MPs urge government to invest more on cycling - BikeBiz

MPs urge government to invest more on cycling

Cycling organisations react to today's parliamentary debate on cycle investment.
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MPs today discussed the government's investment in cycling during a Westminster Hall Debate. Execs from British Cycling and CTC welcomed the debate but wish to see more action.

CTC policy director, Roger Geffen MBE, said:

"It's heartening that once again MPs from across the political spectrum have spoken up for the investment needed to make cycling a safe and normal activity. Cycling is not just for healthy young males, but for people of all ages and abilities. I hope the government will now listen, find the funding, and put in place the design standards that are needed to ensure it is well spent.”

Martin Key, British Cycling’s campaign’s manager, said:

"Today’s debate illustrates how much progress has been made in recent years. Cycling didn’t have much political attention in the past and rare debates like these would be poorly attended and often missed the point. 

"Today, we have MPs from all parties and all across the UK representing the very real concerns of their constituents, and British Cycling’s 117,000 members – namely that the vast majority of people actively want to use their bikes more often, but are put off by concerns about safety."

He added: "A clear message was sent to government today that more investment is needed in segregated infrastructure to make our roads and junctions safer. Does this amount to the kind of political will to deliver the ‘cycling revolution’ promised by the Prime Minister? No. Is it a step forward? Yes. We will keep the pressure on."

Alex Chalk, MP for Cheltenham, and co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group opened his contribution to the debate saying: "We know we have done a good job with investment in cycling when there are as many women as there are men cycling - we know we have done an excellent job when they are taking their children along with them on their bikes."

Ruth Cadbury, MP for Brentford and Isleworth, and fellow chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group added to the debate: "We seek a national set of design standards that reflect those that have been created in Wales and in London, to ensure we get good quality space for cycling."

During the debate the roads and cycling minister Robert Goodwill said that local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) could unlock greater investment in cycling, should they wish to. Most, of course, don't wish to. As usual from the government cycling is treated as a local issue while motoring is treated as a national issue.

DEBATE "HIGHLIGHTS" (via Hansard)

Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con): I beg to move, That this House has considered Government investment in cycling. As you may be aware, the debate was preambled by an online digital debate, supported by parliamentary outreach. Between us, we managed to reach more than 2.1 million Twitter accounts, the highest number ever for a digital debate. I wish to put on record my thanks to everyone who took part. It created a forum a lot of interesting and important questions about how we can deliver the Government’s ambition to support and promote cycling.

It is important to point out that the benefits of cycling reach across many different areas. There is a strong business and economic case for both local and national Government to invest in cycling. Sustrans has calculated that investment in cycling returns the equivalent of £9.76 for every £1 spent. Cycling also alleviates congestion and will help us cope with the forecast pressure on our roads due to population growth, particularly in northern cities—current estimates suggest a 55% increase in road congestion by 2040. Cyclescheme estimates that the national health service could save £2.5 billion if 10% of car journeys were made by bicycle instead, and that inactivity costs the United Kingdom economy £20 billion every year.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the many private sector companies that are encouraging cycling? For example, Evans Cycles, which is headquartered in my constituency, has done a fantastic job locally and nationally to ensure that we all get on our bikes and live a healthier lifestyle.

Chris Green: I agree entirely that the work of Evans and other organisations in the private sector is absolutely key to making sure that we have a healthy society. The contribution of responsible employers is vital to that.

Julian Knight (Solihull) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate, particularly as I invested in my fourth road bicycle this weekend, much to my wife’s chagrin — Only my fourth. Will he reflect on the health benefits of cycling for a moment, considering that the British Heart Foundation has found that cyclists live an average of three years longer than those who take no exercise whatsoever? Admittedly, those extra three years are spent clad in skin-tight Lycra.

Chris Green: I am not sure that I want to comment on Lycra yet, but the health benefits of having an active lifestyle are well recognised.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): Having been a member of the all-party group, which produced the report on how we “Get Britain Cycling”, I wonder whether my hon. Friend agrees with me, with the report’s findings and with the Select Committee on Health that the benefit of cycling is that active travel is the type of physical activity that people are most likely to sustain throughout their whole lives. We should really focus on that if we really are going to get Britain moving as well as cycling.

Chris Green: I absolutely agree, and this debate is a great opportunity to reinforce that message to the Minister.

