“Cycling should be for the many, not the brave”

Women cycling in London
After eight months of Cycling UK and Living Streets Funding for Cycling and Walking campaign, more than 5,000 letters sent to MPs, and 160 MPs writing into the Cycling Minister on Tuesday 09 July, Parliament debated the issue of funding. Cycling UK’s Sam Jones reports.

If there was one message to take away from today’s Westminster Debate on funding for cycling and walking in England, it came from Portsmouth MP Stephen Morgan (Lab) who said, “Cycling should be for the many not the brave.”

Morgan was echoing comments made by Shadow Transport Secretary, Andy McDonald, in the Guardian’s Bike Blog published that morning, and it was a sentiment shared by many of the 20 MPs who spoke during the 90 minute debate.

Together with Witney MP Robert Courts (Con), Stephen Morgan was one of the co-sponsors of a lively debate where MPs spoke passionately about the need to encourage more cycling and walking and what needed to be done to make this happen, which was let down by a Government response which said nothing new.

Robert Courts set a high standard by opening the debate with a description of the wide ranging benefits cycling has from health, commuting, environment and town planning. He concluded his introduction calling for greater collaboration between Government departments, particularly from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government and saying, “There needs to be a dedicated funding stream for the implementation of the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs)” which should be part of the forthcoming comprehensive spending review due in the autumn.

There needs to be a dedicated funding stream for the implementation of the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs).

Robert Courts MP for Witney

Unsurprisingly, funding was an area of concern for the majority of MPs who spoke.

Co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, Andrew Selous MP (Con, South West Bedfordshire) pointed out the inequality in funding for cycling across the country. Using the example of only 46 authorities receiving support to create LCWIPs, Selous argued, "Fairness and equity in funding for cycling and walking is needed so every part of the country can benefit from the cycling revolution."

Lilian Greenwood MP picked up this point later in the debate when she cited one of the UK’s leading transport planners Philip Jones’ comments on the LCWIP, who had said they would be no good without adequate funding, as they would just remain plans tucked away on a shelf.

Greenwood explained how the current funding streams for cycling and walking were complex and unclear. She pushed for greater clarity and more funding than the current 1.5% allocated towards active travel from the Transport budget, explaining how only dedicated funding would allow the Government to achieve it’s stated ambitions of doubling cycling journeys by 2025.

Another strong theme throughout the morning’s debate was the need for the Government’s funding strategy to look beyond the urban realm, and also look into what could be done in rural communities. Dr Sarah Wollaston MP (Independent, Totnes) called for wider use of traffic calming and urged the Government to look to our continental neighbours for best practice in cycling, and start applying it in England.

Over 90 minutes and with more than 20 MPs speaking, more than just funding and infrastructure was discussed.

Cambridge’s MP Daniel Zeichner said access to e-bikes must be made easier, and not just limited to the Cycle to Work scheme. “E-bikes are a simple solution to our transport problems,” Zeichner said and encouraged a similar model to that used in France where grants are available for e-bikes, just as there are for e-vehicles in the UK.

It wasn’t just English MPs speaking at the debate, as welcome additions came from Jim Shannon MP (DUP, Strangford) and Ronnie Cowan MP (SNP, Inverclyde) who used examples Northern Ireland and Scotland of better cycling practice.

Shannon praised Northern Ireland’s Department for Infrastructure (the department responsible for cycling) for practising what they preach by becoming the UK’s second accredited Cycle Friendly Employer.

Cowan acknowledged the vital role of the monitoring of local habits, as done in Scotland, for creating the right interventions necessary to get more people cycling. “If we're to improve cycling and walking, we need an accurate understanding of people's habits,” he said before acknowledging the hard work of Cycling UK officers in Scotland, Josh Wood and Shona Morris and their work at the Inverclyde Bothy.

It was down to Labour Shadow Transport minister, Matt Rodda MP (Reading East) to point out the stark truth that the Government was not set to meet its own ambition of doubling cycling journeys by 2025 – the reason: “lack of investment”.

Expectation was high for Michael Ellis MP, the recent replacement for former Cycling Minister Jesse Norman MP, to address how Government intended to address its own admitted need to do more to meet it’s own targets. Norman in May had explained how funding for cycling from an annual £2.50 per person to £7 in 2018 before adding that: "I think I’ve said that we aspire to maintain that kind of rate of growth. And I certainly want to see us at double that kind of level – and we’re going to need to hit double that kind of level if we’re going to hit the cycling stages target that we’ve got and I think that is realistic and I think that Government ought to be committing itself to.”

While Ellis echoed his predecessor, that is all he appeared to do. He presented nothing new to the gathered MPs as to the Government’s plans ahead of the spending review due in autumn, only acknowledging that, “Achieving our [the Government’s] ambitions requires co-ordination across departments, partners and local authorities.”

Investment in cycling and walking should reach 5% of transport spending as soon as possible and rise to 10% over the next five years.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK's head of campaigns

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns was disappointed by the Government response.

In reaction to the Minister’s statement he said: “Parliament has declared a climate crisis. Today’s debate was the chance to explain how the Government would enable more cycling and walking to tackle our transport emissions and achieve the Government’s targets of doubling cycling by 2025.

“Unfortunately, we heard nothing new on how this would be done, which is alarming given former Cycling Minister Jesse Norman’s admissions in May. When asked about current levels of investment Norman accepted that achieving those targets would require a dramatic increase, and potentially doubling, the current rate of intervention.

“Cycling UK agrees with the MPs at today’s debate calling for dedicated ring-fenced funding for local authorities to build ambitious cycling and walking facilities for everyone. We believe investment in cycling and walking should reach 5% of transport spending as soon as possible and rise to 10% over the next five years.”

Cycling UK analysis of the debate will be published in the near future.