Debate on a motion relating to the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s Report ‘Get Britain Cycling’
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): I beg to move
That this House welcomes the recommendations of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s report “Get Britain Cycling”; endorses the target of 10 per cent of all journeys being by bike by 2025, and 25 per cent by 2050; and calls on the Government to show strong political leadership, including an annual Cycling Action Plan and sustained funding for cycling.
It is a great pleasure to move this motion. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to schedule a debate on this subject after the success of our very well-attended debate last year in Westminster Hall, which showed just how many Members of this House care about cycling. We discussed all forms of cycling, from sport to commuting, leisure, utility and all-access cycling. It was clear from that debate that Members agreed that cycling was an energy-efficient form of transport, a healthy way to get around, a cheap means of travelling, and fun as well. No one who was there will forget the tale we heard of romance on a tandem.
Since that debate, the all-party parliamentary cycling group, which I have the great pleasure of co-chairing with the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), has conducted a detailed inquiry to make a series of recommendations on what Government ought to do to get Britain cycling, and we are now debating the resulting report. To produce it, we spoke to a wide range of people.
Mr Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): I am not at all surprised that this debate is so well attended. I want to put on record the representations that I have received from at least one constituent who wants us to focus still more on cycling as part of an improved environment. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that improving the road structure, pathways and so on is important not only because individuals want to take part in cycling but because it is a great attraction and opportunity for tourism in the areas we represent?
Dr Huppert: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. I completely agree that there are huge benefits, some of which I will outline. He is absolutely right that tourism can benefit and that environmental concerns can be addressed. There are lots of benefits in getting Britain cycling.
Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to stress the benefits, but does he accept, as I hope most in the House would, that there are also associated tragedies? One thinks of Mary Bowers, who is still in a coma, and one thinks of the excellent campaign run by The Times, “Cities fit for cycling”. Does he accept that cycling is not only a marvellous, fit and healthy way to travel but should be protected and that cyclists should be safe?
Dr Huppert: Of course I agree with the hon. Gentleman. There have been a number of tragedies. Part of what we ought to do is to make sure that it is safe for people to cycle. In fact, it is fairly safe at the moment, but the perception is a problem. I agree that there are far too many tragic incidents such as that of Mary Bowers.
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Several hon. Members rose—
Dr Huppert: Let me make a bit more progress and then I will give way.
We spoke to a wide range of people—not only cycling organisations, which I thank for their assistance throughout the process, but the police, the freight industry, Living Streets, the president of the Automobile Association, and many others. I thank them all, and particularly those parliamentarians from both Houses who served on the panel, many of whom are here today, and Adam Coffman, who co-ordinated the entire process. There were hundreds of suggestions for recommendations, and those and more analysis can be found in the companion report by Professor Phil Goodwin, together with transcripts of the entire session.
Currently, only about 2% of trips are made by bike—a tiny fraction, well below the levels found in many countries. A huge range of short trips that could easily be walked or cycled are driven. That is why we set a long-term ambition to try to increase that from 2% to 10% by 2025 and to 25% by 2050. That is entirely do-able and still below what the Dutch, for example, manage to achieve.
Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): As the hon. Gentleman highlights, very few people cycle, but in my borough of Hackney we have a far higher percentage—more than 10% of people regularly cycle. Does he agree that that is testament to what can be done with forward thinking, good planning and a political will to achieve a change?
Dr Huppert: I thank the hon. Lady for her comment and for her work on the report. She is absolutely right that there are exemplars. In my constituency of Cambridge, about a third of trips are now made by bike. We are hoping to increase that to 40% with the money that has been given by the Government through the ambition grant. Some places are showing that they can do this, and the rest of the country can as well.
Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con): My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the Government must provide funding, and they have been doing so, but it is also important for local authorities to be doing more. Let me quote what my constituent Adrian Lawson, the chairman of the Reading Cycling Campaign, said about Reading borough council:
“We identified a lot of simple things that would make it immeasurably better for cyclists. This was over a year ago. Not a single thing has happened.”
Does that not show that we also need local councils to implement measures?
Dr Huppert: Absolutely; local authorities have a crucial role to play.
If more people were to cycle and walk, we would all benefit. We would be healthier, saving huge amounts of money—billions of pounds—for the NHS. There would be less congestion on the roads, making travel times faster and more reliable for those who are in cars. There would be less pressure on city centre parking, helping people to get to the shops and keep the economy going. The economy would grow. Cycling already contributes
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about £3 billion to the UK economy, but it is not always seen as significant as that. We all win by promoting cycling and walking.
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I applaud the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate and the Members who added their name to the motion. Cycling can be promoted not only in Cambridge but in extremely hilly and mountainous areas such as the constituency of Ogmore, with the right investment by the local authority and the voluntary sector in things such as safe routes to school, which link to safe routes to work, which then link to the Afan Argoed mountain bike track.
Dr Huppert: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Cycling can indeed be encouraged anywhere in the country; the area does not have to be flat and dry like Cambridge.
Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): Ealing has a very strong reputation as a cycling borough. Schools there are playing their part in training young people using travel plans. Eight schools in Ealing have travel plans that are considered outstanding. Does my hon. Friend agree that using travel plans is an imaginative way for schools to train youngsters in cycling?