The members of the all-party group are not the only ones who want investment at £20 per head; a Sustrans survey suggests that the public want to see investment of £26 per head on an annual basis. More important than pinpointing an exact figure for investment is ensuring that current investment provides good value for money and is adequately utilised by the main practitioner of the funds, which is local authorities. Making cycling ambitions a reality requires collaboration at all levels of government.

As we move towards further devolution with the establishment of mayors—as a Greater Manchester Member of Parliament, I particularly appreciate that—we would all do well to follow London’s example of investing in infrastructure to make the roads safer for cyclists. In conjunction with that, we must ensure that our planning system makes cycling and walking an early consideration in any new street design, housing development or business park, and encourages local authorities to design road improvements with cyclists in mind. Although that is contained in the national planning policy framework as a mechanism for sustainable development, the existence of cycle lanes alone is not enough. The quality of cycle lanes in new developments can and should be improved.

A key factor in getting more people into cycling is the condition of roads and the availability of cycle lanes. Badly designed cycle lanes force cyclists to use the road. Too often, they are just half a path, and many cyclists choose to use the road because it is dangerous to weave in and out of pedestrians. Such paths also tend to stop at every junction, but cyclists want to maintain their momentum and not stop and start all the time.

Amanda Milling (Cannock Chase) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. He talks about cycle lanes on roads. Does he agree that what we need includes investment in cycle trails, such as those around Cannock Chase? They are an excellent facility to encourage leisure cyclists and families.

Chris Green: Absolutely. We need a whole range. Emphasis on the roads is important, because people use them to go to the shops and so on, so there is a lot of functional utility to them, but we also need to encourage families to spend time together on their bicycles. It is a great way of having a sustainable cycling environment and culture.

Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab): I, too, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He gave the excellent example of cycle routes on main roads. Does he agree that in many areas, particularly residential ones, rather than dedicated cycle routes, what works well is quietening back streets to reduce through traffic? My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) explains how her local authority has done that. That makes the environment safe for cyclists and pedestrians without the need for dedicated cycle routes.

Chris Green: Many cyclists see how much priority councils sometimes give to maintaining cycle lanes—if a cycle lane is unusable, is it really a cycle lane? We often see overhanging branches, impassable potholes, large puddles, parked cars and poor-quality surfaces, which are especially noticeable for those on racers. I have a racer, and I cannot use some cycle lanes. I have to go on the road, simply because of the nature of the bike. I wish I had four bicycles so that I could choose one appropriate to the road surface. All cycle lanes should conform to the Department’s design guidance, but too often it seems the bare minimum is done rather that what most cyclists want. The design should be centred on cyclists’ needs. It would be better if more people cycled—if those who made decisions about cycle tracks were cyclists, they would understand better what should be implemented. It is particularly important to have good cycle tracks for disabled people who are able to cycle and use a bike as a mobility aid, but find that the infrastructure is working against them.

As a cyclist, I am acutely aware of the lack of good-quality bicycle racks, which, by their presence alone, promote cycling. If we create the right environment, the cyclists will come. Our local authorities have a duty to provide an environment suitable to support and promote cycling.

Many hon. Members will be aware of the Government’s cycle to work scheme, which operates as a salary sacrifice employee benefit. Employers buy or lease cycling equipment from suppliers and hire it to their employees. Employees who participate in the scheme can save up to about 40% on the cost of a bicycle and cycling safety equipment. More than 600,000 employees have participated in the scheme to date. I have heard anecdotally that councils have a slightly lower take-up rate than the private sector, which is not only a concern for the health of council workers but is perhaps suggestive of councils’ enthusiasm for cycling.

The cycle to work scheme provides a mechanism to change the perception of cycling and sustainable travel and behaviour towards it. The Cycle to Work Alliance’s recent survey showed that 62% of participants were non-cyclists, novice cyclists or occasional cyclists before joining the scheme. Having joined, 79% of respondents described themselves as enthusiastic cyclists.

John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. In Pendle, a huge number of firms have taken advantage of the Government’s scheme. One is Carradice cycle bags in Nelson, in my constituency. It has seen a huge increase in the number of employees cycling to work thanks to the Government’s initiative, so it is important to continue it in the years to come.

Chris Green: It is fantastic to hear about the impact of the Government’s scheme in the private sector, and about bosses encouraging people to live healthy lives on daily basis, which will make a difference to people. There will be all kinds of other benefits.

