MPs keep up pressure for investment in cycling

Chris Green, MP for Bolton West, ahead of Westminster Hall debate
MPs of all parties joined forces on 3 February to call for significant increase in the funding allocated for cycling, to make cycling a safe and normal activity for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities

The debate (see transcript), held in Westminster Hall, was notable for the number of speakers who called for action to normalise cycling as a safe and normal activity, not just for healthy younger males but for people of any age, gender, background or ability.

Speaking after the debate, CTC's 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 for grandparents and grandchildren, male and female alike. I hope the government will now listen, find the funding, and put in place the design standards needed to ensure it is well spent”.

The following paragraphs give a summary of most, though not all, of the speeches and interventions made in the debate.  

Opening speech

The debate was called by Chris Green, newly elected last year as Conservative MP for Bolton West. He said the social media discussion ahead of the debate had reached the most ever for a Commons instigated digital debate at 2.1 million Twitter accounts. He referred to the health, environmental and congestion-busting benefits of cycling.  

He cited Sustrans research showing that investment in cycling typically yields benefits worth £9.76 per £1 invested. Yet, although annual spending on cycling has gone up from £2 to £4 per per person, he said this compared unfavourably with the £75 per person being spend on roads.

He also voiced concern that the Government has no mechanisms in place to ensure the money is well spent. He called for improved cycle-friendly design standards, adding that these should cater for cyclists of all ages and abilities, including those who use non-standard pedal cycles as mobility aids.

He said that too often, cycle tracks amount to no more than white paint on pavements. Cyclists avoid these tracks because they are dangerous, forcing them to stop and give way at every side road. He called for cycling to be designed into all new developments, and for good cycle parking provision, notably at rail stations.

During his speech, several MPs (e.g. Julian Sturdy, Chris White, Greg Mulholland and David Rutley) intervened to comment on the benefits of various sports cycling events, including for women. Chris Green commended these, but said it was increasingly important to promote "the non-lycra side of cycling" too. Helen Grant called for more to be done to promote cycling among people from black and minority ethic (BAME) groups and deprived groups.

There is a great deal more that we can do to get Britain cycling

Chris Green, Conservative MP for Bolton West 

Chris Green observed that 1 in 6 deaths are now linked to physical inactivity, prompting concerns that children may now have a lower life-expectancy than their parents. He quoted Chief Medical Officer Prof Dame Sally Davies as having referred to "obesogenic environments". 

He said he was pleased that the Government was making progress but said that far more needed to be done, and urged the Government to spell out what it would now do to realise the Prime Minister's aspiration for a "Cycling Revolution".

Other back-bench speeches

The number of MPs wanting to speak meant that other speeches were tightly time-limited. CTC wishes to thank everyone who encouraged their MPs to attend the debate.

Sarah Wollaston (Conservative MP for Totnes and chair of the Commons Health Select Committee) referred to the Get Britain Cycling report written by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG, of which she is Treasurer), commenting that cycling was a great way to "Get Britain Moving".

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

Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes, Chair of Commons Health Committee and Treasurer of the APPCG 

Ben Bradshaw (Labour MP for Exeter and a Patron of the APPCG) also commended the Get Britain Cycling report, emphasising its key themes of leadership and sustained funding. He said that the investment being made by London was excellent but was skewing the figures for the rest of England, which amounted to little more than £1 per year per person.

He felt this was pitiful compared with £10-£20 per person called for in the Get Britain Cycling report. He questioned why it was proving so hard to persuade ministers to switch just a small fraction of the Government's overall transport budget to help deliver the Prime Minister's "Cycling Revolution".

Alex Chalk (Conservative MP for Cheltenham and a co-chair of the APPCG) admitted he was "far too typical" of existing cyclists, who are predominantly young to middle-aged males. Echoing Chris Green's pleas for action to make cycling safe and attractive for people of all ages, he said we'll know we're succeeding when it becomes normal to see women and children cycling along main roads.

He said that the economic case for investing in cycling is "hard-headed, practical and robust". He noted that a healthier population is less of a burden on the NHS, citing the evidence that those who cycle regularly in mid-adulthood typically have a level of fitness equivalent to being 10 years younger.

He said that he and other APPCG members had had very constructive meetings with Ministers, but that the small amounts of money available for cycling are unclear and are spread thinly across too many funding pots.

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

Alex Chalk, Conservative MP for Cheltenham 

He concluded by arguing that cyclists, particularly children, need physically separate facilities in order to feel safe, alongside the widespread adoption of 20mph speed limits for quieter built-up streets. He urged the Government to come up with some serious funding for its Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, adding that "The prize for our society, for taxpayers and for the planet is great indeed."

Jim Shannon (DUP, Strangford) commended Northern Ireland's newly launched "cycling revolution", adding that it was good to have a revolution in Northern Ireland that involved cycling, not guns

Flick Drummond (Con, Portsmouth South) commended the CTC and specifically the CTC-affilliated Portsmouth Cycling Forum's strategy A City to Share, with its vision to make Portsmouth a cycling city for all. She hoped that the Government would clarify how places like Portsmouth could secure funding for cycling from a variety of sources, including EU money.

Greg Mulholland (LibDem, Leeds North West) talked about the benefits for Yorkshire provided by the Tour de France and Tour de Yorkshire. However he said the Government needed to invest in cycling, both for sport and for day-to-day cycling.