Dr Huppert: Travel plans are critical and the hon. Lady is right to highlight the role of schools, because training in schools makes a big difference. The Government have protected Bikeability funding. I received my own Bikeability training during the summer from Outspoken! Cycle Training in Cambridge. I learned quite a lot from that and it would be good to see other people receive it.
Several hon. Members rose—
Dr Huppert: I will take one more intervention from a Government Member and one more from an Opposition Member, and then I will make some progress.
Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who I think now has the distinction of being fashionable. I am glad that page 15 of the report refers to the bridge over the railway tracks in Cambridge, which I funded and was delighted to be part of opening. On the issue of risk, does my hon. Friend agree that comparisons of risk per distance travelled are ludicrous when comparing walking, cycling, driving and flying? We ought to have risk per hour exposed, which would give people a far greater sense of the relative safety of cycling.
Dr Huppert: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and I thank him for his support for Cambridge cycling. Statistics can say all sorts of things. The most dangerous form of travel per trip is a space shuttle, and the safest per passenger mile is also the space shuttle. That shows the extremes.
Several hon. Members rose—
Dr Huppert: I am going to make some progress, because a lot of Members wish to speak in this debate.
Our report makes 18 recommendations on five key themes. The first is for sustained investment in cycling in order to improve the infrastructure. The European
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standard is for funds to the order of £10 per person per year, hopefully rising to £20 per person per year. That is the sort of level the Dutch have sustained and that is what we need to make the difference. It will not happen overnight, but the benefits will substantially outweigh the costs according to almost every single study.
Many of the improvements that would benefit cyclists, such as improvements to road quality, segregated cycle tracks and junction changes, would also benefit pedestrians and other road users. No conflict is necessary in improving the infrastructure.
Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Dr Huppert: The hon. Lady has been patient, so I will take her intervention.
Rushanara Ali: I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. I want to draw the House’s attention to the death in my constituency in July of Philippine De Gerin-Ricard, a 20-year-old student who was tragically killed while cycling. In the previous year, two others were killed on the ring road. I fully support the hon. Gentleman’s point about the need for investment to make roads safer, for drivers as well as cyclists. What can be done to reduce the number of minor and major injuries, which have increased by 29% in the past year—a dramatic increase since the period between 2005 and 2009?
Dr Huppert: The point of a lot of what I will say will be about how we can reduce that number. Some of that is about infrastructure and some is about measures such as making heavy goods vehicles safer, which I will come on to discuss in detail.
Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that very point?
Dr Huppert: No. I want to make progress; otherwise I am afraid others will not have the chance to speak.
We have to make sure that other local and national bodies, such as local authorities and the Highways Agency, allocate proportionate funds to cycling, so that major road schemes such as the A14 in my constituency include appropriate cycle facilities along or across them. Other Departments should also get involved: there are benefits to health, education, sport and business. They should step out of their silos and get involved.
We need to make our roads and cities fit for cyclists. Planners need to give consideration to cyclists and pedestrians right at the start of all developments, whatever they are. We also need new design guidance to provide a modern standard, not just paint on a pavement, which annoys cyclists and pedestrians alike. Local authorities can get on with the small schemes, as can the Highways Agency, which has agreed to our call for a programme to reduce the barriers its roads can cause to cycling.
Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Dr Huppert: No. I am not going to give way for a bit longer.
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Road travel is never perfectly safe and there is a lot we can do to make it safer. Infrastructure is key, but we can do other things, too. For example, 20 mph zones, which this Government support, are clearly beneficial, not only for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, but for the perceptions of safety for people who want to cycle or take their children cycling. Some rural lanes could be appropriate for a 40 mph speed limit.
Hon. Members have talked about the number of tragic deaths. Sadly, too many of them have involved cyclists and HGVs. Steps have been taken by the Mineral Products Association, Cemex and others, but we need to push further for better vehicle design and better controls, and encourage HGVs not to use busy roads at peak times. Crossrail has led the way on much of that.
Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?
Dr Huppert: I am sorry, but I want to make some more progress.
Road traffic laws are broken too often and they should be enforced for all road users. When a serious driving offence takes place, especially if it results in death or injury, it must be treated seriously by police, prosecutors and judges. Far too often the sentences proposed are, frankly, trivial.
We also need to encourage people to ride positively. Cycling should be seen as a safe and normal activity for people of all ages and backgrounds, as is the case in the Netherlands.
Several hon. Members rose—
Dr Huppert: I want to make more progress, but I will give way later.
Education will help. Bikeability should be available at all schools, and adults should also have the chance to learn to ride. We also need political leadership, and it is good to see the Transport Secretary enter the Chamber at this point. We need not just nice words from senior politicians—although I am pleased that the Prime Minister wanted personally to announce the recent substantial extra funding—but sustained support, including a cross-departmental action plan, with annual progress reports, a national cycling champion, a clear ambition to increase cycling and for Government at all levels to have a lead politician responsible for cycling.
Several hon. Members rose—
Dr Huppert: I will take one intervention from each side of the Chamber.
Mr Sheerman: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on securing this debate. He will know of my long-term interest, as chairman of the parliamentary advisory council for transport safety, in safety on the roads. Is he worried that at least a third of youngsters who get on a bike do not have any Bikeability training?