In setting out the process and timescales for the first cycling and walking investment strategy, the Government are seeking to ensure that local government and business partners design places and routes for people travelling by bicycle or on foot at a local level across the country. Members will be aware that funding for the strategy, which has not been done before, is to be allocated on the same basis as that for rail, motorways and main A roads, with £300 million dedicated to cycling and walking over the next five years.

Mrs Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Although a lot more people are cycling, which is good, does he agree that more effort needs to be made to ensure that people from black and minority ethnic communities and deprived communities also have that opportunity?

Chris Green: Absolutely. There is a perception that cycling is for young to middle-aged white men. Those who cycle in competitions and on the sporting side are representative of those who cycle in society as a whole, and we need to encourage people throughout society to cycle. That is why it is so important that London and our cities develop cycle routes.

Through the promotion of cycling, the Government are creating a catalyst for attitudinal change towards modes of transport and an active lifestyle. Integrating cycling into routines for small journeys, whether that involves popping to the local shop for groceries or cycling to work each day, can have a profound effect on health.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): This is the umpteenth debate that we have had in the House since I was elected in 1997, and I want my remarks to focus on the financial commitment to this agenda.

The report by the all-party group in the last Parliament was an important report that all the Back-Bench members signed up to. The Prime Minister declared that he wanted to see a cycling revolution in this country. The Minister is a man who, thankfully, has been in the job for some time, so he knows about it. I believe that he is sincerely committed to this agenda.

We made it clear that the essential components of a successful cycling strategy were political leadership and a sustained funding commitment. The hon. Member for Bolton West was partly right when he talked about the level of funding that the Government have now committed, but the figure that he referred to included London, and London massively skews the overall figures. The overall amount that we are currently being offered in terms of cycling investment is still little more than £1 per head per year, in contrast to the £10 per head per year that the all-party group report said was a starting point, leading to £20, which is equivalent to what most other European countries spend.

We will not deliver the cycling revolution that the Prime Minister spoke about without significant extra resources for cycling. My one request of the Minister is that he explain something that he and predecessors have not really been able to explain to me. We are talking about such a tiny amount of money—a fraction of his roads budget, for example, and a fraction of his overall strategic transport budget. All he would need to do is reallocate a very small amount of money that is already committed to other things—we are not asking for more money from the Treasury—to cycling, and he would deliver the cycling revolution that the Prime Minister says he wants, so my simple question for when the Minister responds is: why can they not do that?

Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) on securing the debate and on his excellent speech. I declare an interest: I am a cyclist and I am a co-chair of the all-party cycling group. But as has already been intimated, the problem is that I am far too typical. The reality of cycling in the UK is that it is disproportionately the preserve of young to middle-aged males. We will be sure that we have done a half-decent job on cycling only when we have as many women as men cycling in our country, and we will know that we have done an excellent job only if the sight of women cycling with their children becomes far more routine than it is now.

The case for cycling is not some ill thought out, muddle-headed notion; it is hard-headed, practical and robust. As we have heard, the economic case is clear, particularly when it comes to utility cycling—by that I mean the daily commute or short journeys. A healthier population places a smaller burden on the NHS and, as has been said, people who cycle regularly in middle age typically enjoy a level of fitness equivalent to that of someone 10 years younger. That makes my hon. Friend about 25, I think—close.

There are so many advantages to cycling, but I cannot go through them all now. However, when we are calling for more funding, it is in reality a call for investment that over time will yield a good return for our society, for the taxpayer and for the planet. I believe that the Government are committed to increasing cycling participation. We have had very useful and constructive meetings. However, I gently suggest that funding sources for cycling are not as clear as they might be, because they are divided across various pots: the Highways England cycling fund, the Bikeability pot, the cycle city ambition grants, the access fund and the local growth fund. I invite the Government to clarify the available funding, so that we can be absolutely clear on what funding exists for cycling and what scope exists for improving it in our country.

The key ask, the bottom line, is that we will get a step change in cycling participation only if we invest in segregated highways on our urban arterial routes. Cyclists need that physical separation to feel truly safe. There is no way I would take my children out in a cycle trailer without one, and that is a shame. We need to look at segregation and at 20-mph speed limits in residential areas if possible.

I am very grateful for the work the Government have done so far. I urge them to go further and, in particular, to clarify the funding streams, because the prize for our society, for taxpayers and for the planet is great indeed.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Cycling has been a somewhat surprising and unsung hero of the emerging leisure industry in Northern Ireland. When I come to this Chamber to speak on anything, I always try to give a Northern Ireland perspective.