He commended the previous coalition government for backing the Leeds-Bradford cycle superhighway, and paid tribute to the work of the Leeds Cycling Campaign, adding that cycle-friendliness needs to be positively designed into all highway schemes and new developments.

Pauline Latham (Con) said that, in her Mid-Derbyshire constituency, there are plenty of cyclists but few families cycling, because there weren't any cycle routes. She said that volunteers in her constituency were enthusiastically identifying cycle routes that would enable people to enjoy the countryside without being at risk from the HGVs serving the quarries in the area. She urged Government backing for these.

Drew Hendrie (SNP, Inverness) commended the Scottish Government's promotion of cycling, noting that cycle use there has grown by 23% since 2003. He also praised various social enterprises in his constituency who are promoting cycling for a range of target audiences, e.g. the Velocity cafe and bike workshop, and various schools projects. He urged the Government to retain the Cycle to Work tax incentive scheme, saying it was an excellent investment in health and well-being.

Andrew Stephenson (Con, Pendle) talked about the economic benefits of sporting events, but also urged the Government to take the opportunity to improve cycling conditions so that everyone can take to two wheels.

I urge the Minister to ensure that we take the opportunity to improve our cities, towns and villages for cyclists, so that we continue to see an increase in the number of people taking to two wheels."

Andrew Stephenson, Conservative MP for Pendle 

Ruth Cadbury (Labour MP for Brentford & Isleworth and another co-chair of the APPCG) also commended the recommendations of the Get Britain Cycling report. She didn't want to refer to "cyclists" though, as there were plenty of would-be cyclists of all ages and backgrounds, and their needs should be the main target for investment.

She said that Transport for London (TfL) had provided cycle awareness training for 20,000 lorry drivers, and had worked to improve lorry safety standards by tightening the rules on mirrors for lorries operating in London, an example she urged the Government to follow.

She echoed CTC's calls for the Government to set an example for safe lorry design - without waiting for EU rules on this - by requiring safe lorry cabs on major construction projects such as the HS2 rail contract and Highways England's construction work.

She voiced concerned over a news report earlier in the day of a cyclist who had been hit from behind by the driver of a hire car, who the Nottinghamshire police had failed to bring to justice. [N.B. The cyclist has now contacted CTC and we will investigate what support we can now provide].

She concluded her speech with a plea for national cycle-friendly design standards, based on those adopted by Transport for London and the Welsh Government (For further information see our summary of the Active Travel (Wales) Act).

Stewart Malcolm McDonald (SNP, Glasgow South) noted that every contributor to the debate had said that more could be done to encourage cycling throughout the UK. He criticised the "hellish cycle lanes put down by Glasgow City Council", adding that users "have to cycle through bins, bus stops, lamp posts and people’s driveways to have a safe cycle up and down that street." He urged the Government to follow Dutch examples of quality cycling design.

Front-bench speeches

Daniel Zeichner (Labour MP for Cambridge, and shadow minister for local transport including cycling) started by paying tribute to Kate Uzzell, who was present at the debate. Her husband had been killed when he hit a pothole in North Yorkshire while doing a Lands End to John o' Groats charity bike ride. He commended her passion for ensuring that others did not meet her husband's fate.

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 ... There is a real danger that the Government are drawing up an investment strategy with no investment

Daniel Zeichner,  Labour MP for Cambridge,  shadow minister for local transport 

He echoed previous speakers in commending the recommendations of the Get Britain Cycling report, particularly its call for substantial long-term investment. He voiced frustration though at the difficulties of finding out how much the Government would be spending on cycling, and where. He said the Government's Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy was "slowly making its way forward not at a cycling pace, nor at a walking pace, but at perhaps a snail’s pace."

He added: "There is a real danger that the Government are drawing up an investment strategy with no investment". He criticised the Government's refusal to set targets for road safety, adding it was crucial "to make cycling a safe, accessible mode of transport for all, whatever a person’s age or gender."

Cycling minister Robert Goodwill MP concluded the debate. As a "self-confessed sprocket-head" who had already made 3 cycling trips earlier in the day, he welcomed the interest the debate had sparked on Twitter.

In answer to calls for more central Government funding, he said we had to trust local decision making by councils and Combined Authorities. However he also described how, at a meeting earlier that day with Local Enterprise Partnerships, he had stressed that cycling and walking should be central to their work.

He said the Government was committed to making Britain a “walking and cycling nation”. He argued that more cycling could be expected to lead to safer cycling, and that the risks per mile travelled are similar to walking, yet people don't say it's too dangerous to walk.

Everywhere that wishes to invest £10 per head will be able to ... The Government understand the importance of  [the Prime Minister's] cycling revolution [...] We are delivering it with both money and policies

Robert Goodwill,  Conservative MP for Scarborough and Minister for Local Transport 

He described how the Government had agreed to include a duty in the Infrastructure Act 2015 for the Secretary of State to set a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS). A vision document had been published in December, setting out the steps towards adopting the CWIS.

The Government was now aiming to consult on a draft CWIS in Spring, with a final strategy in summer. He cited the range of potential funding sources for CWIS, including the £580m Access Fund (a successor to the Local Sustainable Transport Fund), the Integrated Transport Block element of Local Transport Strategy funding, the Highway Maintenance Block and the Local Growth Funds held by Local Enterprise Partnerships.

He said the Government understood the importance of getting Britain cycling and was committed to making it happen. He claimed that this meant that "everywhere that wishes to invest £10 per head will be able to. Local enterprise partnerships are also doing what they can."

He concluded by saying that "the Government understands 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." We shall see.