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about HGVs. What are we going to do about those whose steering wheels are on the other side of the vehicle, who have terrible blind spots and who cause many terrible accidents?
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Dr Huppert: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and for the support that PACTS, along with many other organisations, has given to our report. I think that more training should be made available. It should not be compulsory, but we want to encourage people to feel comfortable. There is a lot more we can do to deal with HGVs.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I have cycled in the UK and in Holland. Does my hon. Friend share my concern about meaningless bits of paint on pavements and trees in the middle of cycle routes, and does he agree that what we really need are segregated cycle paths?
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I can see the hon. Gentleman is in free wheel, but I am going to put on the brake. We said 10 to 15 minutes, so I am sure Dr Huppert will have finished in a couple of minutes.
Dr Huppert: We all benefit from improving the take-up of cycling. To quote the president of the Automobile Association, Edmund King:
“Implementation of the Get Britain Cycling recommendations would bring tangible business and economic benefits by reducing congestion, absenteeism, NHS costs and by producing a more creative and active workforce.”
There speaks the voice of the automobile, and I entirely agree with him.
Despite these benefits, Governments for decades have not sufficiently supported cycling. There has been massive investment in road infrastructure, but little for cycling; cyclists have often had small-scale provision, if any. Individual Ministers have tried, but they have not always received the support they need. I pay great tribute in particular to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), who I believe is the longest ever serving Minister with responsibility for cycling. However, he is not able to deliver as much as he or I would like. He has done things such as announce extra money over the summer for the local sustainable transport fund, but we need more and it needs to be sustained.
Many Ministers face a culture that points the other way—that focuses on car drivers only, to the detriment of others and without realising that fewer cyclists will result in more cars on the roads. I hope that one of the outcomes of our report and this debate will be to provide support for Ministers of all parties who want to make that difference—to turn welcome comments, such as those made by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, into reality.
On 12 August the Prime Minister said that cycling will be at the heart of future road developments. I hope we can make sure, through the impetus of this debate, the “Cities fit for cycling” campaign run by The Times, the excitement of the Olympics and the double Tour de France victory, that that will become a reality.
Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate to take place. I also thank everybody who took part in the three-month inquiry and British Cycling, the CTC, Sustrans and the other organisations that helped us run
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it. I thank in particular Chris Boardman MBE—an Olympic gold medallist, world champion, great man and fantastic campaigner for cycling—for everything he does to promote cycling in Britain and for supporting our inquiry. Phil Goodwin and Adam Coffman pulled the report together and organised the inquiry.
I thank News International for sponsoring the inquiry. Its involvement came about as a result of The Times’ brilliant campaign for cycling, which has been a breakthrough for cycling. I pay tribute to the current editor, John Witherow, and his predecessor, James Harding, and to Kaya Burgess, Phil Pank and Phil Webster, who have worked so hard on this campaign. It is brilliant campaigning journalism at its best.
That campaign, as we heard a moment ago, was triggered by the tragic incident in 2011 that injured their colleague, Mary Bowers, so badly that she has still not regained consciousness. The driver who hit her was getting directions over the phone at the time. Mary was in his direct line of sight for at least 10 seconds, but he failed to spot her. He was found guilty of careless driving, fined £2,700 and banned from driving for just eight months. I therefore welcome the review by the Ministry of Justice of the all too often derisory sentences that are handed down to drivers when cyclists are killed or injured. We also need a comprehensive review of the justice system, from beginning to end, to ensure that the police enforce the law properly and that the Crown Prosecution Service prosecutes people on stronger charges.
Meg Hillier: Does my hon. Friend agree that if we had a lower speed limit for all road users, it would make life safer for cyclists and pedestrians?
Ian Austin: I agree with my hon. Friend. Our report recommended 20 mph speed limits in urban areas—something for which The Times has been campaigning. I pay tribute to the contribution that she made to the inquiry. It would not have been such a success and the report would not have been written in the way that it was if she had not done so much work.
Mr Jim Cunningham: Does my hon. Friend agree that a lot more can be done in schools to promote cycling proficiency, because safety is a very big element of this matter? Equally, should local authorities not do more through traffic management schemes?
Ian Austin: My hon. Friend is completely right. He did a lot of work on this matter when he was the leader of Coventry city council, before he became a Member of Parliament.
I do not want to criticise the Minister for cycling. He is a good man, he fights hard for cycling and he is a keen cyclist himself. However, the Government’s response to our inquiry was disappointing to say the least. The Government have promised that
“cycling will be at the heart of future road development”
and their response stated:
“The Government is committed to turning Britain into a cycling nation to rival our European neighbours.”
If the Minister answers one question in this debate, I want him to tell us how those two promises can be taken seriously when the Netherlands spends £25 per head on cycling while the UK spends just £2 per head, and when
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the highways budget in the UK is £15 billion, but the funds announced for cycling are just £159 million, with no dedicated funding stream that allows local authorities to plan for more than two years.
Our report makes a series of recommendations to boost cycling from less than 2% of journeys in 2011 to 25% by 2050. I ask the Minister why his Department’s response did not commit the Government to that target. We also want a national cycling champion to lead a drive for 10% of all journeys in Britain to be made by bike by 2025. As I said, the Minister fights hard for cycling and has done a good job of putting it on the agenda to the extent that it is. Although I do not want to criticise him personally, I point to the fact is that he is a junior Minister from the junior party in the coalition, so it will always be difficult for him. We need someone with Cabinet-level clout to get different Departments working together.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): Promote him to the Cabinet! [Laughter.]