Just this week, my party colleague Michelle McIlveen, an MLA and Minister for Regional Development, has launched what has been hailed by local cycle campaigners as a “cycling revolution.” It is always good in Northern Ireland—and, indeed, in Ireland—to say we are having a revolution that involves not guns, but cycling. We have spent some £800,000 on the trial scheme, which includes three cycling routes through Belfast. One route links the east to the west, which is important because it unites Unionists and nationalists. It brings the communities together. Cycling has not just been a leisure activity; it has united the communities of both sides of Northern Ireland.

Mrs Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) for securing this debate.

As a cyclist myself, although I do not wear Lycra, I am fortunate to live in Portsmouth, a compact, flat city in a beautiful setting, with the sea, two harbours and the Hampshire downs behind it. Portsmouth should be a paradise for cyclists, but in fact its casualty rate for cyclists is one of the highest in the country; indeed, it was second only to London in 2014. During a five-year period, 157 cyclists were killed or seriously injured on our streets, and quite rightly local cyclists are lobbying strongly for improvements to our roads, and for cultural change to bring that terrible figure down.

We have some great national groups fighting for cyclists, such as the CTC, but the figure I have just quoted comes from our excellent local cyclists group, the Portsmouth Cycle Forum. It has produced a strategy document called “A City to Share”. The vision of that document, and mine, is to make Portsmouth the cycling capital of the UK, and given what I said a moment ago about the city’s geography, people will see why that makes sense. The strategy document identifies five goals: a safer city; improved health outcomes; a stronger local economy; a better environment; and a more liveable city for everyone, not just cyclists.

Pauline Latham: My hon. Friend is right that we need to raise awareness, but with a road such as the main A6, which is just a two-lane road with huge lorries—sometimes those lorries are coming from quarries and going all over the place—it is dangerous for anyone, whether man or woman, and definitely so for a child.

I implore the Minister to look at how we can get more people off the road in my constituency and on to cycle routes, because I know that there is demand. That would not only help the leisure cyclist, but commuters coming into or going out of Derby—some do commute out for work. Removing cyclists from the main road could benefit the whole population by making cyclists’ lives safer and helping prevent traffic congestion caused by cyclists weaving in and out. They can cause hold-ups. 

Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab): I want to try and resist using the term “cyclists”, as it might imply that people who ride bikes are in some way a protected category. Most households have at least one bike in their shed or garage. Many people cycle occasionally and some cycle regularly. Many more would cycle regularly if they were encouraged to and if they felt their route was safe.

The advantages of cycling for people’s health, the economy and the public purse are clear and have been alluded to by other speakers today. However, to increase cycling, we need to see not only financial investment from the Government, but investment in political leadership and policy development and the setting of a good example. If the Dutch Government can make the journey that they have made over the past 30 to 40 years, there is no reason why the UK Government cannot follow.

Safety is at the heart of the investment strategy, for people will not get on their bikes unless they feel safe. There are a number of examples of improvements that need not cost the public purse anything but which could be described as investment in cycling. Transport for London has trained 20,000 heavy goods vehicle drivers in cycle awareness and many thousands of cyclists in HGV awareness. The “Exchanging Places” programme educates HGV drivers and cyclists in London about the problems of visibility from the driver’s cab of a cyclist trying to pass. That is now being rolled out in other cities.

We seek a single, national set of design guidelines, building on the excellent work of TfL and the Welsh Assembly. I hope the DFT will put aside a modest budget to house a repository of good practice knowledge.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP): The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) rightly mentioned the Dutch example, which has been an excellent example of a cycle-friendly place for many years. I think Members of all parties want to see the UK Government catching up with that.

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): A few years ago, buoyed up by the fantastic British cycling achievements in the 2012 Olympics, the Prime Minister promised a cycling revolution, but as so often he has failed to deliver on that promise. He has back-pedalled. There is a real gap between the Government’s rhetoric and the reality for cyclists.

The Government say that funding for cycling in our country has risen to £6 per person per year, and that it is at over £10 per person in London and the eight cities that secured cycle city ambition grants. The figure of £10 was recommended by the all-party group in its excellent report, “Get Britain Cycling”, and I pay tribute to my predecessor, Julian Huppert, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), for their work. So far so good. What the Government will fail to mention is that while funding levels in London and the cycle cities lift the country’s average, funding for cycling outside those areas, after the spending review, is projected to be around just £1.39 per person.

