. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I am a keen cyclist to and from work. Sometimes cars are required for security and other reasons, but I barely use a ministerial vehicle, and I encourage all colleagues to enjoy the benefits of cycling and walking.

Walking is the most basic form of transport, and a 10-minute walk offers huge benefits to our health and our communities by easing congestion and air pollution. Areas where footpaths and pavements have been improved have seen increases in trade at local shops and a stronger sense of community, but nevertheless, millions of journeys of under a mile are still made by car. When will the Government properly fund their cycling and walking strategy, because the money that the Minister has announced today simply will not cut it?

In 2010 the funding levels that we inherited from the previous Government stood at about £2.50 per person, and they are now about £7.55 per person. We would like to get that spending a lot higher if we can, as we fully agree about the merits and benefits of cycling and walking. However, funding is now three times the amount that we inherited from the Government who had governed for 13 years.