Ian Austin: Okay. I also want to ask the Minister why the Government have not agreed to the appointment of a cycling champion.
Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) cannot be here because two members of his family have health issues. He wanted to call for a more comprehensive cycling strategy. He welcomes the £835,000 grant to improve the cycling safety of the Plain in Oxford, but wanted to point out that that is a tiny fraction of the money that is needed to bring Oxford’s cycle network up to an entirely safe standard.
We think that more of the transport budget should be spent on supporting cycling, with an initial rate of at least £10 per person per year. That would increase as the level of cycling goes up. I welcome the recent announcement by the shadow Secretary of State for Transport that she would use a proportion of road spending to build long-term cycling infrastructure. Most of the spending that was mentioned in the Government’s response had already been announced. Why will the Minister’s Department not shift resources in that way?
London has spent five times as much on cycling per person as the rest of the UK in the past 10 years. The benefits of that are clear from the huge growth in cycling in the capital.
Several hon. Members rose—
Ian Austin: I will not take any more interventions, because I want to allow everybody else to speak.
Given the benefits of cycling to the economy and the huge savings it could bring to the NHS, there could be huge benefits in the long run. Cyclists are fitter and healthier than the population as a whole and less of a demand on the NHS, so will the Minister say why the Department of Health, which has a budget of £1 billion, last week committed just £1 million to cycling over the next two years? Making cycling safer in local residential streets would also help. That is why our report calls for lower speed limits in urban areas. The campaign by The Times calls for 20 mph to be the default limit in residential areas that do not have cycle lanes.
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The Government need to ensure that cycling provision and safety are considered at the outset of all major developments. That is the central point in British Cycling’s road safety manifesto. I am therefore pleased that the shadow Secretary of State is committed to the introduction of new cycle safety assessments for all new transport schemes. Given that local roads and planning are the responsibility of local councils, it is a shame that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has indulged in populist calls for councils to ignore cycling and to do more to help motorists.
I am a cyclist and a motorist. Most of us are both. In fact, cyclists are more likely to own a car than the general population, so let us have no more of the cheap, populist nonsense that tries to set drivers against cyclists. We should all be working together to improve safety on the roads.
Finally, this debate is just the next stage of our campaign to get Britain cycling. We should use the inquiry and today’s debate to drive cycling up the agenda. It is fantastic that so many MPs are here for this debate on the first day back when there is a one-line Whip. Let us make cycling an election issue, with local cyclists getting candidates to sign pledges and with the parties competing to produce the best manifesto for cycling. Let us continue the campaign to get Britain cycling.
Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): I was fortunate to sit on the “Get Britain Cycling” inquiry earlier this year. There was huge interest in what we were doing. When we started the inquiry, we were the best trending name on Twitter. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) for securing this debate and to Adam Coffman, who put so much work into making it a professional, Select Committee-style inquiry.
In the short time available to me, I will focus on three areas: vision and leadership, which for me is where it starts and ends; the design issue; and the summer of cycling in my constituency. I am extremely proud of the report and believe that it stands up really well. Having read it again in writing these remarks, I think that it will age well. We launched the report in April and the Government responded last week. In the light of everything that has happened since we produced the report, I think that is more relevant now than when we launched it.
On leadership, it is no coincidence that one of the first points in the report is the need for
“vision, ambition and strong political leadership”.
As the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) said, we recommend the appointment of a national cycling champion. I share his regret that that recommendation was not accepted in last week’s Government response. It is all too easy to regard such things as somebody else’s responsibility. The Minister need not look further than City hall, where Andrew Gilligan is the Mayor’s cycling champion, for a good example of how a cycling champion can work.
Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Does he agree that leadership at a local level is important? I have seen the difference in my borough as the political leaders have started to take this issue much more seriously and to engage much more vigorously with local cycling campaigners. That really makes a difference.
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Steve Brine: It is funny that my hon. Friend should say that, because my next line states that our report says that every local authority should appoint a lead politician who is responsible for cycling. I want the report to give birth to mini Borises across the country. Bearing in mind that we did not launch the report until April, that is quite a short gestation period.
I find it bizarre that we even needed to say that each local authority should have a lead politician. Winchester had a cycling champion long before the report was produced. This must not be about just giving somebody a new line on their letterhead. The cycling champion must be a councillor who is at the heart of the administration, as they should be at the national level. They must have the necessary political clout and authority to drive things through with their colleagues at cabinet level and with the key officers and the chief executive.
The cycling action plan should not be marked as being in the cycling folder; it should be part of the council’s health, tourism and economic strategy, and an integral part of the council’s strategy should be to make it work. How many MPs in the House have sent a copy of the report, or an e-mail with the link, to their chief executive or leader of their local council? How many know who the cycling champion is for their area and—more importantly—what they do?
I am not trying to be the lead councillor for cycling in my constituency—if I wanted to be a councillor, I could have a far easier life. [Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] I notice the double-hatters looking at me—how to win friends and influence councillors. I am trying to push the issue up the agenda locally, working with the marvellous councillors I have in my constituency. I hope soon to sit down with councillors from Winchester and Hampshire county council, and start putting some lines on maps.
Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): I think my hon. Friend is genuine in his praise for councillors such as the lead member in Swindon, Councillor Keith Williams, who is a triathlete and passionate cyclist. Does my hon. Friend agree that with local leadership such as that which I have described we will improve cycling facilities in towns such as Swindon? Department for Transport funding for improved links between west Swindon and the town centre is an example of how cyclists will find things safer in the long term.
Steve Brine: Yes, I agree. What I said about putting lines on maps is an expression I borrowed from Andrew Gilligan, who came to see the all-party cycling group on the eve of launching the Mayor’s cycling strategy for London. One thing he took us through was that putting lines on maps is not easy; land belongs to Transport for London or to the boroughs, and somebody had to try and pull that together. It was the leadership of the Mayor and of Andy—
Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?
Steve Brine: I will not because time is tight and I know other hon. Members want to get in. The way in which Crossrail for cyclists was chiselled out is impressive and a blueprint of what people should be doing—I know what is being done in Swindon.
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In my constituency we have made significant progress, for example with national cycle network route 23. However, somebody needs to grab the bull by the horns—or perhaps grab the highlighter pen—and sit down and put those lines on the maps. Then the leadership can really shine through. Will that happen? Well, ultimately it requires the leader of the council to do that. Councillor Keith Wood, who leads the majority council in my constituency, is interested in cycling and keen on cycling, but as he knows, I want to see passion and more leadership from him on that issue.
On design and planning, I am a passionate believer in segregated cycle routes, especially on main busy roads. I have seen them in other parts of the continent and they have to make sense, particularly if we are hopeful of getting children to stay cycling, especially after they have got their driving licence. As those who have read it will know, the report recommends a statutory requirement that cyclists’ needs are considered at an early stage of all new development schemes, and I welcome the new national planning policy framework introduced in 2011. It sets out clearly that including facilities for cycling and walking should be part of delivering sustainable development, but as we know, too often at present those things are not included, which in my book is a wasted opportunity. What is set out in the NPF needs to catch up quickly and become the norm.
Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Steve Brine: I will not if the hon. Lady does not mind.
I have one opportunity in my constituency right now where the developer, CALA Homes, has permission for 2,000 houses on the highly controversial—to put it mildly—Barton farm site. The developer was an early recipient of a copy of this report, and my challenge today is this: “Make us proud of your development at Barton farm. Put cycling at the heart of your development, not just in new cycle routes into and through the area, but by linking up with existing cycle connections. You will make a lot of people very pleased with you, after gathering planning permission in the way you did.”
The report also states that local authorities should seek to deliver cycle-friendly improvements across existing roads, including small improvements and segregated routes. Of course they should. I am not a dyed-in-the-lycra person on this—imagine! I am realistic: Winchester’s ancient Saxon streets will not suddenly all have segregated cycle routes, but there are great opportunities in my constituency to do that.
Finally, the Highways Agency should draw up a programme to remove the barriers to cycling. Junction 9 of the M3, which the Minister knows, has received significant Government funding for pinch-point improvements that will be done later this year. We are increasing two lanes to three and bringing traffic closer to cyclists, which seems a missed opportunity. Therefore, my other challenge to the Minister and the Highways Agency is to see whether we can look again at junction 9 of the M3 on the edge of my constituency and come up with something that is a compromise for cyclists and for drivers.
In conclusion, the report is about getting Britain cycling and much good stuff is taking place in my constituency and across the country. The VC Venta
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cycling club in Winchester has seen its membership rise by 300% since the Olympics, and the Winchester CycleFest this summer, which culminated in the Criterium high-speed cycle race through Winchester on 11 August, was fantastic. “Get Britain Cycling”—yes, we are doing it, but we must scale it up and this report is part of the blueprint for how we do that.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): In 2006, four members of the Rhyl cycling club in my constituency were killed in the worst ever cycling accident in British history. They were Tom Harland, aged 14, Maurice Broadbent, aged 61, Dave Horrocks, aged 55, and Wayne Wilkes, aged 42. Two years before that accident young Tom Harland visited the House of Commons and I took him round. His father, John Harland, is a personal friend of mine. The club and families involved were faced with the decision of whether to crumple—both personally and as a club—or whether to thrive. They chose to thrive and I would like to outline some of the successes for cycling in my constituency since 2006, which I think could be replicated around the country.
John Harland got together a group of people, including a chap called Gren Kershaw, who was the ex-head of our local health board, and they had an idea, a vision, for cycling in my constituency, based around Marsh Tracks. In the intervening years, Marsh Tracks has opened, and includes a five-star BMX track with an Olympic starting gate and a £1.2 million floodlit off-road cycleway. It is now being extended with a mountain bike track over a 3 km area. Those are fantastic cycling facilities. The local authority has developed miles and miles of off-road cycleways connecting the towns of Rhyl, Prestatyn, Rhuddlan, St Asaph, Dyserth and Bodelwyddan, and connecting Rhyl college, the local hospital and St Asaph business park—all those key sites are connected off road to the cycleways.
Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?
Chris Ruane: Yes, because I want the extra minute.
