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Election manifestos: what do they promise for cycling?

In the past week, the mainstream political parties published their manifestos. CTC campaigner, Sam Jones, takes a look at what they say about cycling.

If you had high hopes for cycling to feature prominently in this week’s flurry of party manifestos, by Wednesday sadly your hopes would have been dashed.

Looking at the Conservative, Green, Labour, Lib Dem and UKIP manifestos, it is clear that cycling is not priority. This in itself is not too surprising, but, bar two parties, cycling barely received a 'nod', and disappointingly its status has remained much like it did in 2010 manifestos: an after-thought.

The amount of space and thought given to cycling in the party manifestos are, interestingly, also reflected in the uptake and responses of candidates on CTC’s Vote Bike website. The more a party has to say on cycling, the greater number of candidates have signed up to Vote Bike.

CTC will be publishing a detailed breakdown of the interim results of Vote Bike soon, but at this mid-stage in the election process at time of writing 5,030 people have sent 22,896 emails to 3096 parliamentary candidates, resulting in 666 responses. The vast majority of responses have, encouragingly, been strongly in favour of cycling with less 1 per cent showing no support whatsoever.

Bearing this all in mind, it’s worth looking to the manifestos and seeing what they promise. Analysis of the regional parties will be published next week.

Conservatives

The Conservatives stated in their manifesto that for cycling they wanted to:

  • Make your life easier, with more and faster trains, more roads and cycle routes
  • Double the number of journeys made by bicycle and will invest over £200m to make cycling safer

To the casual cyclist, rather than the hardened campaigner, such promises could seem promising. The devil however is in the detail.

More cycle routes seem good, but not if it means licks of paint rather than well designed infrastructure. With no mention of design standards in the manifesto, such statement must be treated with caution.

Doubling the number of journeys made by bicycle again on the veneer looks good, but such ambition is precisely why the Government’s draft Cycling Delivery Plan was labelled a “derisory” plan by CTC. In reality it equates to a 74 per cent increase which would see the UK achieving current Dutch levels of cycling just before the beginning of the 23rd century.

While the sum of £200m is not close to the Get Britain Cycling report’s recommendations of at least £10 per head per year, the presence of such a sum is still significant considering five years ago no such figure would ever have been bandied about, and that the Labour Manifesto (see below) does not mention a level of investment at all. As pointed out by Ralph Smyth of Campaign to Protect Rural England however, this figure comes from the Highways England Road Investment strategy launched in December 2014 and is unfortunately nothing new.

While these all may seem negative, it is worth bearing in mind that the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy came under a Conservative led coalition, and could be the most significant step forward in UK cycling since cycles were classified as carriages on the highways. It was also Cycle Minister Robert Goodwill who wedded Conservative cycle policy to a £10 per head figure for cycling in the past parliament. Still, pro-cycling Conservatives appear in a minority with only 6 per cent of candidates engaging with Vote Bike.

Green Party

The Green Party, both in terms of candidate sign up to Vote Bike and what they have to say about cycling are strong supporters. Summarising the Green Party Green Party manifesto on cycling they want to see:

  • Clean, safe, welcoming streets for walking and cycling
  • Prioritising affordable access to service by walking, cycling and public transport
  • A reduction in road danger and an increase in cycle journeys

According to the Green Party manifesto, cycling, after walking and disabled access to public transport, is the secondary transport priority for the Green Party. Under a Green Government cycling jointly with walking would receive £30 per head each year which would be funded by scrapping the national major roads programme and using part of the £15bn subsequently freed up.

For the cyclist finding a flaw on Green cycle policy is very difficult. The only concern is how serious their leader, Natalie Bennet, takes cycling. So far while nearly 50 per cent of Green candidates have signed up to Vote Bike, her name is among the missing.

Labour

Despite having some excellent champions for cycling in the form of Ian Austin, Ben Bradshaw and Richard Burden, cycling was mentioned a grand total of three times if you include the abbreviated and full manifesto. In these Labour promised to:

  • Make cycling safer and more accessible with national standards to reduce deaths and serious injuries
  • Support long-term investment in strategic roads, address the neglect of local roads, and promote cycling
  • Enable local bodies to integrate trains, buses, trams and cycling into a single network

A lack of detail on how all this will be achieved and what amount of funding for cycling again raises the question about Labour’s seriousness when it comes to cycling. While some might see it as semantics, campaigners have also questioned what the party means when it says it will “promote cycling”, preferring it if Labour would “enable” cycling instead.

What is encouraging is Labour’s focus on national standards and networking. The Labour Party introduced Active Travel legislation into Wales featuring such standards, and these have been the envy of many cycle campaigners beyond the Welsh borders.

CTC has also learned that a funding announcement for cycling is imminent, the prospect of which could well boost the Labour cycling position. However, this will only be credible if it magnifies the current 19 per cent of Labour candidates who have responded to Vote Bike so far.

Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg was the first, and so far only, party leader to show his colours by signing up to Vote Bike this Tuesday. This stance has been reflected by his fellow candidates who are also showing a high level of support with a respectable 30 per cent response rate.

Long before the election began, the Lib Dems had already committed themselves to the recommendations of the Get Britain Cycling inquiry, and it is therefore unsurprising that cycling is dealt a fair hand by the party. In their manifesto the Lib Dems said they will:

  • Include new incentives for local schemes that cut transport-related pollution, and encourage walking and cycling
  • Support an intercity cycleway along the HS2 route
  • Implement the Get Britain Cycling report recommendations
  • Update planning law to introduce the concept of ‘landscape scale planning’ and ensure new developments promote walking and cycling

Many would argue that cycling’s popularity in the last parliament has been due to the Lib Dem influence, with former Cycling Minister Norman Baker and Dr Julian Huppert being the loudest voices. However, despite a strong party line in the manifesto, the voices of such champions as Baker and Huppert are sadly lacking from Vote Bike, despite their leader taking a stand.

UKIP

Prior to the election, UKIP had made some encouraging noises about cycling. However since the election began their silence has been noticed. No more so by the absence of cycling in their manifesto or on Vote Bike (7 per cent engagement) where the repeated responses received claim party policy prevents UKIP candidates signing surveys.

Apparently the transport manifesto CTC received only presents a snapshot of the party's policies in each specialist area, and the party position has not changed overall. Still cycling’s absence is less worrisome than the party’s commitment to scrap the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) for professionally licenced lorry drivers.

Such a move would be made apparently to prevent job losses, but with all professional lorry drivers in the EU having to hold a CPC along with their licence it is hard to see how UK long distance haulers would be able to operate outside of the UK. However, it is not so much the loss of jobs that concerns but the potential loss of life.

Lorries tally of the death toll on cyclists is vastly disproportionate to their presence on our roads. Therefore CTC firmly believes given the danger lorries in particular present to cyclists, CPC training should offer a cycle-awareness course, or practical cycle training, and there should also be no exemptions for any drivers of HGVs from CPC training.

As cycling journalist Jack Thurston recently pointed out in the Telegraph “It’s tempting to think there’s such a thing as a cycling vote, but we are small in number and spread out across the country”, and perhaps for this reason the cycling lobby will never be as large as the motoring. However, as has been proved over the past five years the cycling voice is loud and clear on what needs to be achieved.

However, to maintain momentum we must keep on making ourselves heard. CTC has provided the tool to amplify your concerns to our future MPs – now make sure you use it at www.votebike.org.uk. It only takes a minute to make a difference. 

SamJones

Comments

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A well balanced article. It's

dbennett1882's picture

A well balanced article. It's very helpful to see how the different manifesto statements relate to cycling. Its a pity so few of the party leaders have given their personal endorsements to cycling.