Westminster at dusk
The need for decent funding for cycling is gradually being recognised in Westminster. Photo: Flickr CC, Jim Trodel

New faces and encouraging words, but same response

In the wake of Parliament’s largest social media interaction with the public via the #funding4cycling on 2 February, MPs took to Westminster Hall on Wednesday 3 February to debate the very real issue of funding for cycling. CTC’s Sam Jones shares his thoughts...

With 13 speeches and 16 interventions made during an hour-long Westminster Hall debate on funding for cycling initiated by MP for Bolton West, Chris Green, there was a lot of room for the usual ugly spectres of cycle debate to rise and torment the listeners and speakers alike. 

Fortunately this was not the case, as largely impassioned, well thought out and sensible pleas for funding for cycling were made throughout the debate. 

...Largely impassioned, well thought out and sensible pleas for funding for cycling were made throughout the debate." 

Despite the short notice of the debate, close to 500 people wrote in to MPs via CTC's online action asking them to attend. Together with other campaigning groups, CTC provided a briefing on the long-term benefits of increasing cycling and the current annual funding levels of £1.39 per head to the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG)’s recommended sustained investment in cycling of at least £10 per head annually, rising to £20 per head

The appeals from constituents and briefings appeared to have worked, and encouragingly attracted new allies: there were 17 interactions from MPs who are not members of the APPCG. These new faces speaking sensibly on cycling suggests that the cycling voice and vote is being heard and is increasingly gaining traction across the back benches. 

The task now is to focus this cross-party back bench support on pressurising their collective front benches to start supporting meaningful policy measures, particularly a reallocation of £3bn from the £15bn road budget towards cycling and the implementation of national design standards. 

Cycle campaigners' call for space for cycling was also picked up. All MPs who discussed the need for protected space clearly recognised the benefits and want to see more of it. Even Cycling Minister Robert Goodwill MP backed this call, saying: “The greatest opportunity to increase the levels of cycling in England is to focus investment on providing infrastructure in dense urban environments and towns.” 

However, as CTC has long pointed out, recognition of protected space is not enough. National design standards are needed to ensure not only that funding for cycling is spent well, but also to ensure that no more unsafe cycle routes and provision are deployed. Both London and Wales enjoy high quality standards, so there is a ready model for this that could easily and cheaply be rolled out. 

This was a message which only one MP throughout the whole debate seemed to understand the importance of: Ruth Cadbury, MP for Brentford and Isleworth, and Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group. She said: “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.” From a campaigning perspective, we now need to make all supporters of space for cycling pick up this rallying cry too. 

Perhaps the greatest disappointment of the debate is that there was still a marked impetus on cycling as a sport. However, for every MP citing their constituency’s sporting prowess, there were several more calling for the normalisation of cycling, such as Conservative MP for Cheltenham and a Co-Chair of the APPCG, Alex Chalk. He said: “We will know we have done a good job with investment in cycling when there are as many women as there are men cycling. We will know we have done an excellent job when they are taking their children along with them on their bikes.”

Local authorities need central governmental guidance and leadership on the importance of cycling, and then the funding channels to allow them to deliver."

Sam Jones, CTC Campaigns and Communications Co-ordinator

The debate ended with the traditional response from Government. In this case, Robert Goodwill MP. Goodwill famously committed Government to reaching the much called for £10 per head figure back in October 2014 and is largely seen by campaigners who engage with him to understand the wider issues. 

What is clear, however, is his stance on cycling is not one supported by all his ministerial colleagues. His closing speech worryingly suggests a lack of leadership on cycling and passes the buck of responsibility on to local authorities. As we have seen in Wales, the Active Travel Wales Act is at risk of stagnation without proper leadership or funding. Local authorities need central governmental guidance and leadership on the importance of cycling, and then the funding channels to allow them to deliver.

In the case of local authorities in England, central dedicated funding for cycling outside of London is set at £1.39 per head for the next five years. According to the Minister: “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.”

All these sources of funding are open to competition and are not dedicated purely to active travel, like the soon-to-be-defunct Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF). It’s a free for all, akin to scrambling around looking for the loose change to make up a bus fare: searching in several difficult areas, behind the chair, under the fridge etc until you make up the sum. In the end you might as well end up cycling to your destination…but unfortunately in England the conditions still need to be improved!

The Statement of Funds Available (SOFA) for the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy are still to be announced. With increasing air pollution, health problems through inactivity, and congestion, the benefits of cycling and what is needed to increase the current low levels of participation are being understood in the UK’s national parliaments, and CTC will continue our work until we get Britain cycling. 

The transcript of the whole debate is available on Hansard.

If you support CTC’s campaigning on further funding and space for cycling, consider joining or supporting our cause!

SamJones