Catherine McKinnell: I thank my hon. Friend for his generosity. He is making a powerful speech. Many constituents have asked me to come to this debate to make representations on their behalf, and in particular on behalf of their children. As cyclists, my constituents worry not only for themselves and their safety, but for that of their children, and many of them have asked me to press the Minister on making cycle urban infrastructure development compulsory as part of the legislation on cycling and urban planning. Does my hon. Friend agree?
Chris Ruane: I think I have lost that minute—[Laughter.] My hon. Friend owes me 15 seconds but I agree with her and will come to the education side of that point in a moment.
We were also successful in getting £4.5 million for a purpose-built cycling bridge over Foryd harbour in my constituency. That will be part of the Sustrans national coastal cycling network around the UK. On 26 September I will meet Network Rail to see whether we can get a disused railway to connect the coastal path to the
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country paths further inland. They are currently cut across by a railway bridge, and we want to use an adjacent railway bridge to connect the coastal path to the country, so that the coast will be connected to the castles and cathedrals in my constituency.
I recently met Adrian Walls, a cycleways officer from Denbighshire county council, who is developing a mountain bike route in my constituency. He has not finished yet—it will be probably be finished in about six weeks and will be a state-of the-art mountain bike route. However, I do not think that the fantastic facilities I have outlined in my speech are being used sufficiently. The task is getting pupils in our schools and colleges, and workers, to use those facilities—those multi-million pound investments—which I believe are under-utilised in my constituency. How do we make the most of them? I have met council officers and enthusiasts, who have come up with a vision for a centre of cycling excellence in my constituency, which will be tied in to the back-to-work agenda. It will include cycle maintenance, and importing, assembling and selling cycles. That fantastic facility on our doorstep will be used to train local people, including unemployed people from some of the poorest wards in Wales.
Hon. Members have spoken of tying the cycling agenda to the health agenda. Denbighshire has high obesity levels. How do we get general practitioners to write cycling prescriptions? That has been done in other areas, including in London—Brent and Tower Hamlets have done it. People who suffer from diabetes, arthritis and a range of illnesses would benefit tremendously from cycling. If cycling prescriptions are available in Brent and Tower Hamlets—
Stephen Pound: And Ealing.
Chris Ruane: And Ealing. If it has been done in those places, why can it not be done throughout the country? If we have fantastic and safe facilities in my constituency, why can we not use them? They are floodlit. We could use them for 16 hours a day.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): My hon. Friend is outlining the need for co-operation to achieve an outcome across policy areas, from health and local government to sport and recreation. That will be achieved only if there is a cross-Government message from the top. The message needs to be not only on cycling, but on sport, and on recreational and physical activities across the board.
Chris Ruane: All hon. Members would have been sent to swimming lessons when they attended school. Cycling lessons should be on a par with those.
Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?
Chris Ruane: I am afraid I will not.
People are much more likely to cycle than they are to go to their local baths. The profile of cycling therefore needs to be raised in education, which needs leadership from the top. Departments should talk to Departments, including the Department of Health, the Department for Education and the Department for Transport. We could train young people properly and to cycle safely. One idea we discussed in recent meetings was having a
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safe area where people can take toddlers as young as two or three years old to teach them how to cycle. In centres such as the one we are developing in Rhyl, we could teach 90-year-olds to regain the confidence to get back on their bikes. We should advocate cradle-to-grave cycling.
A lot has been done in my constituency and a lot more needs to be done. Cycling could transform tourism in many areas. My home town, Rhyl, is a seaside town. The Prime Minister said a few weeks ago that it was neglected—he has visited only once, for 10 minutes, in his whole life. We are having £200 million-worth of investment in my home town, including a £17 million new harbour with a £4.5 million dedicated cycle bridge. The potential of cycling tourism is massive.
Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): I agree with the hon. Gentleman. My constituency has had Government money for our “Pedal Peak” project. We look forward to welcoming an influx of cyclists of all abilities who will come to enjoy the benefits of the Peak district.
Chris Ruane: The hon. Gentleman is right.
We want cyclists of all abilities and ages, including the people who learned to cycle when they were children but who have lost their confidence. Millions of people will not go back on a bicycle because they have lost that confidence. We have a chance of developing throughout the country facilities such as those in my constituency to give back that confidence.
I reflect on the terrible tragedy we experienced in 2006. It was a bad thing that happened, but good came of it.
Mike Thornton (Eastleigh) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) on securing this fantastic debate. He has long been a vocal advocate of cycling, and I pay tribute to his tireless work. I congratulate all members of the all-party group, who have done such a fantastic job. I will not speak for very long—I do not have long, so that is okay and I am sure hon. Members are pleased about that. I shall emphasise the health and economic benefits, which hon. Members have mentioned, and describe my experience of cycling.
I used to cycle a lot when I was less well off and gave up when I could afford a car, but I have cycled into my local town of Eastleigh for shopping and other things. It does not feel that safe. One of my best friends, a physicist by profession, has cycled all over the country. His comments and knowledge are invaluable. The uncertainty principle applies to his cycling, too.
I remember disagreeing with my daughter on whether she should wear a helmet. Helmets are contentious. Some say that wearing a helmet is good and some say it is bad. Whatever one’s views, one must admit that parents, rightly or wrongly, feel their hearts in their mouths when they see their child go out cycling. That is probably one of the constraints on children cycling.