Furthermore, the cycling and walking investment strategy is slowly making its way forward not at a cycling pace, nor at a walking pace, but at perhaps a snail’s pace. How will it be funded? Cycling has apparently been allotted £300 million in funding until 2021, but as we push for further detail, we seem to repeatedly run into a brick wall when attempting to get from the Government how much they actually intend to spend. In fact, in answer to a written question that I tabled about funding levels outside of London and the cycle cities in November, the Minister said:

“It is not possible to predict the geographical distribution of other funding for cycling at this stage.”

It therefore seems that the Department for Transport is unable to predict the outcomes of its own spending commitments. Indeed, funding has been disconnected, as others have said—split between various initiatives, bundled into grants, not ring-fenced—and data on local authority spending are no longer centrally collated.

What we do know is that the £300 million that has been promised for cycling over this Parliament includes the £114 million for the cycle city ambition grants and continued funding for Bikeability training, which we support. What funding, if any, will be left over to fund the investment part of the cycling and walking investment strategy?

There is a real danger that the Government are drawing up an investment strategy with no investment. That matters, because the strategy to improve infrastructure, which was included in the Infrastructure Act 2015 after a powerful campaign, is key to increasing cycling safety. The Conservative party promised in their election manifesto,

“to reduce the number of cyclists and other road users killed or injured on our roads every year”,

but the Government have failed to set national road safety targets, claiming that it is a matter for local authorities and thereby trying to absolve themselves of responsibility.

This debate is really important, because cycling safety is a key factor in encouraging people to get on their bikes in the first place. Anxiety and fear about safety stops many people cycling, especially women and older people. In London, three quarters of those aged 65 and over can ride a bike, yet only 6% ever do. Two thirds of non-cyclists and half of all cyclists say that it is too dangerous for them to cycle on the road. We must put in place the right measures to make cycling a safe, accessible mode of transport for all, whatever a person’s age or gender.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): This subject is as close to my heart as it is to the public’s, as I am a self-confessed sprocket head. Indeed, I have made three cycle journeys already today, and before joining the Government I was an active member of the all-party group on cycling. Last week, I spoke in front of that group for an hour, so although my time today is very limited, many of the Members present will have heard what I had to say on that occasion. Also, I was proud to be at last year’s Tour de Yorkshire finish line in Scarborough.

The short answer to the questions asked by the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and the shadow Minister is: yes, we can. But we are of course in an era of devolution of power and budgets. We need to trust the people in the local enterprise partnerships, local authorities and combined authorities to understand the importance of cycling. The evidence so far is that that is working. Indeed, I had a meeting with some LEPs today and made it clear that cycling should be central to some of their work.

The Government want to create a walking and cycling nation, where cycling and walking become the norm for short journeys or as part of a longer journey. Our vision is of streets and public places that support walking and cycling, and a road network where infrastructure for cycling and walking is always being improved. The evidence tells us that more people would cycle if cycling on the road was made safer—incidentally, the risks in London are about the same per kilometre for cycling as they are for walking, but we do not hear people saying, “You must be crazy to walk in London.” The evidence also suggests that the greatest opportunity to increase the levels of cycling in England is to focus investment on providing infrastructure in dense urban environments and towns. Cities that have invested in infrastructure have seen significant increases in cycling.

The cycling and walking investment strategy will go some way to delivering our vision for cycling. In February 2015, the Government introduced through the Infrastructure Act 2015 a duty on the Secretary of State to set a cycling and walking investment strategy in England. Our first publication, “Setting the first Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy”, was published on 17 December 2015. It set out the timescales for publication and our intended structure for the strategy. We aim to consult on a draft first strategy in the spring, with the final strategy published in the summer.

In 2010, under the Labour party, for every person in this country £2 was spent on supporting cycling. Spending on cycling is currently around £6 per person across England and, as we have heard, around £10 per person in London and our eight cycling ambition cities. In future, long-term funding will be available from a wide range of sources, including the new access fund, the integrated transport block, the highways maintenance block and the local growth fund. That means that everywhere that wishes to invest £10 per head will be able to. Local enterprise partnerships are also doing what they can.

In conclusion, the Government understand the importance of a cycling revolution. We absolutely back the Prime Minister in wanting to have that revolution, and we are delivering it with both money and policies.

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