MP, Stourbridge CC rider and Parliamentary cyclist talks to BikeBiz about growing cycling levels
BikeBiz: What bikes do you own and where's your favourite location to ride them?
Austin: Too many! I’ve got a steel Pearson I ride in London that must be thirty years old. I’ve got an Ambrosio training bike that’s been getting a lot of use lately because the weather’s been so bad. My 'best' bike is a Colnago and I’ve got a nice Trek as well. I’ve also got a Ridley cyclo-cross bike and a Dolan track bike – neither of which get the use they should. Finally, there’s an old mountain bike too.
We’ve been to Majorca for our family holiday for the last two years and I think there’s nowhere better than the lanes and mountains in the north of the island. There’s a brilliant shop run by Bruce Griffiths who hires bikes out and organises rides every morning. I’m a member of Stourbridge CC and we’ve organised a trip to the Alps each year – usually to coincide with the tour – and that’s always phenomenal.
Tell us a bit about your background in both cycling and politics:
I’m the MP for Dudley – the town I grew up in and the borough I live in. It’s a huge privilege to represent the place you grew up. Before I was an MP I worked as a political adviser to Gordon Brown. Before that I worked for the Labour Party, and before that for housing associations and PR companies in the West Midlands.Article continues below
What's your dream vision for city cycling in the UK?
We need better infrastructure. That means more dedicated and safer cycle routes, lower speed limits for other vehicles, a focus on tackling dangerous junctions, and better facilities for parking bikes and getting changed at work.
Earmarking just two per cent of the Highways Agency Budget for next generation cycle routes would have a huge impact. In London, where investment in cycling is five times the national average, the benefits and the growth of cycling are obvious.
I also want to see cycling on the curriculum, with every child learning to ride safely at school. Cycle safety should also be a core part of driving tests, so that everyone on the road is aware of cyclists.
In the short term, what can be done to improve safety, air quality and the enjoyment of cycling?
I think the best place to start is with a national cycling audit. That way we could find out how many people are cycling, where they’re cycling, and how cyclists are killed or injured.
Lowering speed limits, requiring lorries to be equipped with safety technology, improving training for cyclists and drivers, improved sentencing guidelines for careless driving. These are all measures that can be taken now, and would quickly have an impact on safety and the take up of cycling.
Appointing a cycling champion in each government department, including the Department for Energy and Climate Change, DEFRA, and the Department for Communities and Local Government, would bring attention to the link between cycling and air quality.
What can be/has been done to get those in the corridors of power onto greener transport?
I think it would make a huge difference if there was a figure in Westminster with the power and authority to get departments working together on cycling and green transport. Cycling is an education, sport, transport, justice, health, climate and local issue all at once.
Making one minister, or a number of ‘cycling champions’ across departments, responsible for cycling would mean that cycling issues are considered at the outset in major planning, and are not just an afterthought.
What can the bicycle trade do to influence decision makers?
Work together, agree a set of priorities and keep pressing your case. Changing things takes time and effort, so it’s important not to be despondent if things don’t change immediately. Lobby your MPs – and keep doing so. Encourage customers and people who work in the industry to do the same. MPs and ministers need to realise just how many people care about cycling and want to see investment in measures that will promote cycling and make it safer. The Times CycleSafe campaign has been brilliant in this regard.