Alok Sharma: My hon. Friend makes an important point on wearing cycle helmets. Independent studies have shown clearly that wearing cycle helmets saves
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lives and cuts down on injuries. Last year, I called on the Department for Transport to issue a definitive and independent report on the benefits and costs of introducing a law requiring children to wear cycle helmets. Would he welcome such a report?
Mike Thornton: There is a difficulty with wearing cycle helmets. I tried to get my daughter to wear one, and she stopped cycling. I do not know whether I did the right or wrong thing in trying to force her to wear a helmet. I worried a bit less, but she stopped cycling.
Ian Austin: It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman says his daughter stopped cycling when she was forced to wear a helmet, because that is exactly what happened in Australia. When a law requiring people to wear helmets was introduced there, cycling numbers plummeted. We can make cycling safe by getting more people to do it. The more people cycle, the safer it is. That is how we make cycling safer in Britain.
Mike Thornton: I admit that I do not know the answer. My brother came off a bicycle and was badly injured because he was not wearing a helmet. I am in two minds about the argument, but I understand both sides.
Chris Ruane: You’re a Liberal. What do you expect?
Mike Thornton: I am also a father and a brother, so what do you expect?
We are fortunate in the borough of Eastleigh to have more than 44 km—30-odd miles—of dedicated cycling routes. It is difficult to have such routes because of the criss-crossing motorways, railway lines and watercourses. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), my constituency neighbour, has mentioned some of the problems. Part of the Sustrans cycle network 24 is routed directly behind my constituency office in Leigh road—hon. Members will remember that from a certain election. National cycle route 23, which was also mentioned by my hon. Friend, stretches from Reading to the Isle of Wight. National cycle route 2 runs along the coastline all the way to St Austell in Cornwall—my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) has left the Chamber. We are immensely proud to have Dani King, one of our gold medal winners.
With all that, hon. Members might think that cycling in Eastleigh would be on the up. Unfortunately, the number of people cycling to work has continued to stick at around 2%. One would think it would be a lot better, especially when one considers how effective the borough’s environmental and green policies have been under the leadership of Councillor Bloom.
Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to intervene in this important and popular debate. Does he agree that the link between cyclists and the public transport network is the real issue in getting people to cycle to work, and that we should make it easier to store bikes in places such as railway stations? That would encourage people to link up with public transport.
Mike Thornton: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I have noticed that it is sometimes difficult to get a bicycle on to a train, which is a great shame. That should
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be encouraged as much as possible. Perhaps there should be more areas for bicycles on trains and buses, and for locking up bicycles.
Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?
Mike Thornton: May I keep going?
We need more areas where people can leave their bicycles safely when they go to work.
The report of the all-party group on cycling sets out perfectly why the status quo is maintained. Nearly half of all Britons own or have access to a bike, but we do not use them. Safety is the No. 1 concern. We are still frightened for ourselves and our children, even if not for a rational reason. Extending 20 mph zones, as the report proposes, is therefore extremely important.
As other hon. Members have mentioned, we need to do something about HGVs. We cannot always blame HGVs for not seeing cyclists. We need to ensure better visibility and sensors to minimise the risks to cyclists, and make cyclists realise that they cannot necessarily be seen. That is particularly difficult with children, who do not have the same road sense as grown-ups.
Many of my constituents have told me how dangerous road surfaces are. Trying to swerve around a pothole or street furniture can cause all sorts of problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester mentioned indicative lines that do not tell us anything. When one comes into Winchester—it is outside my constituency, so I apologise—there are some nice pictures of bicycles. One says, “Yes, that’s a lovely picture of a bicycle. What good on earth is that doing?” Segregated bicycle lanes, as has been mentioned, are vital.
I agree entirely that new developments should be cycle-proofed. Cycling should be incorporated into all planning policies. When there is a new development—we are getting one in my constituency—it should be cycle-proofed. I think we would all agree that that will pay for itself. The report states that cycling demonstration towns saw a 27% increase in cycling from 2005 to 2009. The financial benefits were estimated to be nearly £64 million, from a cost of £18 million—a particularly strong piece of evidence. The report also shows that every pound spent on cycling can save the NHS £4—again, economics wins the argument.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s recent announcement to increase funding for cycling, but the lion’s share will go to eight select cities, seven of which already exceed the national average for cycling. In addition, the funding has been earmarked for only two years. The announcement was welcome, but what about the rest of us? My constituents in Eastleigh could do with some dosh. We need a nationwide commitment to increase the per head cycling budget. I think we are looking for £10 per head by 2025 and up to—what is it?—£50. That is vital.
What I have heard today is a remarkable degree of consensus among cycling organisations, cyclists, local authorities and hon. Members about what needs to be done. That is extremely positive. We must ensure that we capitalise on that and that something is done. I fully support the motion and the report’s recommendations, and I thank the group for its hard work.
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Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mike Thornton). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) and the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), the co-chairs of the all-party group, of which I am a member, on the report. It is sponsored by The Times, which I congratulate too. I should declare that The Times is still in Wapping in my constituency, so there is a little bit of self-interest there. Other national newspapers—The Guardian and The Independent—have been trying to catch up and are supporting the campaign. My comments will be made as a Londoner and as a London cyclist, and will not necessarily reflect issues in other parts of the country.
I invited my constituents, through the social media of Twitter, Facebook and the East London Advertiser,to contribute to the debate by raising issues that they thought I might want to mention. I was staggered by the response—more than 50 people e-mailed or tweeted issues that are of importance to them. I am very limited for time and cannot name them all, but I will list some of them. Before doing that, I want to thank the cycle firms in my constituency, in particular Bikeworks, a social entrepreneurial group that does great work and made a running repair to my bike in half an hour last Wednesday morning to get me back on the road, and also Halfords and Evans, which are national organisations that support cycling in Tower Hamlets and in the community.
I will run through the list of issues raised by my constituents: keeping cycle routes clear when there are roadworks and parking problems; cycle superhighways not being up to the necessary standard—my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) raised the incident of the Aldgate East fatality—with just a coat of paint on a road and nothing more; and lower speed limits, an issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North. Cycle training and education in schools was mentioned by several hon. Members. That is critical. I am doing an Industry and Parliament Trust Fellowship on logistics. I spent some time with TNT, which trains its postal delivery people to ride bikes. When they have down time, they partner local schools to train the kids there. If TNT can do it, the question to the Minister is this: is Royal Mail doing it? There must be other companies out there that could contribute, too.
Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): Royal Mail is doing that. It has a cycle workshop in my constituency, which maintains 500 bicycles used by the Royal Mail in the Greater York area.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the extra time he has given me; I knew that somebody would respond positively on behalf of Royal Mail.
Questions have been raised about HGVs and the fear factor, a road deaths investigation board and improved statistics on serious injuries and fatalities. The Home Office and the Department for Transport have always resisted a fatalities inquiry board for road traffic fatalities because there are just too many of them, but we have to raise the bar and look more seriously at investigating more thoroughly the fatalities on our roads.
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Other issues raised include: congestion charging and road closures to force traffic to surrender more space to cyclists; advanced stop areas; earlier green lights for cyclists; blitz enforcement of transgressors—whether car drivers or cyclists—in advance areas; cycle storage; and mandatory helmets. I know that many people are opposed to making helmets mandatory. I am in favour, but it is not going to happen. The evidence against it coming from Australia and America is somewhat time-limited. If we get our kids using helmets in schools, they will graduate into wearing them.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): No one who is favour of cycling should be against encouraging people to wear helmets, but will my hon. Friend accept that the overwhelming evidence—not just in Australia, but from all over the world—is that where cycle helmets have been made compulsory the impact on cycling has been negative, and therefore the overall public health impact has been negative?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I hear what my right hon. Friend says and there is a cultural question here. I am sure we all watched the 100th Tour de France this year. All the way down the decades of historic footage, none of the cyclists were wearing helmets. Every Tour de France rider now wears a helmet. That is professional leadership. They are in the game of minimising and mitigating risk, and they give a lead to all cyclists.
Dr Huppert rose—
Jim Fitzpatrick: If I have time at the end I will certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I want to get through the points raised by my constituents.
The last two negatives raised related to fatalities and punishment to fit the crime. We all hear tragic stories from constituents about punishments that do not fit the crime. On the conversion of wider pavements, Boris Johnson certainly has that in London, particularly on the Embankment.
What I find fascinating is the counter-culture that comes through from my cyclist constituents. They complained about bad cycling behaviour and said that the cycle demographic in our country is mainly young, white, aggressive and male. That is why we do not “go Dutch” and why many people are put off cycling: they see a race track and do not want to join it. We need to address that problem, and the only way we are going to do so is through enforcement against those who cross red lights and pedestrian crossings.
People complained about cyclists who disregard the rules by wearing earphones; running red lights; crashing pedestrian crossings; not signalling whether they are turning left or right; not warning when they are overtaking; riding on pavements; using mobile phones; speeding on the Thames path; not ringing to alert pedestrians or other cyclists that they are overtaking on tow paths; swearing at pedestrians—some cyclists, like some drivers, think that they are entitled to a free run at the road; not dismounting in foot tunnels; not having lights; not having bells and not wearing high-visibility clothing. Cyclists are not perfect. We have to give a lead to
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cyclists to say, “We should show a better example in the way we behave, to ensure that drivers behave in the way we want them to.”
In conclusion, my wife Sheila and I visited Amsterdam and Copenhagen recently. There is less racing, more sensible cycling and a much wider demographic; there is a different culture. We must have that more varied cycling demographic in our country. My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State recently asked two questions of the Government. First, why do we have annual road and rail budgets to 2021, but not one for cycling? Secondly, why do we not have cycle safety assessments, similar to economic and equality impact assessments, for all road schemes?
My final question is about something that is raised in the report—I am not quite clear about the Government’s response—which said that we should have champions.
Dr Huppert: The issue with cycle helmets is that although they might save some lives, the countervailing loss of life from people not cycling and being less fit massively outweighs that. Indeed, one academic analysis suggested an extra 250 or so deaths a year net.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am grateful for that intervention. That discussion needs to be had, and I am happy to ensure that we are raising it tonight.
My final question to the Minister is this. The report says that we should have national, regional and city champions. It is not clear from the Government’s response whether he is the national champion or not. If he is not, he should be. When will he recruit his regional and city-wide teams?